Basic graphic animation is produced by a technique called stop-frame cinematography. The camera records, frame by frame, a sequence or succession of drawings or paintings that differ only fractionally from one another. The illusion of progressive movement is created by projecting the series of frames through a camera at the normal rate for sound film (24 frames a second). The same method is used in puppet or object animation; the position of the figures or objects is changed very slightly prior to each exposure. In graphic animation, the drawings may vary from the simplest outlines, as in such traditional animated films as Felix the Cat, to elaborately modeled and colored paintings, such as those produced in Walt Disney’s studios during the 1930s.
The first animated cartoons were produced before 1910 by pioneers such as Emile Cohl of France and Winsor McCay of the United States, whose Sinking of the Lusitania (1918) has been called the first animated feature film. In these early productions, a simple drawing of a mobile figure was photographed against an equally simple background, and a new drawing was required for each exposure. Relief from the labor of drawing hundreds of pictures for each minute of action came only when the figures could be made momentarily static. The evolution of cel (for celluloid) animation after 1913 enabled animators to use a single, more elaborate background for each shot or scene in the action. The mobile figures in the foreground were inked in black silhouette on transparent celluloid sheets and then superimposed in series on the background.
With the introduction of color filming early in the 1930s, animators began to use opaque paints in place of black ink. Greater efficiency was achieved when artists began to specialize in particular figures or other mobile elements of cartoons. Such teams of animators collectively created drawings for feature-length films, for example, Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and Fantasia (1940). Most animated films are recorded by an automated rostrum camera. The many improvements made in this camera since the 1950s have contributed to the increased technical capabilities of the medium. The adjustable camera is suspended above the horizontal table on which the combination of cels, one upon the other, have been superimposed on the background and locked or pegged into position. The cels are then successively photographed to produce a precision image offering a faultless illusion of movement. Such cinematic effects as tracking, panning, and zooming may also be achieved.