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Animation is the art by which two-dimensional drawings or inanimate objects are turned into moving visual representations of three-dimensional (3-D) life. Computer animation uses computer hardware and software to make the animation process easier, faster, and executable by less skilled and fewer creators. Although there used to be clear divisions among cartoon and feature film animation, visual effects, gaming software, 3-D animation, and GIF animation , these related forms of animation now often overlap.

Animation can be described as the creation of the illusion of motion through a rapid sequence of still images. Although the quality of the original images is important, equally important is the quality of the sequence through which action, character, and story development are portrayed. There must be a coherent pattern to the action. A common story structure introduces characters, a source of conflict, the development of this conflict, a climax, and finally a resolution. But an animated story can also be more fluid, including the creation of forms or simple images, some interaction of them, and then a transformation or transmutation , such as a smiley face turning into a frown or dissolving into the background.

Creating an Animated Story

Although the process of animation takes many forms depending on the medium used, the following is typical. A preview or rough overview of the story, called a pencil test, is created. This is a sample sequence of pencil drawings created on paper to present a rough overview of the story. In the early days of animation, these were then recorded on an animation stand, but now they are placed on film or videotape. Sometimes, after a story idea is conceived, a "treatment" is created instead of a pencil test; this is a brief narrative description of the proposed film or video. Both pencil tests and treatments are often used to solicit sponsors. The action of the story and its development are conveyed through the use of storyboards, which are used to compose, organize, and deploy the animation.

A storyboard is a series of visual sketches that the story creator uses when developing the narrative and depicting the action of the animation. This is done so that everyone involved in the animation project can literally sketch out what is happening, making sure that important details are not overlooked. The storyboard details the sequence of actions necessary to convey the story line, character development, and point of view. This would include the background, action, and camera movement of the scene, but also each change of scene, each change in perspective, the timing and length of each scene, sound requirements, and the timing of the whole work.

With the storyboard in place, the dialog or music for the animation is recorded, and the sound length is determined in terms of the number of frames that it can handle. This information is entered on a "dope sheet" a document detailing the nature of the music clips, their times, and the number of frames per clip. A layout is drawn up for each scene and the director uses the layout and dope sheet to plan the action and its timing. Next a background is created and the movement is created by a sequence of drawn images, which is then also entered on the dope sheet.

The image drawings for movement are then tested; if there are discrepancies, corrections are made to the timing or the drawings. In traditional animation, hand-drawn or cel animation is the most common technique. The cleaned-up drawings are inked and colored by hand on acetate overlays called cels. The cels are placed on the background, which is then placed under the camera. The camera operator, using the dope sheet, assembles the background and movement cels, and shoots each frame, after which the film is sent for processing and printing. The printed scenes are then edited to integrate all the sound tracks, including music and dialogue. The result of this integration is called a work or cut print. The lab makes a final print that can be projected to an audience or is transferred to film.

Computers are now used for many or all parts of this process. With current technology, the completed computer file is sent directly to digital tape, which will be transferred to film or broadcast on DVD or videotape.

Types of Animation

Many types of animation exist but there is no common classification scheme to describe them. The Encyclopedia of Animation Techniques (1996) lists drawn animation and model animation, but there are also cutout animation, 3-D animation, virtual reality (VR) animation, and animatronics , to name a few other types. The hand-drawn or cel animation, mentioned earlier, is the most common traditional technique. Hundreds of examples of hand-drawn animation were generated by Walt Disney (19011966) and his studios, such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Bambi. Hand-drawn animation in pencil form and cels is no longer used much today. Drawings are often made with computer software, and foregrounds and backgrounds are now generated through the use of digital files.

Model animation follows a process similar to hand-drawn animation, using models such as puppets (sometimes referred to as puppet animation) or clay figures (sometimes referred to as claymation). Set workers create movement by physically modifying the clay figures or changing the positions of the puppets. Each time this is done, a new scene is recorded on film or videotape. Because motion is captured through the position-by-position image of the models on single frames, model animation employs a technique known as stop-motion animation. The Christmas favorite Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a classic example of stop-motion animation.

One of the well-known creators and directors of "claymation" was Nick Parks, who created the characters Wallace and Gromit in A Grand Day Out (1990), which won a British Academy Award. He also created Creature Comforts (1990), featuring interviews with inmates of a zoo, which won an Academy Award, as did two more adventures of Wallace and Gromit: A Close Shave (1995) and The Wrong Trousers (1998).

Cutout animation has been made notable by Terry Gilliam in Monty Python's Flying Circus and by Matt Stone and Trey Parker in South Park. To create cutout animation, an artist cuts actors and scenes out of paper, overlays them, and moves them, and captures their images frame by frame, again using stop-motion animation. In Gilliam's work, the animation was done frame by frame, but Stone and Parker quickly abandoned the physical work of generating the figures and turned instead to advanced computer workstations that create the same effect.

3-D animation is similar to hand-drawn animation, but it involves thinking in three-dimensional space and working with objects, lights, and cameras in a new way. 3-D animation requires the use of computers. The movie Toy Story is an example of 3-D computer animation.

Virtual reality animation is created through such technologies as VR and VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language). These make it possible to create 3-D environments, accessible through web sites, within which viewers can feel fully immersed in the animated surroundings. Quicktime VR uses photographic images or pre-rendered art to create the inside of a virtual environment that is downloaded to the viewer's own computer. VRML uses 3-D models and real-time interaction that puts the viewer inside 3-D environments.

Animatronics entails the use of computer-controlled models that can be actuated in real-time. These models have electronic and mechanical parts including motion-enabling armatures covered with a synthetic skin. These models, often used in conjunction with live actors, form the foundation for animation sequences. Films featuring animatronics include Jaws, Star Wars, and Jurassic Park.

Animation Techniques

Two basic animation techniques are keyframing and in-betweening. Keyframing is derived from key moments of still frames in the animation sequence. A keyframe is defined by its particular moment in the animation sequence, its timeline, parameters, and characteristics. In traditional pencil drawings, these would be keyframe drawings; in claymation or puppet animation, these would be key poses. Once the keyframes are established, then the sequences of animations between these keyframes have to be done. This technique is called in-betweening; it involves creating the frames that fill the gaps between the key frames. In computer environments, the technique is called interpolation and there are several varieties. Keyframe interpolation provides the frames that are required, but how this is done depends on the kind of interpolation used, linear or curved. Linear interpolation provides frames equally spaced between the key frames, based on an averaging of the parameters of the key frames and employing a constant speed. Curved interpolation is more sophisticated and can accommodate changes in speed.

History of Animation

Most basic animation principles and techniques were developed in the first twenty years of the twentieth century, and were perfected by the 1940s, particularly by Walt Disney, whose studios popularized the form through full-length feature films. Disney's impact on animation and the entertainment industry was profound. Ironically, his first attempt at an animated film production was a failure. In 1922, as a twenty-one-year-old commercial artist, he launched Laugh-O-Gram films in Kansas City. The company went bankrupt after a year. Fortunately, his creditors permitted him to retain one of his short features, which provided the basis for the launch of Disney Brother Studios in Hollywood. It produced the Alice Comedies, which featured a combination of animation and live action.


In 1928 Walt Disney teamed with his brother, Roy O. Disney, and animator Ub Iwerks to produce Steamboat Willie, the first cartoon that was synchronized with sound. Steamboat Willie gave us Mickey Mouse, one of the long line of popular characterssuch as Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto, Cinderella, and Simbathat made Disney famous and on which the Disney empire is built. Then Disney made a series of animated short films set to classical music, called the "Silly Symphonies" (19291939), in which he introduced Technicolor into animation. Disney held the Technicolor patent for two years. Disney won an Oscar for the first cartoon and full-Technicolor feature called Flowers and Trees (1932).

In 1937 Disney released Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first full-length animated feature film. In order to produce this film, Disney invented the multiplane animation camera. With this invention, for which he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, he changed the animation industry. Disney's camera made it possible to have cartoon characters move through many layers of scenery.

Disney always pushed the limits in his use of new technologies: for example, he produced Fantasia (1940) in Fantasound, a forerunner of current movie sound systems; Lady and the Tramp (1955) in CinemaScope, an innovative movie viewing experience with a wide screen and stereophonic sound; and 101 Dalmations (1961) using Xerox technology to make cels from animated drawings.

Following the success of Snow White, Disney produced a series of animated films, now regarded as classics, that secured his reputation. Among them are: Fantasia (1940), Pinocchio (1940), Dumbo (1941), Bambi (1942), Song of the South (1946), Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953), Lady and the Tramp (1955), and Sleeping Beauty (1959). Starting in 1961, Disney found additional success in the rapidly growing medium of television with what came to be known as Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, which included many animated components or productions. During his lifetime, Walt Disney won thirty-two personal Academy Awards, and the Walt Disney Studios during the same time won an additional twenty-three Oscars in categories such as in animation (e.g., Pigs Is Pigs in 1953) and original musical compositions or songs (e.g., Pinocchio in 1941).

After the death of Walt Disney in 1966, his studios continued to garner awards and to produce commercial animation successes such as The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), Pocahontas (1995), Mulan (1998), and Atlantis (2001). The company also produces many live-action films and television series. Disney's animations are also on display throughout the company's popular theme parks.


Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) was an early promoter of animated films. Two of their in-house animators, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, launched the Tom and Jerry films in 1940 that subsequently won five Academy Awards. They later created such familiar characters as the Jetsons, Scooby Doo, the Flintstones, and the Smurfs.


Major growth in animation productions started in the 1960s prompted by the growth of mass media, particularly with visual effects in films (e.g., Mary Poppins ) and animated cartoon series on television (e.g., The Flintstones ). In the 1970s, the growth of computer animation was facilitated by the invention of minicomputers, particularly by Digital Equipment Corporation's PDP and VAX computers. Because of cost and complexity, computer-assisted animation was still the domain of commercial companies. While personal computers (PCs), such as the Macintosh and the IBM-PC, were introduced in the mid-1980s, it was only in the 1990s that their power and available software were adequate for personal computer animation authorship. The diversity of developments and inventions and increasing use of technologies for computer animation are presented in a timeline (19601999) in Isaac Victor Kerlow's The Art of 3-D Computer Animation and Imaging (2000).

Principles of Animation

Around 1935, some animators at Walt Disney Productions wanted to develop lessons that would refine the basic animation techniques that had been in use from the earliest days of animation. These became the fundamental principles of traditional animation, though most can also be applied to Internet and 3-D graphics environments. John Lasseter, in "Principles of Traditional Animation Applied to 3D Computer Animation," provides a list:

  1. Squash and Stretch, in which distortion is used in animated action to convey the physical properties of an object;
  2. Timing, in which actions are spaced so that they help portray the personal or physical characteristics of characters or objects;
  3. Anticipation, meaning that actions are foreshadowed or set up;
  4. Staging, through which the animator conveys ideas clearly through background, foreground, and action;
  5. Follow-Through and Overlapping Action, wherein the end of one action builds a bridge to the next action;
  6. Straight-Ahead and Pose-to-Pose Action, which are two primary ways of creating action;
  7. Slow In and Out, which refers to the animator's placement of the in-between frames to create various levels of sophistication in timing and motion;
  8. Arcs, a visual representation of movement that appears natural;
  9. Exaggeration, wherein an idea is emphatically represented through design and action that is not restricted to representing reality;
  10. Secondary Action, which refers to the action of an animated object or character that is caused by the action of something or someone else;
  11. Appeal, or audience-pleasing action, stories, and visuals.

Web Animation

Several software formats have been used for producing animation on the Internet. One of the first was Netscape Navigator 2's GIF89, which allowed a user to animate GIF (Graphic Interchange Format) images. It was not intended as a medium for full animation, however. Partly as a response to this, dHMTL (dynamic Hypertext Markup Language) was born. Dynamic HTML is a hybrid of JavaScript, HTML, and cascading stylesheets, but the disparity between Internet Explorer and Navigator platforms made it difficult to use.

When CD-ROMs (Compact Disk-Read Only Memory) became common, Macromedia distinguished itself with Director, a multimedia authoring system. In 1995 the company released the Shockwave Internet browser plug-in for Director, which allowed users to see online content created by Director. Macromedia later produced a plug-in designed specifically for web browsers, called Flash, which it continues to improve and support. However, realizing the value of dHTML, Macromedia created another product, called Dreamweaver, which avoids many browser platform disparities, by producing a dHTML page as an HTML page. Unfortunately, the standard HTML page was not conceived as a medium for animation, and its performance is not as great as plug-in formats, such as Flash, Director, or Quicktime, although the standards may evolve.

Game Animations

Games began to appear almost as soon as computers appeared. In the late 1960s, Spacewar! was created, partly as a way of experimenting with one of the earliest computers, the PDP-1, developed by Digital Electronic Corporation. A lot of two-dimensional games began to follow, including Pac-Man. In 1984 Atari's I, Robot appeared. Loosely based on Isaac Asimov's book by the same name, it foreshadowed the movement to three-dimensional games. At the same time, Nintendo was working on a video game console, Famicom, which later emerged as the Nintendo Entertainment System in the United States.

Part of the success of these systems was the structure of the computer they used: the computer had chips for the central processing unit (CPU), audio, and video which permitted better efficiency and looser control. This was the case with Commodore's Amiga and Atari's ST computer series. Before long, PC peripheral manufacturers started producing more powerful video cards (e.g., "graphics accelerator cards" with their own chips and memory, such as the ATI series), and sound cards (e.g., SoundBlaster). These eventually posed a challenge to the units designed specifically for games because they could handle the graphics and sound requirements necessary for games. Examples include Nintendo's GameCube, Sony's Playstation and Microsoft's X-Cube.

Animation in the early games was basic, relying on simple movement and graphics, but current games embrace sophisticated animation. There are many genres of games, including electronic versions of traditional games like Monopoly, Solitaire, Hearts, and Jeopardy! Early maze games, such as Pac-Man, and puzzle games, like Tetris, paved the way for more sophisticated action games like Street Fighter and Killer Instinct (fighting games); Castle Wolfenstein (a first-person shooter game); and third-person 3-D games, such as Tomb Raider and Deathtrap Dungeon. Animated computer games also include racing games such as Destruction Derby and 3-D vehicle-based games, such as Dead Reckoning ; flight simulators, such as Wing Commander, and other popular simulations (e.g., Sim City, Sim Ant ); role-playing games, such as Dungeon Hack ; and adventure games, such as The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. At the pinnacle are full-motion video games, like Myst and Raven. Software, including The Games Factory and PIE 3D Game Creation, has emerged to cope with the demands of creating animated games.

see also Games; Music; Music, Computer.

Thomas J. Froehlich


Finch, Christopher. The Art of Disney: From Mickey Mouse to the Magic Kingdoms. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995.

Kerlow, Isaac Victor. The Art of 3-D Computer Animation and Imaging, 2nd ed. New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2000.

Lasseter, John. "Principles of Traditional Animation Applied to 3D Computer Animation." Computer Graphics (ACM) 21, no. 4 (1987): 3544.

Taylor, Richard. Encyclopedia of Animation Techniques. Philadelphia, PA: Running Press Book Publishers, 1996.

Wagstaff, Sean. Animation on the Web. Berkeley, CA: Peachpit Press, 1999.

White, Tony. The Animator's Workbook. New York: Billboard Publications, 1988.

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Animation is a series of still drawings that, when viewed in rapid succession, gives the impression of a moving picture. The word animation derives from the Latin words anima meaning life, and animare meaning to breathe life into. Throughout history, people have employed various techniques to give the impression of moving pictures. Cave drawings depicted animals with their legs overlapping so that they appeared to be running. The properties of animation can be seen in Asian puppet shows, Greek bas-relief, Egyptian funeral paintings, medieval stained glass, and modern comic strips.

In 1640, a Jesuit monk named Althanasius Kircher invented a "magic lantern" that projected enlarged drawings on a wall. A fellow Jesuit, Gaspar Schott, developed this idea further by creating a straight strip of pictures, a sort of early filmstrip, that could be pulled across the lantern's lens. Schott further modified the lantern until it became a revolving disk. A century later, in 1736, a Dutch scientist named Pieter Van Musschenbroek created a series of drawings of windmill vanes that, when projected in rapid succession, gave the illusion of the windmill circling around and around.

The magic lantern became a popular form of entertainment. Traveling entertainers, visiting the villages and towns of Europe, included it in their shows. In London, the Swiss-born physician and scholar Peter Mark Roget, most famous for compiling the Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases, was fascinated by the scientific phenomenon at play and wrote an essay entitled "Persistence of Vision with Regard to Moving Objects" that was widely read and used as a basis for subsequent inventions. One of the first was the thaumatrope, developed in the 1820s by John Paris, also an English doctor. The thaumatrope was simply a small disk with a different image drawn on either side. Strings were knotted onto two edges so that the disk could be spun. As the disk twirled around, the two images appeared to blend. For example, a monkey on one side appeared to sit inside the cage on the opposite side.

The next major innovation was the phenakistoscope, created by Joseph Plateau, a Belgian physicist and doctor. Plateau's contribution was a flat disk perforated with evenly spaced slots. Figures were drawn around the edges, depicting successive movements. A stick attached to the back allowed the disk to be held at eye level in front of a mirror. The viewer then spun the disk and watched the reflection of the figures pass through the slits, once again giving the illusion of movement.

In Austria, Simon Ritter von Stampfer was toying with the same idea and called his invention a stroboscope. A number of other scopes followed, culminating in the zoetrope, created by William Homer. The zoetrope was a drum-shaped cylinder that was open at the top with slits placed at regularly spaced intervals. A paper strip with a series of drawings could be inserted inside the drum, so that when it was spun the images appeared to move.

By 1845, Baron Franz von Uchatius invented the first movie projector. Images painted on glass were passed in front of the projected light. Forty-three years later, George Eastman introduced celluloid film, a strip of cellulose acetate coated with a light-sensitive emulsion that retained and projected images better than those painted on glass. The first animated cartoon Humorous Phases of Funny Faces by J. Stuart Blackton, of the New York Evening World, was shown in the United States in 1906. Two years later, French animator Emile Cohl followed suit with Phantasmagorie. Winsor McCay introduced Gertie the Dinosaur in 1911. Other cartoonists who brought their characters to the screen included George McManus (Maggie and Jiggs) and Max Fleischer (Betty Boop and Popeye). By 1923, Walt Disney, the world's most famous animator, began turning children's stories into animated cartoons. Mickey Mouse was introduced in Steamboat Willie in 1928. Disney's first animated full-length film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, debuted in 1937.

Yellow Submarine, a 1968 animated film starring the Beatles, featured the process of pixilation, in which live people are photographed in stop-motion to give the illusion of humanly-impossible movements. In the film The Lord of the Rings, directed in 1978 by Ralph Bakshi using rotoscoping, live action was filmed first. Then each frame was traced and colored to create a series of animation cels. By the late twentieth century, many in the industry were experimenting with computer technology to create animation. In 1995, John Lassiter directed Toy Story, the first feature film created entirely with computer animation.

Raw Materials

Although the most important raw material in creating animation is the imagination of the animator, a number of supplies are necessary to bring that imagination to life. Sometimes these items are purchased; sometimes they are constructed by the animator.

The animator works at an animation stand, a structure that holds a baseboard on which the drawings are attached by register pegs. The animation stand also supports a camera, lights, a work surface, and a platen (clear sheet of glass or plexiglass that holds the drawings in place).

The drawings are executed on cels, drawing paper, or on film. The majority of professional animation is drawn on cels, transparent acetate sheets five millimeters thick. Each cel measures approximately 10 in by 12 in (25.4 cm by 30.5 cm). Holes are punched along the top edge of the cels, paper, or film, corresponding to the register pegs on the animation stand and baseboard. The pegs keep the drawing surface rigid.

Opaque inks and paints, and transparent dyes are the most common media for drawing the story. Felt markers, crayons, and litho pencils can also be used.

Professional animation is photographed with 35mm cameras. However, it is possible to use Super 8 or 16mm models. A variety of camera lenses are employed, including standard, zoom, telephoto, wide angle, and fish-eye lenses.

The Manufacturing

Creating an animated short or full-length feature is a long, tedious process. Extremely labor-intensive, the average short cartoon has approximately 45,000 separate frames. To make a character say "Hello, Simon," can require 12 drawings to depict each movement of the character's lips.

The story is written

  • 1 Sometimes the animator is also the writer. The animator makes a storyboard, a series of one-panel sketches pinned on a board. Dialogue and/or action summaries are written under each sketch. The sketches may be rearranged several times as a result of discussions between the writer, the animator, and the director.

The dialogue, music, and sound effects are recorded

  • 2 Actors record the voices of each character. Background music and sound effects, such as doors slamming, footsteps, and weather sounds, are recorded. These recordings are generally preserved on magnetic tape. The music is timed for beats and accents; this information is recorded on a bar sheet so that the animation can be fitted around the music. Because Walt Disney was one of the first animators to fit the action to the music, this process is called "Mickey Mousing." Many professional studios now use an optical sound track on which voices, music, and sound effects are represented by varying lines. An electronic sound reader and synchronizer gives an accurate count of the number of frames required for each sound.

Dialogue measurements are entered on an exposure sheet

  • 3 A technician known as a track reader measures each vowel and consonant in the dialogue. Words are recorded on exposure sheets (also called x-sheets or dope sheets), each of which represents a single film frame. This allows the animators to synchronize each movement of the character's lips with the dialogue. Footage, the time needed between lines of dialogue for the action to take place, is also charted on the exposure sheet. Slugs, or sections of film without sound, are inserted where the action occurs.

Model character sheets are created

  • 4 A model is created for each character in order to keep their appearances uniform throughout the film. The models can be detailed descriptions or sketches of the characters in various positions with various facial expressions.

Artists create the layout or set design

  • 5 A layout artist creates linear drawings that animators use as a guide for action and that the background artists use to paint the backgrounds.

Characters' actions are sketched

  • 6 Using the model sheets, the head animator sketches the primary, or "extreme," action. For example, if the character is running, the head animator will draw the foot leaving the floor, the foot in the air, and the foot returning to the floor. Or if the story calls for the character to blink, the head animator will sketch the eyes going through the motions. Animation assistants then fill in the details.

    The drawing is done on a transparent drawing board that is lighted from below. After one drawing is completed, a second sheet of paper is laid on top of the first and the second drawing is varied slightly to signify movement.

Drawings are cleaned up and checked for accuracy

  • 7 Artists check the characters against the model sheets. Drawings are enhanced but not altered. Scenes are checked to ensure that all action called for on the exposure sheet is included. All figures are checked for proper line-up with the background.

A video test is conducted

  • 8 A computerized videotape is made of the sketches to check for smoothness of motion and proper facial expressions. Adjustments are made until the desired effect is achieved.

Artists create backgrounds

  • 9 Artists create color background paintings, including landscapes, scenery, buildings and interiors, from the pencil layouts. The color is filled in by computer. As the computer scans the layout, artists click on colors from a template.

Sketches are inked in and painted

  • 10 If the animation drawings have been executed on paper, they are now transferred to cels using xerography, a process similar to photocopying. In a few studios, the inking is still done by hand, tracing the pencil sketches onto the cels.

    Colors are applied to the reverse side of the cel, usually by computer, in the same manner that background colors are applied. All inked and painted materials are checked several times for accuracy.

The action is filmed

  • 11 The cels and backgrounds are photographed according to the instructions on the exposure sheets. One scene of action can take several hours to photograph. The cels are laid on top of the backgrounds and photographed with a multiplane camera that is suspended high above. When more than one character appears in a frame, the number of cels stacked on top of the background increases. Each level is lit and staggered, creating the illusion of three-dimensional action. The film is sent to the photo lab where a print and a negative are made.

The sound is dubbed

  • 12 Dialogue, music, and sound effects are re-recorded from 10 or more separate tracks onto one balanced track. Another set of two tracks, one with dialogue and the other with music and sound effects, is often made to facilitate translation when the film is sent to foreign markets.

The dubbing track and print are combined

  • 13 The final dubbing track is combined with the print to make a married print. If the animated film is for television viewing, the negative and the tracks are often sent to a video post-production house to be put on videotape.

The Future

In the last decade of the twentieth century, computer-created animation began to make great strides. Although purists decry this development, it is unlikely that computer animation will disappear. What remains to be seen is whether or not traditional cel animation survives.

Anime, a cartoon form from Japan, is also changing the nature of animation. Story lines and characters are more detailed and reality-based. Varied camera angles bring the viewer further into the action.

Where to Learn More


Cawley, John and Jim Korkis. How to Create Animation. Pioneer Books, 1990.

Locke, Lafe. Film Animation Techniques. Betterway Publications, 1992.


Harmon, Amy. "Making a Face." Los Angeles Times, March 25, 1996, p. D-l.

Considine, J.D. "Toon in Tomorrow." The Baltimore Sun, April 14, 1996, p. 1H.


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In movies, computer animation has become astonishingly adept at mimicking reality. The animation power of computers and computer-aided design (CAD) software is now being exploited as a forensic tool.

Forensic animation seeks to produce images that recreate eyewitness accounts of crime scenes, vehicle accidents, and other events. The animation is intended primarily for a jury in a courtroom trial. Instead of relying solely on a verbal account of an eyewitness, jury members can watch a recreation of the testimony.

As an example, animation can recreate the weather conditions visible from the inside of a moving car on the night of a motor vehicle accident, to provide the viewer with a much better appreciation of what a driver faced than what could be realized from verbal testimony.

In another example, an animated reconstruction can be made of a crime scene. The simulation can duplicate the appearance of the scene. In addition, the view of the crime scene can be shifted from a ground level to an overhead view. This can provide a much richer appreciation of the crime scene than would listening to testimony alone or even looking at a series of photographs.

In one real-life example, animation was used in a liability suit in Iowa over a 1993 collision that killed University of Iowa basketball player Chris Street. In the accident, Street was struck and killed by an oncoming snowplow when he pulled out to pass a truck. The driver of the truck acknowledged that he was speeding 10 miles per hour over the speed limit at the time of the crash.

The driver's admission was key to the US$14-million lawsuit filed against him by Street's parents, who contended that his negligence resulted in the death of their son.

The animation formed part of the defense. Using reports from the police, an accident investigator who reconstructed the incident, and measurements of the actual braking distances required for the snowplow at various speeds, two computer animations were created. The first displayed the accident when the snowplow was traveling at 55 miles per hour in the 45 miles per hour zone. In that animation, as in the real-life accident, the snowplow struck the center of the car.

In the second animation, the snowplow was traveling at the speed limit. Then, the plow still struck the car, this time at the rear of the vehicle. The defense argued that, despite the different impact points, the crash that likely would have occurred at the legal speed limit would still have been fatal. In viewing the animations, the jury decided that the accident was caused by Street's failure to properly assess traffic conditions before pulling out in front of the truck.

In another example, an animated recreation of the shooting death of a Scraton, Pennsylvania woman was a vital piece of evidence that led to the conviction of her husband for murder . The man, a former police officer with a history of domestic violence, had claimed that he shot his wife in self defense as she tried to attack him with a knife.

Based on the photographic information gathered at the crime scene by forensic investigators, an animation was created that presented a three-dimensional view of the room. The detail and multi-perspective view of the scene was used convincingly by the prosecution to argue that the blood pattern on the victim was not consistent with her husband's explanation of the death.

Implicit in the above examples is the accuracy of the information that forms the database of the animation file. The intent of forensic animation is to accurately present the testimony of eyewitnesses or experts to a jury, not to create a situation that is not based in reality.

Similar concerns have been voiced in the past about the reliance on expert testimony and the use of other forensic reconstructions that attempt to indicate what a long-missing person might appear like in the present day.

The normal sharing of information by prosecution and defense will hopefully circumvent this recognized risk that animation could be misused to create a fictitious reality. For example, in the Chris Street case, the opposing attorneys were able to view the animations prior to their presentation in court, giving them time to formulate their response strategy. As well, an animation can be presented frame-by-frame, with questioning and expert commentary provided for each frame.

Another concern surrounding forensic animation, exemplified by the above example, is the cost of producing an animation. The high cost of producing a high quality animation, in the tens of thousands of dollars, is often beyond the budget of a defense team.

see also Accident reconstruction; Computer forensics; Crime scene staging.

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an·i·ma·tion / ˌanəˈmāshən/ • n. 1. the state of being full of life or vigor; liveliness: they started talking with animation. ∎ chiefly archaic the state of being alive. 2. the technique of filming successive drawings or positions of puppets or models to create an illusion of movement when the movie is shown as a sequence. ∎  (also computer animation) the manipulation of electronic images by means of a computer in order to create moving images.

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"animation." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . 16 Jan. 2018 <>.

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animation Illusion of motion created by projecting successive images of still drawings or objects. Drawn cartoons are the most common form. Each of a series of drawings is photographed singly. The illusion of motion is created when the photographs are displayed in rapid succession. Computer animation programs have advanced to a point where the drawings themselves are no longer a necessity.

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"animation." World Encyclopedia. . 16 Jan. 2018 <>.

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ANIMATION. SeeCartoons .

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"Animation." Dictionary of American History. . 16 Jan. 2018 <>.

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animation See computer animation.

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"animation." A Dictionary of Computing. . 16 Jan. 2018 <>.

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