The History of Character Animation 1930 - 1990

Institute History

  • 1991 Sundance Film Festival


Character animation, the art of making a series of lines drawn on paper move in ways that express an individual personality, is a unique American contribution to the arts of animation and film. Like jazz and the musical comedy, it was created and refined in the United States during a relatively short period of time.

Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Tom and Jerry, Roger Rabbit and the Little Mermaid are as familiar to us as the people we see every day. They're friends and members of family, and it seems hard to believe they all began as lines on a piece of paper, lines that an animator drew. They come to life only when film is projected and the element of time is added to their drawings.

This three-part program will survey the history of character animation. Part one, which covers from the silent era through the thirties, will explore animation's origins and development from Winsor McCay's seminal Gertie the Dinosaur, through Felix the Cat in Sure-Locked Homes and Three Little Pigs, Walt Disney's breakthrough film, to an excerpt from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, a showpiece of character animation in which seven characters who look alike demonstrate their different personalities through the way they move.

Part two, which chronicles the post-war years, will focus primarily on the work of the artists at the Warner Brothers and MGM studios, and how they applied the principles the Disney animators had discovered to a wilder, more exaggerated style of comedy. Highlights include: Duck Amuck, in which Daffy struggles on a blank screen; Tom and Jerry in The Cat Concerto; Chuck Jones's uproarious A Bear for Punishment, and Gene Kelly's dance with a cartoon sea serpent from Invitation to the Dance.

Part three, entitled "After the Studios," surveys the more recent developments in character animation, and examines how its principles have been adapted to new styles and media, including computer animation. Films include Rooty-Toot-Toot from UPA, John and Faith Hubley's Tender Game, clips from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and The Little Mermaid plus a selection of commercials and advertising films


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