History of Animation



The roots of animation are as deep and old as humans efforts to create images in the likeness of the world around them. From the cave paintings of Lascauex and Altimira featuring tonal paintings of multilegged animals appearing to run, to the hieroglyphs of chariot riding Egyptians, humans have long sought to depict the dynamics of motion. The development of such artistic imagery combined with storytelling also goes back thousands of years.

Modern animation is the culmination of human artistic vision, technology, and narrative. Every day, week, and month, on thousands of movie and television screens around the world, animation is seen is a variety of forms. The forms animation takes at this point are vast and ubiquitous. From major motion picture studios feature length epics, to small independently produced shorts, from small pop up web banners, video games, and interactive mobile devices, animation as a medium is used to inform, educate, persuade, entertain, sell, and interpret information, ideas, concepts, and morals. It's no longer enough for things to just look good, and be well designed to be noticed, now it must be dynamic, fluid, and interactive, and animation is a huge part of this.

Animation at this point is strongly intertwined and a crucial part of production in television, motion pictures, the internet, communications, advanced medical fields, engineering and architecture. Students interested in these professional careers and fields should have an understanding and appreciation of of the complexities and intricacies of the history of the medium. What makes animation so incredible and amazing is its intersection of arts and technology, and how each feeds and drives the other. Disney and Pixar are just two examples of how the creativity in the medium of animation has helped pushed the development of new technologies.

This lesson plan is meant to provide students with an overview of the major events, developments, and milestones of early animation (late 19th and early 20th century) within a short period of time. It includes a short historical overview, timeline, and a series of videos that provide a good foundational knowledge of people, inventions, and institutions that helped shaped the medium as it exists.

It is suggested and highly encouraged that the history of animation be explored continually and regularly over the course of your program. The historical arc of animation is so rich, and full of amazing examples it is impossible to cover in a few lessons. Watching and discussing other videos and clips from on a weekly or bi-weekly basis can allow you to show students a wide range of important artists and studios, principles, approaches, and story lines, and bring them up to the present day.

Important films, individuals, and studios covered in this lesson:

1. James Stuart Blackton's The Enchanted Drawing, c.1900

2. Emile Cohl's Fantasmagorie, c.1908

3. Winsor McCay premieres Gertie the Dinosaur, c.1914

4. Willis O'Brien The Dinosaur and the Missing Link. 1915

5. Winsor McCay's The Sinking of the Lusitania, 1918

6. Max and Dave Fleischer's The Tantalizing Fly, 1924

7. Lotte Reigniger Adventures of Prince Achmed, 1925

8. Disney Studios, Steamboat Wille, 1928

The following are a list of excellent web-sites that cover the history of animation from a variety of perspectives:






Lesson Time

History of Animation Article
15 - 25 Minutes
Viewing and Discussion of Historical Animation Pieces
2 Days

Industries / Subjects / Grades

Industries / Pathways
  • Arts, Media, and Entertainment
Grade Levels
  • 9
  • 10
  • 11
  • 12
  • Post-Secondary
  • Adult

Standards and Objectives


California's 2008 CTE Standards (2)
California Academic Content Standards (1)

Related Instructional Objectives (SWBAT...)

  • Students will view and discuss early milestones in the history of animation
  • Students will be able to identify significant historical figures and their contributions to the development of animation
  • Students will be able to identify and explain early developments, technologies, and inventions that shaped the art form of animation.
  • Students will be able to identify early animated films and explain their historical and cultural significance.

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