Mickey Mouse and Shrek are just a couple of the American animated characters that are beloved the world over. And they are examples of the evolution of animation, which has brought unique new life to the film industry.
Among the first American animated films was Light of the Moon, a silent movie produced in 1911 using silhouette animation, where the characters are represented only as black silhouettes.
The real breakthrough for American animation came with Steamboat Willie, created by Walt Disney and released in 1928. It was the first animated film to be accompanied by sound, and its main star — Mickey Mouse — became one of the most endearing and enduring animated characters ever created.
Disney also created the first American full-length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Released in 1937, it enjoyed worldwide box-office success.
Disney's painstaking attention to high-quality detail in the thousands of hand-painted drawings required at that time to make an animated film elevated this film technique to the level of a serious art form.
Clay animation, or claymation, is a type of stop-motion animation using forms made of clay. The clay characters are posed and photographed to create a series of frames that are recorded on film. The still photos, when played back in rapid succession, achieve the appearance of continuous motion.
Clay animation films have been produced in the United States since 1908. But this form of animation only won wide popular appeal in 1955 with a short film called Gumbasia, created by Art Clokey. Clokey later created the popular green clay character known as Gumby. Gumby and his horse, Pokey, appeared in more than 200 television shows and a feature-length film.
Computer-generated imagery, or CGI, brought animation to a new level of artistry and realism. Used in film since the 1960s, CGI animation hit its stride in the mid-1990s. Toy Story, released in 1995 and created by Pixar and Disney Studios, was the first completely computer-generated animated feature film.
In 2001, DreamWorks and Pacific Data Images released Shrek, the first computer-animated feature film to win an Oscar. Shrek, the lovable swamp-living ogre, returned in 2004 with his talking donkey, his princess bride Fiona and an army of fairy-tale characters in Shrek 2. Hugely popular, that film became the highest-grossing animated film of all time.
In addition to strictly animated movies, animation has been incorporated into films showing live actors as well. Who can forget the terrifyingly real dinosaurs thundering through Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park movies and the actors they chased? Thanks to the powerful capabilities of today's computers and the unlimited imagination of American filmmakers, animation will be entertaining audiences worldwide for a long time to come.