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Milestones Of The Animation Industry In The 20th Century

The history of animation in the 20th Century has been falsified and distorted for many years. AWN wanted to begin the new century with an accurate list of our industry's achievements. Karl Cohen decided to take on the challenge.

The history of animation in the 20th Century has been falsified and distorted for many years. Reasons for the errors range from innocent mistakes to deliberate lies. One of the worst offenders was an author who wrote a best selling biography about Disney by inventing sensational "facts." Some of his information has been proven to be false, but much of the public that bought the book is unaware that it is fraudulent. Other equally damaging abusers of the truth were the slick sales people who tried to get rich quick by selling animation art when the public decided it was a valuable "collectable." I knew an animator who tried his luck as a salesman. He was amazed that some of his colleagues would constantly make up facts in order to make a sale. I once received a sales flyer from a gallery in Southern Florida that claimed Disney limited edition art was especially valuable because Walt had not only created the first animated short and the first animated feature, but he had also invented the animation process! AWN wanted to begin the new century with an accurate list of our industry's achievements in the 20th Century. We didn't want to repeat information about people's favorite films and other standard, well known information (awards, etc.). If you miss seeing your favorite animation stars, see Jerry Beck's time line in his book The 50 Greatest Cartoons. They should be there. We did not need to repeat his information. Instead the list concentrates on events and inventions that brought about significant changes in the medium. Several professional animators and scholars were consulted after the first draft of this list was written. They added information, corrected errors and made other changes. The people contacted include Jerry Beck, John Canemaker, Kevin Coffey, Ron Diamond, Mark Kausler, Heather Kenyon, Dr. William Moritz, Paul Mular, Marv Newland, Bill Plympton, Buzz Potamkin, Steve Segal, Linda Simensky and Tom Sito.

James Stuart Blackton's The Enchanted Drawing.

James Stuart Blackton's The Enchanted Drawing.

1899 Arthur Melbourne Cooper's Matches: An Appeal featured stop-motion images of moving matches for a public service announcement made in England. It asked people to send matches (which were once somewhat expensive) to soldiers fighting in the Boer War.

1900 James Stuart Blackton's The Enchanted Drawing was a stop-motion of Blackton making chalk drawings. 1905 Segundo de Chomón in Spain makes The Electric Hotel. It uses stop-motion to bring to life a variety of objects. It is far more ambitious than earlier stop-motion films. 1908 In France, Emile Cohl's Fantasmagorie uses cutouts and other techniques.

1914 Winsor McCay premieres Gertie the Dinosaur in a vaudeville act. She becomes the first well known star designed for the screen. Hand colored details added to the film's appeal.


Winsor McCay's Gertie the Dinosaur. John Randolph Bray's Colonel Heeza Lair.

1914-1915 John Randolph Bray and Earl Hurd are granted patents for animation systems using drawings on transparent celluloid sheets and a registration system that kept images steady. They form the Bray-Hurd Patent Company and collect royalties on the process until 1932 when the patents expire. Bray also develops the basic division of labor still used in animation studios (animators, assistants, layout artists, etc.).

1915 Max Fleischer receives a patent for the rotoscope.

1915 Willis O'Brien completes his first stop-motion film, The Dinosaur and the Missing Link. He goes on to direct stop-motion animation for The Lost World (1925) and King Kong (1933).

1917 El Apóstol (The Apostle) by an Italian artist working in Argentina, Quirino Cristiani, may have been the first animated feature. No print of the film exists and the only scholar, Giannalberto Bendazzi, who has researched the film says he is not certain the film was an animated feature (Giannalberto Bendazzi, Cartoons). Bendazzi speculates it could have been animated or just a series of non-animated drawings. He also writes Cristiani directed Peludópolis (City of Peludo, a political satire), the world's first animated sound feature (1931-'33). The film was reported to have been an artistic, but not a financial, success.

1918 Winsor McCay's The Sinking of the Lusitania is the first serious re-enactment of a historical event.

1920 Bray Picture Corporation's The Debut of Thomas Cat was the first color cartoon. It was made using Brewster Color, a 2 color process.

1921 Walt Disney animates his first film. It is a Newman Laugh-O-Gram sample reel. He sold a theater chain, headed by Frank L. Newman, on the idea of producing the series which included ads for local merchants.

cohen04.gifcohen05.gifNewman Laugh-O-Gram. Courtesy of Disney. Oskar Fischinger's Wax Experiments production device. Courtesy of William Moritz.

Oskar Fischinger. Courtesy of William Moritz.

Oskar Fischinger. Courtesy of William Moritz.

1921 Walther Ruttmann's Light Play, Opus 1 was the first non-objective (totally abstract) film shown to the public. It had a commercial tour with Ruttmann accompaning the 13 minute work on the cello. (Germany)

1923 Oskar Fischinger's first public screening was a showing of his Wax Experiments. (Germany)

1924 Max and Dave Fleischer's Mother Pin A Rose on Me, a Song Car-Tunes, was released by Arrow Film Corp. It was the first sound cartoon and it used the Lee DeForest Phonofilm sound process.

1926 Lotte Reiniger's Adventures of Prince Achmed, an animated feature using her silhouette technique, premieres in Berlin. It is the first animated feature that can be verified and prints of this charming work are still shown to the public on special occasions.

1927 Oskar Fischinger exhibits R-1, A Form Play using five 35mm movie projectors and a slide projector.

1928 Disney's Steamboat Willie wasn't the first sound cartoon, but it was the first to become a popular success with the public and critics.


Disney's Steamboat Willie. © Disney. Feline Follies (1919) marked the first appearance of Felix the Cat.

1930 Felix the Cat, the silent screen's greatest star, was also the star of some of the most famous photos of early TV equipment. NBC's experimental TV station in New York used a Felix toy on a rotating turntable for test broadcasts. Earlier demonstrations of TV included Herbert Hoover in Washington being seen and heard in New York in 1927 and regular broadcasts in Schenectady three times a week in 1928 using a mechanical rotating disc system.

1932 Berthold Bartosch's L'Idee (The Idea, made in France) was the first serious animated film about social issues. It was an ambitious, highly creative project and about 30 minutes in length. Arthur Honegger's score for the film is believed to be the first use of an electronic instrument in a motion picture.


Disney's Flowers and Trees. © Disney. Disney's Three Little Pigs. © Disney.

1932 Disney's Flowers and Trees was the first cartoon made using three-strip Technicolor.

1933 Disney's Three Little Pigs showed the animation community that almost identical looking cartoon characters can have different personalities due to their performances.

1933 Alexandre Alexeïeff and Claire Parker complete Night on Bald Mountain, their first film using their pinscreen technique.

1933 Lillian Friedman is promoted to animator by Max Fleischer. She was the first woman animator in a U.S. animation studio.

1934 The somewhat wild and risqué pre-code animation period ended when the film industry adopted a mandatory censorship system. Censorship lasted until 1968 when the system was replaced by a letter rating system (G, R, X, etc.).

Disney's The Flying Mouse. © Disney.

Disney's The Flying Mouse. © Disney.

1934 Disney's Playful Pluto demonstrates cartoon characters can express that they are thinking. Pluto is seen pondering a situation before he acts. In Disney's The Flying Mouse (also 1934), pathos is demonstrated eloquently. Both films demonstrate the studio's level of sophistication.

1934 The illusion of depth is first achieved by the Fleischers using table top animation in Poor Cinderella with Betty Boop. Ub Iwerks used his multiplane system in The Cave Man with Willie Whopper (1934). Disney's elaborate multiplane system is first seen in The Old Mill, 1937.

1935 Inker Sadie Bodin is fired from the Van Beuren Studio for union activities. She is the first to picket an animation studio.

1936 Len Lye's A Colour Box and Kaleidoscope (1936) are the oldest existing films made by hand painting directly onto film stock. Other artists had used the technique, but none of their work exists.

1937 The artistic and financial success of Disney's Snow White showed others it was possible to make a successful animated feature.


Disney's Snow White. © Disney. The 1937 strike at the Fleischer Studio. Courtesy of Tom Sito. © Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists Union Local 839.

1937 The industry's first major strike was at the Fleischer Studio in New York. The strike lasted over 5 months. It resulted in higher wages and better benefits.

1940 Disney's Fantasia introduces Fantasound, a multi-channel stereo sound system. Only 6 theaters were equipped to play Fantasound. It was one of the first (but not the first) films with a stereo soundtrack.

1940 George Pal moves from The Netherlands to the U.S. In Europe he developed his craft doing theatrical advertisements. Now, Paramount was paying him to do theatrical shorts.

1941 Otto Messmer, creator of Felix the Cat, animates the world's first TV commercials, a series of Botany Tie ads/weather reports. They were shown on NBC-TV in New York until 1949. They were produced by Douglas Leigh. (The station went commercial in 1941.)

The 1941 strike at Disney. Courtesy of Tom Sito. © Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists Union Local 839.

The 1941 strike at Disney. Courtesy of Tom Sito. © Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists Union Local 839.

1941 The strike at Disney was probably the industry's most devastating labor crisis. Although the strikers won, almost all were eventually laid off or quit. Most went on to bigger and greater things. (The 1947 strike at Terrytoons, which lasted 8 months, shares this dubious honor of being the industry's most devastating blow to labor.)

1941 Federal legislation gave most workers a 40 hour work week in 1913, but the animation industry didn't get the 40 hour week until 1941. Studios gave up mandatory Saturday work (a 46 hour work week) in 1941 in a final attempt to avoid unionization.

1941 Norman McLaren begins his long career with the National Film Board of Canada.

1941 Leon Schlesinger's biggest mistake may have been his reaction to a fight with Tex Avery about the ending of Heckling Hare. Schlesinger fires Avery and MGM hires him to head his own unit. The rest, as they say, is history.

Disney's Song of the South. © Disney.

Disney's Song of the South. © Disney.

1946 Protests over the depiction of Black people in Disney's Song of the South marks the beginning of the trend toward politically correct animation.

1948 Columbia gives UPA a contract to make 4 theatrical cartoons. The success of these shorts directed by John Hubley, resulted in UPA finding a permanent home with Columbia. This ensured support for their innovative "modern" approach to animation.

1949 The Supreme Court ends the "block booking" practice by film distributors/studios. This results in the eventual end of the theatrical cartoon industry in the U.S.

1950 Crusader Rabbit, created by Alex Anderson and produced by J. Ward, airs on TV in Los Angeles. It was the first limited animation cartoon made for the small screen. The show lasted 5 minutes (including 90 seconds of commercials).

1950-51 Norman McLaren is commissioned to make two 3-D stereo films for The Festival of Britain. Now is the Time is the title and also the opening line of one of the films. It is followed by "to put on your glasses" (Polaroid glasses). The second film, Around is Around, was the first film made using an oscilloscope to generate patterns. Both 3-D films were also designed with stereo soundtracks. Both were 10 minutes long.

1951-52 A purge of employees at UPA suspected of being communists (or being sympathetic toward communism) is probably the industry's blackest moment.

Disney's Melody. © Disney.

Disney's Melody. © Disney.

1953 Disney's Melody and Working for Peanuts with Donald Duck, Walter Lantz's Hypnotic Hick with Woody Woodpecker and Famous Studio's The Ace of Space with Popeye are the first theatrical cartoons to be released in 3-D. One wore Polaroid glasses to see them. (Melody was the first film released, but all were in production about the same time.)

1953 Interactive TV was born when Winky Dink and You, a show with a limited amount of animation in it, encouraged kids to complete cartoon drawings at home by drawing on a sheet of plastic placed over the TV screen.

1955 Annecy, the oldest international animation festival, was formed.

1956 The Gerald McBoing Boing Show (made by UPA for CBS) was the first half-hour network show commissioned that included new animation made for TV. It also included older UPA cartoons.

1956 Floyd Norman becomes the first African American artist at Disney.

1957 Bill Hanna calls his version of limited animation, introduced in his first TV series Ruff and Reddy, "the system." It wasn't the first limited animation on TV, but it did refine the production process.

Disney's Sleeping Beauty. © Disney.

Disney's Sleeping Beauty. © Disney.

1958 Disney completes Sleeping Beauty and then downsizes his animation staff from 551 to 75. Staffing levels would not return to that level until 1990. At the same time MGM closes their animation department. Many people feared they might see the end of the animation industry.

1958 The first all new half-hour cartoon show was The Huckleberry Hound Show. It featured three short cartoon segments: Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear and Pixie and Dixie. Ruff and Reddy was a new made-for TV cartoon, but the show also contained older Columbia theatrical cartoons.

1959 Rocky and his Friends (Rocky and Bullwinkle) has the dubious honor of being the first TV series to be animated abroad. The lack of quality control at the studio in Mexico was an obvious problem.

1960 The Flintstones (made by Hanna-Barbera for ABC) becomes the first prime time animated series using all new material made for an animated half-hour show. The program introduced the format of telling one long story rather than having a series of short cartoons.

Disney's Goliath II. © Disney.

Disney's Goliath II. © Disney.

1960 Disney's Goliath II, a theatrical short, was the first film to use a Xerox type of process to ink cels. 101 Dalmations (1961) was the first feature to use the system.

1960 ASIFA founded. It is as an international organization that furthers interest in animation. There are chapters in the U.S. in New York, San Francisco, Portland, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles. Internationally the organization spans from Mongolia to the U.K. and almost everywhere in between.

John Whitney at work on the first computer-graphics engine. Photo by Charles Eames.

John Whitney at work on the first computer-graphics engine. Photo by Charles Eames.

1961 John Whitney completes Catalog, a visual catalog of analog computer effects.

1961 Several parent groups complain about violence in kids TV shows with UPA's The Dick Tracy Show (1961), and grow with such productions as Hanna-Barbera's The Adventures of Jonny Quest (1964) and The Fantastic Four (1967). Fists, knives and guns that shoot bullets were all used in the shows. Parents also complained about showing Roadrunner cartoons and other classics on TV. Animated violence was eventually avoided in kids shows, but it returned in Marvel Action Universe (X-Men, RoboCop, etc.), a syndicated show that began in 1988.

1961 Japanese animation was first introduced in the U.S. in the features Magic Boy, Panda and the Magic Serpent and Alakazam the Great. TV introduced a lot more people to it with Osamu Tezuka's Astro Boy in 1963.

1962 Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol was the first made-for-TV animated special and the first animated TV musical. It was in color and sponsored by Timex. The next animated TV special starred Charlie Brown in 1965. It was so popular that it was aired the following year and eventually led to the production of other Charlie Brown specials. It became the longest running series of animated specials on TV.

Disney's Mary Poppins. © Disney.

Disney's Mary Poppins. © Disney.

1964 Disney's Mary Poppins was the first feature to use a sodium loss process to make special effects mattes.

1965 The Tournee of Animation is founded in Los Angeles to bring exceptional animation from around the world to U.S. shores.


James Whitney completes Lapis using his brother John's camera. It is the first motion control film.

The Yellow Submarine.

The Yellow Submarine.

1968 The Yellow Submarine influences popular culture and revitalizes the animated commercial industry when sponsors demand advertisements inspired by the feature.

1968 The first animation riot was in Singapore. When The Yellow Submarine was first shown there the audience thought they had paid to see the actual band. Disappointed fans tore-up the theater.

1969 The Federal Trade Commission takes Linus, the Lion-Hearted off the air stating that characters in a TV commercial could not appear in the program. They felt some children could not distinguish the advertisements from the show. Linus was first and foremost a General Foods cereal symbol so the shows were considered half-hour advertisements by the FTC. (See 1981, Strawberry Shortcake.)

1969 Sesame Street begins, and creates a market for creative segments by independent animators and animation studios.

1969 Marv Newland makes Bambi Meets Godzilla as a student at the Art Center of Design in Los Angeles. It became the best known title of an animated short by an independent artist. The title has even become a popular generic phrase, i.e.: a writer for Jane's Fighting Ships described a battle as "Bambi meets Godzilla." The film has had a greater return on its investment than any other film in animation history. Newland says he spent under $300 to make it and it has grossed tens of thousands of dollars.

1969 Hollywood animators demand residuals similar to rights that had already been won by voice actors and writers. The studios skillfully split the union's ranks and defeat the effort. Animation artists still do not get residuals while all other performing artists get them. Runaway productions and work being sent abroad to cut costs is also an issue.

1972 Ralph Bakshi's Fritz the Cat becomes the first X-rated animated feature successfully released in the US. 1972 ASIFA-Hollywood begins the Annie Awards. 1973 Westworld was the first feature to use computer generated images. 1979

The "Run-A-Way Wars" strike was won by the union. It gave artists some protection from jobs going overseas. In 1982 a second strike resulted in the loss of the rights gained in 1979. As a result most TV series have been animated abroad since 1982. 1979 Don Bluth leaves Disney and takes about a third of the creative talent with him when he sets up his own studio. 1980 Lucasfilm forms a computer division. In 1986 Steve Jobs buys it from Lucas and it becomes Pixar, a separate corporation with Jobs as chairman of the board. 1981 Strawberry Shortcake in the Big Apple City was the first "modern" half-hour advertisement for a toy line. Although the Federal Trade Commission had clamped down on programs that starred merchandise spokesmen in 1969, the political climate changed when Reagan became president. The FTC still watched network shows carefully, but they seemed less interested in syndicated programs. 1981 MTV goes into 2 million homes -- a new animation marketplace and aesthetic is born.

MTV brought a new aesthetic to the world. © MTV: Music Television.

MTV brought a new aesthetic to the world. © MTV: Music Television.


Perpetual Motion makes the first animated ad for MTV. Some people may remember the line, "I want my MTV." 1983 John Lasseter leaves Disney and joins Lucasfilm's computer unit. His first credit there is character designer and animator on Andre and Wally B, 1984. 1984 Michael Eisner takes the helm at Disney, ushering in a new reign of profitability. 1984 Robert Abel & Associates creates the Sexy Robot TV commercial for the Canned Food Information Council. This was the beginning of computer generated 3-D character animation in TV spots. 1985 The first made-for-TV animation series designed as a "strip show" (a show that is on 5 days a week) was the syndicated He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. He-Man was based on a popular action figure toy line and its popularity challenged the network dominance of afternoon kids shows. In the early `60s a few popular weekly shows became strip shows in some markets (The Huckleberry Hound Show), and in the `50s shows showing older theatrical cartoons were sometimes shown 5 days a week. 1985 The first computer generated 3D dinosaurs that were seen by the public were in Pacific Data Images' (PDI) Chromasaurus, a short film.

1986 Don Bluth's An American Tail becomes the first animated feature to successfully challenge Disney's prominence at the box office.

Pixar's Luxo Jr. © Pixar.

Pixar's Luxo Jr. © Pixar.

1986 Luxo Jr. from Pixar, directed by John Lasseter, is the first widely seen computer animation to have believable character movement. Lasseter amazed people with his ability to breath life into inanimate objects and to convey emotion. 1987 Stan Brackage completes Dante Quartet, which is hand painted on 70mm IMAX film and 35mm Cinemascope stock. It took him 6 years to complete the film. 1987 The first direct-to-video features are released. They are G.I. Joe The Movie and Through the Looking Glass. 1987 Q-5, a market research firm, tried to create the ultimate politically correct, demographically perfect, wholesome, non-violent, family cartoon show. ABC ordered 18 episodes of The Little Clowns of Happytown. The show came in last in the ratings. 1988 Who Framed Roger Rabbit revitalizes the industry when it proved theatrical animation made primarily for adults could be quite profitable. 1988 PDI's Waldo C. Graphic becomes the first motion-capture TV star. He was a regular on the Jim Henson Hour.

1990 The Simpsons becomes the first prime time series since Wait `Til Your Father Gets Home (1972-1974). Bart and Homer were the first TV cartoon characters to swear (they say "hell" and "damn") and Bart bears his rear end. More importantly, the show introduced stories designed to appeal to a mature audience. The show puts Fox on the map and inspires others to make series that will be of interest to adults. The show began as a segment made for The Tracy Ulman Show on Fox in 1988. Some people say the second Golden Age of Animation began in 1988 with Who Framed Roger Rabbit and the birth of The Simpsons. 1990 Disney's Rescuers Down Under was the first feature to use computerized ink and paint (no acetate cels or paint). 1991 Nickelodeon premiers the first original series made for basic cable TV. Rugrats, Doug and Ren and Stimpy were creator driven programs. They ushered in new types of children's shows. One was delightfully gross and demented. Many adults became big fans of John Kricfalusi's Ren and Stimpy. 1991 Spike and Mike offer to produce the next work by the creator of In Bred Jed, a film in their 1991 "All Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation." They produced Frog Baseball, 1992, and Peace, Love and Understanding, 1993, before animator Mike Judge was offered a contract by MTV. Frog Baseball was the first film to star Beavis and Butt-Head. 1992 Bill Plympton's The Tune became the first successful theatrical feature produced, directed and animated by one person. Charles Swenson's Dirty Duck, 1974, might hold this honor, but it was produced for a distributor and Swenson was never told that the film had broken even or had become profitable.

Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Jeffrey Katzenberg.

1992 The Cartoon Network is the first TV network to offer animation programming 24 hours a day. 1992 Gas Planet by PDI becomes the first animation company to render computer generated art that looks hand drawn.

1994 Jeffrey Katzenberg leaves Disney. The following year he becomes one of the founders of Dreamworks SKG. 1994 Disney's The Lion King became the first billion dollar property.

Disney and Pixar's Toy Story. © Disney.

Disney and Pixar's Toy Story. © Disney.

1995 Pixar's Toy Story was the first computer generated feature to be released. 1996

Ron Diamond, owner of Acme Filmworks, opens and offers free animation news, information and other services to the public. 1997 and are the first Internet sites to offer animated series. At first they were updated on anoccasional basis, but in 1999 Whirlgirl became the first regularly scheduled series on the Internet. The premiere of the regular series was simulcast on Showtime and the Internet. 1999 Southpark: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, the feature based on the hit TV show, tries to push censorship to the limit, but finds the censors win if one wants an R rating instead of anNC-17. To get the R rating about two minutes of the film had to be cut and replaced with new footage. The film's title is therefore a lie. One cut was even made to the title. The original title was Southpark: All Hell Breaks Loose, but an R rated film cannot have the word "hell" in the title. (If you think the TV show is uncensored, you are wrong. Words banned by a 1978 SupremeCourt decision are spoken and then "bleeped" out. Thatisn't being cute, that is censorship!)

1999 Pokemon: The First Movie became the most successful foreign animated film at the box office in U.S. history within a few days of its release.

1999 Alexander Petrov's The Old Man and the Sea is a 22-minute film made specifically for IMAX. It is the first IMAX film animated on a multi-plane stand(4 levels). Petrov painted the film directly under the camera on the layers of glass using slow drying oil paints.

John R. Dilworth's Courage, The Cowardly Dog. © Cartoon Network.

John R. Dilworth's Courage, The Cowardly Dog. © Cartoon Network.

1999 John R. Dilworth's Courage, The Cowardly Dog is the first animated TV show mastered in HDTV as well as conventional formats. 2000 Disney's Fantasia/2000 is the first animated feature blown up to 70mm for IMAX theaters. The film was designed to be shown in 35mm. If you feel an important fact was left off of this time line, spot an error or wish to suggest other changes, please write or e-mail me at AWN. An updated list will appear in a future issue. Some facts were left out because no one was sure of the answer . No doubt thereare other facts we simply overlooked. We know that any list will never be complete. You are welcomed to pitch in and help us fill in the gaps.

Karl Cohen is President of ASIFA-SanFrancisco. His first book, Forbidden Animation: Censored Cartoons and Blacklisted Animators, is published by McFarland Publishers. He also teaches animation historyat San Francisco State University.