Milestones Of The Animation Industry In The 20th Century
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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.

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.

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.

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

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 an occasional 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 an NC-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 Supreme Court decision are spoken and then "bleeped" out. That isn'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.

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 there are 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-San Francisco. His first book, Forbidden Animation: Censored Cartoons and Blacklisted Animators, is published by McFarland Publishers. He also teaches animation history at San Francisco State University.

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