Throughout history, people have told stories through pictures. Ancient Egyptians drew on walls to tell stories. A German named Athanasius Kircher, who lived in the 1600s, painted pictures on pieces of glass. He laid the pieces of glass on top of one another, and slid them back and forth. The drawing looked like it was moving. This was the beginning of animated cartoons. Animated cartoons depend on optical illusions. Optical illusions are tricks that make your eyes believe they saw something. They help the viewer think the cartoon is moving.
In the early 19th century, Mark Roget showed that actions could be broken down into a series of separate images. If the images were displayed one after another quickly, the eye did not see them as separate. Instead, the image looked like it was really moving. This discovery influenced the way future cartoons were made.
Motion picture film was developed several decades later. It used a series of many photographs to create the illusion of movement. Cartoon artists realized that the same technology could be used to make animated cartoon films. Instead of photographs, each frame of the film was a picture drawn by hand. Twenty four drawings were needed for each second of film. By 1892, short black and white cartoon films were being shown in movie theaters. Because the cartoons were only 5-10 minutes long, they became known as shorts. After seeing how much audiences liked them, many artists who had drawn comics for newspapers began to use their skills to draw animated cartoons. The animated film industry gave artists new ways to tell stories.
The first animated cartoon with sound was Disney's Steamboat Willie. This cartoon short was also Mickey Mouse's first appearance as a cartoon character. Animation and sound worked together to tell the story. Matching the sound to the action of the cartoon was made easier by actions that were repeated, such as Mickey Mouse steering the boat. The short length of the cartoons also made the task less difficult. In 1937, Snow White was the first full-length animated feature film with sound and color. The sounds included character voices, background noises, and music.
By the 1980s, animators started to use computer generated imagery (CGI) to make cartoons. Some cartoons gave the illusion of being three-dimensional instead of flat drawings. The 1995 Pixar film Toy Story was the first animated movie using CGI. The use of CGI made the toys in the movie seem to come to life.
Even with all the technological advances society has seen since the Ancient Egyptians, the idea of a cartoon is still the same. Whether on a wall, in a newspaper, magazine, or on film, cartoons all have the purpose of telling a story.