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From Classic to Modern: Animation Styles Over the Years

ben marvazi 2020

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"If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude."

Maya Angelou

Animation has come a long way since its early days. Over the years, we've seen different techniques and styles emerge, capturing the hearts and imaginations of viewers. 

This fun and insightful blog will take you on a journey through some of the most memorable animation styles over the years, from classic hand-drawn animation to the modern digital era. So, let's dive in and explore how animation has evolved and transformed the entertainment industry.

The Dawn of Animation: Early Animation Styles Over the Years

The history of animation goes back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries when pioneers like Émile Cohl and Winsor McCay experimented with stop-motion and hand-drawn techniques. These early animation styles over the years laid the foundation for what was to come in the world of animated storytelling.

Phenakistoscope and Zoetrope: Early Animation Devices

Drawings of the early animation devices phenakistoscope (spinning disc) zoetrope (slits) praxinoscope (mirrors)

Image by Source

Before film, early animation devices like the phenakistoscope and zoetrope captivated audiences with their simple, yet mesmerizing visuals. These devices used a series of images on a spinning disk or drum to create the illusion of motion.

Thaumatrope and Flipbook: More Early Animation Innovations

drawing on how to use a Thaumatrope with both hands

Image by Pinterest

Other early animation innovations include the thaumatrope, a simple device that created the illusion of motion by rapidly spinning two images on a string, and the flipbook, which used a series of drawings that appear to animate when the pages are flipped quickly.

The Silent Film Era: Embracing the Art of Animation

a black and white silent film of two men bowing at each other with the text saying "welcome comrade!" and "I thank you, comrade"

GIF by anonimaprecari via Tenor

The silent film era (1894-1929) saw the birth of numerous animation techniques and styles. Animators during this time experimented with different methods, including cutout animation, silhouette animation, and hand-drawn animation.

Cutout Animation: An Early Animation Style

cut out animation of a blue elephant picking up green items and putting them on its back with pink clouds and the sun in the sky

GIF by Brenfi Stickers via Tenor

Cutout animation involves creating characters and objects from paper or other materials and then photographing them in a sequence to create the illusion of motion. Early animators like Lotte Reiniger and Władysław Starewicz used this technique to create visually striking films.

Silhouette Animation: A Unique Visual Style

Image of silhouette animation with fairies holding hands among the flowers with an ancient Greek building in the background

Image by Darvideo

Silhouette animation, popularized by German animator Lotte Reiniger, is a form of cutout animation that uses black silhouettes to create characters and scenes. This style creates a unique and dramatic visual effect, as seen in Reiniger's 1926 film The Adventures of Prince Achmed.

The Golden Age: Disney, Fleischer, and the Birth of Iconic Characters

Micky mouse with his hands on his heart and hearts flying out of him whilst he's on a horse carriage in the golden age animation styles over the years

GIF by thorpemark via Tenor

As animation grew in popularity, the 1930s and 1940s saw the rise of the Golden Age of Animation. During this time, studios like Disney and Fleischer introduced audiences to memorable characters like Mickey Mouse, Betty Boop, and Popeye. The dominant animation style was cel animation, involving hand-drawn characters on transparent sheets called cels, which were then photographed onto film.

Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: A Landmark Achievement

snow white dancing in a building with 4 dwarfs

GIF by Mazenkas24 via Tenor

In 1937, Disney released Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first full-length animated feature film. This landmark achievement showcased the potential of cel animation and set the stage for future animated classics like Cinderella and The Lion King.

Fleischer Studios: Pushing the Boundaries of Animation

Betty Boop wiping her eyes and her face and pulling her hair out looking very frustrated

Image by Sta1cey via Tenor

Fleischer Studios, known for characters like Betty Boop and Popeye, also made significant contributions to animation during the Golden Age. The studio experimented with techniques like rotoscoping, which involved tracing live-action footage frame by frame to create realistic character movements.

The UPA Movement: A New Approach to Animation

In the late 1940s and 1950s, United Productions of America (UPA) emerged as a significant force in the animation industry. The studio's innovative approach to animation, characterized by minimalism and abstraction, set it apart from the more realistic styles of Disney and Fleischer.

UPA's Mr. Magoo and Gerald McBoing-Boing: Iconic Characters

Mr. Magoo sitting at a table with his money box open counting his money which is gold coins stacked in 5 rows

Image via Pinterest

UPA introduced iconic characters like Mr. Magoo and Gerald McBoing-Boing, whose distinctive visual styles and unconventional storytelling methods marked a departure from the animation styles over the years that had come before.

Limited Animation: A Cost-Effective Alternative

UPA's approach to animation, often referred to as limited animation, used fewer frames and simpler character designs, making it a more cost-effective alternative to the labor-intensive cel animation process. This style would later influence the television era of animation.

The Television Era: Hanna-Barbera and the Rise of Limited Animation

Scooby Doo dancing on the spot with his eyes closed is an example of the television era of animation styles over the years


The 1950s and 1960s saw the rise of television, leading to a demand for more affordable animation styles. Hanna-Barbera, the creators of The Flintstones and Scooby-Doo, pioneered limited animation techniques. This style used fewer frames and recycled backgrounds, making it more cost-effective while still captivating audiences.

The Birth of Saturday Morning Cartoons

This era also marked the beginning of Saturday morning cartoons, a beloved tradition that brought animated programming to homes across America. The popularity of these shows further solidified the role of animation in modern culture.

The Influence of UPA on Television Animation

The limited animation style popularized by UPA during the Golden Age played a significant role in shaping television animation during this period. Studios like Hanna-Barbera and Filmation adopted similar techniques to create memorable animated shows for television audiences.

The Anime Revolution: Japanese Animation Styles Over the Years

scene from Spirited Away of Chihiro and Haku running through the spirit world

GIF by Nicolas1881 via Tenor

Japanese animation, or anime, has had a significant impact on animation styles over the years. With its distinctive art style and storytelling techniques, anime has become a global phenomenon. From classics like Astro Boy and Speed Racer to modern hits like Spirited Away and Attack on Titan, anime has shaped the animation industry in countless ways.

The Origins of Anime: Osamu Tezuka and Astro Boy

a color photograph portrait of Osamu Tezuka wearing glasses and a hat

Image by IMDb

Often referred to as the "God of Manga" and the "Father of Anime," Osamu Tezuka played a pivotal role in shaping Japanese animation. His creation, Astro Boy, was the first popular anime television series and laid the groundwork for the anime industry's future success.

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Studio Ghibli: Masters of Japanese Animation

Founded by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, Studio Ghibli has produced some of the most critically acclaimed and beloved anime films of all time, including My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away. The studio's stunning visuals and powerful storytelling have made it a major influence on animation styles over the years.

The CGI Boom: Pixar and the Digital Animation Revolution

scene from Toy Story of Buzz flying Woody through the sky

GIF by T_Frizzy via Tenor

The 1990s marked the beginning of a new era in animation styles over the years, with the introduction of computer-generated imagery (CGI). Pixar's Toy Story, released in 1995, was the first feature-length film entirely composed of CGI. This groundbreaking film revolutionized the industry and paved the way for countless digitally animated movies and TV shows.

The Evolution of CGI: Shrek, Avatar, and Beyond

After the success of Toy Story, CGI continued to evolve, with films like Shrek, Avatar, and The Incredibles pushing the boundaries of what was possible with digital animation. Today, CGI has become an essential tool for animators, allowing for the creation of stunningly lifelike characters and environments.

Stop-Motion Animation: A Timeless Technique

well known animation styles over the years is stop motion like this girl dancing with wide flower pants

GIF by saffronphillips via Tenor

Despite the rise of digital animation, stop-motion remains a popular and enduring animation style over the years. From the early works of Ray Harryhausen to modern masterpieces like Coraline and Kubo and the Two Strings, stop-motion animation continues to captivate audiences with its tactile and intricate visuals.

Claymation: A Unique Stop-Motion Style

claymation of a sheep looking excited and putting two thumbs up

GIF by EnglishCanada via Tenor

One specific form of stop-motion animation that has gained popularity is claymation. This technique uses clay or plasticine models that are manipulated frame by frame, creating a distinct and whimsical look. Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run are well-known examples of claymation films.

Independent Animation: A Platform for Creative Freedom

still image of an animated scene from an independent animated film by Don Hertzfeldt's called World of Tomorrow

Image via shortoftheweek

The rise of the internet and advancements in technology have allowed independent animators to share their work with a wider audience. These animators often experiment with unique animation styles and techniques, leading to a diverse and vibrant animation landscape. Some notable examples of independent animation include Don Hertzfeldt's World of Tomorrow and David OReilly's The External World.

Web Animation: The Power of the Internet

animated icon of YouTube

GIF by FellowKids via Tenor

The internet has also given rise to web animation, allowing animators to create and distribute their work without the need for traditional broadcast platforms. Online platforms like Newgrounds and YouTube have become popular spaces for animators to showcase their talent and reach new audiences.

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality: The Next Frontier in Animation

As technology continues to advance, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have emerged as exciting new platforms for animation. These immersive technologies have the potential to transform how we experience animated content, blurring the line between reality and the animated world.

VR Animation: Immersive Storytelling

VR animation allows viewers to step inside a fully animated environment and experience stories in a more immersive way than ever before. Films like Henry, a VR film by Oculus Story Studio, and the interactive VR experience Allumette showcase the potential of this new medium.

AR Animation: Bringing Animated Characters to Life

AR animation brings animated characters and objects into our world, overlaying them onto our surroundings through devices like smartphones and AR glasses. This technology has been used in popular mobile games like Pokémon GO and has the potential to revolutionize animation by integrating it seamlessly into our daily lives.

The Future of Animation Styles Over the Years

a futuristic scene of Animation Styles Over the Years with a boy watching cars flying in the city sky

GIF by dadfe4w4 via Tenor

From hand-drawn classics to cutting-edge digital masterpieces, animation styles over the years have evolved tremendously. As technology continues to advance, it's exciting to imagine what the future holds for animation. One thing is certain: the creative spirit and passion that drive animators will continue to inspire new and innovative styles for years to come.

Are you an aspiring animator looking to kickstart your animation career? Our Animation Business Accelerator program offers on-demand video lessons, mentorship, resources, and more to help you succeed in the world of animation. Don't forget to check out our blog on "How to Start an Animation Studio" as well! Join us today and bring your animation dreams to life.

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