How Technology Affects Animation

By: Hung Huynh

Animation is the rapid display of a sequence of images of two-dimensional artworks in order to create an illusion of movement. The earliest form of animation was the drawing on stones and caves. Through the course of history, animation's development revolved around the development of technology. From simple animation on phenakistoscope disk or flipbook, the use of image projection of Praxinoscope to the amazing graphic animation in this modern world, the growth of technology has helped graphic animation evolved from two-dimensional to three-dimensional format.

A Phenakistoscope disc with sequence of image
A Phenakistoscope disc

Early animation can be traced back since the Stone Age where scientists discovered sequence of drawings on stones or in caves. Because animation is the sequence of images, the significant breakthrough was the invention of the camera, which is a device that captures real images and stores them in a medium. Then the invention of the Praxinoscope, the first projection that projected the image from a small film strip onto the wall, led animation to another evolution.

Moving picture
By spinning the phenakistoscope, the image appear to be moving when focus on one point on the disc

There were many inventions to execute animating sequence before the time of digital world. The first simple device was called phenakistoscope disc which has a sequence of images on the edge of the disc. When looking at a position on the edge and spin the disc, it created an optical illusion that the drawn object was moving. Then video camera was invented where sequence of images was stored on the film strip. The analog period was where filming industry stored everything on physical medium. When the computer was invented and the digital world started to break away from the analog world, animation sequences transformed from physical objects (film strips) to binary code.

Early camera
A spring-wound Bolex 16mm camera

Information in digital format represent as 1's and 0's (binary code). The process of creating animation in the early day involved the use of hand drawing, and keeping track of all the physical material was a hassle. The invention of computer and graphic processing hardware has reduced the workload on animating artists. As technology advanced and computer's hardware became sufficient, the concept of three-dimensional (3D) animation became possible. Through software and hardware development, a computer can create a virtual 3D space for animation process. It also makes it easier and simpler to edit animation sequence because it is much effortless to change digital information. However, we also have to keep in mind that the rendered view of 3D animation would be the same as 2D animation. Both of the animation types are displayed on a 2D surface, which is a screen. The only difference is artists have more control over 3D animation than 2D animation. In 2D animation, if the view angle needs to be switched, artists have to re-draw the image in different angle. However, in 3D animation, everything is 3D model in a 3D virtualized world. That means the artists only have to switch the camera view using the aid of software. Thus, it makes 3D animation easier to process and look more realistic.

A short 3D animation film titled "World War". It was created by Vincent Chai for his final degree project whilst studying 3D Animation at the University Of Hertfordshire.

Graphic animation would not stop at movies and moving drawing pictures, but it also advanced to different field with the help of new technology. Computers create realistic photos without the help of camera and eventually create animation footages that looked like they were captured by a video camera. Video capture devices became more sophisticated and powerful. Movies can be captured with very high resolution, and the process of transfer those footages to consumers became easier. Nevertheless, the role of technology plays a very huge part in animation, because technology affects the development of new hardware for animating process.

CGI Hulk
A comparison of a CGI Hulk. The top image have less detail, and the bottom image has more detail because of more proccesing time

Besides movies and animating pictures, new technology allows animation to transform to better animating format. The advancement of the internet means user would demand for these animating pictures to be transfer with ease. We can see many types of animation formats such as GIF, Flash, etc. being use more and more over the time. Not only that, the advancement of capture device such as video camera resulted with higher movie resolution, thus Computer Graphic Imaging (CGI) is highly focus.

About a few hundred years ago where there was no microprocessor, the process of making animation is slow and the quality was not really good. However, as new technology being invented such as computers, the process of render motion pictures became easier every day. However, because the newer technology enables picture to have very high resolution, hardware processing power is also being challenge. With the current "horse power" of computer CPU (Central Processing Unit) and GPU (Graphic Processing Unit), the rendering time for pictures over the past 20 years would take seconds to complete. However, because of the high resolution, the rendering process would take longer. For example, the movie "Transformers", a movie about alien robots that tried to invade the earth. The footage of the real sceneries would take seconds to render, but the footage of the CGI robot would take up to several hours per frame. One second of movie usually has 24 frames, and we can see the tremendous amount of time to render that awesome CGI footage with the newest technology available.

A trailer of the movie "Transformers 2". You can see the detail of CGI robots that rendered in the footage

The development of technology would never stop and thus animation would also evolve. Looking back at the old technology, we have to be amazed by such creativity. If animating pictures can be made from such archaic technology, we can be sure there would be more amazing achievement in the future with the advanced invention. Maybe in the future, 3D animation would not be limited on 2D screen, but we would see 3D animation on our real 3D environment.