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The Dawn of Animation: A Look Back at the First Animation Ever Made

The history of animation is a fascinating journey that takes us back over a century. The inception of this art form, often attributed to the pioneering work of early animation studios, marked the beginning of a new era in storytelling and entertainment. This article explores the very first animation made and the context in which it was created.

The Earliest Animations: Pre-1900s

Before delving into the first true animation, it’s essential to acknowledge the precursors that set the stage for this breakthrough. Devices like the phenakistoscope (1833) and the zoetrope (1866) allowed for the illusion of motion by displaying a sequence of drawings or photographs in rapid succession. These inventions were crucial in demonstrating the basic principles that would later be pivotal in animation.

The Birth of Animation: “Humorous Phases of Funny Faces” (1906)

The credit for the first true animation often goes to J. Stuart Blackton for his 1906 film, “Humorous Phases of Funny Faces.” Blackton, a founder of the Vitagraph Studios, one of the earliest animation studios, utilized chalkboard drawings and the stop-motion technique to bring his characters to life.

  1. The Technique: Blackton drew comical faces on a chalkboard, photographing them frame by frame. Between frames, he would alter the drawings to create a sense of movement. This method, combining stop-motion with drawn animation, was revolutionary.
  2. The Impact: Although just a few minutes long and simple in content, “Humorous Phases of Funny Faces” showcased the potential of animation as a medium for storytelling and entertainment. It laid the groundwork for future developments in the field.

The Role of Early Animation Studios

The emergence of animation cannot be discussed without recognizing the role of early animation studios. These studios, like Vitagraph, were instrumental in experimenting with and refining the techniques that would become standard in animation.

  1. Innovation and Experimentation: Early animation studios were hotbeds of creativity, where artists and filmmakers experimented with various techniques, including hand-drawn animation, clay animation, and puppetry.
  2. Industrialization of Animation: These studios were also responsible for turning animation from a novelty into a viable industry, setting the stage for the development of larger studios like Walt Disney and Warner Bros.

The Evolution Post-1906

Following “Humorous Phases of Funny Faces,” animation rapidly evolved. In 1914, Gertie the Dinosaur by Winsor McCay introduced more advanced, character-driven animation. The 1920s and 1930s saw the rise of major animation studios like Disney, which would revolutionize the industry with synchronized sound animations and eventually, full-color and full-length feature films.


The creation of the first true animation marked the beginning of an industry that would grow to become a cornerstone of modern entertainment. The pioneering work of early animators and studios like Vitagraph laid the foundation for a century of innovation, leading to the diverse and rich world of animation we enjoy today.