Timeline of Animated Film History

The Evolution of Animated Film

Still from Snow White, 1937
Wikimedia Commons

Though one could be forgiven for assuming that the animation revolution began in 1937 with the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the genre has actually existed almost as long as its live-action counterpart. This timeline charts animation's humble beginnings all the way through to its pervasive use within the realm of special effects:

  • 1906 J. Stuart Blackton's Humorous Phases of Funny Faces is released. It is a three-minute short in which Blackton creates animating drawings of faces and people against a plain blackboard.
  • 1908 The first short comprised solely of animated images, Emile Cohl's Fantasmagorie, receives its premiere in Paris.
  • 1908 Humpty Dumpty Circus marks the first use of stop-motion animation on film.
  • 1914 Earl Hurd invents the process of cel animation, which would revolutionize and dominate the industry for much of the 20th century.
  • 1914 Gertie the Dinosaur is widely considered the first animated short to feature a distinguishable character, as cartoonist and animator Winsor McCay brings a walking, dancing dinosaur to life.
  • 1917 The first feature-length animated film, Quirino Cristiani's El apostol, is released. Unfortunately, he only known copy was destroyed in a fire.
  • 1919 Felix the Cat makes his debut and becomes the first famous animated cartoon character.
  • 1920 The first color cartoon, John Randolph Bray's The Debut of Thomas Cat, is released.
  • 1922 Walt Disney animates his first animated short, Little Red Riding Hood. Though initially thought lost, a copy was found and restored in 1998.
  • 1928 Mickey Mouse makes his debut. Though the first Mickey Mouse cartoon is technically the six-minute short Plane Crazy, the first Mickey Mouse short to be distributed is Steamboat Willie, which is also the first Disney cartoon with synchronized sound.
  • 1929 Disney's iconic line of animated shorts, Silly Symphonies, kicks off its prolific run with The Skeleton Dance.
  • 1930 Betty Boop debuts as a woman/dog hybrid in the short Dizzy Dishes.
  • 1930 Warner Bros. Looney Tunes makes its debut with Sinkin' in the Bathtub.
  • 1931 Quirino Cristiani's Peludopolis, which tells the story of a military coup against a corrupt president, boasts the first instance of sound within a feature-length animated film. There are no surviving copies of the movie in existence.
  • 1932 The first full-color, three-strip Technicolor animated short, Flowers and Trees, is released. The film wins Disney the first-everAcademy Award for Animated Short Film
  • 1933 King Kong, which features several stop-motion animated characters, is released.
  • 1933 After starring in an extremely successful comic strip, Popeye makes his cartoon debut alongside Betty Boop in the seven-minute short Popeye the Sailor.
  • 1933 Ub Iwerks invents the multiplane camera, which allows animators to create a three-dimensional effect within two-dimensional cartoons.
  • 1935 The Russian film The New Gulliver becomes the first full-length feature to employ stop-motion animation for the bulk of its running time.
  • 1937 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt Disney's first full-length animated feature and the first such production to emerge out of the United States, is released. It becomes a huge box office success and Disney was awarded an Honorary Academy Award for the achievement.
  • 1938 Bugs Bunny makes his debut in Porky's Hare Hunt, though the character wasn't named until 1941.
  • 1940 Tom the cat launches his unending pursuit of Jerry the mouse in the Oscar-nominated short Puss Gets the Boot.
  • 1940 Woody Woodpecker arrives on the scene with a small role in the Andy Panda cartoon Knock, Knock.
  • 1941 The first full-length animated musical, Mr. Bug Goes to Town, is released.
  • 1946 Disney's first live-action film, Song of the South, is released and boasts several animated interludes. Because of its depiction of the African-American character Uncle Remus, the film has never been released on home media in the United States.
  • 1949 Prolific stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen makes his debut with the creation of the title character in Mighty Joe Young.
  • 1972 Ralph Bakshi's Fritz the Cat is released as the first X-rated animated feature in cinematic history.
  • 1973 Computer-generated images are used for the very first time in a brief shot within Westworld.
  • 1975 Revolutionary special-effects company Industrial Light & Magic is founded by George Lucas.
  • 1982 Tron marks the first time that computer-generated images are used extensively in a film.
  • 1986 Pixar's first short, Luxo Jr., is released. It is the first computer-animated short to receive an Academy Award nomination.
  • 1991 becomes the first fully animated film to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.
  • 1993 Jurassic Park becomes the first live-action film to feature photorealistic computer-animated creatures.
  • 1995 The first computer-animated film, , is released to theaters. The achievement is honored with a Special Achievement Academy Award.
  • 1999 Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace marks the first film to use computer-generated imagery extensively and pervasively, in terms of its sets, special effects, and supporting characters.
  • 2002 The Academy creates a Best Animated Feature category, with the first movie to win the Oscar.
  • 2002 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers features the first photorealistic motion captured character for a film, with Andy Serkis portraying Gollum.
  • 2004 The Polar Express becomes the first fully-animated film to use motion capture technology to render all of its characters. 
  • 2005 Chicken Little becomes the first computer animated film to be released in 3D.
  • 2009 James Cameron's groundbreaking Avatar is the first film to feature a fully CG 3D photorealistic world,

    Edited by Christopher McKittrick