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Celebrating International Animation Day 2022: The Origins of Animation

28 Oct 2022

Today marks the 130th birthday of animation! Animation is the heart of Reciprocal Space’s creative work, which is why we decided to dig deeper into its fascinating origins.

International Animated Film Association (ASIFA) established ‘International Animation Day’ in 2002 to celebrate the art of animation by honouring its very birth, which dates back as far as the 19th century. On 28th October 1892, a French inventor Charles-Émile Reynaud showed the world his newest invention – an animated moving picture system he named ‘Théâtre Optique’. He used it to project onto a screen Luminous Pantomimes, a series of the first three animations humanity had ever seen.  


Ever since, animation has evolved dynamically, thanks to the invention of the computer. People started experimenting with computer-generated animations as early as in the 1940s; the appearance of the first computer animations coincides with the emergence of early computers, which were nothing like the computers we know today! Computer-generated imagery (CGI) sparked a revolution in animation. The first animation generated with CGI was made by John Whitney, an animation pioneer, who customised a World War II anti-aircraft mechanical analog computer to create the opening sequence to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) in collaboration with a graphic designer, Saul Bass. Whitney’s invention became the first computer-graphics engine.  


It wasn’t long since the first digital animation that scientists started animating scientific phenomena by programming calculations into a computer. In 1963, programmer Edward Zajac produced Simulation of Two-Gyro Gravity-Gradient Attitude Control System, a 1.25-minute computer-generated animation simulating the motion and autorotation of a satellite through space. One could say that Zajac’s animation gave birth to scientific animation! 


As the first 2D animations were being made, people started creating the earliest three-dimensional models that eventually gave rise to 3D computer-generated animation. In 1972, Edwin Catmull and Frederic Parke produced a 6.5-minute film featuring an animated 3D model of a human’s hand. The animation, used in Heffron’s Futureworld, was the first 3D-rendered polygonal animation ever made. Having transformed the art of animation itself, Catmull became a pioneer in 3D computer graphics and co-founded Pixar, one of the most influential animation studios in the world. 


Animation has an intimate relationship with technology and science; it is not surprising that the appearance of 3D animation sparked strong interest within the scientific community. Among them were molecular biologists who wanted to use 3D medical animation to model interactions between biological molecules. The first description of potentially using 3D computer animation to visualise complex macromolecules appeared in the 1975 issue of the journal Science. This established the early beginnings of animated medical science communication, which now forms the core of Reciprocal Space’s creative work! 


Modern CGI has the power to imitate reality, and animation forms the foundation of science communication. Over the past decade, we have seen massive improvements in computer graphics technology, which shortened rendering times significantly, allowing 3D modellers and animators to create more complex, realistic, and sophisticated scenes. For example, the first feature length CGI film Toy Story required 800,000 machine hours to render prior to its release in 1995. According to the producer of Toy Story 4, Jonas Riviera, rendering Toy Story today would take less than the full length of the film (less than 77 minutes of animation)!  


Reciprocal Space is a leader in 3D animations for science communication. Reciprocal Space is dedicated to creating the most intricate, engaging and professional animations and designs using the most cutting-edge tools. Science feeds on curiosity and curiosity needs to be satisfied immediately – this is why Reciprocal Space believes animation is the best way to convey complex scientific, technological or medical concepts. It delivers a dynamic, captivating, and concise view of the topic at hand in just minutes.  


Animacam. The beginnings of animation: Émile Reynaud. 9th December 2016.

Stikky Media. The History of CGI in Movies. 19th May 2020.

History of Information. Edward Zajac Produces the First Computer-Animated Film. 22nd October 2022.

‌NFI. What Is CGI? - Everything You Need To Know. NFI. 2021

History of Information. The First 3D Rendered Movie. 22nd October 2022.

This Day In Pixar. This Day in Pixar History: Ed Catmull and the (First?) Computer Animated Film. 31st December 2017.

Maya Academy of Advanced Cinematics. Journey of Medical Animation (Part-2). 21th August 2013.

Desiderio K, Phillips I. How Pixar’s animation has evolved over 24 years, from ‘Toy Story’ to ‘Toy Story 4’. 20th May 2020.

Postpace. How Toy Story Changed Animation History | Pixar’s First CGI Animated Movie. 4th January 2021.

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