VFX Showcasing the Animation Trailblazers

Showcasing the Animation Trailblazers

Animation films and the techniques that are used to create these films first burst onto the scene at the turn of the 20th century. Animated films, cartoons and TV shows are now amongst the most popular forms of entertainment in the world whilst the animators themselves have become famous in their own rights. As a tribute to the great animators of the past 100 years, we have decided to showcase to you the pioneers of animation. But first, a bit of history before we begin our list of animation trailblazers.

The French artist Emile Cohl is credited as the first person to create an animated film in 1908 with Fantasmagorie. Fantasmagorie, a hand drawn animation, is considered to be the oldest cartoon in the world. The short film has a running time of just 80 seconds and consists of a stick man moving around and encountering other objects. 

Following Cohn, between 1896 and 1914, French filmmaker Georges Melies directed over 500 films and in 1902, using special effects and animation, Melies created the film The Prolific Egg. This film was an exploration of scale, multiplication and transitions which established Melies as the first cinemagician. In fact, it wasn’t until 1937 when the most famous animator of them all released its first fully animated feature film and it is with this animator where our list of animation trailblazers begins.

Walt Disney

Walt Disney, along with his studio (which you can read more about later in this article) is certainly the most famous animator to have ever existed. The American animator was the pioneer that ensured the worldwide success of animation techniques, from feature films and cartoons to animation for propaganda purposes.

In 1937, Walt Disney Studios released Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, its first ever fully animated feature film. This film paved the way for a new form of family entertainment which continues to this day. Although this film of course contributed to Disney’s success as a family orientated company, it was in 1928 when brand Disney became known for what it is today through a certain popular mouse. In 1928, Mickey Mouse made his official debut in the film Steamboat Willie. Fast forward 90 years and Walt Disney’s mouse is perhaps the most successful actor to have ever appeared in film.

‘Steamboat Willie’

Walt Disney gave birth to an animation studio that continues to have a huge effect on the world today, whilst Disney himself directly inspired all of the animators who have succeeded him.

Matt Groening 

Probably the most successful cartoon animator and writer of all time, Matt Groening created his most successful work – The Simpsons – in 1989, Futurama in 1999 and Disenchantment in 2018. The Simpsons is the longest running US primetime television series in history as well as the longest running US animated series. Groening has won numerous awards for his animations series to date including the British Comedy Award for “outstanding contribution to comedy.”

Groening first became interested in cartoons and animation after watching the Disney film One Hundred and One Dalmatians. The animation required in Groening’s works consists of storyboard and character drawings which become animatics before being sent to a studio which then draw the inbetweens and renders the animation to tape. The Simpsons production consists of several different studios.

Groening is more known for his cartoon world creations and their characters rather than the actual animation techniques involved, but his creations continue to inspire animators from all over the world.

Seth MacFarlane 

Seth MacFarlane is arguably the most successful sole animator since the turn of the 21st century. McFarlane is the creator and voice actor of the animated TV shows Family Guy and American Dad. MacFarlane quickly developed a passion for animation during his childhood, drawing cartoon characters from the age of two and creating his own flip book by the age of five. By the age of nine, he was creating comic book strips for his local newspaper in Kent, Connecticut, which paid him $5 per week. As a student, MacFarlane studied film, video and animation with the intention of working for Disney after he had graduated.


MacFarlane is now famous for being the creator of Family Guy, an animated sitcom centred around the Griffin Family. Family Guy is famous for its edgy adult humour style of comedy and was actually cancelled twice by its home channel Fox. It was only strong fan support and DVD sales which caused the network to reconsider.

MacFarlane voices several of the characters including Stewie and Brian Griffin. For the character of Brian Griffin, MacFarlane uses his own accent.

Nick Park

Nick Park is famous for being the creator of the British stop motion clay animation Wallace and Gromit. The Wallace and Gromit series consists of one feature-length film (The Curse of the Were-Rabbit) and four short films, the most famous of these probably being The Wrong Trousers. Park grew up with a keen interest in drawing cartoons and created his first short film with his mother at the age of 13. 

‘Wallace and Gromit’

Wallace and Gromit films are shot using stop motion animation. The ‘actors’ of Wallace and Gromit are made using plasticine whilst the film itself is shot one frame at a time, the models are moved slightly to give the impression of movement in the final film piece. These films take a long time to animate, the feature film reportedly took 15 months to make.

Park also created the animated film Chicken Run as well as the television series Shaun the Sheep and Creature Comforts.

Tim Burton – Fantasy horror films

Tim Burton is known primarily for his Gothic horror and fantasy films, typically starring Johnny Deep. Burton worked with Walt Disney studios in order to create several of his animated films including Alice in Wonderland. When he was directing Alice in Wonderland, Burton used Disney Digital 3D – a term used to describe three-dimensional films which are made and produced by Disney Studios.

Another film directed by Tim Burton was Corpse Bride which is a stop-motion animated film although Corpse Bride is completely different to the aforementioned Wallace and Gromit films.

Ed Atkins

Ed Atkins is a British contemporary artist known for his video art. Atkins’ video works feature a computer-generated (CGI) avatar as a protagonist. Atkins focuses on the technological possibilities of new media and has been described as “one of the greatest artists of our time.”

One of his works, Safe Conduct, is an animated video inspired by airport security videos, which sees a computer-generated avatar repeatedly tear his face off showcasing how people can ‘melt’, almost without noticing, into new moods or forms. Atkins’ art often discusses the way in which labour is hidden behind new technology, using animation techniques in order to showcase self-pity, death and decay.

Atkins uses the juxtaposition of a fake computer-generated avatar to bring out real human feelings that humans can often not express themselves.

Animation Companies

‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’


Since the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937, Walt Disney studios have not let up. Disney has produced over 200 feature films with no deviation in popularity. The Walt Disney Company remains one of the biggest film companies in the world and with its acquisition of LucasFilm, (the rights to Star Wars) Marvel and Pixar, the company continues to produce box office film hits.

In 2019, Disney launched Disney+, a subscription video on-demand streaming service which has 50 million users as of April 2020. Although Disney at its core is still an animation film studio, it has been able to branch out into various different directions. 


Barcrest own the rights to some of the most famous and popular casino games in the world. Casino gaming has become one of the most popular forms of gaming whereby state of the art video animation is key in order to produce popular casino games. Slot games use increasingly advanced technology – these slot games now rival conventional video games for gameplay and aesthetics. 

One of the most popular and well-known of Barcrests’ creations is the animated slot game Rainbow Riches, a game which has produced numerous spin-offs due to its popularity. Rainbow Riches was originally created for land-based casinos, but its large following meant that Barcrest were quick to create an online version of the game. Slot game technology requires a team of developers and simply uses digital technology. 

Warner Bros

Warners Bros. Entertainment is an American mass media conglomerate that owes much of its success to its animation studio. Warner Bros’  series which was produced between 1930 and 1969 became a worldwide media franchise spawning numerous TV series, comic books and feature films. Warner Bros Animation started off as Warner Bros Cartoons which produced cartoon shorts which are still popular to this day.