The Origins of Animation?

If I was to ask you when animation began, where would you go? 1995, Toy Story (don’t laugh, there are kids out there that can’t imagine even that far back!). OK, more serious, the 1920s, Disney? How about Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in 1911? Earlier? OK, what about Emile Renynaud’s 1892, Pantomimes Lumineuses? But then there was the Zoetrope from William George Horner in 1834. But even that can trace its origin as far back as AD 180(ish) China. So is that it? Animation started in China sometime around 180 AD? Well, apparently not.

It’s been I while since I’ve put finger to key here and offered any peas of my mind. What with back surgery, welcoming a new baby, a stereotypical toddler and working up to 4 projects at a time, there’s not a lot of opportunity. However, last week as I was making an urgent nappy (diaper) run to the store, I caught a few minutes of PRI’s The World on the radio. And in these few moments an interesting story caught my ear.

Marc Azéma, a French archaeologist and film maker, has been studying French and Spanish cave art for 20 years and has come to the belief that many of the depictions were deliberately designed, not just to show the subject is moving, but to actually show that movement. He proposes that they should be viewed sequentially in much the same way we would a modern animated cartoon and has created a video to demonstrate this;

He also makes the bold suggestion that these cave paintings, estimated to be in the region of 30,000 years old, mark the beginnings of cinema – albeit several evolutionary stages away from what we have now. I’m not wholly convinced myself, it’s a wonderful idea and in the video he has created a great supporting visual for his idea. But it is a video he has made himself by superimposing the various paintings over one another, not exactly concrete scientific evidence.

So, were the Neanderthals of prehistoric France and Spain the originators of the moving image? Or is Mr. Azéma’s theory yet another of archaeology’s grand speculations – I mean, come on, can we really know what colour a stegosaurus’s belly was?!  Why not take 6 minutes out of your day to listen to the man yourself and watch the video, then make up your own mind.

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