The subject of technology in animation would not be complete without the inclusion of the innovations of the systems that allowed the art form to thrive in a commercial fashion. Much has been made of the artists and to a lesser extent the writers and directors of animation but, very few articles or histories have broached the subject of technological systems and their application to this film making craft. The successful application of the principles of what was once known as the ‘American System’ of manufacturing as early as the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century transformed industrial systems and created the opportunities that would become film entertainment as we now know it.
The so called Golden Age of Animation would not have been possible without the inventions and innovations of manufacturing systems of Eli Whitney, Thomas Edison, George Eastman, and Henry Ford. Ideas that built factories and mass production; interchangeable parts, mechanized tools, electrification of the assembly line, a semi-skilled labor force that was educated primarily to carry out their duties in a procedural approach was introduced in a large measure by Walt Disney. The movement to industrialize animation to the factory structure from a piecemeal craft in the early years of the twentieth century could arguably be Walt Disney’s greatest career achievement and innovation. It is no small coincidence that Disney’s greatest boyhood hero was in fact Henry Ford who said, “I invented nothing new. I simply assembled into a car the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work…Had I worked fifty or ten or even five years before, I would have failed. So it is with every new thing. Progress happens when all the factors for it are ready, and then it is inevitable. To teach that a comparatively few men are responsible for the greatest forward steps of mankind is the worst sort of nonsense.” The proof of this statement is present in the digital animation pipelines of today.
Animation is an art of technology that has been shaped by the
electrification of a global economy that codified the interchangeable part
as the new religion. The very existence of animation would not be possible without the congruence of metallurgy, chemistry, and physics in the hands of many inventors and engineers. Manufacturing systems that led to the cameras, film, and chemicals needed in the earlier years of film making were companies driven to profit from the leisure time of the masses; giving birth to the motion picture studios and later the animated film industry.
Daryl Anthony Boman is a writer, illustrator, cartoonist, and film studies
dude; living on the outskirts of Santa Barbara, California.