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Reviewed by:
  • Animation ed. by Scott Curtis
  • Rebecca Weeks
Scott Curtis, ed. Animation. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2019.

Animation, edited by Scott Curtis, is a concise introduction to the history of American animation. In considering all three major modes of production—artisanal, collaborative and industrial, each of which is clearly explained in the introduction—the book provides a well-rounded discussion of animation that will be sure to offer something for scholars, students and those with a passion for the art form. The most recent addition to the Behind the Silver Screen series, Animation gives due attention to an aspect of filmmaking that is often overlooked in similar film studies series. The collection is organised chronologically with the six body chapters providing an overview of animation from the lightning artists of the early twentieth century, through the establishment of cartoons on the small screen, up to the digital transformation of today. The introductory chapter by Curtis provides a succinct survey of the technological, social and industrial history of animation. The author treats well-known studios along with lesser-known independent artists and studios, an important feature which continues across the subsequent chapters.

‘The Silent Screen, 1895–1928’ and ‘Classical Hollywood, 1928–1946’ establish the origin and growth of animation up until the end of World War II. Curtis’s chapter introduces the American artists at the forefront of the new medium and outlines the rapid technological advancements and changes to managerial practices during animation’s first three decades. Next, Susan Ohmer demonstrates the interconnected nature of the animation studios, charting the movements of a number of central figures across various studios. The chapter highlights how studios such as Terrytoons, Fleisher, Disney, and many more were driven by differing concerns, and consequently developed different processes and styles. While the animation studios experienced growth in this period and found creative ways to contribute to the war effort, Ohmer outlines the continuous struggle not only to produce cartoons but to exhibit them in cinemas during the studio era.

The next two chapters explore industrial and artisanal development in the period 1947–1989. Kevin Sandler’s chapter on ‘Limited Animation’ looks at how the studios adapted to the changing landscape after World War II by shifting from full to limited animation and made a home for cartoons on Saturday mornings. Sandler provides clear explanations and descriptions of both how and why limited animation was produced by various studios. Indeed, a strength of the chapter is the detailed descriptions of particular scenes to explain how limited animation worked and what the finished product looked like. A reader may easily complement this with a quick online search to see the animation in action. Sandler acknowledges the industrial factors that led to “cheap, substandard and indistinguishable” limited animation during the 1970s, but continues to highlight the creative achievements of artists during this period and the crucial legacy of limited animation for the animated shows that emerged in the 1990s and beyond (99). Alla Gadassik’s ‘Independent Artists and the Artisanal Mode’ offers an alternative view of the same period, focusing on artists who struggled to make ends meet outside of the studio system, but who nonetheless developed unique and innovative styles of animation. As in Sandler’s chapter, specific examples are provided throughout to illustrate the varied techniques and approaches that developed alongside the studio system.

Andrew Johnston and Bob Rehak’s final two chapters map the shift from 2D to 3D animation. While necessarily more jargon-heavy than other sections of the book, Johnston’s chapter is a clear and understandable introduction to computer-generated imagery (CGI). Johnston outlines the collaborative effort amongst artists, computer scientists, and engineers to develop the technology before showing how it was employed in blockbuster films of the late 1970s and early 1980s. In ‘Ubiquitous Animation’ [End Page 99] Rehak argues that digital technologies have led to a “resurgence of artisanal spirit,” even as large studio animation has developed a ‘ubiquitous’ style (155). First, Rehak explores the transformation of the animation industry approaching the turn of the century and the impact this had on the labour force. Traditional hand-drawn animation was supplemented with digital technology as early as the...


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pp. 99-100
Launched on MUSE
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