Database for Animation Studies


The Veiled Genealogies of Animation and Cinema

This article challenges the widely held view that cinema is a subcategory of the larger entity, animation. Tracing the etymology of the word ‘animation’ reveals how it acquired two separate meanings: one to endow with life or to come alive, and the other, to move or be moved. In trade and professional discourses about cinema, ‘animation’ did not refer to single-frame cinematography or to the class of films using that technique until the early 1910s. The genealogical argument that animation was the ancestor of cinema exploits the semantic serendipity of these two meanings, but the approach distracts from a larger understanding of animation as a film form, genre and social practice. A negative result of this line of reasoning is that the distinctive features of the optical toys of so-called pre-cinema are valued only inasmuch as they resembled later cinema and may not be studied in their own right.

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Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal
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