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FILM3022 Animation: Technology, culture, and industry

Module Overview

Animation has been a part of cinema from its inception and remains one of the most popular forms of moving image in the 21st century. Some theorists have even argued that animation has preceded, contained, or replaced cinema. Yet, animation has been largely ignored within the academic study of film and denigrated within broader cultural discourses about moving images. This module will look at the historical development of this form of filmmaking and reconsider its place within cinema and television history, as well as wider artistic practices. This module will consider animation’s distinctive aesthetic characteristics through case studies of specific periods and countries and close analysis of key films, structured around three themes: technology, culture, and industry. It will shed new light on familiar examples and introduce new and unfamiliar films and filmmakers. Yet it will also question the efficacy of categorising these works under a single term, investigating the diverse and pervasive practices animation encompasses. These include its relationship to ‘live action’ cinema, and intermedial links with other artistic practices and media, including performance arts, graphic and fine art, and music. To animate something is both to give it motion and to bring it to life, and running throughout the historical and aesthetic examination in the three themes will be a theoretical concern with the philosophical implications of the various meanings of ‘animation’.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

• Introduce you to the aesthetics and historical development of animation, both dominant Hollywood examples and those from other production contexts. • Address animation both as a widely recognised distinctive form of filmmaking, and as a pervasive intermedial practice. • Investigate various explanations for animation’s historical and aesthetic development, including technological, cultural, and industrial factors. • Analyse both canonical and overlooked examples of animation to understand how they contribute to and reflect upon the historical, aesthetic, and theoretical ideas raised in the module

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • A range of techniques used to produce animated films and the periods and countries they are commonly associated with
  • Key theories and theoreticians of animation studies
  • The intermedial relationships that have shaped animation
  • Early, ‘Golden age’ and contemporary Hollywood animation
  • A range of (inter)national animation traditions
  • Artists’ films that use animation techniques
  • Advertising and commercial use of animation
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Discuss a variety of definitions of animation and relate their implications to provide readings of specific films.
  • Situate animation in the context of wider histories and theories of cinema and assess gaps in them relating to animation as an artistic practice and philosophical concept.
  • Position animated works within their cultural context and examine their place in the international history of animation.
  • Describe the economic and technological basis of a selection of animated works and relate this to their aesthetic and historical meaning.
  • Apply the histories and theories studied on the module to provide readings of new animated works.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Communicate effectively in writing and speech
  • Independently research appropriate resources
  • Produce a competent critical analysis
  • Research and compose different forms of written essay/report


The aesthetic and historical understanding of animation in this module will be structured around three themes: technology, culture, and industry. The first section of this module will examine technological approaches to animation and look at the history and aesthetics of the three most common techniques: drawn, object, and computer-generated animation. It will explore the shared characteristics and implications of these techniques, while identifying their distinctive qualities. This raises questions about the ability to create a common definition of animation, as well as challenging their separation from ‘live action’ cinema. It will typically consider examples of these techniques from mainstream studios like Disney, Pixar, Aardman, and Dreamworks, as well as international and independent work from filmmakers such as Sylvain Chomet, the Brothers Quay, David Oreilly, and Nina Paley. The second section of this module will place animation in its varying cultural contexts through cases studies of specific countries or regions. Like cinema in general, animation has been dominated by American films and interests, especially through the work of the Disney studio. However, its artisanal nature and aesthetic possibilities have also seen it adopted by filmmakers looking to express their own historical and cultural circumstances. This section will understand specific works within their national context, while also using the liminality of animation as a way to interrogate and challenge the complex ideas of national cinema and identity and their place in a global marketplace. Countries/regions addressed may include Japan, Eastern Europe, and Britain. Indicative examples of films to be screened are landmark work from Studio Ghibli, Jan Švankmajer, Priit Pärn, Joanna Quinn, and Bob Godfrey. The third section of this module will consider the institutional models within which animation has been produced. Since the 1910s mainstream animation has been produced on an industrial scale as part of the Hollywood studio system, with the Disney studio being the foremost example of this approach. Yet animation has also been produced using different funding models, including sponsored and artists’ films, and the use of animation for advertising purposes. This section of the module will consider the implications of these varying models, both for the aesthetic results they produce, as well as their political repercussions, such as labour relations and the representation of race and gender. Films examined in this section will likely cover ‘Golden Age’ Hollywood animation from Disney and UPA, independent and avant-garde work by filmmakers such as Lotte Reiniger, Norman McLaren, Len Lye, and Oskar Fischinger, as well as advertising, video game, and web animation.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include • Lectures • Seminars • Screenings • Tutorials Learning activities include • Seminar discussion • Independent study, viewing, and research • Writing a comparative essay critically examining a film studies text and an animation studies text. • Writing an analytical essay that studies the form of one or more animated works. • Writing a research report that communicates empirical information about the technology or economics of an animated work and assesses their impact on the film aesthetically.

Practical classes and workshops30
Completion of assessment task60
Preparation for scheduled sessions40
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Sito, Tom (2013). Moving Innovation: A History of Computer Animation. 

Crafton, Donald (1982). Before Mickey. The Animated Film 1898-1928. 

Crafton, Donald (2013). Shadow of a mouse: Performance, belief, and world-making in animation. 

The Cameraman's Revenge (1912). Film

Fuji (1974). Film

A Colour Box (1935). Film

Great (1975). Film

Wells, Paul (1998). Understanding Animation. 

Beckman, Karen (ed.) (2014). Animating Film Theory. 

Street of Crocodiles (1986). Film

Hotel E (1991). Film

Ghost in the Shell (1995). Film

Madeline (1952). Film

Russett, Robert & Cecile Starr (1976). Experimental Animation. 

Možnosti dialogu/Dimensions of Dialogue (1982). Film

Furniss, Maureen (2008). Art in Motion. Animation Aesthetics (revised ed). 

Toy Story (1995). Film

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011). Film

Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed/The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926). 

Frankenweenie (1984/2012). Film

Clements, Jonathan (2013). Anime: A History. 

Buchan, Suzanne (ed.) (2013). Pervasive Animation (AFI Film Readers Series). 

Neighbours (1952). Film

Eisenstein, Sergei, Jay Leyda, Alan Upchurch, and N. I. Kleiman (1986). Eisenstein on Disney. 

Pilling, Jayne (ed.) (1997). A Reader in Animation Studies. 

Bambi (1942). Film

Please Say Something (2009). Film

Coraline (2009). Film

Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi/Spirited Away (2001). Film

Gerald McBoing-Boing (1951). Film

Kaze no Tani no Naushika/Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984). Film

Kreise/Circles (1933-34). Film

L'Illusionniste/The Illusionist (2010). Film



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (1500 words) 30%
Essay  (2500 words) 50%
Report  (1000 words) 20%


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

Linked modules

FILM1001 or FILM2006 or FILM1020 or ENGL1079

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