The word 'animation' is derived from anima, the Latin word for soul or spirit. The verb 'to animate' literally means 'to give life to'.
From his earliest artworks, hunting scenes sketched in ochre on
a cave wall, to highly refined Greek sculptures, mankind has always
attempted to imbue his art with expressions of life by depicting
his subjects as if caught in a frozen moment in time suggestive
of broader preceding and following actions.
History is rich with descriptions of attempts to imitate life by mechanical means in the form of hydraulic, pneumatic, or clockwork operated biological automata. Automata (or automatons - a machine which is relatively self-operating and capable of performing multiple complex movements on its own without the need for human control) had its greatest period of development following the rise of mechanicism with the revival of Greek culture during the Renaissance. There were, for example, isolated descriptions of talking heads claimed to have been constructed by Albertus Magnus, Roger Bacon, Gerbert, and Robert Grosseteste. Perhaps of greater significance was the mechanical lion of da Vinci and the two automata created by Johannes Muller, called Regiomontanus (1436-1476). One of these was the fabled eagle which was claimed to have escorted the Emperor Maximilian to the city gates of Nuremberg.
Egotistical man placed himself at the centre of the universe. He
has always believed in the possibility of creating life - of playing
god. Man has used his technology as an agent to help realise this
desire in order to become ruler of all nature.
The first android, a completely mechanical figure which simulated
a living human or animal, operating with apparently responsive action,
is believed to have been constructed by Hans Bullmann of Nuremberg
(?-1535). Bullmann reportedly produced a number of extremely ingenious
figures of men and women that moved and played musical instruments.
These early automata were mechanical devices that seemed to demonstrate
lifelike behaviour. They took advantage not only of gears, but also
of gravity, hydraulics, pulleys and sunlight - the effect could
be dazzling, as with the extraordinary clock of Berne created in
1530. This massive timepiece hourly disgorged a dazzling pageantry
of automata figures.
One of the most
famous waterworks of the seventeenth century was that constructed
at the chateau at Heilbrunn in about 1646. It featured various animated
hydromechanical devices. A mechanical theatre was installed here
in 1725 by Lorenz Rosenegge, a craftsman of Nuremberg. It featured
256 figures, 119 of which were animated by means of a single water
turbine. A horizontal axis operating a series of cams regulated
the movements of the figures by means of copper wires. The wheelwork
consists of wooden wheels with iron teeth and pinions. A powerful
hydraulic organ provides background music and covers the noise of
Just as the waterworks and grottoes of the Renaissance gardens were
tangible revivals of the hydraulic and pneumatic devices of the
ancient Greek culture, some of the same influence filtered into
the field of clockmaking. The first conversion from the hydraulic
and pneumatic to the purely mechanical automata, occurred in Europe
with the advent of the clockmaker who made public and astronomical
clocks with moving figurines.
It was a short step to a combination of the pinned cylinder and
the spring-driven clockwork to provide the sound of living things
and of musical instruments in automata. This combination made possible
a great variety of developments in the late seventeenth and during
the eighteenth centuries. The most notable of these were the androids
constructed in the mid-eighteenth century by Jacques Vaucanson (1709-1782),
who brought the production of automata to its highest point of development.
Vaucanson is unquestionably the most import inventor in the history
of automata, as well as one of the most important figures in the
history of machine technology. Although he was responsible for pioneering
in the development of machine tools and later inspired the work
of Sir Henry Maudslay and others, it was, ironically enough, his
automata -- which occupied the briefest interlude in his life --
which brought him permanent fame and fortune.
Born in 1709 in Grenoble, France, Vaucanson exhibited great mechanical
ability at a very early age. After having attended the oratory college
at Juilly he studied with the Jesuits at Grenoble, and in 1725 joined
the order of Minims of Lyon. During his training period, however,
Vaucanson indulged his mechanical interests by creating automatically
flying angels. This impelled the provincial of the order to destroy
his makeshift workshop, and Vaucanson used the incident as an excuse
to to be relieved of his clerical vows.
Vaucanson moved to Paris and, in direct contrast with his recent
religious life, gave himself up to a life of debauchery while he
undertook the studies of mechanics, music, and anatomy. He developed
an interest in the study of medicine and attempted to construct
a "moving anatomy" which reproduced the principal organic
functions. Debts, illness, and eventually boredom caused him to
abandon the project. He went on to the construct his famous androids,
which made him wealthy and famous throughout Europe.
In 1735 Vaucanson began to formulate plans for the construction
of the first android, which was to be a life-sized figure of a musician,
dressed in a rustic fashion and playing eleven melodies on its flute,
moving the levers realistically by its fingers and blowing into
the instrument with its mouth. In October 1737 the automaton was
completed and exhibited first at the fair of Saint-Germain and later
at Longueville. All Paris flocked to see the mechanical masterpiece
with the human spirit; the press was extremely favorable, and Vaucanson
was launched upon his career.
Vaucanson's third and most famous automaton was "an artificial
duck of gilt brass which drinks, eats, flounders in water, digests
and excretes like a live duck" (see figure top right). It was
Vaucanson's intention to create in this duck the "moving anatomy"
that he had visualized once before. Accordingly, the figure of the
duck was produced full size of gilt brass in a simplified form,
the body pierced with openings to permit the public to observe the
process of digestion. The complexity of this duck was enormous -
there were over four hundred moving pieces in a single wing.
Just as spring-wound clockwork made possible mechanical music for
automata, it also made possible the reproduction of the sound of
words by mechanical means. In the seventeenth century Kircher had
affirmed that it was possible to produce a head which moved the
eyes, lips, and tongue, and, by means of the sounds which it emitted,
appeared to be alive. A similar project was attempted in 1705 by
Valentin Merbitz, rector of the Kreuzschule of Dresden, who devoted
five years to it. The next major advance in this field was made
in about 1770 by Friedrich von Knauss of Vienna, who constructed
four speaking heads. That his project was not completely successful
is attested to by the fact that in 1779 the Academy of Sciences
in St. Petersburg used the production of a successful speaking head
as the theme for a contest for mechanicians and organ manufacturers,
specifying that the machine be capable of speaking the five vowels.
- The Turing Test
of its day for clocksmiths and mechanical engineers?
The most spectacular of all automata that have survived until the
present day are The Writer, The Artist, and The Musician produced
by Pierre Jacquet-Droz (1771-1790) and his son Henry-Louis (1753-1791)
of Geneva. Father and son combined all the technical developments
known in their time in an effort to produce a machine that faithfully
imitated a human being, and their efforts were as successful as
any have ever been. The Writer, a life-size and lifelike figure
of a boy seated as a desk, is capable of writing any message of
up to 40 letters in length (above right).
"On mechanical slavery, on the slavery
of the machine, the future of the world depends" -
The Soul of Man Under Socialism, 1895.
Boilerplate Man and Steam Man - Amazing Robots of
the Victorian Era - fact or fiction? You decide: http://www.bigredhair.com/robots/index.html
With a public fascination for the newly discovered force of electricity,
fictional writing suggested that pieces of dead flesh sewn together
could be 'animated' into life just as severed frog legs could be
kicked into a reflex action by a crude battery in a science laboratory
Having discarded the earlier technologies of hydraulics, pneumatics,
clockwork, which where thought to hold the key, man continues his
quest to create life through robotics and electronics, and with
more abstract notions of life using computers to create artificial
life (AI), autonomous systems, Celluar Automata and nanotechnology.
Man now plays directly with the building blocks of life itself via
||AIBO - Sony's Artificial Intelligence roBOt. AIBO means 'love' or 'attachment' in Japanese. Many AIBO owners enjoyed teaching their pets new behaviors by reprogramming them in Sony's 'R-CODE' language. However, in October 2001, Sony sent a cease-and-desist notice to the webmaster of of a programming hack site demanding that he stop distributing code that bypassed the copy prevention mechanisms of the robot. Whose life is it anyway? Read the protest: <click here> The AIBO was killed off by Sony in 2006.
Nowhere is this obsession to play god and create worlds and to populate
them with artificial autonomous life forms more in evidence than
in computer games such as "World of War Craft" and "Second Life".
Animators are also engaged in this same elusive quest.
"Seems humans have been animating things
a billion years before I was born"
|A horse painted on the walls of Lascaux caves, northern slopes of the Pyrenees , South central France
|A horse and wild cattle painted on the walls of Lascaux
|A bison painted on the rock walls of the Upper Paleolithic Altamira caves in Cantabria, Spain
||An ancient Egyptian frieze depicting an apparent sequence of images illustrating the dynamic poses as used by wrestlers.
||String operated figure kneading dough, Egypt, 2000 BC.
||Dancing dwarfs in ivory - Egypt - Middle Kingdom - 12th Dynasty. The figures move through the use of strings and a pulley. Found at Lisht during excavations in 1934
mechanical Duck by Jacques Vaucanson
circa 1730s "an artificial duck
of gilt brass which drinks, eats, flounders in water, digests
and excretes like a live duck"
|The Writer -
a mechanical doll made in carved wood by Jaquet-Droz in 1772
which had the ability to write. At 28 inches tall, it gave an
unusual impression of life and was presented to every court
in Europe. Some argue that it is the most perfectly developed
automaton writer in the world.
- circa 1850 by Frenchman Alexandre Nicolas Theroude. Theroude
started a wholesale toyselling company but after the 1830 Revolution
which affected Parisian luxury industries, he shifted his focus
away from making ordinary toys to become one of the foremost
mechanical toy-makers in Paris applying his skill to the making
of many large and magnificent automata.
|The Modern Compendium
of Miniature Automata by the Lycette Bros, Melbourne, Australia.
is alive and kicking all over the Internet in the form of various
kinetic artworks as well as cardboard and wooden kits and private
automata commissions. The above is just one example of a cardboard
kit which can produce sophisticated like-like movement.
Flying Pig Paper Animation Kits
Make your own Automata