Historical records show us that as far back as the year 200 A.D., people have been experimenting with animation. Way back then, the Chinese produced a contraption that, through a rapid succession of two-dimensional pictures, created the illusion of motion.
Later, there was the Victorian era "zoetrope," a devise consisting of a revolving cylinder with pictures inside which were viewed through cuts in the cylinder. And, of course, we have all seen primitive "flip-books" that give a similar effect. All of these devices would give their viewers a sensation of movement, but animation did not develop much further until the arrival of cinematography.
James Stuart Blackton (1875-1941) is generally considered to be the father of film animation in America. He was personally introduced to filmmaking by Thomas Edison, the inventor of the movie camera. During the silent era, as the founder of Vitagraph Studios, Blackton used a technique known as "stop-motion" and later he began dabbling in actual drawn animation. One of his films, "The Enchanted Drawing," which he also starred in, featured a man drawing a cartoon face that appeared to move on the easel. That was in 1900. After that film, animation progressed clumsily while many individuals experimented with different techniques.
Because the word animation means "life, or liveliness," (not movement), to make something appear to have motion is really just a mechanical process. Animation as we know it has more to do with character and personality. Winsor McCay (1869-1934) is the person credited with the first actual Character Animation. His "Gertie the Dinosaur," which was released in 1914, although somewhat crude, set the stage for this specialized area of animation. While doing character animation, the main role of the animator is not only the drawings involved, but to be the actor behind the scene.
It was Walt Disney (1901-1966) who elevated animation to an art form. His thinking was that animation should involve creating characters with perceptible thought and emotion in addition to the physical action. Disney's academy award winning productions, both short and long, did a wonderful job of winning this country over, (as well as the world), in the post depression years of the early 1930's. Among other things, he was the first to introduce sound into cartoons in 1928, (Steamboat Willie), and the first to add color in 1932, (Silly Symphonies).
Disney was also the first studio to set up a school for animators. This effort was to educate the artists about drawing, the intricacies of human movement and the effects of gravity. One of the many reasons that his animations would stand out from the rest. During Walt Disney's life time his studio won 22 academy awards, (59 nominations). More nominations and awards than anyone else in history. A great American, he was once quoted as saying, "If you can dream it, you can do it."