Early examples of attempts to capture the phenomenon of motion into a still drawing can be found in paleolithic cave paintings, where animals are often depicted with multiple legs in superimposed positions, clearly attempting to convey the perception of motion.1
The phenakistoscope (1832), zoetrope (1834) and praxinoscope (1877), as well as the common flip book, were early animation devices to produce movement from sequential drawings using technological means, but did not develop further until the advent of motion picture film.
The first animated projection (screening) was created in France, by Charles-Émile Reynaud, who was a French science teacher. Reynaud created the Praxinoscope in 1877 and the Théâtre Optique in December 1888. On 28 October 1892, he projected the first animation in public, Pauvre Pierrot, at the Musée Grévin in Paris. This film is also notable as the first known instance of film perforations being used. His films were not photographed, but drawn directly onto the transparent strip. In 1900, more than 500,000 people had attended these screenings.
The first animated projection in the traditional sense (i.e., on motion picture film) was Fantasmagorie by the French director Émile Cohl in 1908. This was followed by two more films, Le Cauchemar du fantoche The Puppet's Nightmare,, now lost and Un Drame chez les fantoches , all completed in 1908.
One of the very first successful animated cartoons was Gertie the Dinosaur (1914) by Winsor McCay. It is considered the first example of true character animation. At first, animated cartoons were black-and-white and silent. Felix the Cat and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit are notable examples.
From the 1920s to 1960s, theatrical cartoons were produced in huge numbers, and usually shown before a feature film in a movie theater. Disney (distributed by Pat Powers, then Columbia, then United Artists, then RKO, then independently), Fleischer (distributed by Paramount), Warner Bros., MGM, and UPA (distributed by Columbia) were the largest studios producing these 5- to 10-minute "shorts." Other studios included Walter Lantz (distributed by Universal), DePatie-Freleng (distributed by United Artists), Charles Mintz Studios (later Screen Gems) (distributed by Columbia), Famous Studios (distributed by Paramount), and Terrytoons (distributed by 20th Century Fox).
The first cartoon to use a soundtrack was in 1926 with Max Fleischer's My Old Kentucky Home. However the Fleischers used a De Forest sound system and the sound was not completely synchronized with the film. Walt Disney's 1928 cartoon Steamboat Willie starring Mickey Mouse was the first to use a click track during the recording session, which produced better synchronism. "Mickey Mousing" became a term for any movie action (animated or live action) that was perfectly synchronized with music. The music used is original most of the time, but musical quotation is often employed. Animated characters usually performed the action in "loops," i.e., drawings were repeated over and over.