Sound in Animation

3 World War II and the Development of Television

World War II and the postwar period brought many changes to the world. During wartime, much of animation production turned to government-sponsored work accompanied by voice-over narration, which is typical of documentary or informational films. This method saves money because it avoids lip-synching, and it also facilitates clear dissemination of information, without the need for extensive animated movement to visualize it.

One of the most important of the postwar studios, United Productions of America (UPA), formed during wartime and later utilized voice-over in some of its most memorable narrative works, including Gerald McBoing Boing (US 1951), directed by Robert ‘Bobe’ Cannon. This is a film about a boy who speaks in sound-effect noises rather than words, with a story by Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss.

The 1940s saw the rise of the National Film Board of Canada, which had units devoted to both documentary and animation. Norman McLaren was head of animation, and explored a broad range of techniques—including synthetic sound. McLaren scratched, drew, and photographed images on the audio portion of many films, achieving great mastery of the techniques. A notable example is his film Neighbours (CA 1952), in which synthetic sounds complement the erratic movement of pixilated human actors.[6] Like McLaren, Len Lye was a pioneer of cameraless film techniques. Starting in the 1930s, he painted directly onto celluloid, experimenting with different ways of working on the surface of film. To make Free Radicals (US 1958/1979), Lye scratched into black leader to create a hypnotic viewing and listening experience, his images accompanying drum music credited to the Bagirmi tribe of Africa. Lye also created kinetic sculpture, often very large in scale, and was particularly interested in their sonic qualities.

During the period following World War II, major shifts in animation production occurred in two opposing ways: one through the development of television programs mainly for children, and the other through expansion into more adult-oriented production. By the end of the 1950s, animated television programming was growing, partly due to the economics of a limited animation style that favored dialogue over action—talking figures that moved relatively little. The Japanese television animation industry embraced limited animation techniques from its beginnings with Osamu Tezuka’s Tetsuwan Atomu (Astro Boy, JP 1963–1966). Hanna-Barbera and Filmation are among the American studios that were associated with this style. During the 1960s, the use of laugh tracks in television was developed as a sound effect—suggesting the presence of a live audience in Hanna-Barbera’s The Flintstones (US 1960–1966), for example. This effect replicated the aesthetics of live-action situation comedies of the day.

The development of adult-oriented work coincided with larger trends in film production. Teen audiences were attracted to movie theaters by showing music in films, such as Yellow Submarine (UK/US 1968), directed by George Dunning. This feature was developed around songs by the Beatles, whose animated likenesses are the film’s central characters. The world of independent filmmaking had been growing since World War II, and animation for adults found expression in this realm. The 1973 Frank Film (US), by Frank Mouris, includes the filmmaker’s own voice, documenting his personal experience in a work typical of the diary film genre of that era, which was mostly found within live-action production.

Pixilation is a process in which live actors are moved and photographed frame by frame, creating a type of quirky, mechanized motion. For more information, see Stephen X. Arthur, Pixy-led by Pixilation, online at