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A cartoon is a full size drawing made on paper as a complete study for a painting. Cartoons would be used in the process of painting frescoes[?] in order to accurately link the component parts of the composition when painted onto newly applied fresh plaster over a series of days. Cartoons by great painters such as Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci are highly prized in their own right.

In more modern parlance, a cartoon is a humorous drawing with a caption, or an animated set of drawings. This usage derives from Punch magazine in the 1840s, in which drawings parodied recent cartoons used for frescoes in the new Palace of Westminster. These were adapted to satirise events in contemporary politics. These satirical drawings soon gave way to simple jokes. Such drawings are still considered a form of comedy; the later extension of the term to cover animation started out as such, but has evolved significantly since its introduction to include dramatic films and action/adventure stories. See anime for a description of a non-comedic genre of cartoon films.

The process of developing animated cartoons for television and film is quite complex, involving many steps. However, these can be abstracted to a few basic principles:

  • An animated cartoon is essentially a sequence of still frames, presented to the audience at a rate that exceeds the ability of the human eye to perceive them as separate images.
  • This creates the optical illusion that motion, and other changes, are taking place at the center of vision. (This particular optical illusion is known as persistence of vision.)
  • Many separate frames (or "cels") must be drawn for each cartoon; each cel is only slightly different from its neighbors, to facilitate the illusion of motion.
  • After the frames have been drawn, they can be either bound into a booklet (for casual viewing) or captured on film (which itself relies upon the same optical illusion in capturing motion pictures).
  • In booklet form, one simply riffles or flips the pages at a speed that produces the desired effect.
  • On film, the reel of film is projected onto a screen, and each image is projected for a duration that creates the optical illusion of a linear image rather than a sequential image.

Several other means exist for creating the visual illusion, but the above should be illustrative of how the visual effect is produced.

See also comic books and strips.

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