Research 7 – Magic lantern

Research 7 – animation

“The creators of magic lantern shows chose scenes from myths and legends, and above all from their enactment in romances and theatre, and from other performance arts (pantomime, ballet, opera), because the affinity between apparitions and projections was so patently close’. Marina Warner 2006

How has animation maintained the connection with the idea of the ‘illusion’?

Representation and Transportation

The original forms of imagery created by the magic lantern shows, tapping into myths and legends, to the current formats expressed through Disney and Pixar, all express a world of possibility.  The images present us with a magical form of alternate reality and express a story that can be related back to us in some form.  It can be brought down to the basics, such as girl/boy meets girl/boy and follow from there.  It can be about the hero inside of us all and learning to trust ourselves.  The illusion is in how it is presented to us.  The messages from the myths and legends can be traced back to valuable lessons and warnings about the dangers of nature, people and places.  It had a distinct need to inform. 

For example, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves was about jealousy and youth and the dangers of vanity.  Little Red Riding Hood was about obeying your parents and not trusting strangers and being wary of others intentions.  These stories were told from place to place during the Middle Ages as a way to warn others and convey good moral lessons.  The Grimm brothers collected these stories and others, and published them with some modifications in the early 1800’s.  These moral lessons were valuable for those who were unable to read at the time.  They could determine from the stories a key warning.  The Grimm brothers retained some of the darkness of the tales but the originals were more brutal.

Myths and legends have served the same purpose over the years.  They have acted as a verbal expression of stories and experiences that serve to inform, inspire and warn.  Again, we have to be aware that many people were not able to read and write in the past, so the telling of the stories were an entertaining way of expressing and conveying information.  A form of a moral compass for the general public. 

The connection to this illusion is still maintained in a lot of animation.  The message of determining what is good or bad, right or wrong, is expressed heavily in many modern stories.  The rise of an unexpected hero is a common theme.  The myth and legend is fed into it to inspire to action. 

What is important in all of this is that the story itself enables you to be transported to a world and that the story has a take-home message for the person watching it.  The representation of the story relates to how it is conveyed.  The imagination should be limitless, and so the idea of a boy being friends with a dragon becomes perfectly acceptable.  A talking bee becomes perfectly acceptable.  The idea of a city in the sky on a cloud and aliens visiting earth becomes an acceptable thing. 

This goes back to the previous research about what makes a good story.  The Hero’s Journey is important and the Magic Circle for gaming animation is important.  Either way, if the illusion works, you’ll feel transported to a new place, believe it exists and that everything presented on the screen is possible.  You’ll be suspended in this representation of reality for the duration of the animation and enjoy it.

@ritwells The Art of Ritwell – image sourced from Google

Figure 1 – @ritwells sketches of characters

Watership Down – image sourced from Google

Figure 2 – original animation of Watership Down

Animations that have been very successful in this illusion have left a mark.  For example, ‘Watership Down’, which is a tale of rabbits in search of a home, was a book aimed at adults and animated.  As it was animated and rabbits featured, many children watched it.  There are some seriously tough scenes in the story, but it ends happily although the spirit of the rabbit dancing is something that evokes seriously strong emotions.  The illusion of talking rabbits works because we love rabbits and the story of moving house or looking for a new home is relatable.  The experiences and violence are extreme for us to observe, but for nature is part of the course.  It’s an interesting mix.

Final Fantasy VII was a game released in 1997 with a tremendous amount of animation for the linked stories during level changes.  It was astonishing to move from pixel art gaming to a movie quality segment.  It was re-released in 2020 as computer animation had levelled up so much that the quality of the movie segments could be expressed as the entire game. 

Final Fantasy VII – image sourced from Google

What struck me here is the legend surrounding this game.  It stepped into a magical world of new possibilities of what could be done and the magical world of FFVII had a massive influence on movies and what could be created.  The world of fantasy and flying ships has become somewhat of a normal expression by imagination standards these days, but it can be traced back to Final Fantasy VII as a wonderful influence on all this. 

The game is very much based on myths and legends and the key theme is about saving the planet.  This good versus evil theme has been adapted to suit relevant topics for today.  Eco warriors going into battle against big corporations that are intent on destroying the life force of the planet for profit.  In that regard, animation may tap into myths and legends to enjoy the grander illusion but relate it back to us in terms of something more real so that we can engage with the content quicker.

Animation has maintained the connect with the idea of the ‘illusion’ by tapping into the mythical aspects and creating legends for the modern day but ensuring that the themes are relatable and more real world so that we can identify more with it.

image sourced from

Figure 3- magic lantern

From a technical perspective, we have moved from a projected image on a wall using lights and shadows to convey a story, to much more sophisticated technology that can create worlds using a programme and create the illusion of a whole new world on the screen, even adding a sense of immersion to it with 3D and virtual reality. 

image of Blender – sourced from Google

Figure 4 – animation using Blender

So, between a link to the myths and legends but more of a focus on relatable content, advances in technology so that the worlds appear to us in more technicolour realness and our need for escapism, the illusion has been well maintained and evolved exponentially in the last few hundred years.


Wikipedia (2021) 12 Basic principles of animation

[Accessed 30/05/21]

Anim18 (2021) The timeline of Animation

[Accessed 30/05/21]

(2021) Magic Lantern Society

[Accessed 30/05/2021]

Wikipedia (2021) History Of Animation.

Accessed 30/05/2021]