It’s origins can be traced by to 1897 and a film called The Humpty Dumpty Circus. There the technique was used to illustrate a collection of toys and stuffed animals coming to life. Famed film maestro George Melies used it for many of his films while Willis O’Brien popularized it with efforts such as The Lost World and King Kong.
It was George Pal, however, who brought the concept to the kiddies—so to speak—creating a collection of celebrated “Puppetoons” that cemented the approach as part of the family film ideal. For most of us in the West, however, it was television and the work of Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass that made stop-motion animation an aesthetic given. Though they made a few feature films, their broadcast classics like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, and Here Comes Peter Cottontail turned an entire generation onto the then dying artform.