Lou Scheimer and Filmation's main director Hal Sutherland met while working at Larry Harmon Pictures on the made-for-TV Bozo and Popeye cartoons. Eventually Larry Harmon closed the studio. Scheimer and Sutherland went to work at a small company called True Line, one of whose owners was Marcus Lipsky, who then owned Reddi-wip whipped cream. SIB Productions, a Japanese firm with U.S. offices in Chicago, approached them about producing a cartoon called Rod Rocket. The two agreed to take on the work and also took on a project for Family Films, owned by the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, for ten short animated films based on the life of Christ. Paramount Pictures soon purchased SIB Productions, and True Line's staff increased; including the arrival of former radio disc jockey Norm Prescott, who became a partner in the firm. He had already been working on the animated feature Pinocchio in Outer Space which was primarily produced by Belvision Studios.
They eventually left True line, and Lou began working on commercials, including for Gilette and others, which began what became Filmation. He met lawyer Ira Epstein, who had worked for Harmon but left the firm, and now put together the new corporation with Lou and Hal. It officially became Filmation associates as of September 1962, so named because "We were working on film, but doing animation"; so putting them together yielded "Filmation".
Both Rod Rocket and the Life of Christ series credited "Filmation Associates" with "Production Design" in addition to Scheimer and Sutherland as directors. (SIB Productions, whose logo bore a resemblance to the original Filmation logo designed by Ted Littlefield,  would soon go on to become "Sib-Tower 12 Productions" and produce the first few of Chuck Jones' Tom and Jerry films for MGM, until becoming MGM Animation/Visual Arts for the remainder of the films).
Norm Prescott brought in Filmation's first major project, Journey Back to Oz, an animated sequel to the 1939 MGM classic The Wizard of Oz. Begun in 1962, storyboarding, voice recording, and most of the music scoring and animation had been completed when financial challenges caused the project to be put on hold for nearly eight years.
In the meantime, during the interim, the new Filmation studio turned their attention to a more successful medium, network television. For the next few years make television commercials, and some other projects for other companies, and tried to develop an original series The Adventures of Stanley Stoutheart (later renamed Yank and Doodle) about a boy and a dog, which they were never able to sell, and almost closed down; until approached by DC Comics editor Mort Weisinger to do a Superman cartoon. This premiered in 1966, and was followed by several of the other DC super heroes, and then in 1968, the first Archie Show. Both series greatly helped Filmation's popularity to increase, into the 1970s, when it really scored big with several of its shows.
Layout artist Lindsay Dawson working on a key-frame of animation for He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. This was a typical working desk for animators, layout artists, and background designers at Filmation in 1983.
As with other producers of Saturday morning cartoons, Filmation was more concerned with quantity rather than quality; however, it did make a number of attempts to rise above the standard animated fare and produce reasonably well-written cartoons. The best-known example of this is its animated adaptation Star Trek: The Animated Series, which included scripts contributed by well-known science fiction writers and starred most of the original cast. Other favorably remembered Filmation series included a 16-part animated serial of Flash Gordon, originally intended as a movie for theatrical release, Flash Gordon: The Greatest Adventure of All. The original film edit was only aired thrice on NBC, years after the series was canceled. Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids was another hailed series created by and starring Bill Cosby with an explicit educational focus, which enabled the actor to earn a doctorate in education. He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, based on the popular line of Mattel toys, opened up a vibrant new North American market for first-run television syndication for animation in the 1980s. The animated adaptations of the Archie Comics characters were also noteworthy for the original pop music produced for it, particularly the song, "Sugar, Sugar", which was a #1 hit single.
In addition, certain episodes of He-Man and BraveStarr, in substance, and often animation, were pioneers in children's animated series of their time and paved the way for broader storytelling. Examples include He-Man's "The Problem with Power" which dealt with He-Man believing he had killed an innocent bystander. Another is "Teela's Quest" which introduced a now-famous mythology on The Sorceress being Teela's mother, who is heir to the mantle of safeguarding Grayskull, the versed continuity shared between He-Man and She-Ra, among others. Likewise, the scripts for Star Trek, which were often written by the same people who had written for the live-action version of the show, tended to be quite sophisticated, and garnered the first Emmy Award for the franchise.
Filmation had a reputation for exploiting the technique of limited animation to produce a number of animated series with a distinct look. It made heavy use of rotoscoping in later years (beginning with its Tarzan and Flash Gordon series). It also re-used the same animated sequences over and over, many times, to the point where the Filmation style was instantly recognizable.
Filmation's animation often looked poor-quality, due to the limiting of the number of frames per second used to fewer than the regular 24 frame/second seen on film or 25/30 frame/s seen on video. Frames would be repeated to compensate for the deficiency, resulting in a jerky and cheap look.
This frequent use of stock footage saved production money, but often resulted in sacrifice of continuity. This was countered by cutting from one stock shot to another after only a second or two, long enough to set the scene but before the eye could notice all of the unexplained errors. This became part of Filmation style during a period when most TV and motion picture production tended to run minimum shots of 4–5 seconds.
In contrast to the rapid jump cuts during action sequences, another Filmation trademark was the recurring use of long establishing-shots in which the camera would pan slowly across a very wide background painting, thus filling up screen time with sequences requiring little or no animation. Filmation also pioneered other animation technologies, particularly in Flash Gordon, which included backlighting effects for the first time in American animation (they were already in use in Japan), including moire effects to represent energy fields (a technique that was later used in He-Man and later in She-Ra). It also pioneered a unique method of generating 3-D vehicle animation by filming white-outlined black miniatures against black backgrounds using a computerized motion-control camera and high-contrast film, then printing the negatives onto acetate frame-by-frame, to create animation cels which were then hand-painted. This produced a dynamic, three-dimensional effect which had never been seen in cel animation before. It predated the modern use of 3-D computer animation for vehicles in 2-D animated productions. However, it had a distinctive "flicker" to it, because some of the painted lines went in and out of visibility as the miniatures moved.
Unlike many American studios, Filmation never relied upon animation studios outside the United States for the bulk of its production; Ghostbusters and BraveStarr both state in the end credits that they were "made entirely in the U.S.A.". This occurred during a time when rival studio Hanna-Barbera shifted from saying in the final production credits (immediately before the production logo appearances) "A Hanna-Barbera Production" to "Produced in Association with: Wang Film Productions / Cuckoo's Nest Studio" which is located in Thailand. The quality of Filmation's "Made Entirely in the U.S.A." strategy was comparable to the outsourced animation. Filmation did, however, rely on outsourcing once, when the company created its animated Zorro series. It was animated by Tokyo Movie Shinsha of Japan, however the storyboards and graphics were made by Filmation itself.
Filmation is also noteworthy for its lavish background paintings under the direction of long-time department head Erv Kaplan, such as the purple-colored "night sky" backgrounds used in He-Man and She-Ra.
Characters, as well as plots, were typically run of the mill for the time. For example, most episodes of Ghostbusters had the same scheme (bad guys develop an evil plan, the heroes are needed but always absent, Ghost Buggy the talking car complains about their dangerous position, Tracey the Gorilla pulls out of his back pack exactly the miscellaneous item the Ghostbuster needs in a moment of despair, Eddie doing a number of clumsy/stupid things etc.). Although as previously mentioned, Filmation made various attempts to rise above the norm. Many of the sounds and explosion effects used in its cartoons are also very familiar, the majority of them being recycled from Hanna-Barbera (though this was, and still is a common trait among animation companies), though the company's DC Comics cartoons of 1966-7 used more realistic sound effects.