History of Computer Animation

What is Jurassic Park, Titanic, Godzilla and other blockbuster movies without computer animation? They will surely turn out to be not as good as we have seen them in the big screen. Computer animation has greatly revolutionized the movie industry.

In computer animation, animated moving images are generated using computer graphics, normally in 3D but 2D graphics are still widely used for low-bandwidth stylistic and faster renderings. The computer animation that is being used today is essentially a modern version of the traditional animation process that uses frame-by-frame 2D illustrations and 3D models. However, since computer is used in the process, generated images are more controllable. Filmmakers greatly benefit from this technology because they no longer have to hire extras to shoot crowd scenes or to construct miniatures and use props for effect shots. Computer animation also allows for the creation of images that are not feasible using traditional technologies.

The history of computer animation dates back in the early 1940s when various researches and experiments in computer graphics were conducted. One of them was John Whitney. However, it was only in the early 1960s when this technology has been fully explored because of the introduction of digital computers. By that time, computer animation was mainly used for engineering, scientific and research purposes. It was only in the mid-1960s when computer animation started to be used for artistic experimentation and then in the mid-1970s when it started to be recognized in the public media. Most of the early computer animations were produced at Bell Telephone Laboratories and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Much of the early computer animations used two-dimensional imagery. It later on evolved into three-dimensional realism. It was in the late 1980s when photo-realistic 3D images started to appear in movies. By the mid-1990s, it has become so advanced that it was already possible to create an entire movie out of 3D animation.

One of the earliest movies that used computer animation was Futureworld which was released in 1976. It was a sequel to the movie Westworld which features a society where humans and robots live together. Futureworld used 3D imagery, featuring a computer-generated face and hands created by Fred Parke and Edwin Catmull who both graduated from the University of Utah. But it was not until 1995 when the first full-length computer animated film was released, which was Pixar’s Toy Story. It was a groundbreaking movie and was the start of many other movies that were fully computer-animated. And the most recent blockbuster movies like Shrek 2, Avatar, Toy Story 3, and Cars 2, among others are all a product of computer animation.

Currently, any development in the technologies used in computer animation is presented in the annual SIGGRAPH conference. It is a gathering that tackles on interactive techniques and computer graphics and is attended by thousands of participants.

Computer animation plays an important role in the film industry. Knowing its history will let you understand how this technology evolved. And it allows you to explore many other possibilities using this creative technology.