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Showcase: Animation History (part 1)

Here’s a look at some early animation and computer graphics technology. There’s also some “analog special effects” stuff presented as that was the cutting edge of the time. These are meant to provide some context for animation, as well as show you that things were harder before whenever you’re frustrated by some random thing in After Effects. 

Muybridge’s Studies in Motion

These were made around 1878. At first, they were commissioned in order to figure out if all four of a horse’s legs leave the ground when it gallops. Rather than a camera it used a series of still cameras set up in a sequence.  Apparently Muybridge was involved in some kind of “weird world” and possibly murder? (leaving this link partly so that I can watch it later). 

The legacy of these studies can be seen everywhere, my favorite one is The Matrix (VFX Artists React and Stuntmen React is really fun btw, fwiw, imho, ttyl)

Le Voyage Dans la Lun (A Trip to the Moon)

This was made in 1902 by Georges Méliès. This film displays a pioneering use of special effects utilizing techniques like creative placement and combination of matte paintings and multiple exposures. 

Gertie the Dinosaur 

This is the first known use of keyframe animation. It was made in 1914 by Windsor McKay (known for Little Nemo), who is an excellent illustrator. 

Steamboat Willie

This was made in 1928. It showcases many of the qualities of early keyframe animation & the principles of animation that we’ll talk more about next week. Note the synchronization with the audio and the simpler so-called “rubberhose” characters. 

Kobu Tori  (The Stolen Lump)

Roughly in parallel with Steamboat Willie, this animation was made in Japan in 1929. Note the quality of the drawings as well as the distinctly realistic (“non-anime”) nature of the artwork.

(also Norman McClaren is the shit)

Neighbors is probably Norman McClaren’s most famous work, from 1952. It’s stop motion and also features his “drawn on” music.

Here’s a video that shows more of McClaren’s process. 

McClaren’s work varied aesthetically quite  a bit, here’s a video called Dots that he made in a similar way to the sound shown above; by drawing on the frame.  

This is my favorite Norman McClaren video, and probably one of my alltime favorite video things (your mileage may vary, but this is what I’m into). It’s also a great example of something that you can do very easily in After Effects but was very difficult  to do on film (multiple exposures, optical printing).

“Pixar’s” Early Animation Tests 

These were from 1972. I haven’t looked super deeply into this, but I can’t find information on the actual computer used to make this (nerd stuff that is important to me). The important thing is that Ed Catmull made this during his graduate study at the University of Utah. He went on to form Pixar. Important to note here are the amount of technologies that we take for granted as far as the mathematical side of 3D stuff is calculated and digitized (he had to write the software himself as well as make a plaster cast of his hand, draw on the geometry and then input it by hand), as well as the amount of raw power we have access to. Fun little nerd fact is that Catmull’s professor Ivan Sutherland was a luminary in computer history, though more in what would be considered user interface design through his development of Sketchpad.

Computer Graphics from Star Wars (Episode IV)

Here’s another early computer graphics thing that was similarly made on a university computer. 

Early Analog Computer Graphics (Scanimate)

The first video here gives a great historical context of other similar animation technologies. It’s maybe not worth watching in class but you should most certainly try and watch it if you have time.,The main thing of note, as far as history goes, is that Scanimate (in use in the 1970’s and 1980’s) represents a client and cultural relationship more familiar to motion graphics people today; that is to say it is most widely known for use in station ID’s and bumpers. The other two videos provide more details on the current state of Scanimate preservation. 

That’s it for now. Next week, we’ll talk more about motion graphics and animation after the development of personal computers and the effects it had visually and industrially.

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