I enjoyed interviewing John Whitney, Jr., and others who were involved with the pioneering digital effects of Westworld for this newyorker.com article. (I also had an enjoyable interview with Larry Cuba about his computer-animation work for Star Wars, but only a little bit of that conversation made it into the article.)
Entries in Early computer animation (8)
I’ve taken too long to post this video of a very early piece of 3D computer animation, created in 1972 by Ed Catmull and fellow University of Utah doctoral student Fred Parke. The hand animation is Catmull’s and the face animation is Parke’s. (Catmull digitized a cast of his own hand and Parke digitized his wife’s face.) Short bits of the film appeared four years later in the film Futureworld (it was still state-of-the-art stuff).
Some background is in this post by Robby Ingebretsen, son of Robert B. Ingebretsen, a classmate of Catmull and Parke who created the 3D titles; still more background is on pp. 13-14 of The Pixar Touch.
After young Disney animator John Lasseter saw footage of computer animation that an outside production company had created for Tron, Lasseter and colleague Glen Keane won approval to create a short test film incorporating computer animation.
The resulting 1983 film, known as the Wild Things test, was meant to be a sample of a proposed feature film of Where the Wild Things Are. The test combined computer-animated backgrounds with cel-animated characters.
Cartoon Brew has just posted a neat contemporaneous account of the project that appeared in an internal Disney publication (originally posted in December by Hans Perk). I was glad to see Tom Wilhite recognized for his role in the project (he was the Disney live-action executive who approved it—the animation side of the studio wasn’t interested).
In the early to mid 1990’s, one of the ways Pixar tried to support itself was making television commercials for products like LifeSavers candy, Trident gum, and Pillsbury rolls. Not surprisingly, Pixar specialized in commercials that used character animation to give products a personality.
Some of its most admired commercial work was for Listerine; the agency involved, J. Walter Thompson, gave Pixar considerable creative freedom.
How do you give a personality to a faceless bottle? Below, several of Pixar’s classic Listerine ads—
Director: John Lasseter
The concept was inspired by the 1980 film Raging Bull. A newly-hired Pete Docter assisted with the animation.
Swinging Bottle (1993)
Director: Andrew Stanton
This ad and Arrows, below, caused a minor craze for the accompanying New Wave song, Tarzan Boy.
Director: Jan Pinkava
This ad won Pixar its first Gold Clio award—loosely speaking, the Oscar of advertising.
(Thanks to Ralph Guggenheim for helpful tips.)
I recently ran across a great collection of early computer animation efforts, namely the VintageCG channel on YouTube. It includes most of the pioneering short films noted in The Pixar Touch, including Stanley & Stella in Breaking the Ice (1987), Nancy Lasseter’s Pencil Test (1988), and Loren Carpenter’s Vol Libre (1980).
Whoever curates this virtual museum—I couldn’t tell who it is—should add Tony de Peltrie (1985), a pathbreaking piece of character animation. It would also be nice to have Ed Catmull’s hand animation and Fred Parke’s face animation from Futureworld (1976), the first use of 3D computer animation in a feature film.