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The First Computer Animation

[Or one of them anyway. This is Olympiad by Lillian Schwartz, out of Bell Labs, 1971]

My mate David invited me to a screening last night and I got to see some of the first films ever made using computer animation.

From 1971. 

In 3D. 

They came out of Bell Labs.

Back before it got broken up, and was a natural monopoly, AT&T [which owned Bell Labs at the time, but doesn't anymore, weirdly] had all the money.

[In 1983, just before it was split into Baby Bells, AT&T was worth more than: GE, GM, Ford, Xerox, Coca-Cola, IBM - COMBINED. It employed 1Million people.] 

When you have all the money, you can set up R&D labs and let them get on with it without worrying too much about quarterly returns on it.

Between Bell Labs and Xerox Parc, they basically invented the preesnt day, back in the 1970s. 

Bell Labs invented: the transistor, the laser, UNIX, C, C++, radio astronomy...

and computer animation and music, at least in part.

Thanks, in part, to Lillian.

Xerox Parc and Bell Labs had both experimented with computer generated imagery in the 1960s but Lillian has a pretty good claim to being one of the first to exhibit computer animation as art.

This is that:

It was Lillian's 85 birthday yesterday, which was the occasion that led to the screening. 

One of the genius parts of Bell Labs was putting artists and scientists together with no brief and cutting edge resources to see what would happen. 

And lo computer art was born. 

On old IBM machines.

Lillian would sketch the images and frames on graph paper, work out the motion paths she wanted and the coordinates, these would be coded onto punch cards and fed into the machine. 

Sometimes to create randomness she would shuffle the punch cards to see what happened. 

Each tape could only hold 80something frames and would take about 2 months to create.

So it would take 2 months before you saw anything and the you would see less than 4 seconds of film.

Here's one called GOOGOLPLEX from 1973.

Apparently, she had to change some of the frame rates as they were at the magic frequency that can cause seisures.

[Disclaimer. May cause seisures.] 

The 3D thing was an accident.

When ChromaDepth 3D was invented using two prisms as lenses, someone somehow discovered that the way Lillian and Co made the films made them work in 3D. 

Lillian teaches at NYU and you can check out the rest of here stuff on LILLIAN.COM.

[That's right, she has her first name domain. She wins.]