Computer Animation: From Fantasmagorie to Brave

Today in 1908, the first animated cartoon, Fantasmagorie, was released. The film (watch it on YouTube) was created by Émile Cohl by drawing each frame on paper and then shooting each frame onto negative film, which gave the picture a blackboard look.

The film features a stick figure moving about and encountering all manner of morphing objects, such as a wine bottle that transforms into a flower. There are also sections of live action where the animator’s hands enter the scene. The title is a reference to the “fantasmograph,” a mid-Nineteenth Century variant of the magic lantern that projected ghostly images that floated across the walls.

Also today, in 1986, Pixar Animation Studios premiered Luxo Jr. at SIGGRAPH, its first film following its establishment as an independent film studio. It is a computer-animated short film (two and a half minutes, including credits). The title character, a small desk lamp, will become a part of the company’s logo. It was the first Computer-generated Imagery (CGI) film nominated for an Academy Award.  

Luxo Jr. sent shock waves through the entire industry – to all corners of computer and traditional animation. At that time, most traditional artists were afraid of the computer. They did not realize that the computer was merely a different tool in the artist’s kit but instead perceived it as a type of automation that might endanger their jobs. Luckily, this attitude changed dramatically in the early ’80s with the use of personal computers in the home. The release of our Luxo Jr. … reinforced this opinion turnaround within the professional community.” –Edwin Catmull, quoted in Rita Street, Computer Animation: A Whole New World, 1998.

There were pioneering efforts in computer animation before Pixar. This 1963 clip may have been the world’s first computer animation.

If you would like to study computer animation, try the free tutorial at the Kahn Academy. Rick Parent’s Computer Animation, Third Edition: Algorithms and Techniquesa new edition of a leading textbook in the field will be out in September 2012.

And for the state-of-the-art look of computer animation today, Pixar just released Brave, its 13th feature film, “infused with the spirit of Steve Jobs” (see here for Catmull paying tribute to Jobs) and new animation software “which makes flowing hair, fur, clothing and water look more realistic,” according to The Telegraph.

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