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The Computer Graphics Revolution circa 1978
December 20, 2009 9:17 AM   Subscribe


 
Scanimate has its own fan site.

Good God, but the System 4 is glorious looking in the artist's depiction. I wonder how it looked in life?
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:28 AM on December 20, 2009


That's fascinating. Thanks, ZenithNadir! There's shockingly little out there on the web about Lee Harrison and early computer animation. The best resource is probably scanimate.net.
posted by Kattullus at 9:29 AM on December 20, 2009


If it'd tl;dw, be sure to jump in the video at 2 minutes for Mr Noise. That's an awesome bit of animation. (Also, this post is a great example of why I hate SLYT posts here. Do a bit of research, get us to scanimate.net, show us some other videos.)
posted by Nelson at 9:34 AM on December 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


That was fantastic. What a crazy thing to compare with - say - the way that motion capture is being used to animate things like Gollum in the LoTR movies. Mr. Harrison was WAY ahead of his time. It's too bad that he is no longer around, as I would have loved to hear his take on where we are today.
posted by gemmy at 9:36 AM on December 20, 2009


System 4. Yeah, not the past-futuristic dreamboat shown in the video, unfortunately.
posted by Kattullus at 9:38 AM on December 20, 2009


It's difficult to watch television without seeing something produced on one of the world's eight Scanimate machines.
posted by cillit bang at 9:47 AM on December 20, 2009


That's an amazing find! Thank you! Does anyone know when this report was produced? I assume from the "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" soundtrack music that it was produced around 1977, but does anyone know for sure?
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:52 AM on December 20, 2009


TURN MORE KNOBS! TURN THEM! FASTER! COMPUTE!
posted by sararah at 9:52 AM on December 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


MEDIBOT
posted by hnnrs at 9:54 AM on December 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Mr. Noise freaks me out. A lot.
posted by sararah at 9:55 AM on December 20, 2009


Okay, I've thrown together a rudimentary Wikipedia page for Lee Harrison III. I thought every last computing pioneer had a page on there so I was kinda shocked to find nothing.
posted by Kattullus at 10:00 AM on December 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Some Scanimate animation from Sesame Street which always creeped me out.
posted by gubo at 10:04 AM on December 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I assume from the "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" soundtrack music that it was produced around 1977, but does anyone know for sure?

Since the graphic they were demonstrating said "College Football '80," I'd assume it was 1980 or close to it.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:17 AM on December 20, 2009


What's this "television" you speak of?
posted by tybeet at 10:33 AM on December 20, 2009


That was pretty great! It's amazing to look at what used to be considered the cutting edge.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:47 AM on December 20, 2009


Computer animation will never amount to much.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:58 AM on December 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


You mean the polar bears on Lost weren't real?!
posted by mccarty.tim at 11:26 AM on December 20, 2009


Am I the only one that thought this would be about current TV? Like, "actually, Madmen was largely written by an algorithm for charting the deprivation of the human soul", or like "eight months ago, computers figured out that the optimal underdog in a talent contest would be a plump Scottish woman with a wide vibrato."
posted by voronoi at 11:29 AM on December 20, 2009 [9 favorites]


The world will never need more than 8 Scanimate machines.
posted by Artw at 11:29 AM on December 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


Well I think we're in the process of being given some servant of the visual imagination that will allow us to communicate in a very marvelous and exciting way.
posted by mistersquid at 11:33 AM on December 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


This Harrison guy was a quack. Computers making movies? Pfffft.
posted by ThusSpakeZarathustra at 11:51 AM on December 20, 2009


"Creating animation with an electrical harness was a thing of the past..."
posted by Mister Moofoo at 12:34 PM on December 20, 2009


If it'd tl;dw, be sure to jump in the video at 2 minutes for Mr Noise . That's an awesome bit of animation. (Also, this post is a great example of why I hate SLYT posts here. Do a bit of research, get us to scanimate.net, show us some other videos.)

You obviously didn't have any trouble finding it yourself.
posted by delmoi at 2:16 PM on December 20, 2009


Ah, just as I thought when I saw the video, these were not digital computers, but Analog They were called computers at the time, but they didn't work anything like computers today.

The most basic example and the most used were for ballistics. On a digital computer you would write a program that would work out the mathematical formulas. But an analog computer you would arange hardware so that the voltage levels (or whatever) at certain points would actually have the same formulas as the phenomenon you were trying to model. And you would have knobs or whatever to adjust the input parameters to the function.

Look at the way they can manipulate the video in real time. A digital computer in that era could never work that quickly on video graphics. Look at the way they control mo

Think about an electronic analog synthesizer. These things basically did the same thing but with video.

The probably had some digital computers controlling some of the stuff, though.
posted by delmoi at 2:26 PM on December 20, 2009 [6 favorites]


er, the last line of the third paragraph should say "look at the way they control the motion with knobs"
posted by delmoi at 2:28 PM on December 20, 2009


Ah, just as I thought when I saw the video, these were not digital computers, but Analog

That explains why the machines looked more like a Moog Modular than any computer that I've ever seen then.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:15 PM on December 20, 2009


That explains why the machines looked more like a Moog Modular than any computer that I've ever seen then.

Well, that and the fact that this video is like thirty years old.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:35 PM on December 20, 2009


One of the things that's incredibly apparent to me from watching the linked video and other examples of Scanimate stuff is how difficult it would be to convincingly emulate the look with modern motion graphics tools.
posted by sycophant at 9:13 PM on December 20, 2009


But this was years back, I mean, there isn't as much computer generated animation on TV these days.
posted by joelf at 12:00 AM on December 21, 2009


Scanimate will always be associated with kungfu movies for me
posted by joelf at 12:17 AM on December 21, 2009


In 1985 I worked with Jerry Garcia editing video backdrops for a project on which he was working. Some of the source material was from Scanimate machines both at Z-Axis in Denver and another one in Hawaii. Endless psychedelic patterns. The machines were fairly dated then but Garcia wanted that "retro" CGI look.
posted by bz at 2:20 PM on December 21, 2009


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