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A time capsule from the dawn of computer animation
April 25, 2010 11:17 AM   Subscribe

Five years before Toy Story proved to the world that pure CGI -- a field long relegated to the role of special effects -- could be an art form in its own right, Odyssey Productions attempted to do the same on a slightly smaller scale. Drawing on the demo reels, commercials, music videos, and feature films of over 300 digital animators, the studio collated dozens of cutting-edge clips into an ambitious 40-minute art film called The Mind's Eye. Backed by an eclectic mix of custom-written electronic, classical, oriental, and tribal music, the surreal, dreamlike imagery formed a rough narrative in eight short segments that illustrated the evolution of life, technology, and human society: Creation - Civilization Rising - Heart of the Machine - Technodance - Post Modern - Love Found - Leaving the Bonds of Earth - The Temple - End credits (including names and sources for all clips used). But that was just the beginning...

After the success of the first Mind's Eye, whose VHS and Laserdisc releases saw multiplatinum sales in the U.S., Odyssey quickly produced a sequel: the more intense, abstract, and even more technically accomplished Beyond the Mind's Eye: Virtual Reality - Seeds of Life - Afternoon Adventure - Brave New World - Transformers - Too Far - Windows - Nothing But Love - The Pyramid - Theater of Magic

This was followed up a year later by a third film, The Gate to the Mind's Eye (full video), and later a fourth, Odyssey Into the Mind's Eye (isolated clips here and here).

The studio also produced a companion series for children called Imaginaria, which took on a more cartoony and lighthearted tone: Imaginaria - Anything is Possible - Locomotion - Andre and Wally B (the first CGI project worked on by Pixar great John Lasseter) - All Shapes and Sizes - Rubber Duckies - Gourmet Records - Night Magic - Down the Road - Lucy and Remo - Styro the Dog - More Bells and Whistles - Going Home - End credits

In later years, clips from these and other Mind's Eye productions were repackaged as Short Circutz, brief interstitials for Canadian youth network YTV. Their success would go on to inspire other all-CGI projects, including Animusic, VeggieTales, and ReBoot (which has a trilogy of films in the works).
posted by Rhaomi (62 comments total) 65 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh, hello my psychedelic soaked adolescent self. How have you been? Still painfully earnest and aesthetically retarded, I see...
posted by felix betachat at 11:32 AM on April 25, 2010 [12 favorites]


Stoner classics.
posted by saltykmurks at 11:32 AM on April 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wow, thanks for this. I loved these when I was younger. I think I still have the tapes somewhere.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:36 AM on April 25, 2010


Oh, man, those Mind's Eye videos. It'll be neat to watch them when I'm not high.
posted by box at 11:43 AM on April 25, 2010


It's a pity those are such low fidelity clips. I had the laserdisc of "Beyond the Mind's Eye" and it really looked beautiful. (And I love the music.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:45 AM on April 25, 2010


Or, uh, what everybody else said.
posted by box at 11:46 AM on April 25, 2010


Oh, but you forget some of the most important details.

Beyond The Mind's Eye has a full soundtrack by Jan Hammer, of Beverly Hills Cop fame. Gate To The Mind's Eye has a Thomas Dolby soundtrack. And Odyssey Into The Mind's Eye's soundtrack wis by Kerry Livgren (Kansas, that CCM project he was in).

There were other Odyssey projects, too (covered a bit in the "other" link in the FPP). I own all four Mind's Eye VHS tapes, plus two others: Cyberscape and Turbulence.

I've been meaning to rip these all to digital format. I should just do that.
posted by hippybear at 12:06 PM on April 25, 2010


Yes, The Gate to the Mind's Eye soundtrack definitely helped me forgive Thomas Dolby for much of his less-inspired post-Golden Age of Wireless output.
Thanks also for posting More Bells and Whistles. It was great to see what was essentially the beta for Animusic (warning, video starts automatically) again.
posted by The Ardship of Cambry at 12:09 PM on April 25, 2010


I saw these on youtube a while ago. But unfortunately the video compression artifacts make a lot of them look pretty bad. Compression designed regular video looks awful on the simplistic, flat shaded/smooth gradients in a lot of these videos.

It's like the difference between JPG and PNG.

--

I wonder how much of the original source files still exist. Someone could do a re-render at high resolution pretty easily.
posted by delmoi at 12:20 PM on April 25, 2010


Man. Suddenly Im back in 1995, living four to a 3-bedroom, working telemarketing and barely getting by, and dropping acid at 2am on a Wednesday because I dont have to work Thursday.

We wore this tape out.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 12:27 PM on April 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


Isn't a lot of the stuff in "Transformers" from the movie "The Lawnmower Man"?
posted by delmoi at 12:29 PM on April 25, 2010


Many of these are available on DVD, although some of those listed on Amazon are from resellers because the title has been discontinued. I don't know much about the quality of the image transfer for any of the DVDs.
posted by hippybear at 12:30 PM on April 25, 2010


*pops in Mind's Eye tape*

*pins Magic Eye poster to the wall*

*turns off halogen lamp*
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:30 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh man, my best friend and I watched the SHIT out of these in high school. Now we both work on the fringes of the industry and are pretty jaded, but I guarantee you we'd still watch these. Sober.
posted by infinitewindow at 12:45 PM on April 25, 2010


I always liked how the ending credits sequence was like some kind of strange mental game, where you immediately remember seeing that sequence previously in the past hour, yet you are given more information about it, and you're shocked to learn that certain sequences from far apart in the Mind's Eye sequence are actually from the same project.

Plus it was my first window into the (still to me) peculiar world of Japanese motion rides, not to mention corporate presentation reels, neither of which were part of my world when I first encountered these collections.
posted by hippybear at 12:48 PM on April 25, 2010


One of my favorite acid experiences was watching Mind's Eye while listening to a Bill Hicks CD. All of us in the room agreed that it synced up perfectly, and the sheer unshakeability of that impression once it got into my brain and the complete absurdity of it basically immunized me to the Dark Side of the Rainbow silliness when I heard about it a year or so later.
posted by empath at 1:16 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also good -- the X Mix tapes.
posted by empath at 1:18 PM on April 25, 2010


Yes, The Gate to the Mind's Eye soundtrack definitely helped me forgive Thomas Dolby for much of his less-inspired post-Golden Age of Wireless output.

What, what, WHAT? Okay, The Flat Earth was maybe less than inspired. But Aliens Ate My Buick is a freaking treasure!
posted by Naberius at 1:20 PM on April 25, 2010


Yeah, a lot of cheap beer and weed plus that video was quite the rage back in the day.
posted by GavinR at 1:21 PM on April 25, 2010


Those were the early-mid digital days! Classic. Beyond The Mind's Eye was the last decent Jan Hammer project. Where the hell is he?!?
posted by vurnt22 at 1:31 PM on April 25, 2010


It simply reminds me of everything good about being a precocious little dweeb. Watching these weird thrilling bits of early morning telly, waiting waiting waiting for the postman who MIGHT have that mail-order computer game that has been "shipping" for 3 weeks, the smell of the ink in a Dragon™ magazine, making my family play Red Box D&D on holiday.

It does make me a bit nostalgic. But I should also remember how isolating it was to be a nerd back then. How, living in Cornwall (or most places I guess), finding someone to share those thrills was a rare and precious thing. Today all my 9 year old self would do is turn on the computer, which I reckon would make him happier.


Sorry for the rather sickening semi-derail. This is a really lovely post, cheers.
posted by howfar at 1:38 PM on April 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


They used to run The Mind's Eye on screens in Software ETC so you could know what the future was going to look like.

Makes me want to throw some Billy Idol on the high-fi and reread Snow Crash while I wait for people to show up for my Mac Plus LAN party so we can play Spectre.
posted by GameDesignerBen at 1:39 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Holy shit! I remember watching this on PBS when I was 9 or 10.

I didn't even know what drugs were back then.
posted by Avenger at 1:42 PM on April 25, 2010


Avenger, but you were apparently listening to the Smiths!
posted by howfar at 1:45 PM on April 25, 2010


Purely by coincidence, I had Svefn - g - Englar (by Sigur Rós) playing in the background on lala, which started at the same time I fired up The Mind's Eye 2-Creation on YouTube.

With a tweaking, it'd probably would've blown my mind back in the day.

a lot of cheap beer and weed...
It's still early here...
posted by Jikido at 1:45 PM on April 25, 2010


That was during a time when a lot of advances were being made in CG, at great expense, by the R&D departments of production houses. (Few Universities had the resources to do broadcast video.) At the place where I worked, and at many of the more cutting-edge places, we were forbidden by our employers from contributing to that project. The fear was that if competitors could frame-by-frame the animation, they might reverse engineer the top-secret algorithms.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:03 PM on April 25, 2010


Finally! I've had the tune from "Pyramid" stuck in my head since I was a kid. Now if I can figure out which one of these was the duck walking endlessly through robot rooms, a mystery of my childhood will be answered.
posted by Phalene at 2:08 PM on April 25, 2010


The fear was that if competitors could frame-by-frame the animation, they might reverse engineer the top-secret algorithms.

Weird. what's the point of animation software if you can't ever show the results to anyone? Did they figure it would be OK to send out on broadcast TV? Or only in movies? Or what?
posted by delmoi at 2:16 PM on April 25, 2010


...and ReBoot (which has a trilogy of films in the works)

This is bad. Very bad.
posted by Evilspork at 2:26 PM on April 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


The 4:3 aspect ratio is already feeling nostalgic.
posted by CynicalKnight at 2:54 PM on April 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Mind's Eye: Baraka for Androids and Stoners.
posted by ford and the prefects at 2:54 PM on April 25, 2010


If The Mind's Eye is Baraka for stoners, who's Baraka for?
posted by box at 2:57 PM on April 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hey does anybody else remember the one where the US Presidents on our currency come to life to the tune of some jazz song about stealing cigars or some shit?

Or have I just not gotten enough sleep lately?
posted by Avenger at 3:37 PM on April 25, 2010


I remember liking these when I was a child. It seems like most the comments here are about their experiences watching it intoxicated from ages 15-25.

Did any adults watch these things sober?
posted by SouthCNorthNY at 4:09 PM on April 25, 2010


Okay random memory about YTV: does anybody else remember them at some point in the late 90's/early 00's showing Microsoft lectures on C#/MFC really late at night?
posted by juv3nal at 4:24 PM on April 25, 2010


These were the default demos playing on every TV screen in every electronics store in America for a good chunk of my youth.
posted by anazgnos at 4:48 PM on April 25, 2010


Does anyone remember the "Virtual Drug" video series? I think it was Japanese.

Same kind of thing, but without any pretense of not being video art to stare at while your brain is soaking in some kind of exotic chemical.
posted by loquacious at 4:54 PM on April 25, 2010


wait, wait, WHAT?

The Flat Earth is Dolby's best album!
posted by the bricabrac man at 4:55 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I also remember watching them as a kid, and my parents seemed to enjoy them. Thought they had plenty of earlier experiences with non-sobriety, I don't think they snuck any in while we watched them together.
posted by flaterik at 5:05 PM on April 25, 2010


When I was a budding CGI artist, I loved these. But they were hard to obtain where I lived.


obtain

That was a different world. A time before google, and (to some extent) the web. A world where I sought after, and prized, physical objects. VHS tapes of magic. These videos were hard to find. Difficult to replace. They were precious.

I'm so glad those days are gone.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:09 PM on April 25, 2010


I loved these even more than the ball juggler demo.
posted by furtive at 5:17 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


/me starts synching up the videos with Flaming Lips At War With the Ancients.
posted by furtive at 5:19 PM on April 25, 2010


I took a college course where we were given a silent Mind's Eye video and had to score it (self-link, of course).

My final project is up there too, but I don't like it as much. We had to redo all the sound for a video of our choice...I chose a Look Around You episode, but it was too long so I had to edit it way down. Also, I'm not British.
posted by danb at 5:20 PM on April 25, 2010


I'm so glad those days are gone.

I mean, I agree. But at the same time, didn't it make some of those hard-to-obtain-things just that much more important when you did get ahold of them? I mean, I remember in the early early MP3 days, there would be a random ftp site with a ton of artist X, and I'd have to push stuff around the hard drive and burn stuff to (expensive) CDRs just to make room to download it, because who knew when I'd ever see it again online and then I'd finally have it and listen to it over and over (up until that stuff got relegated to the backup files for the next big treasure trove).

Man... I don't really miss those days, but, well, sometimes I miss them a little.
posted by inigo2 at 5:57 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Avenger, yes, I remember the one with the US Presidents, too. The part of the song that gets stuck in my head sometimes still is "George is on the tv, shaking his booty! Aye aye aye aye...." (I can't get anything to come up on Google with that phrase so maybe we just share this delusion.) Hard to believe that out of all things is what's been bopping around in my brain here and there since I was 10 years old.
posted by zizania at 6:22 PM on April 25, 2010


I loved these when I was younger. Thanks for this post. :)
posted by zarq at 6:31 PM on April 25, 2010


STYRO
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:43 PM on April 25, 2010


I had a Minds Eye VHS tape somewhere, IIRC. If I knew where it was, I'd offer to send it to a better home. Assuming there are still homes out there with VHS decks. Sure ain't any around here...
posted by five fresh fish at 6:55 PM on April 25, 2010


Did any adults watch these things sober?
As someone who wanted to artistically express myself via this media, yes. When I was investigating some of the creators behind the animations in The Mind's Eye series, how disappointed was I to discover that very little of it was created solely for "art". A lot of it was used outside the US for athlete's foot and cigarette commercials. Or, later on in the series, those "rides" in malls that were poor man's Star Tours.

The final nail in the coffin was when I visited Alias/Wavefront studios in Santa Barbara and discovered that most of the people working there at the time (late 80s or early 90s if I remember) had little artistic training. A lot of them were marine biologists and electrical engineers from UCSB and had used high end rendering software while at university...but not for art. That was considered a waste of valuable computing cycles.

I became a stoner not long after.
posted by WolfDaddy at 7:01 PM on April 25, 2010


I remember the one with the US Presidents, too.

It's on Gate To The Mind's Eye, with the Thomas Dolby soundtrack. I can't remember which segment it is, but that's the collection it's on.
posted by hippybear at 7:24 PM on April 25, 2010


When I was investigating some of the creators behind the animations in The Mind's Eye series, how disappointed was I to discover that very little of it was created solely for "art".
I was lucky enough to work with several of the people whose work was featured in these videos, at the very start of my career. Heck, the guy who did those chrome dinosaurs was still working in my cubicle as recently as a couple of years ago. Many of these people were artists, they were just way ahead of their time, and had to do it at great expense, with absurdly limited tools, in the context of a business world that had no idea what to make of their art. They invented the ground the rest of us walk on.

When The Mind's Eye videos first came out, I remember being a little miffed at the exploitation of my friends and colleagues' hard labor, and the weirdly tacky job they did splicing it all together into a big nonsensical mush. It's amazing to read the comments of so many people who were influenced by it. Mush or not, I guess that means something.
posted by otherthings_ at 8:19 PM on April 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's on Gate To The Mind's Eye, with the Thomas Dolby soundtrack.

The Blinded-me-with-science guy? Holy shit!
posted by Avenger at 8:39 PM on April 25, 2010


This is the point at which I burst into tears for the lack of research chemicals easily had in years past.
posted by aramaic at 8:50 PM on April 25, 2010


a full soundtrack by Jan Hammer, of Beverly Hills Cop fame

Close, but it was Miami Vice.
posted by Wolof at 9:48 PM on April 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh hell yes. I remember one night in particular, spent watching the Mind's Eye series projected onto the wall of a repurposed bank vault converted into a hacker space. Our minds' eyes were definitely opened that night. That was also the night I invented the fourth factor of authentication ("where you are", independently developed by Dr. Dorothy Denning at around the same time; she called it Geolocation). Anyway, between one thing & another it was one hell of a night.
posted by scalefree at 10:39 PM on April 25, 2010


I can still remember that golden space Viking ship from my childhood... that was always the highlight for me.

At that age, it didn't seem spliced together or disjointed, although now looking at these for the first time in like 15 years its so obvious!
posted by Spacelegoman at 10:56 PM on April 25, 2010


Close, but it was Miami Vice.

OMG! I suffer from Faltermeyer / Hammer Confusion Syndrome. I shall turn myself in for regrooving forthwith.
posted by hippybear at 12:06 AM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Whoa, nostalgia hit me like a brick seeing these again. I wore out the tape watching Beyond the Mind's Eye as a toddler. I love the internet.
posted by SilverTail at 5:18 AM on April 26, 2010


Thanks for this, Rhaomi; I spent many an hour with close friends tripping out to this in my younger days. Nostalgia, ho!
posted by ChrisR at 7:42 AM on April 26, 2010


I had roommates that I watched these with over and over again.

I haven't talked to them in a long time, but we both ended up at different spectrums of computer graphics. I do outreach for scientific research, one does video games, another does movie effects.

This brings back memories.
(sigh) Where has the time gone. I think I have something in my eye.
posted by agent of bad karma at 12:15 PM on April 26, 2010


a full soundtrack by Jan Hammer, of Beverly Hills Cop fame

Close, but it was Miami Vice.


Harold Faltermeyer > Jan Hammer
posted by mikelieman at 1:22 PM on April 26, 2010


I think I have something in my eye.

Your mind's eye?
posted by scalefree at 1:43 PM on April 26, 2010


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