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How CGI has changed the face of animation

When you see Sulleys soft, blue fur in Monsters University, youd be forgiven for thinking you
can reach out and touch it. Its hard to imagine that only a few decades ago, animators were
hand-inking plates for animated films and cartoons, or relying on stop-animation to create
realistic effects. Now, the adventures of Sulley and Mikey can be realised in full, jaw-dropping
The birth of 3D animation was a long, drawn-out process and has cost billions and years to
develop. James Cameron notably waited 20 years until 3D animation was sufficiently advanced
before starting filming of his 2009 Avatar film. 3D is big business now and is constantly being
advanced with every new released.
So how did CGI get to where it is today?

The early days

The first computer animated film was basic to say the least, but paved the way for what would
become one of the most successful animation methods. Charles Csuri and James Shaffers
simplistic Hummingbird was created in 1967 and featured a pre-programmed drawing of a
hummingbird. An early computer generated more than 30,000 images for the animation.
Next up was Kitty in 1968, created by a group of Russian mathematicians. The enormous BESM4 computer, which had only 45 bits of internal memory and was built using transistors, was used
to create the animation. The bulky technology printed hundreds of frames, which were then
converted into film, by use of a specially-created program.
It wasnt until 1972 that what many consider as being the first true computer animated film was
created, by none other than one of the founders of GCI giant Pixar, Ed Catmull.
A Computer Animated Hand demonstrated the capabilities of computer animation by rendering a
hand entirely in 3D graphics. The short film showed exactly how the effect was achieved it was
the acorn from which great oaks would grow.

On the big screen

The first ever instance of CGI in feature-length films came along in 1973, in Yul Bryner flick
Westworld. Pixelated POV shots were created with CGI by colour-separating each frame of
footage and scanning it to be converted into the pixel effect. Colour was then added to complete
the effect.
In the sequel, the 1976 film Futureworld, more CGI imagery was used. 2D compositing was
employed to materialise characters over certain backgrounds. The previously-mentioned A
Computer Animated Hand would make an appearance on the big screen, with the same
technology being used for a face.
After this, wire-frame 3D animation was used in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope in 1977 and
The Black Hole and Alien in 1979.
In 1982, Disneys Tron would extensively use 3D CGI for more than 15 minutes to create
special effects. The Light Cycle sequence would go on to become one of the most famous CGI
scenes in animation history.
The 80s would see an increasing use of CGI, but it wasnt until the 90s that CGI animation
started to really come into its own.

The golden age of CGI

Terminator 2: Judgement Day in 1991 showcased exactly what CGI was capable of with
pioneering multiple morphing effects for its partially computer-generated main character of the
liquid metal, shape shifting T-1000.

Pixar, a subsidiary of Lucasfilm, presented its ground-breaking form of entirely GCI-rendered

animation with the John Lasseter-fronted short The Adventures of Andre and Wally B, but it
wasnt until 1988 that the animation company started to make a buzz for its short Tin Toy.
The use of the cell shading and rendering in that short would be continued into the flagship CGI
feature, Toy Story in 1995. Having been approached by Disney after the success of Tin Toy, Toy
Story would put Pixar firmly on the map.
Thanks to technological advancements at the time and to the methods tried and tested in the films
previously mentioned, Pixar was able to create a whole new world with character, depth and
charm. Using a complex system of model articulation and motion control coding, each character
required its own set of motion controls. Woody himself required 723.
Each shot went through a series of computer-run teams, including a render process completed by
a set of 117 Sun Microsystems that had to run 24 hours a day to complete the film. The
animation was finished at an average of around three minutes per week.
On the back of Toy Storys success, a sudden surge in 3D-rendering software boomed. The next
decade would see a wealth of progressively more complex CGI films appear including Pixars
second CGI film A Bugs Life in 1998, Final Fantasy: the Spirits Within in 2001, The Polar
Express in 2004, Chicken Little in 2005 and motion-capture CGI film Beowulf.
James Camerons decade-in-the-making magnum opus Avatar used an advanced version of
previous CGI and motion capture techniques, at one point employing nearly 900 people to do so.
In order to render the film, animators required 2,000 Hewlett-Packard servers, sporting 35,000
processor cores and 104 terabytes of RAM.

Thats a long way from the 45 bits of memory that created Kitty.

Where next?
With the promise of more CGI films in the near future, including The Smurfs 2 and Cloudy With
a Chance of Meatballs 2 and 3D viewing technology taking huge leaps and bounds with every
feature, theres no sign that CGI animation has had its day.
From explosions to lighting effects, the use of computers to create film effects and animation
offers so much more scope for the creation of brilliant cinematography. Who knows what kind of
amazing things we can expect to see on the big screen next?
From: http://www.myvue.com/film-news/article/title/how%20cgi%20has%20changed%20the