Book Review: Moving Innovation: A History of Computer Animation
Speaking as a fan of animation who has seen computer generated films grow from brief oddities at film festivals during 1985-’86 like “Tony de Peltrie”, “The Adventures of André and Wally B.”, “Chromosaurus”, and “Quest: A Long Ray’s Journey into Light”, into the theatrical features today from Pixar, Blue Sky Studios, Illumination Entertainment, Prana Studios, and a flood of others, this book has been vitally needed for the past decade. Up to now, the only documentation of this trend has been the glossy art books on these studios’ individual CG films. A comprehensive history of computer animation is long overdue.
Tom Sito has been a professional animator since 1975. He has seen CG, also referred to as CGI (Computer Generated Imagery), rise from the shadows of academia to become so prominent that a major animation studio like Walt Disney Productions has announced that it was ending production of traditional animation and all its features would henceforth be done in CGI (a promise that it soon backtracked on). He has also written previous histories of the animation industry. As such, he is excellently placed to write this book.
Sito approaches the history of computer graphics from seven directions: 1. Academia; 2. Industrial and defense research; 3. Special effects for live-action movies; 4. Games; 5. Avant-garde and experimental filmmakers; 6. Corporate research; and 7. Commercial animation. If illustrations mean anything, almost all of the illustrations in this book are 1970s to 1990s photographs of men sitting at the computers on which they made some breakthrough or other, and the finished result.
“For the first thirty years of CG development, you needed at least a PhD in mathematics or engineering to know what you were doing. For most of the twentieth century, Hollywood workers were rarely required to possess more than a rudimentary public school education.” (p. 8) Sito dates the key advances in computer development, from transmitting more information faster to the beginning of electronic entertainment, to 1963 when Ivan Sutherland, a MIT graduate student, created the first true computer animation program.
The progress of computer graphics can be seen in the chapter titles. “1. Film and Television at the Dawn of the Digital Revolution” “2. Analog Dreams: Bohemians, Beatniks, and the Whitneys” “3. Spook Work: The Government and the Military” “4. Academia” “7. Nolan Bushnell and the Games People Play” “9. Motion Picture Special Effects and Tron” “12. The Cartoon Animation Industry” “14. The Conquest of Hollywood”. Animators may be interested more in how computer graphics have affected the animation film and the live-action film special effects industries, but Sito shows that those cannot be featured without a solid history of how CG came to exist.