Newly found lost Pixar footage shows the origins of the computer animation studio. The discovered footage doesn’t feature any cute robots or toy cowboys. Instead it shows some of the first film experiments in 3D computer-based animation – experiments that would help launch the the world’s foremost computer animation studio, Pixar.
The seeds of computer 3D animation. The footage was incorporated into the 1976 film Futureworld, which was the first movie to use 3D computer animation.
The experimental archival footage dates back nearly 40 years ago to 1972, when Univ. of Utah grad student Ed Catmull (who now oversees Pixar’s and Walt Disney’s Animation Studios) and a partner filmed a few basic examples of 3D computer animation. The clips show a 3D hand, face and working heart, all mapped with polygons.
Pixar has dominated the box office during the last two decades. A quick list of Pixar’s successes includes modern classics such as the entire Toy Story trilogy (1995, 1999, 2010), Finding Nemo (2003), The Incredibles (2004), Cars (2006), Ratatouille (2007), WALL-E (2008) and Up (2009). Pixar’s films have earned more than $6.3 billion worldwide, and the studio’s average feature makes $602 million. Toy Story 3, on the other hand, is now considered the highest-grossing animated film of all time, grossing more than $1 billion.
Pixar’s films have received critical acclaim as well. The studio has won 26 Oscars, including six Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature. Two of its animated features (Toy Story 3 and Up) were considered so good that they even transcended the Animation category and were nominated for Best Picture.
Before those masterworks started appearing on the animation landscape, Pixar was first represented by three short computer-animated films that were produced in the early 1990s. Back then, the closest thing to a “star” that Pixar had was Luxo, an animated desk lamp that showed more personality than many animated creatures of the day, despite Luxo’s lack of facial features.
These early “shorts” were a revelation to animation fans of the day, and pointed the way to today’s 3D animation. The look of the animation was perfectly clean, the backgrounds were richly detailed, and by then, Pixar had mastered its system of interpolation, so character motion was energetic but smoothly rendered.
3D Animation Origins
The newly posted video predates Luxo by a good two decades, and looks as primitive as Walt Disney’s early animation experiments. Shot in a grainy black and white, the video shows several examples of polygon-based 3D animation, each containing a few movements and motions to give a hint of what could be achieved.
The first clip shows a plaster hand which has been mapped with polygons. Then we see the hand rotate. Other clips show 3D faces, as well as the simulated workings of a heart valve. The clip contains no narrative audio—just a jazzy rendition of the classic song “Stardust,” and the video image (which started out on primitive 8mm film) shows it age and the original medium. Nonetheless, this brief film is a historic document that capably predicted the coming tidal wave of 3D computer animation.
Pixar has been turning out blockbusters for years, but how do they do it? How do they manage to make every film a hit? When the people of Pixar sit down to plan their next film, it’s an incredibly creative process that involves numerous steps. Pixar’s process includes brainstorming, developing a script and then actually shooting the action. If you’re interested in making the next Toy Story, start learning 3D animation skills now…because the future is computer-animated.
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