Moving Innovation: A History of Computer Animation

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MIT Press, Apr 19, 2013 - Computers - 376 pages
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A behind-the-scenes history of computer graphics, featuring a cast of math nerds, avant-garde artists, cold warriors, hippies, video game players, and studio executives.

Computer graphics (or CG) has changed the way we experience the art of moving images. Computer graphics is the difference between Steamboat Willie and Buzz Lightyear, between ping pong and PONG. It began in 1963 when an MIT graduate student named Ivan Sutherland created Sketchpad, the first true computer animation program. Sutherland noted: “Since motion can be put into Sketchpad drawings, it might be exciting to try making cartoons.” This book, the first full-length history of CG, shows us how Sutherland's seemingly offhand idea grew into a multibillion dollar industry.

In Moving Innovation, Tom Sito—himself an animator and industry insider for more than thirty years—describes the evolution of CG. His story features a memorable cast of characters—math nerds, avant-garde artists, cold warriors, hippies, video game enthusiasts, and studio executives: disparate types united by a common vision. Sito shows us how fifty years of work by this motley crew made movies like Toy Story and Avatar possible.


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Great story and I happened to see their first presentation when in the USAF Film Service at Norton AFB, CA near San Bernardino. All they showed was a TV monitor and it changed colors. As a futuristand just a 2nd Lt, I saw what this was. Did not have to paint cells to create the changes. When was done, I stood up and said, "You have just witnessed a change in film history." The higher up civilian producers scoffed, and knowing my interest in the Titanic said,"The next thing you will say they will add people to the deck and smoke on the funnels of a Titanic pictures." They laughed. I replied, "Will see." I was on the 1991 IMAX expedition that filmed the wreck and this became the film"Titanica" and was in that and a TV special about it. Around 3-4 years ago, when lecturing about maritime history on Princess on a RT to Hawaii, Dickie Smothers was on board and in a short meeting in the hallway, I mentioned that and he commented, "We lost out ass with that company." But it was a special moment in film history with today, the issue if anything on the screen is "for real" or for "reel" . . .  


1 Film and Television at the Dawn of the Digital Revolution
Bohemians Beatniks and the Whitneys
The Government and the Military
4 Academia
5 Xerox PARC and Corporate Culture
6 Hackers
7 Nolan Bushnell and the Games People Play
12 The Cartoon Animation Industry
13 Pixar
14 The Conquest of Hollywood
Dramatis Personae
Alphabet Soup CG Acronyms and Abbreviations

The New York Institute of Technology 19741986
9 Motion Picture Visual Effects and Tron
The Wild West of CG
The Uncanny Hybrid

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About the author (2013)

Tom Sito has been a professional animator since 1975. He was one of the key players in Disney's animation revival of the 1980s and 1990s and he helped set up the Dreamworks Animation Unit in 1995. He is the author of Drawing the Line: The Untold Story of the Animation Unions from Bosko to Bart Simpson and Professor of Cinema Practice in the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California.

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