Posted May 06

Over 100 years of VFX: the digital age

by Joe Beedle
Over 100 years of VFX: the digital age by Joe Beedle

Read part 1 of our feature on the history of VFX.

In this second part of our feature on the history of visual effects, we look at how the craft and the industry itself evolved with the advent of the digital age.

In the mid-20th century, filmmakers and artists continually experimented with contemporary technologies to create visual effects that left moviegoers stunned. In 1958, John Whitney “used a WWII anti-aircraft targeting computer on a rotating platform with a pendulum hanging above it to create the spiral elements in the opening sequence” of the film Vertigo. This was the first major use of computer animation in film.

Whitney continued building up his demo reel in subsequent years. In 1973, he collaborated with Gary Demos in the film Westworld, in which they “digitally processed motion picture photography to create pixelated POV of Yul Brynner’s cowboy robot”.

At the 1981 Siggraph conference, Gary Demos and Richard F. Taylor presented their short film The Juggler.

Taylor’s work on the demo directly landed him a job one year later, working on Disney’s Tron, a film marked by a series of firsts. The 1982 movie was considered digitally revolutionary and was recognised as the first film to have a talking and moving CGI character (Bit). In addition, it was the first to combine both CGI and live action, as well as specifically the first to combine a CGI character and a live action character. Tron was also first to showcase an extensive, 15-minute fully computer-generated polygonal animation (Light Cycle sequence). In another first, the film featured a full CGI background as well.

Computer-generated generation

In 1984, the groundbreaking project The Adventures of André and Wally B. was released. The project was the first full CG-animated short to use motion blur effects, though also more of a technological experiment that helped demonstrate the potential for the use of full CG animation in film.

It wasn’t until nearly a decade later when the first feature-length computer-animated film, Toy Story (1995), hit our screens that CGI started really taking animation by storm.

Toy Story was a rigorous endeavour made in a span of four years and it used up 1,000 gigabytes of data along with 800,000 machine hours for editing, according to TIME. But it paid off when the film emerged as a historical landmark in VFX animation, captivating the hearts and minds of a generation and propelling the VFX industry to infinity and beyond.

By the 21st century, incredible VFX spectacles have made it to our homes and hand-held screens as stories, characters and their worlds consistently come to life in unprecedented ways.

From the magical corridors of Hogwarts, to the whimsical story of a boy named Pi lost out in the Pacific Ocean, and to the pirate voyages of Captain Jack Sparrow across the Caribbean Sea, VFX has inspired, shaped and dominated modern film and storytelling.

With every new technological advancement as the years go by, studios across the board such as MPC Film, Mikros Animation, Mill Film and Mr. X continue to push the boundaries of visual storytelling, striving to repeatedly transform the figments of our imagination into real life fragments of our world. –

Orci varius natoque penatibus et magnis dis parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus.