Aside to anyone browsing this site:
Three of us at TCC developed a special topics course blending art, art history, and the physics of optics to examine the possible role of optical devices in the art world circa 1500 as alleged in a book by David Hockney. The course is being taught as ART1930 in Spring 2003.
I have always been a fan of animation as art, and have followed computerized animation since its earliest days -- and even done some myself. This class has broadened my understanding of what tools are used by the artist (computer-aided or not) in animation, and I will tell you some of what I have learned while helping teach this class. These notes will serve as an outline of what I will cover, but include some references to material I will not (due to lack of time) present so you can follow up on it if interested. I won't know what I will fit in until I run out of time.
Cartoons, including computer generated images and movies, employ the same techniques for creating the illusion of 3-dimensions that have been discussed in this class
Note how more detail appears as they get more money and people. Also note how they avoid straight lines to simplify the challenges of getting accurate linear perspective.
Again notice how the backgrounds lack detail. What starts as an economy move turns into a style that features very impressionistic water-color paintings of non-essential parts of the frame.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
The long zoom at the start of the movie is miraculous, and becomes a trademark of many (if not most) Disney movies. Later movies include a long zoom where the "camera" moves right through the leaves of a tree. This is one of the ways they show off their mastery of this art form, but it is also a way of using motion to increase the illusion of volume.
If you want to create single, purely synthetic images of a real object in a computer, you first need a model of it in the computer. One of the first is the "Utah Teapot", which has become one of the icons of computer graphics.
The (Utah) Teapot
"Tron" is the first movie to make extensive use of computer
graphics in animation, although it is not a fully animated
movie. The CGI is matted with live action, which made it
affordable but also extremely challenging.
Disney later starts to use these tools in its hand-animated feature films to solve specific problems. Well-known examples are the treatment of the chandelier and ballroom background for the waltz scene in Beauty and the Beast (1991), and the river of lava in Aladdin (1992).
There really is a Luxo lamp
Luxo, Jr (1986)
Pixar also made the short films Red's Dream (1987), Tin Toy (1988), and Knick Knack (1989) before moving on to do a feature film. They continue to make other short films as a way of trying out new techniques - Geri's Game (1997) introduced a character that later appeared in Toy Story 2 - and training new people.
What makes what follows possible is the development, starting
circa 1986, of extremely fast graphics processors by
Silicon Graphics. Their rendering engine made it possible
to draw hundreds of thousands of polygons per second so
that you can see 30 frames a second rather than produce
one frame every few minutes.
Toy Story (1995)
A Bug's Life (1998)
Monsters, Inc (2001)
Their newest movie, Finding Nemo (2003), is underwater. From the trailer for it, they push the envelope with fluids and handling lots of almost-independent motion (schools of fish) here. You saw them practice with groups of "actors" in the short film For the Birds (2000).