Retrotechtacular: The Early Days of CGI

We all know what Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI) is nowadays. It’s almost impossible to get away from it in any television show or movie. It’s gotten so good, that sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between the real world and the computer generated world when they are mixed together on-screen. Of course, it wasn’t always like this. This 1982 clip from BBC’s Tomorrow’s World shows what the wonders of CGI were capable of in a simpler time.

In the earliest days of CGI, digital computers weren’t even really a thing. [John Whitney] was an American animator and is widely considered to be the father of computer animation. In the 1940’s, he and his brother [James] started to experiment with what they called “abstract animation”. They pieced together old analog computers and servos to make their own devices that were capable of controlling the motion of lights and lit objects. While this process may be a far cry from the CGI of today, it is still animation performed by a computer. One of [Whitney’s] best known works is the opening title sequence to [Alfred Hitchcock’s] 1958 film, Vertigo.

Later, in 1973, Westworld become the very first feature film to feature CGI. The film was a science fiction western-thriller about amusement park robots that become evil. The studio wanted footage of the robot’s “computer vision” but they would need an expert to get the job done right. They ultimately hired [John Whitney’s] son, [John Whitney Jr] to lead the project. The process first required color separating each frame of the 70mm film because [John Jr] did not have a color scanner. He then used a computer to digitally modify each image to create what we would now recognize as a “pixelated” effect. The computer processing took approximately eight hours for every ten seconds of footage. Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: The Early Days of CGI”

How Escher’s impossible waterfall was faked

Study the image above closely. You’ll notice that physically it is an impossible object, yet this is a screenshot of full-motion video. The clip after the break shows a gentleman pouring water into the waterfall where the wheel is located. The liquid flows in a direction that appears to be uphill, then falls onto the waterwheel where it was originally poured. Ladies and Gentleman, we have the solution to the world’s energy crisis. Nope, we have a hoax and the real question is how was it done?

[David Goldman] has come up with quite the explanation. He watched the video very closely and the put together a three-dimensional diagram showing how he would build the apparatus. If you saw the movie Inception (we highly recommend you do) you will remember the infinite stair puzzle that is exposed as an optical illusion. [David’s] proposed method for debunking this hoax uses a similar build that comes in four different, precisely placed elements.

We’ve got to hand it to him. That’s a brilliant theory! Of course the first commenter on the post linked above calls this out as CGI and we’re inclined to go with that answer but that’s much less fun.

Continue reading “How Escher’s impossible waterfall was faked”