The Early Steps
While experiments on 3D animation began as early as the 1940s, it wasn’t until the mid-1970s, when computer technology was firmly entrenched in filmmaking, that real efforts began to give the traditional 2D graphics a three-dimensional touch. The traditional 2D animation still dominated, but consistent steps were taken by filmmakers to create a more realistic animation production that would hold more depth and impact.
While the most famous name associated with CGI animations is Pixar, launched in 1985, it was by no means the first one. The first concrete step towards 3D animations was the launch of clay-mation or clay animation, a type of stop-motion animation, during the 1960s.
This technique made use of real-life clay models or figures, usually made from Plasticine. The models were placed in certain positions, the scene was shot, then the models were repositioned and the second scene was recorded. This continued until the filmmakers had shot several pictures, which were stringed together to make an animated film. Stop-motion animation has generated many popular animations including Shawn the Sheep, Wallace and Gromit, and Gumby.
American art director William Fetter is widely regarded as the pioneer of 3D animation. In the 1960s, Fetter worked as an engineer in Boeing, where he used computer graphics to design and animate different models. In 1964, he designed the first ever computer-generated model of the human body, which was nicknamed the “Boeing Man.”
The introduction of the Boeing Man ushered in further developments in the field of 3D animation. In 1972, computer scientist Frederic Parke created the first CG human face. In 1973, Edwin Catmull designed an animated model of his hand. This animation was later used in the 1976 movie, Futureworld, the first feature film that used the CGI technology. Both Parke and Catmull worked together in the movie, which featured an animated face and hand.
The Star Wars Franchise
In 1977, the film, Star Wars Episode IV: The New Hope, used computer graphics to enhance scene effects. The film’s massive commercial success paved a new era of 3D animated films, which became a mainstream feature of the film industry.