With the advent of computers it became possible to quickly and easily fix problems caused by the traditional mode of animating. It cut down on production time as well because now animators only need to animate key frames and the computer will fill in the rest. Not only did computers help in the way traditional animation is done, it also created a new genre of animation, one completely created by computer. Movies like Toy Story and A Bugs Life, done by Disney and Pixar, and Antz, produced by Dreamworks, are just the start of computer animation history.
But perhaps best of all computers now make it possible for almost anyone to create their own animation. Before computers it took money, specialized equipment, and a tremendous amount of talent and patience to create traditional style animations. And although at the moment most people can only create crude animations on their unmodified computer, who knows what the future holds.
The history of computer animation began about 40 years ago when the first computer drawing system, Design Augmented by Computers (DAC), was created by General Motors and IBM. It would allow the user to view a 3D model of a car and change the angles and rotation.
In 1961 a student from MIT, Ivan Sutherland, created a revolutionary piece of design software called Sketchpad. Sketchpad actually allowed you to draw a figure directly on a computer screen with a light pen. Years later many other graphics software designers would base their software on his ideas.
In 1963 E.E. Zajac created a computer generated film on an IBM 7090 mainframe computer called "Simulation of a Two-giro Gravity Altitude Control System" for his work at the Bell Telephone Laboratory. One of the first of its kind this early computer animation caught on quickly, and prompted many other scientists to add computer animation to their presentations. One of the greatest advantages of computer animation was that unlike an actual film of an event, a computer animation could be done to illustrate a potentially expensive event at little cost. And unlike the traditional cel animation it was much more realistic. In response to the popularity of computer graphics IBM released the IBM 2250 graphics terminal.
The next big advance for computer graphics and animations came in the 1970, from the University of Utah, known at the time as a center for 3D graphics innovations. It was there that the "hidden surface" algorithm was first invented, basically it was a way for the computer to know which surfaces of the object it was creating would be hidden from the viewer and therefore allow the computer to hide them from sight.
The 1970s were a decade of growth for computer graphics; within the span of ten years the first CGI convention was held, rendering of curved surfaces was invented, and texture mapping was discovered. All of these were incredibly important to making computer graphics more realistic. In 1975 however it was a mathematician who would perhaps help along realism of computer graphics the most. It was in that year that Benoit Mandelbrot published his findings on what he termed "fractal geometry". A type of geometry that would end up shaping how computers would render the infinitely chaotic images found in nature more realistically.
In the eighties, after a popular film know as Empire Strikes Back was released, one of the most influential computer animation groups was started. In order to expand his special effects company, Lucasfilm, George Lucas began recruiting CGI specialists in order to create a computer animation section within his company. The result was Industrial Light and Magic a team that soon began producing special effects for films. And although at one point they lost many of their computer animators, today ILM is completely comprised of people dealing in computer animation. It was ILM who did the special effects for The Abyss, Jurassic Park, Forrest Gump, plus many more.
In 1986 in order to expand even further into the realm of CGI, the small team of computer animators who were once part of Industrial Light and Magic broke off to create their own company, known today as Pixar. Despite the success of Pixar's feature length and short animations, most animator's agree that Pixar's greatest contribution to computer graphics is a piece of software known as Renderman. For computer animation Renderman is perhaps the standard of software used today due to it's versatility and simplicity, not to mention it's ability to render life-like images.