A Critical History of Computer Graphics and Animation

Section 11:
CG production companies

The year 1987 marked a very critical time in the history of computer graphics and animation production. Rapid and major changes in technology, in some cases coupled with some questionable business practices resulted in the demise of a number of major graphics production studios, including Robert Abel and Associates, Digital Productions, Omnibus, and Cranston/Csuri Productions. At the same time, the work of these companies had raised the bar for image quality, and the advertising, television promotion and film industries were beginning to realize the impact of this new medium. Concurrently with these changes, and in some cases as a result of them, the industry reorganized itself into a major contributor to the image market.

This section highlights some of the companies that were born of this time of change. Most of these companies attracted the significant talent that was a major part of the success of the folded enterprises.

Click on the images below to view a larger version (when available).

Industrial Light and Magic (ILM)

From http://www.lucasfilm.com/inside/ ...

George Lucas was born and raised in Northern California. He attended the University of Southern California film school. Always considering the Bay Area his home, Lucas returned to Northern California to pursue his film career. In 1971 he formed his own independent production company, Lucasfilm Ltd., in Marin County, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge.

In July of 1975, with the Star Wars saga already written and design work begun the previous year, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) was established to produce the visual effects for Star Wars. That same year Sprocket Systems was established to edit and mix Star Wars. It was later to become known as Skywalker Sound. In 1977 Star Wars opened and became the largest grossing film of all time to that date. It received six Academy Awards for original score, film editing, sound, art and set decoration, costume design and visual effects, as well as a Special Achievement Academy Award for sound effects creations.

With the release of The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 and a new home in San Rafael, ILM began to establish itself as the leader in visual effects production. The same year, ILM began to work on its first non-Lucasfilm picture, Dragon Slayer.

Throughout the 1980ıs, ILM continued to receive recognition for its visual effects work, earning 10 Visual Effects Academy Awards during that decade. Included among the films honored are: The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Return of the Jedi, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and The Abyss. In The Abyss, ILM made further breakthroughs in computer graphics with its creation of the pseudopod, the first wholly computer-generated character [in a motion picure].

Skywalker Sound was also honored with 5 Academy Awards during this period for Best Sound and Best Sound Effects Editing on films including The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. In 1987, construction was completed on the Technical Building at Skywalker Ranch, Lucasıs film production facilities in central Marin, allowing Skywalker Sound to move into the 145,000 square-foot facility.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day in 1991 was another milestone in the history of Lucas Digital. Additional advancements and achievements in the field of computer graphics were realized. Both ILM and Skywalker Sound were rewarded with Academy Awards for their work on the film.

In 1992 George Lucas was honored by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with the Irving Thalberg Award. This award is voted by the Academy Board of Governors to a creative producer whose body of work reflects a consistently high quality of motion picture production and is given only in years when the Board feels there is a deserving recipient. Steven Spielberg presented the Thalberg statue to Lucas at the Academy Awards Ceremony on March 30th.

The following year, in 1993, a new corporate structure was set up among Lucasıs various companies to allow for management flexibility and accountability. Three separate companies were the result of the restructure:

  • Lucasfilm Ltd. - Film and Television production,THX and Licensing/Toys
  • LucasArts Entertainment Company - Games and Learning
  • Lucas Digital Ltd. LLC- Industrial Light + Magic & Skywalker Sound

That same year, ILM completed the visual effects for Jurassic Park, creating computer graphic animals which blended flawlessly with the live action footage while Skywalker Sound was in charge of creating the audio effects. Again, both units were recognized with Academy Awards for their work in Sound, Sound Effects Editing and Visual Effects.

The nineties saw continued success and awards for both companies. Notable films that benefited from their expertise included Forest Gump, The Mask and Twister. In 1997, the twentieth anniversary date of Star Wars, all three movies in the Star Wars trilogy were rereleased. New and refined digital footage was inserted and the sound was enhanced. Record crowds greeted familiar characters with applause and delight and Star Wars once again became the largest grossing movie of all time. AND THE SAGA CONTINUES. . .

Lucas hired effects expert John Dykstra to head a new production facility, located in old warehouses in Van Nuys, California. After completing Star Wars he relocated ILM to the Bay Area. They are located in San Rafael, California, but are planning a new facility in the Presidio Park in San Francisco (drawings for the Letterman Digital Arts Center at the Presidio can be found at http://www.lucasfilm.com/inside/letterman/).

After ILM finished Star Wars, Lucas contracted III for several CG effects tests, including animating X-wing fighters (Art Durinski and Gary Demos) for the upcoming The Empire Strikes Back. Lucas was impressed but couldn't come to contractual terms with III. Instead he made the decision to establish his own CG division. He recruited most of the researchers and management from NYIT, including Ed Catmull to staff the new division.

The initial years were spent in research, developing film scanners and recorders, software for CG compositing, rendering architectures capable of film work, and computer assisted film and sound editing. The first production work came for the Genesis sequence for Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan (see discussion in the Pixar section.)

Many of the CG team reorganized to form Pixar and Lucas reformed the Lucasfilm CG division as the ILM Computer Graphics Division, but as it grew in importance it became the prominent component of ILM, and the distinction as a separate name and division disappeared. Lucas Digital is the umbrella company for ILM and Skywalker Sound. The other Lucas companies are Lucasfilm, LucasArts, Lucas Licensing, and Lucas Learning.

In the early days of the company, they also established a CGI commercial production division. This group accounted for a large percentage of ILM's income during this time, but saw its importance diminish with a downturn in the economy and a cutback by customers for CG advertising work. As a result, ILM decided to close the department in mid-2002.

The Lucasfilm Computer Graphics Group developed several industry leading hardware and software systems. The Pixar Image Computer was developed for compositing operations. The internal frame buffer was a special built hardware component that was controlled mainly by SUN machines and driven via command line. In 1984 it was used to composite the stained glass knight for the movie Sherlock Holmes. (See article to the right for more details.) It was also coupled with the ILM built laser film scanner and recorder. They also developed a high quality renderer suitable for photorealistic film-resolution work. The scanline rendering algorithm was called REYES (Renders Everything You Ever Saw). The group developed shading trees which eventually became RenderMan's Shading Language. One of the early images made by the group was called Road to Point Reyes.

The computer group associated with the graphics group developed a system to do film editing, which was called EditDroid. This development effort was headed by Ralph Guggenheim, who also came from NYIT. EditDroid was the first non-linear editing system. It was based on SUN hardware coupled with a laserdisc system and 3/4" tape recorders. It had a custom touchpad used to make the cuts, and its interface used a timeline approach.

The SoundDroid was a similar custom computer system based on the Audio Signal Processor computer the group first built. It had an interface with a touchpad that permitted cutting and editing sound clips. Afterwards Lucas created a company called DroidWorks which would develop and sell these systems, but being custom solutions they were quite expensive. Eventually Lucas licensed and sold much of the technology to Avid.

Other innovations that have come out of the ILM efforts include:

  • the expansion of morphing by Doug Smythe, based on the system first developed by Tom Brigham, formerly of NYIT, for us in the movie Willow (they received an Academy Technical Achievement Award in 1992 for morf)
  • The Dinosaur Input Device was later renamed the Digital Input Device or Direct Input Device. The DID was an armature, very similar to those ones used in stop motion but it also had electronic encoders at the joints. The encoders would translate the positions of the joints into the computer where the data could be used to move the skeleton of a CG dinosaur. The traditional stop motion animator could pose the armature (and hence the CG dinosaur) and set keyframes. ILM received an Academy Technical Achievement Award in 1996 awards for this development.
  • John Knoll (who was a motion control technician) and his older brother Thomas Knoll (a PhD candidate at the University of Michigan doing work in image vision) developed Photoshop in 1987. It was designed for Macs, based on the functionality of the Pixar Image Computer, and was used on the Abyss.
  • The group led by David DiFrancesco eventually developed a laser film scanner and recorder in one unit in 1980, and in 1983 the unit was incorporated into the Pixar Image Computer. The first project to use the system was Young Sherlock Holmes. Several other facilities were also developing film scanners including Triple-I, CFC, PDI and RFX. All the facilities were recognized with Academy Awards in 1994 for their pioneer work in film scanning.
  • ViewPaint is ILM's proprietary 3D paint system. It allows the user to paint color texture maps on 3D models, and also allows for the creation of displacement maps, transparency maps, specular maps, etc. ILM received an Academy Scientific and Engineering Award in 1996 for ViewPaint.
  • Caricature is ILM's proprietary animation software, developed by Cary Phillips of the R&D group. It was developed to meet the challenges of the facial animation for Dragonheart. The tool became so successful that animators started it using more extensively, not only for facial animation but also all sorts of secondary animation, like the breathing and skin jiggling of the dinosaurs in The Lost World. Cary Phillips received an Academy Technical Achievement Award in 1998.

ILM has significantly influenced the entire CGI industry, through its innovative software and hardware research and development, its incredible film work, and also through the companies that have grown with former ILM people. Some examples of such companies are:

  • Apogee was the FX facility created by John Dykstra, the original Star Wars supervisor. John Dykstra decided not to move to Northern California and opened shop in the old ILM facilities of Van Nuys. There he worked on several projects like Star Trek The Motion Picture, Firefox and Invaders From Mars. In 1993 Apogee closed. John Dykstra continued working as an independent VFX Supervisor and currently works for Imageworks on such projects as Stuart Little and Spider-Man.
  • After the completion of Star Wars Hoyt Yeatman and Scott Squires in 1979 founded Dream Quest Images in Simi Valley. Some early projects included The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension and Blue Thunder. DQI was bought by Disney to serve as their in-house FX facility in 1994. Disney reorganized and brought together the CG group of Feature Animation with DQI and renamed them The Secret Lab in late 1999. In 2001 Disney announced that TSL would be disbanded after completing work for their last two projects.
  • Boss Film was founded by former ILM supervisor Richard Edlund in 1983 and located in Marina del Rey, California. Some early projects included Ghostbusters, Die Hard and Poltergeist 2. Edlund closed the facility after its last two projects, Air Force One and Starship Troopers.


Boss Films 94 Demo

  • Phil Tippett was the stop motion master at ILM. In 1983 he decided to leave ILM and work on his own in a facility that would eventually become Tippett Studio. Some early projects include Dinosaur!, Robocop and Willow. Tippett Studio is located near Berkeley, California.
  • Digital Domain was founded by filmmaker James Cameron, makeup FX wizard Stan Winston and former ILM President and GM Scott Ross. Some early projects included True Lies and Interview With a Vampire. DD remains the second largest FX facility and is located in Venice Beach, California, where they continue to work on both large film projects like Titanic, small FX films like A Beautiful Mind, countless commercials and special projects like T2 3D.


Excerpt from DD Tightrope

  • Sony Pictures Imageworks was started as a small in-house FX unit for Sony Pictures in Culver City. In 1995 Sony offered Ken Ralston a position as its president to lead the expansion of the effort. Many other ILMers followed, including Lincoln Hu (Director of Technology at ILM ) who became Senior VP and Chief Technology Officer at Imageworks.
  • While Weta Workshop was founded in 1986 by Dan Taylor, Weta Digital wasn't formed until 1993. Several former ILMers, including Wes Ford Takahashi traveled to New Zealand to setup the basics of the new digital division. Weta Digital became especially recognized after their work in Contact and owner Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings. For the Two Towers former ILM supervisor Joe Letteri joined the production as the supervisor at Weta Digital.
  • Former ILM CG artist Henry LaBounta joined PDI as their VFX supervisor in PDI's CAFE (Computer Animation and Feature Effects). CAFE worked in many VFX projects like The Peacemaker and The Legend of Bagger Vance, and Henry LaBounta supervised several of the projects including PDI's contributions to Steven Spielberg's A.I. Artificial Intelligence and Minority Report. Due to the success of Shrek, PDI decided to close CAFE and concentrate on feature animation projects and commercials.
  • Many former ILM members have joined Electronic Arts like supervisors Dave Carson, Henry LaBounta, and Habib Zargarpour and top CG artist Jay Riddle.
  • Other notable facilities include Complete Pandemonium (Steve "Spaz" Williams and Mark A.Z. Dippé), FreedomZone (Ellen Poon), The Orphanage, formed by Rebel Unit members Stu Maschwitz, Scott Stewart and Jonathan Rothbart, Tweak Films (R&D Lead Jim Hourihan and TD Chris Horvath), Digital Fauxtography (Terrence Masson), and DVGarage (Alex Lindsay).

 


Scenes from Andre and Wally B.

The Adventures of Andre and Wally B.

 


The Genesis Effect for Star Trek


Motion blur

 

 


Road to Pt. Reyes


The Abyss


Willow

The Visual Effects of Willow article

Pixar Image Computer article (PDF)

 


Terminator 2


Jurassic Park


Star Wars


Dragonheart


Young Sherlock Holmes

 

 

 

Links for Boss Films

 

From the ILMfan web site FAQ:

The Mac Rebel Unit is a group within ILM that uses Macs to do their jobs. Its name is taken somewhat jokingly from being a smaller band of "rebels" amid the large "empire" sized Unix and Linux based groups. The unit was started by Dennis Muren and is primarily composed of artists. Among the work that they do is painting of texture and image maps, digital matte paintings, some compositing, rotoscoping and even some 3D work. The Art Department and the Star Wars prequels pre-visualization unit are also Mac based. Among the tools the Rebel Mac unit uses are Photoshop, Commotion and Electric Image.

 

An article written by Alvy Ray Smith in the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, for their 1998 special on Grapics Remembrances, details the presentation by the CG effects team to convince George Lucas to utilize CGI in his films.
George Lucas Discovers Computer Graphics
(PDF)

 

 

(also see ILMFan.com)

 

 

Pixar Animation Studios

Pixar started as the Lucasfilm Computer Graphics Group in 1979, which was reorganized in 1983 to become Pixar and a games division. It focused on software development, but also designed and developed hardware in house. The Pixar Image Computer, which was intended for the high-end visualization markets, such as medicine was eventually sold to Vicom for $2M. The commercial group worked in the advertising area, and it was discontinued in 1995. Pixar was purchased by Steve Jobs from Lucasfilm in 1986 when George Lucas decided to focus his corporate efforts. As part of the deal, Lucasfilm retained rights to access to the Pixar technology. Ed Catmull became head of the new company and most employees of that division left for Pixar. Pixar became well known for a series of short film productions, including Luxo Jr. (1986), Red's Dream (1987), Tin Toy (1988), KnickKnack (1989) and Geri's Game (1997).

Software created by Pixar includes REYES (Renders Everything You Ever Saw,) CAPS (with Disney), Marionette, an animation software system that allows animators to model and animate characters and add lighting effects, and Ringmaster, which is production management software that schedules, coordinates, and tracks a computer animation project. The applications development group worked to convert the REYES technology to the RenderMan product, which was commercialized in 1989. It received Academy Technical Awards in 1992 for CAPS,1993 for RenderMan, 1995 for digital scanning technology, 1997 for Marionette and digital painting, and 1999 for laser film recording technology. Steve Jobs discontinued the applications development effort in 1991 because of a fear of competition with the NeXT product development efforts. As a result, nearly 30 people were laid off, including Alvy Ray Smith, who founded Altamira with support from Autodesk.

In 1995 Pixar went public with an offering of 6,900,000 shares of stock. After successes with Toy Story, the interactive group developed two CD-ROMs, but were refocused in 1997 in order to concentrate the corporate effort on making films. Pixar signed an agreement in 1991 to develop 3 motion pictures with Disney, and in 1997 the two organizations announced a 5 picture agreement, including a sequel to Toy Story. Pixar won Oscars for Tin Toy in 1988 (Luxo Jr. was nominated in 1986) and Geri's Game in 1998, and has won several Academy Technical Achievement awards, Golden Globes, and Clios, and has a number of U.S. patents for their technology. Pixar produced the 1998 animated feature A Bug's Life, which set box office records, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo. The film recording technology mastered by hardware guru David DeFrancisco is being incorporated into a revolutionary new laser film recorder called PixarVision.

First located in Marin County, Pixar relocated to a new facility in Emeryville in 2002.A description of the Emeryville HQ of Pixar from the architects web site can be found here.

 


Beach Chair

 

 

 

Luxo, Jr.

 

 

Knick-Knack

Red's Dream

Tin Toy

for the birds excerpt

Geri's Game

Jack-Jack Attack

Mike's New Car

Boundin'

One Man Band

 

 

Download a copy of the magazine Computer Graphics World 1998 article on Geri's Game (PDF)

Visit the Pixar web site to view the Pixar timeline


Parody of Luxo, Jr.


Apple Computer iMac ad modeled after Luxo, Jr.

deGraf/Wahrman

DeGraf/Wahrman was founded in 1987 by former Robert Abel & Associates employee Michael Wahrman and former Digital Productions director Brad deGraf after the folding of DOA. Tom McMahon of Symbolics helped finance the company and provided equipment and software, including a Symbolics 3600 and the suite of S- software.

Brad deGraf studied architecture at Princeton University and holds a B.A. in Mathematics from the University of California at San Diego. He started his career as lead software designer and programmer at SAIC for the US Army National Training Center. He became Head of Technical Direction at Digital Productions before opening deGraf/Wahrman and serving as Director of Production. After deGraf/Wahrman, from 1992 through 1994, he was Director of Digital Media at Colossal Pictures, which he and his partners spun off to create Protozoa.

deGraf and Wahrman created Mike Normal, or "Mike the Talking Head", the first live performance of a virtual character. It was shown live at the Electronic Theater at SIGGRAPH 88 in Atlanta. deGraf also created "Moxy" on the Cartoon Network, the first virtual character for television, and Peter Gabriel's Grammy award-winning video, "Steam". Theme park work included "The Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera", for Universal Studios Florida, "Journey to the 4th Dimension"in Japan, and "Robocop: The Ride" for Iwerks Entertainment Turbo Tours. He also worked on numerous feature films. He later was founder, and CEO of Dotcomix.

Michael Wahrman worked in computer animation research and production since 1982. He worked at Robert Abel and Associates, where he helped design the production system and engineered the development of the raster system used for High Fidelity. Wahrman worked with Craig Reynolds of Symbolics on the SIGGRAPH 87 film Stanley and Stella - Breaking the Ice, which featured the Boids software developed by Reynolds. Wahrman was awarded an Academy Award for Scientific and Technical Merit for his contributions to the Wavefront Animation System.

His motion picture credits include Starship Troopers, Event Horizon, What Dreams May Come, and the Dream Pictures Studio full-length animated feature film Hopper. He was the senior visual effects advisor on the rebuild of the Hayden Planetarium and to the Digital Galaxy Project of NASA

See the Animation World Magazine article on Dotcomix

 


Steam - Peter Gabriel music video


Stanley and Stella: Breaking the Ice

 


Moxy


Mike the Talking Head

 

From a 1988 CGW article:

Mike the talking head is a step towards animators being able to directly control their characters rather than drawing their actions. Silicon Graphics and deGraf-Wahrman Inc are working together to produce a new type of animation tool to allow animators to work with their characters in the same manner as puppeteers work with puppets.
The two companies hope to produce a real time, full rendering system with the ability to take input from different sources. The input will be able to change the expression of the character as well as it's colour and the materials it is made out of. The image will be able to be scaled, rotated and distorted, and will be able to mouth words.
To create the original face to work with, a real person, Mike Gribble, was used as a model. His face was scanned in using a 3D digitizer to get about 256,000 points of digital data. These points are converted to polygon data which makes shading of the image possible. To give accurate data without redundancy, the polygons were smaller in areas which required greater detail and larger in the flatter areas, like the cheeks.
The talking component of Mike was acheived by scanning in the real Mike as he mouthed each phoneme. Phonemes are the subparts of words used in pronunciation. To simulate speech, the implementors developed code to interpolate between phoneme positions. Possible input devices include data gloves and speech recognition systems. The glove could be used in a similar manner to a puppeteers hand inside a puppet. The speech recognition system could have Mike mouthing the words as a person speaks into a microphone.

 

Metrolight

Founded in 1987 by James Kristoff (former President of Cranston/Csuri Productions), Mits Kaneko (JCGL), and Dobbie Schiff (former Director of Sales at Cranston/Csuri), MetroLight brought many experienced animators and designers to work on projects in film and television. Originally called Northern Lights Studios, the company started in the former Robert Abel & Associates facility in Hollywood, with some of the old Abel equipment and a number of former Abel and CCP employees (including Tim McGovern, Doc Baily, Neil Eskuri, Al Dinoble, Con Pederson, Jim Hillen, Jim Rygiel (Abel), Steve Martino, Mark Steeves, Jon Townley, and Tom Hutchison (CCP).)

The company used SGI 3130 workstations and Wavefront software, as well as the equipment obtained from the Abel operation when they closed. After developing their own code to supplement and later supersede the capabilities of Wavefront, they opted to integrate the Alias and Maya code into their pipeline.

Beginning work in broadcast television (they continued a relationship with clients that they had at CCP), they expanded into theaters with a series of computer animated trailers for AMC Theaters. These spots, featuring the character "Clip", gave the cinema chain a distinctive "look" and began its long business association with MetroLight. MetroLight made a mark in feature film with 1989's Total Recall. The project required animating "skeletons" as characters passed through a futuristic security device capable of detecting anything from a weapon to a slipped disk. The effects were directed by Tim McGovern (who worked at Abel on Tron and Brilliance, and later helped found Sony Pictures Imageworks). Originally planned to utilize motion capture, the scene had to be reconsidered after the data from the capture session was found to have some integrity problems. Instead, the studio rotoscoped film that was shot in low light during the capture. Tim and Metrolight won an Academy Award for his work on the Skeleton X-ray sequence in that film, which once again involved human motion and CG characters. The work was recognized for the fluid and realistic motion of the film's nine humans and one dog.

While continuing work in commercials and film, Metrolight explored the possibilities of CGI in music videos and interactive software. They also worked in the location entertainment field, with productions for theme park rides, and experimented with CG for games. They also wrote the 2D MetroCel software, under the direction of Mits Kaneko, who ran a very successful 2D production company in Japan. The ink and paint software, called Annie, was developed by the MetroCel division, headed by former CCP software developer Mark Steeves. It was was used for the Ren & Stimpy TV series, and was later sold to Michael Milken's 7th Level. Steeves and Martino also left for 7th Level when the software was sold.

 


Metrolight 91 Demo Reel

 

 

 


Artwork by Bill Selby

 

 


Scene from Total Recall


Rez.n8 Productions

ReZ.n8 was formed in 1987 by Paul Sidlo (formerly creative Director at Cranston/Csuri Productions) and Evan Ricks. They quickly gained a reputation as a world leader in conceptualizing, designing and producing state-of-the-art computer graphics, animation and special effects for major corporations and the entertainment industry, including broadcast, theatrical and commercial markets. ReZ.n8 has won numerous awards, including Emmys in 1995 and 1998 for the NFL on Fox Sports graphics and in 1992 and 1994 for broadcast design for the CBS Olympic Winter Games. ReZ.n8 received BDA Awards in 1996 for designing the Pro-Sieben web site and in 1997 for CBS Sports content graphics. ReZ.n8 has been nominated for a 1998 BDA Award for its work as the sole provider for all graphics used in the CBS telecast of the 1998 Olympic Winter Games.

ReZ.n8's production manager has supervised computer generated effects work for such large-scale productions as "Titanic," "The Fifth Element," and "Dante's Peak." They have a fully integrated computer production environment featuring a state-of-the-art Windows NT network, as well as Mac and Unix networks and top-of-the-line SGI servers. Clients can preview the results of their work in a state-of-the-art multimedia facility, which features a high-definition projection theater, surround sound and real-time interaction.


Rez.n8 91 Demo Reel

 

 

 

 


Scene from network animated open

Digital Studio story on Rez.n8

 

http://www.rezn8.com

 

Rhythm and Hues

Founded in 1987 by former Abel and Associates people John Hughes, Keith Goldfarb, Charlie Gibson and Pauline T'so, and Omnibus person Larry Weinberg R&H is one of the most reputable CG firms in the industry and a leading producer of character animation and visual effects for the entertainment industry. The company's work is prominently featured in movies, commercials and theme park attractions.

Based in Marina del Rey, California, the studio's 70,000 square foot facility is a creative home for more than 300 artists and staff. In 1995, Rhythm & Hues was honored with the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects for its work on "Babe," recently named one of the Top Ten films of the 1990's by the Associated Press. The Commercial Division is well known for its recent work on the Mazda "Cool World" commercials, as well as the ongoing Coca Cola "Polar Bear" campaign. The studio is the recipient of top awards from both national and international competitions include the CLIOS, The New York Festivals, the International Monitor Awards, Monte Carlo's Imagina Awards and The Emmy Awards. In addition, R&H has received two Scientific & Technical Academy Awards.

Their facility houses live action and animation directors, animators, painters, modelers, producers, programmers, writers, technical and production support. They have contributed work for the Nutty Professor, Spawn, Mouse Hunt, Babe, Waterworld, Batman, Ace Ventura, Bedazzled, Little Nicky, Fighting Like Cats and Dogs, Red Planet, the Sixth Day and others. The also contributed shots to Hollow Man, (Sony), X-Men (Fox), Frequency, (Lead house, New Line) and Fantasia 2000, for Walt Disney Studios. They are also well known for the Coca Cola bears that raced into our TVs during the Olympics, as well as the theme park rides Seafari and the Jetsons at Universal Studios, Florida.

Besides their film, television and theme park work R&H is producing 3D CG for games, including Eggs of Steel for PlayStation.

In 1999 R&H bought VIFX, and former Abel employees Richard Hollander rejoined Richard Taylor and Bill Kroyer who have joined R&H.

 


The making of Coca Cola Bears (11 MB)


R&H Demo Reel

 

 


http://www.rhythm.com


Kleiser Walczak Construction Company

 

In 1987, Jeff Kleiser (Digital Effects) and Diana Walczak formed Kleiser-Walczak Construction Company in order to build databases as a commercial service. They experimented with CG actors, which they called Synthespians. Synthespians are a new brand of animated three-dimensional characters with a high degree of life-like motion. Forged from the imagination of a human sculptor, these synthetic actors are brought to life through the process of computer generated imagery (CGI) and human motion capture to create a wholly unique style of animation with vast application to the entertainment industry. Two of the best animations involving Synthespians are Don't Touch Me, starring the computer-generated singer Dozo, and Sextone for President.

In 1990, the company produced twelve minutes of high-end cosmic simulation for the PBS series The Astronomers. This project caught the attention of Doug Trumbull (2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters, Blade Runner, Silent Running, Brainstorm), who awarded the company a multimillion dollar contract to set up a facility on-site at the Trumbull Company in Lenox, Massachusetts, to produce films for Luxor Las Vegas. Kleiser-Walczak provided all the computer animation digitally composted with live action in Vistavision at 48 frames per second and a 2 1/2 minute stereoscopic film that was entirely computer-generated.

In 1992, Kleiser-Walczak teamed up with Santa Barbara Studios to simulate four ancient North American cities for the Pathways/Kevin Costner production of 500 Nations. In 1993, Kleiser and Walczak teamed with Randal Kleiser who directed Disney's Honey, I Blew Up the Kid to produce numerous visual effects shots combining live action and computer animation. They also produced animation for German director Roland Emmerich's Stargate, Paramount's Clear and Present Danger, Disney's Honey, I Shrunk the Theater, Judge Dredd, and a stereoscopic logo-opener for IMAX films. Michael Jackson chose Kleiser-Walczak to design an album cover and video jacket for his anthology album, HIStory. For this project, Diana Walczak supervised a four-camera shoot of Jackson and created a highly detailed sculpture of him for digitization and rendering.

In 1997 the company recently relocated its main facility to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, MA where they are to open Synthespian Studios, a production facility designed specifically to create computer-generated characters.

 

 

         
Don't Touch Me     Sextone for President

 

                           
Robotic Faculty       X-Men              Stardox ad 

 


Jeff Kleiser and Diana Walczak

 

 

http://www.kleiser-walczak.com/

Kroyer Films

Founded by Bill and Sue Kroyer in 1986, they specialize in combining CG and hand animation. Bill Kroyer worked as a traditional animator for Disney in the late 70s and went with Robert Abel and Associates in 1982.

The studio produced such projects as the animated feature film, FernGully, The Last Rainforest for 20th Century Fox, the 1988 Academy Award-nominated short film Technological Threat and the title sequences for Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Troop Beverly Hills, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and the Making of Me for the World Health Pavilion at Epcot Center in Disney World, and the TV series UltraCross. They are currently developing a live-action/computer animated feature film for Warner Bros. Studios and are in production on The Boy From New York City, an animated short film Sue wrote and designed.

Other employees of Kroyer include Kendra Haaland (Disney - Hercules) and Kevin Bjorke, who is now at ILM and worked with Kroyer at DP/Abel.


Technological Threat

 


Bill and Sue Kroyer

 

From the SIGGRAPH 89 Panels, here is a short presentation by Bill Kroyer on the making of Technological Threat

 

Interview with Bill Kroyer from Animation World Magazine, April 1996

 

 

 

 

Sogitec Audiovisuel (ExMachina)

Sogitec was very active in the early to mid-80s in CGI production in France. Their productions were innovative, and the image quality was superb. Some of the active participants in Sogitec were Xavier Nicolas, Veronique Damian, and David Salesin, who is now at the University of Washington after some time at Lucasfilm and Pixar. Sogitec became a subsidiary of Dassault Aviation in France, and is now involved in simulation, but not in CGI directly.

In 1988, Nicolas formed ExMachina, which has proven to be one of the leaders of CGI in Tokyo and Paris. They are also working in location based entertainment and the "Large Screen" entertainment industry, including simulation, 3D and Imax formats.

                 
Sogitec 85        Sogitec 86       Ex Machina


Jumpin' Jacques Splash


Xavier Nicolas

An Animation World Magazine article on Sogitec / Ex Machina can be found at
http://www.awn.com/mag/issue1.1/articles/cotte.html

 

 

 

Other French animation companies during this same time period were Thomson Digital Image (later purchased by Wavefront), INA (Institut National de la Communication Audiovisuelle), Voir/Captain Video, Imatique, and Computer Video Film. A Computer Graphics World article, The French Touch in Computer Animation, was written by Judson Rosebush in 1985.

 

 

R/Greenberg Associates

Started by Robert Greenberg and his brother Richard in 1977, R/Greenberg Associates, made a name for itself "flying" the opening titles for Superman.


Superman movie open

Bob Greenberg's R/GA Digital Studios has created work you've probably seen in Superman, Zelig, and Diet Coke commercials.The dancing cars in the Shell Oil ads, the flying dagger in The Shadow, and the effects for The Last Action Hero are the work of R/GA Digital Studios, the hand behind 2,000 commercials and 300 feature films.

Today, R/GA has 175 employees and grosses $35 million. Restructured in 1992 to resemble a flexible network of nodes, R/GA is made up of seven independent companies. Each specializes in one area of visual imagery, from print to interactive entertainment. If a project uses more than one medium, the companies turn to each other for help. The result: a one-stop visual-effects house.

Also in 1992, Bob Greenberg opened RGA/LA to compete with West Coast firms like Industrial Light & Magic. Soon after, R/GA mastered the difficult task of placing a young Clint Eastwood next to President Kennedy for Columbia's In the Line of Fire. But it wasn't the first time Greenberg brought the dead and the living together on celluloid - he'd done it before in Woody Allen's Zelig and in Diet Coke ads pairing Paula Abdul and Cary Grant.

Bringing the dead to life is part of R/GA's next big creative push in advertising. Interactive advertising, Greenberg thinks, can benefit from taking celebrity endorsement to the next step, where celebrities communicate with customers on an individual basis, creating a personal dialog. Greenberg is negotiating with the estates of famous actors for the rights to reanimate them as high-cachet virtual hosts. The first interactive ad, for Chrysler, is being released at Time Warner's interactive test site in Orlando, Florida. Another, for the US Postal Service, is scheduled to follow.

Above text extracted from an article by David Bennahum

 


Scene from Superman open


Ad from 1983 Computer Pictures Magazine

 

 

Lamb & Co.

Larry Lamb was President of Lamb & Company and the affiliated software company, LambSoft. Lamb founded Lamb & Company in 1980. His contributions to the industry include both early adoption and testing of new software systems and the development of proprietary software code on a large scale. He serves on the board of trustees of Minneapolis College of Art & Design (MCAD) and the [Larry Lamb] New Media Advisory Board of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

Lamb operated a continuous but informal 'test lab' for new computer graphics tools since the company was founded. Its history parallels the development of computer animation itself. The first 'cool' tool adopted by Larry Lamb (he says it was before anyone else) was a servo-controlled Oxberry animation camera. By 1982, everyone in this niche had to have an Oxberry motion control camera.

Lamb & Company was well known for its character animation, but long before there were characters that moved, there were flying logos. Lamb & Company created some of the world's first when it acquired the first license of Wavefront software. Wavefront allowed Lamb & Company to do production internally without relying on film or outside film support services. The Wavefront Preview software complemented the Oxberry equipment by allowing staff to previsualize the work being done on the computer controlled animation camera.

About the same time, Larry bought the core animation technology developed at Cranston Csuri, one of a handful of 'original' computer animation companies that passed into history. This substantial body of 'prior art' in animation technology served as the basis for Lamb & Company's internal development efforts. Lamb was also an early adopter of Silicon Graphics hardware as the platform of choice for animation, and later added NT machines to its mix.

In 1989, Lamb & Company began to pursue new ways of doing computer animation and began experimenting with motion capture as a means of augmenting keyframe animation. The goal was to develop a computer 'puppet' in order to do high volumes of animation quickly. Two driving needs at the time were the need to produce volume and the need to present personality in the characters. Existing CG looked too 'algorithmic', stiff and computer generated. As part of the exploration of tools to accomplish this, Lamb & Company became the first customer for Virtual Technologies Data data glove. Just having the acquisition device did not constitute an animation solution. It was used as a tool to test motion capture theories as a microcosm system for larger motion capture efforts.

In the early 1990's Lamb became the first purchaser of a Discreet Logic FLAME digital paint and compositing and special visual effects system. In 1992, they also purchased a full body motion capture suit from Ascension Technologies as part of an experimental effort to reduce production costs on a major new animation. It took Lamb & Company six months to create the first long-format computer generated 3D network TV program in the U.S. "The Incredible Crash Dummies" (Fox). The need to produce 23 minutes, consisting of 82 scenes with 13 characters on the computer at a time when the computer power was much more limited than today continued the quest for productivity and creativity management tools at Lamb & Company.

The next set of breakthroughs dealt with blending keyframe animation and motion capture data and being able to apply motion data to characters that weren't exactly the same as the performer in shape and size. The company proved the technology during the experimental production "Huzzah". This production was the first complete capture of an actor's single performance. In 1997, Lamb & Company spun off LambSoft, a software technology development company whose goal is to productize motion editing and compositing software created as part of the company's long term efforts around blending motion capture with keyframe animation. In 1998, Lamb & Company was featured on "Scientific American Frontiers" hosted by Alan Alda.

From http://www.lamb.com

                        
Lamb&Co. 94 Demo Reel        move, by Lamb&Co.

 

 


 

Xaos

 

Founded as Eidolon by Arthur Schwartzberg and Michael Tolson, it was renamed Xaos in 1989. Tolson's software development was key in the look of the company's work that is organic looking images of high complexity.

Their most recognized production was of sequences in the 1990 film Lawnmower Man; they also produced a number of exquisite scenes for the MTV Liquid Television series. The look of the latter images was reminiscent of the products marketed by Xaos Tools, a not-so-successful Tolson/Schwartzberg spinoff.

 

                              
Xaos 94 Demo Reel         Scenes from Lawnmower Man

 

Xaos, who unlike many of their peer companies of the time, was largely a Windows NT based company. Other work included animation for The Pagemaster, a Grateful Dead music video titled Infrared Roses and IDs for MSNBC and the Sci-Fi channel. The following article about the company was from a news release by Intergraph:

Xaos Theory: The Science of Particles, Pixels, and Profits at Xaos , Inc.  
The word "Chaos" is not the first thing that comes to mind when you visit Xaos , Inc. in San Francisco. The spacious, high-ceiling facility resembles a well-kept artist's loft with lots of natural light – a welcome departure for animators accustomed to working in darkened cubicles. In this cheery environment outfitted with Intergraph TDZ 2000 workstations and RenderRAX renderers, Xaos animators have produced some of the industry's most compelling content for commercials, broadcast, feature films and large-format cinema.

Xaos was the creative force behind the Emmy Award-winning works " Liquid  Television MTV," and MSNBC's station IDs, as well as a long list of memorable commercials for major clients such as Nabisco, Sprint, Kellogg's, and MasterCard. Film projects include the title sequence for Jumanji and ground-breaking visual effects for Lawnmower Man. Xaos is also emerging as the premier content creator for large-format 70mm films, including CG work on Everest and other IMAX features for National Geographic and Discovery Channel Pictures.  
 
Thinking Big  
"Creating content for IMAX and other large-format films puts your entire system to the test – from the workstations to the network to the renderfarm. The benefit of using Intergraph's TDZ 2000 and RenderRAX is that we don't have to trick anything out to work in that resolution." -- Michele Frazier, executive producer of commercials and broadcast, Xaos , Inc.

Xaos worked on a total of seven large-format films in the last year – an impressive number considering that only 175 of such films have been produced in the entire 28-year history of the format. Among Xaos's accomplishments in the field include the CG sequences in Everest, a production whose Hollywood blockbuster-style profits have ignited new interest in large-format films. After the success of Everest, large-format companies such as IMAX, once relegated to producing science and nature documentaries, are working to take large-format out of the museums and into a multiplex near you.

Creating content for large-format films places tremendous demands on Xaos' workstations, networks, storage, and renderfarm. Each 70mm frame is composed of 4096 x 3003 pixels – four times that of standard 35mm film. The frames render out to a huge 48 MB per frame, while stereoscopic 70mm doubles disk and bandwidth requirements by requiring a separate image for each eye.

Xaos handles the task using Intergraph TDZ 2000 workstations connected to a renderfarm of Intergraph RenderRAX modules via a 100base-t switched network. Each multiprocessor RenderRAX unit is equipped with 1 GB of memory – almost a bare minimum for rendering large-format frames, according to Mark Decker, technical director at Xaos . "If you have a texture that's going to fill the entire 4K-pixel frame, the texture has to pretty close to 4K pixels or youÂ're not going to see enough detail," he explains. "So we have to load a lot of our large textures into RAM all at once while we're rendering them."

The tremendous success of Everest has inspired even staid institutional filmmakers to introduce more dramatic elements into their films, and computer animation is seen as one way to do that. Xaos has taken this as an opportunity to position itself as not just as a service house, but a creative collaborator who helps the client understand the digital medium and recommend how it can be used. "We often advise clients on shots, beyond just giving them a bid and quote, but actually working with them on the script," says Christina Schmidlin, executive producer of feature films at Xaos , "It makes it more interesting to us, and provides added value to the client."  

And Now a Word from Our Sponsor…  
"The commercial  marketplace is important to us because it keeps you sharp – it's very demanding and can be very problematic. Landing a commercial project sends an electric shock through the facility. It's like – 'Incoming!!!'" -- Arthur Schwartzberg, president, Xaos , Inc.  

To keep their artistic edge and diversify their client base, Xaos seeks a balance between commercial projects and large-format films. Unlike large-format projects, which often begin planning six months to a year before production, commercial projects move through at light speed, according to Arthur Schwartzberg, president of Xaos . "With commercials, you get a call and they say, 'We're doing a project, we've narrowed it down to five houses, send your reel," says Schwartzberg. "Then they call you the next day and say 'OK, we've narrowed it down to three, let's have a conference call!' A day later you may (or may not) get the job, and it's due in two weeks. It's a lightning bolt."

To strengthen relationships with commercial clients, Schwartzberg is expanding Xaos' network of reps, being careful to choose people that understand the visual effects business. "Most reps are typically more live-action oriented because they represent live action directors," he explains. "It's important to us that they're experts in visual effects so they can represent our work more effectively."

In the high-stakes, high-pressure environment of commercial production, Schwartzberg considers his close relationships with Intergraph, Kinetix, and other vendors to be crucial strategic assets. Xaos has had plenty of time to nurture these relationships, as one of the first CG companies to abandon the Unix platform and move totally to Intergraph and Windows NT. "In retrospect, it was visionary," says Schwartzberg, "But at the time, it was a very bold move." 

It's a move that Xaos never regretted. "With Intergraph – I don't know if it's southern hospitality or what – but the whole company is infused with an attitude of value-added assistance," he says. "That's the kind of thing you can't know when you're shopping for systems. The box is cool – you buy it. But you don't really know until later what that value-added service and attitude might be." Richard Marco, systems administrator at Xaos , found out to his satisfaction. "I've been able to count on Intergraph for any kind of assistance. I've been extremely happy with the support. As the lone system administrator at Xaos , that makes my life a lot easier." 
 
The Particulars of Particles
"Intergraph's TDZ 2000 is well designed in terms of the overall system design. The data flow is very efficient so youÂ're not wasting as much time moving data around within the system. Other than that, what can you say? The graphics are incredible, the drivers are solid, and the machine never crashes." -- Mark Decker, technical director, Xaos , Inc.  

Xaos was an early pioneer in developing particle animation engines, and was the creator of a famous sequence entitled "Wet Waltz," which features a dancing character that throws off droplets of water in all directions while swirling through the scene. One of the most powerful features of Xaos' particle system is the ability to manipulate particles with a variety of forces after they are emitted from an object. Xaos is using this ability on a current IMAX project, in which animations are used to show how currents move in the ocean as they hit an underwater mountain. The effect is achieved with an off-screen rectangle emitting particles that simulate water flows. Xaos animators use the particle engine to populate the scene with various forces to make the currents bend, curl, and twist in vortexes as they hit various parts of the geometry in the scene.

Several years ago, Xaos integrated their proprietary particle code into a plug-in for 3D Studio MAX, providing a smooth user interface that artists can interact with. "Before we made it a plug-in, the software was very powerful, but not always very intuitive for the artists to work with," says Mark Decker, technical director at Xaos . "Now you can see the object emitting particles. You can move the object around while viewing the forces that affect the particles. It's much more intuitive than writing scripts."

On the other hand, Xaos engineers are not limited by the user interface. Their ability to access the code to achieve unique effects for clients is a competitive asset for the company and a key to their signature look.  
 
Getting Down to Business
 
"This business is tough. It's exciting, it's sexy, it's cool, its artistic – but it's tough. My attitude is 'Who wants to just struggle along?' We're taking a more aggressive stance about our future." -- Arthur Schwartzberg, president, Xaos , Inc.  

Arthur Schwartzberg has that unique combination of talents required for running a successful content creation business. He's part visionary, part businessman, part artist, part salesman. One of the founders of Xaos , Schwartzberg left in 1991 to form Xaos Tools, a software company. Last year Schwartzberg returned to Xaos with a Steve Jobs-style mission to refocus the company after a few "Xaotic" years. Apparently, Xaos's artistic vision was as sharp as ever, but some of the business aspects had been allowed to founder. "Like any business, you have to produce quality work, but that's not enough," explains Schwartzberg. "You also have to be proactive in sales and marketing, and when I first returned to Xaos , there was very little of that going on."

According to The Roncarrelli Report on computer animation, the CG industry continues to enjoy huge growth, but only a few companies have significant profits to show for it. Schwartzberg intends to remain among those few. He has aggressively maneuvered Xaos into a position to bid on much larger projects, some of them with multimillion-dollar budgets. The company is also looking at ways to move into content ownership – a practice unheard of a few years ago, but becoming an increasingly viable option for CG houses such as Xaos . "Until now, we've been a 100% service bureau – we do the job, we get paid, it's in the can, we move on to the next job," says Schwartzberg. "Owning a stake in the content is a way to go beyond that treadmill."

Xaos is finalizing a deal in which the company will serve as visual effects producer and coproducer on a large-format film project. Under the arrangement, Xaos discounts a percentage of their fee in exchange for an equity investment in the film. By doing so, the company hopes to establish more ongoing benefits in the form of royalties, ownership, and branding.

When it comes to computer hardware and software, Schwartzberg doesn't believe in cutting corners. "Our business is incredibly labor intensive -- we spend 65% of our resources on labor," he says. "So if you have to spend a few thousand dollars more on technology that can boost your productivity – I consider that purchase to be intelligent and cost-effective." Consequently, Xaos' next hardware purchase will be top-of-the-line Intergraph workstations with Wildcat 3D graphics.

Schwartzberg reflects on how quickly the industry has changed in just a few years, when "high-end" was synonymous with proprietary Unix-based systems. "There was a time when we would never even think of using Intel-based systems – it would be embarrassing to tell that to a client," admits Schwartzberg. "Interestingly, nobody ever even asks anymore – it's become a complete non-issue. They just say 'send us your reel.' " 

 
   

Blue Sky Studios


"Blue Sky Studios, Inc. was founded in February 1987 by a group of people who had met at MAGI/SynthaVision while they were working on Disney's TRON. Each brought a range of talents and experience that proved valuable in dealing with the emerging business of computer animation. David Brown, the company's current President and CEO, had been a marketing executive with CBS/Fox Video. Alison Brown (no relation), now Vice President of Marketing and Sales, came from advertising and special effects. The company's creative director, Chris Wedge, was an animation artist and teacher. The most unusual member of the group, and the man responsible for the distinctive look of its films, is Eugene Troubetzkoy, who holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Columbia University. He and former NASA engineer Carl Ludwig developed the proprietary software and renderer that give Blue Sky its competitive edge. "

From Ray Tracers: Blue Sky Studios
By Susan Ohmer, Animation World Magazine
May 01, 1997

 

The basic technology used to generate images at MAGI/SynthaVision was "ray casting", or ray tracing, which was developed by MAGI engineer Robert Goldstein in the late 60s. Eugene Troubetzskoy was one of the principal software engineers at MAGI, and he reformulated Goldstein's approach for CGI purposes. When Blue Sky was established, Troubetzskoy implemented a similar approach into the Blue Sky software environment, called CGI Studio. This approach to handling the geometry, coupled with the focus on realistic lighting in the software has allowed Blue Sky to create some of the most stunning imagery in the production industry.

Michael Ferraro oversaw the development of the object oriented language and environment, and Chris Wedge, after returning from Ohio State's graduate ACCAD program, provided much of the artistic direction.

Blue Sky produced animation for advertising and television, and ventured into the film production arena with their effects contribution to the David Geffen movie Joe's Apartment, based on the MTV short film of the same name. They have also produced effects for Fight Club (1999, Fox 2000), Star Trek: Insurrection (1998, Paramount); Alien Resurrection (1997, 20th Century Fox); A Simple Wish (1997, Bubble Factor/Universal Pictures), and Titan A.E.

In 1998, Wedge realized a dream in producing a short film entitled Bunny, which earned him an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. Bunny showcased the entire approach to Blue Sky's unique image generation environment, producing incredible lighting environments using radiosity approaches. In 2002 they produced the feature length animated film Ice Age, which broke box office records for domestic release.

In 1997, Twentieth Century Fox bought controlling interest in Blue Sky through their effects division, VIFX who they had purchased earlier, and they merged the two to create Blue Sky/VIFX. Richard Hollander, one of the original founders of VIFX/Video Image, was made President of the new venture, and Blue Sky's former President, David Boyd Brown, took on the position of CEO. The company was headquartered in Marina Del Rey, but Blue Sky's New York facility continued to function. They employed a total of approximately 250 people.

In 1999, VIFX was sold to Rhythm and Hues, and Blue Sky reverted to their previous structure as Blue Sky Studios, still under Fox ownership. David Brown passed away in 2003.


Scene from Bunny

 

 

http://www.blueskystudios.com/


 


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