A Critical History of Computer Graphics and Animation

Section 6:
Commercial companies are created to generate CG for advertising and television


The commercial potential for the evolving computer graphics technologies was obvious to researchers and entrepreneurs alike. First generation companies that grew out of the desire to bring synthetic imagery to the television, advertising and film markets included:

 

 

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

Founded in NYC in 1978 by Judson Rosebush, Jeff Kleiser and 5 other partners, Digital Effects was the first CG house in New York, and was one of the first companies to establish itself as a contributor to the film industry in a big way, due in part to the quality of the Dicomed film recorder. They teamed with Abel, MAGI, and III to contribute to the motion picture TRON (they did the opening title sequence and the Bit character), but also did national advertisements and television promotions, particularly for CBS and NBC. The company closed in 1986, because of philosophical differences in the way it was to be operated (in the words of Judson Rosebush in the ACM student magazine, "...too many partners."). Rosebush now has his own company, Judson Rosebush Productions which he founded in 1986, and Jeff Kleiser is a partner in the Northeast and LA company called Kleiser/Walzcak Construction, founded in 1987 with his partner Diana Walzcak to create databases for CGI companies.


Space++, by Judson Rosebush

Quote from Jeff Kleiser, published in CG 101 by Terrence Masson:

"Our original setup was a 1200-baud modem connection to an Amdahl V6 running APL in Bethesda, Maryland, using a Tektronix display to preview wireframes. (Polygons refreshed at one per second—that's one polygon per second!) The perspective data was written onto 9-track tape and was mounted on an IBM 370/158 to do scan conversion. Another tape was written as hi-con images onto 9-track and was shipped to LA for film recording on a Stromberg Carlson 4020 film recorder. Processed film was sent to NYC where I deinterlaced it onto hi-con (high contrast) film and made a print to separate out the colors and have matte rolls that I could mount on an optical printer to do multiple passes with color filters onto color negative, which was then processed and printed at Technicolor downstairs. Total time to see a color image: 1 week tops."

Equipment included a DEC PDP-11/34, the IBM 4341, a Harris 500 and 800, a proprietary frame buffer, and a Dicomed D-48 film recorder. Their software, known as Visions, was proprietary to the company.


 


Judson Rosebush (left) and Jeff Kleiser


the Bit character from TRON - Yes and No states


1979 Interview and demo


1980 Demo


1982 Demo

 


1983 Demo


1984 Demo

 

 


Scenes from TRON
 

Videodrome promotion

The Clash music video

MAGI (Mathematical Applications Group, Inc) was established in 1966 for the purpose of evaluating nuclear radiation exposure. They developed software based on the concept of ray-casting that could trace radiation from its source to its surroundings. This software, called SynthaVision (marketed by Computer Visuals, Inc.) was adapted for use in CGI by tracing light instead of radiation, making it one of the first systems to implement the later concept of ray-tracing for making images. The software was a solids modeling system, in that the geometry was solid primitives with combinatorial operators. The combination of the solids modeling and ray tracing (later to become plane firing) made it a very robust system that could generate high quality images. The graphics side of MAGI, called MAGI/SynthaVision was started in 1972 by Robert Goldstein, with Bo Gehring and Larry Elin covering the design and film/tv interests, respectively.

MAGI did an early film test for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which was filmed on a custom film recorder (4000 lines of resolution) made by Carl Machover. The first CGI ad is attributed to MAGI - an ad for IBM that flew 3D letters out of an office machine. Larry Elin produced the company's computer animation from 1977 to 1980, when he was joined by Nancy Hunter and Chris Wedge. MAGI later joined with Abel, III and Digital Effects to create scenes for the movie TRON... although they did the majority of the CGI work (about 15 minutes), their most memorable contribution was the light cycle sequence.

As a result of the TRON account (which totaled approximately $1.2M), more R&D was necessary, so the scientists (including key engineer Dr. Eugene Troubetskoy) who had been working on government contracts were brought back to visualization, and MAGI hired Ken Perlin, Gene Miller, Christine Chang and several others. On the production side, they added Tom Bisogno, Tom Miller, and Jan Carlee.

MAGI's computer imagery occurs mostly in the first half of TRON in the Game Grid area, where they created such vehicles as the Lightcycles, Recognizers and Tanks. As mentioned above, MAGI employed the unique process of computer simulation called SynthaVision. The computer recognized the basic geometric shapes as solid objects with density. By varying the size and quantity of these shapes, MAGI constructed a limited variety of three-dimensional designs which could be easily animated. The SynthaVision process was limited in its ability to create complex objects. It was, however, very easy to create fluid motion (choreography) for these objects. Based on its strengths in motion animation, MAGI was assigned the computer imagery for the first half of the film, which consists mostly of dynamic action sequences.

A Celco film recorder was purchased in order to efficiently output in Vistavision. After the movie, they opened an LA office in 1984 in order to capitalize on the success of the motion picture. Mittelman recruited Richard Taylor, who supervised the effects for TRON while at III, to head this office, which closed soon after its establishment. One of the more interesting productions done at MAGI was a test for Disney (Where the Wild Things Are) which used 3D scenes and camera control and 2D character animation. This test was supervised by Disney animator John Lasseter (now at Pixar). David Brown, who was a marketing executive with CBS/Fox Video and who later co-founded Blue Sky Studios, was brought on to head up the New York sales and production facility.


Where the Wild Things Are test

They sold to a Canadian firm, Bidmax, and the personnel dispersed to other companies and universities. In particular, Chris Wedge went to Ohio State before joining with several others to found Blue Sky Productions; Phil Mittelman established the UCLA Lab for Technology and the Arts; Larry Elin is at Syracuse University; Ken Perlin went to NYU and later won an Academy technology award for his noise functions in procedural rendering (see more about Perlin in Section 19). (Note: Phil Mittelman passed away in 2000; David Brown passed away in 2003.)

Equipment included a Perkin/Elmer 3240, a Gould SEL 3287 and one of the first Celco film recorders, the Celco CPR 4000. Software was based on combinatorial geometry (solid modeling) using raycasting.

 


 

 

 

Images from TRON


Reflection mapped dog (Perlin) composited over live scene of MAGI's parking lot


Scenes from Dow Bathroom Cleaner ad


Frame from a test for Norelco shavers


1980 Demo

1982 Demo

1984 Demo

1985 Demo

 

While at CalTech, Gary Demos was made aware of the work of John Whitney, Sr. who was teaching classes there, experimenting with early CG images. Whitney's work, and that of the University of Utah, prompted Demos in 1972 to go to work for Evans and Sutherland. E&S used DEC PDP-11 computers along with custom E&S hardware, including the Picture System and a variation of the UofU frame buffer. At E&S, Demos began discussions about filmmaking with Ivan Sutherland, and together they started a company in LA called the Picture/Design Group. Demos met John Whitney Jr. at P/DG, and they started to work on some joint projects with Information International, Inc. Founded in 1962, III was in the business of creating digital scanners and other image processing equipment. Jim Blinn developed software (TRANEW) for III, which ran on a modified DEC 10, called the Foonly F1, which came out of the Stanford Research group and was originally used for OCR.

The III graphics effort was founded as Motion Pictures Product Group by Whitney and Demos (with Art Durinski, Tom McMahon, and Karol Brandt) in 1974. Early software was written by Blinn, Frank Crow, Craig Reynolds, and Larry Malone.They did some early film tests and broadcast graphics work for the European market. Motion picture work included TRON, Futureworld, Westworld, and Looker. They also produced Adam Powers, the Juggler as a demo of their capabilities. They marketed their services as "Digital Scene Simulation", and did several spots for Mercedes ABC and KCET. III hired Richard Taylor, an art director at Robert Abel, to handle the creative director efforts there. He brought a sense of film production to III, which in his words were lacking. He directed "Adam Powers" and was assigned as the effects supervisor for TRON (III produced the MCP, the Solar Sailor, and Sark's Carrier). Other projects included tests for Close Encounters, Star Wars, The Black Hole and the Empire Strikes Back, a stereo production called Magic Journeys, and many groundbreaking television promotion sequences.

Although they defined much of the early commercial perception of CGI, disputes regarding the computing power necessary to continue in the business prompted Whitney and Demos to leave to establish Digital Productions in 1982. They departed before TRON was completed, so much of the III contract was taken up by MAGI. Richard Taylor continued to handle the effects supervision, and was hired by MAGI when the film wrapped.

Gary Demos and John Whitney, Jr. went on to Digital Productions and then Whitney/Demos, and Demos more recently founded DemoGraFX (which was acquired by Dolby Laboratories in 2003), where he worked with digital TV, HDTV standards, digital compositing, and other high technology graphics related projects. Whitney founded USAnimation, which later became Virtual Magic Animation, in 1992. Demos and Whitney received the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Scientific and Engineering Award for the Photo Realistic Simulation Of Motion Picture Photography By Means of Computer Generated Images in 1984 for work on the movies "The Last Starfighter" and on "2010" using the Cray XMP. Demos also received an Academy Scientific and Engineering Award in 1995 for Pioneering Work In Digital Film Scanning", and an Academy Technical Achievement Award in 1996 for Pioneering Work In Digital Film Compositing Systems.

Equipment included PDP-10s, the famed Foonley F1 (a modified DEC 10), a proprietary 1000 line frame buffer, and a proprietary PFR-80 film recorder. Software included the TRANEW rendering package, developed by Jim Blinn, Frank Crow, et al, which ran on the Foonley. Animation was described using ASAS (Actor/Scriptor Animation System) developed by Craig Reynolds. Modeling was done on the Tektronix 4014 display using software developed by Larry Malone.

 

 

 

 

 


Adam Powers, the Juggler


The Foonley computer

 


The III film recorder


Gary Demos and the PFR


Digital Scene Simulation postcard


Triple-I 1979 Demo

Digital Scene Simulation - 1981

 

Digital Productions was started by John Whitney, Jr. and Gary Demos in 1982, after they left III because of a disagreement over the amount of computing power that needed to be devoted to feature film production, particularly for the movie TRON. DP was financed by Control Data Corporation, and the Cray was leased from Ramtek, the frame buffer company. Although the Cray provided DP with the computing power that Whitney/Demos desired, it was at a great price... one trade publication indicated that in addition to the cost of the lease, it required approximately $12,000 per month for electricity, and approximately $50,000 in maintenance. Many in the industry claimed that this kind of expense could not be justified by the kinds of contracts that existed in the effects industry at the time, but Whitney and Demos persisted.

At their peak, DP employed between 75 and 100 employees, and executed special effects for a number of films and advertisements. Some of the more notable projects include a whopping 27 minutes of CG for The Last Starfighter (which cost $14M (DP's contract was for $4.5M) and grossed only $21M), Mick Jagger's Hard Woman music video, Labyrinth, and the Jupiter sequence for 2010. Brad DeGraf created a connection for "Waldo" (from a sci-fi book by Robert Heinlein in the 40s), the digital puppet used by Henson Productions, to integrate motion activities in a real time sense (some believe this was the birth of motion capture). Keeping the Digital Scene Simulation process developed at III, they expanded the software to take advantage of the supercomputer architecture.

Equipment included E&S Picture Systems used for modeling, IMI vector graphics displays for defining the animation, and the Ramtek framebuffers used for raster display. Images were calculated and filmed at 2000x2560, and were recorded on the modified PFR at speeds that could reach 12 seconds per image, due to a fast interface to the Cray. Some excess Cray cycles were sold to companies such as General Motors and Ford Motor for their own use.

In late 1984 or early 1985, the expenses of running the company, including the high cost of running the Cray, resulted in the need to discontinue the lease on the Cray, and DP was forced to purchase it outright for $17M. Later in 1985, CDC and Ramtek were both suffering financial woes, and they began to look for ways to get out of the movie making business. In June of 1986, they agreed to terms, and DP was bought in a hostile takeover by Omnibus Computer Graphics from Canada. Whitney and Demos sued Ramtek for part of the sale proceeds, and were subsequently locked out of their offices in July and a counter suit was filed alleging that W/D started a competing company (Whitney/Demos Productions) and hired away employees. Omnibus changed the Digital Scene Simulation concept to Omnibus Simulation. They also took over Able and Associates that year, and the entire venture fell apart in 1987. (See the discussion in the Omnibus coverage below.)

In 1984, Gary Demos received his first Scientific and Engineering Award by the Academy for Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (with John Whitney, Jr.) for the practical simulation of motion picture photography by means of computer-generated images. A decade later, Demos was awarded his second Scientific and Engineering Award (with Dan Cameron, David DiFrancesco, Gary Starkweather and Scott Squires) for his groundbreaking work in the field of film input scanning. In 1995, the Academy honored him with a Technical Achievement Award (with David Ruhoff, Dan Cameron and Michelle Feraud) for his efforts in the creation of the Digital Productions Digital Film Compositing System. In 2006, Demos was awarded the Gordon E. Sawyer Award, "presented to an individual in the motion picture industry whose technological contributions have brought credit to the industry."

For additional images from Digital Productions, click here.

 

 

 


Gary Demos, left, winner of the 19th Gordon E. Sawyer Award, an Oscar statuette, is pictured here with actress Rachel McAdams, host of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Scientific and Technical Awards Ceremony on February 18, 2006.


John Whitney Jr and Gary Demos with Cray supercomputer


The DP Cray


Scene from The Last Starfighter


X-wing fighter from The Last Starfighter


Ad for Digital Productions from 1984 Computer Pictures Magazine


83 Demo

85 Demo

86 Demo

Process Demo


Scenes from The Last Starfighter

 

 

Robert Abel & Associates was founded in 1971 by Bob Abel, with his friend and collaborator Con Pederson. Abel had done early film work with Saul Bass and camera work with John Whitney. After touring with several rock bands documenting their concerts, Abel joined Pederson to adapt the camera system used for 2001 to general film effects work. Early expertise was in multiple stop motion photography rigs and special film effects layouts. At one point Abel & Associates employed nine horizontal motion control tracks, several 360 degree motion-controlled boom arms, optical printers front and rear projection systems, and vector and raster graphics systems. Abel did early innovative work in vector graphics, including famous spots for 7-Up and Levis. Abel was one of four companies (III, Digital Effects and MAGI) contracted to do graphics for the Disney movie TRON in 1982, after Disney worked with Abel for promotional materials and the opening sequence to The Black Hole. He later got heavy into raster graphics with software developed by Bill Kovacs, Roy Hall and others through a division called Abel Image Research.

Some people feel that the Abel raster software was later developed into the Wavefront Technologies product when Bill Kovacs purchased the rights to it in 1987; others dispute this, and maintain that Wavefront was developed independently, with obvious influence from the Abel software only. Key Abel raster work included a short demo film entitled High Fidelity, ads for Benson and Hedges and TRW, the Sexy Robot (after Fritz Lang's 1926 robot in Metropolis?) ad titled Brilliance, and the opening sequence for Spielberg's Amazing Stories television show. Abel garnered multiple Clio awards and had arguably the finest collection of art directors in the industry. Their strength was in the ability to bring the knowledge of traditional effects work, cinematography and film making to the area of CGI. Abel was acquired in October, 1986 by John Pennie of Omnibus Computer Graphics of Canada for $8.5 million.

In 1987, Omnibus defaulted on investments and closed DP, Omnibus and Abel on March 27, 1987 (called DOA day). As a result of the closure, many former Abel animators and directors left and were instrumental in starting or working for other high quality CGI companies, including Rhythm and Hues, Metrolight, Sony Imageworks, Santa Barbara Studios, Boss Films, Kroyer Films, deGraf/Wahrmann, etc. Abel went on to be an Apple Fellow, and started his own company, Synapse Technologies, and began producing two interactive multimedia projects for IBM, "Evolution" and "Revolution," as well as a project about flight for the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. He also was affiliated with the Center for the Digital Arts at UCLA. (Note: Bob Abel passed away in September 2001 - click here for Kenny Mirman's tribute to him from VFXPro)

Equipment included DEC Vax, Gould and SGI computers, Evans & Sutherland vector devices, Raster Tech frame buffers and proprietary film and recording equipment.


Ad for Levis


Production shot from 7-Up commercial


Ads for AT&T


Abel and Kovacs


Ads for Philips


Ad for TRW


Frame from High Fidelity


Ad for Abel from 1984 Computer Pictures Magazine


1982 Demo

 

 


1986 Demo

 

 


Making of Brilliance


High Fidelity - 1983

 

 


1986 TV Demo

 

 

 


1984 Demo

 

 


Abel Image Research

 

 


Benson & Hedges commercial

In 1981, Chuck Csuri approached an investor (Robert Kanuth of The Cranston Companies) to transfer the computer animation technology created in the CGRG lab to the commercial world, and Cranston/Csuri Productions, Inc. (CCP) was formed. It moved, along with CGRG to a Columbus facility, the former Academy for Contemporary Problems building, at 1501 Neil Avenue in Columbus. This co-location of the two organizations was important to the continuing development of each. Kanuth appointed one of his officers at The Cranston Companies, Jim Kristoff, as President of CCP, and he recruited six of the CGRG researchers to join the company as a core group.

These six CCP staff (Michael Collery, Wayne Carlson, Bob Marshall, Don Stredney, Ed Tripp, and Marc Howard) rewrote the software that was in the research lab so that it was more user-friendly and less research oriented, and added specialized utilities for character animation, procedural effects, rendering, geometric modeling and post production. This suite of software was used to provide animation for television and advertising until CCP went out of business in late 1987. Julian Gomez rewrote the animation language Twixt for use at CCP, also. During the first year of the company, they also created a sequence of animations that were edited together into a preliminary demonstration reel to take to potential clients.

The strengths of CCP were high quality image making hardware and software that was focused on the limited markets they chose to serve (television broadcast and promotion, advertising, and medical documentaries.) Exceptional sales efforts started with Kristoff and Mark Del Col, and later Scott Haines from Disney and Dobbie Schiff. They also had a great design staff, headed by Paul Sidlo (Rezn8), that included Steve Martino, John Weber, Ronnie Chang and others.

Special purpose hardware included the Marc III and Marc IV custom frame buffers, which were designed and built by CCP employee Marc Howard. These frame buffers provided the ability to do extended low resolution motion tests that were stored in frame buffer memory and played back in real time. CCP used Vax 11/750s, 11/780s, Pyramid computers, Sun workstations, a Megatek and an IMI vector displays, E&S Picture Systems, and a modified Ampex Electronic Still Store (ESS), which was designed for slow motion replay by the television network sports industry. Images were calculated and stored on one of several magnetic disks; the machine was programmable to facilitate the 30fps playback with a direct NTSC video output. CCP also had a Celco 4000 film recorder, which could be used for 16mm, 35mm and 70mm motion picture film, or 35mm slide or 4x5 transparency still output.

During the 7 year period that they were in business, CCP produced almost 800 animation projects for over 400 clients world-wide (see a list of the projects and clients at CCP-clients.html). The software was also licensed in 1985 to Japan Computer Graphics Laboratory (JCGL) for use in the Japanese market.

Key projects included: opening graphics for 3 Super Bowls; the on-air sports promotions for ABC, CBS, NBC, and ESPN networks; news opens and promos for all of ABC's news shows, as well as news opens for CBS, CBN, Fox and PBS; international network promos for ARD (Germany) CBC (Canada) ABC (Australia), Globo (Brazil) and Scottish Television; entertainment graphics for ABC, NBC, CBS, Turner, Showtime, HBO, Fox, and over 100 local affiliates; award winning ads for TRW, Sony, Proctor and Gamble, AEP, G.E., and Dow; music videos for Krokus, Twisted Sister and Chaka Khan; special projects for Goldcrest Films (The Body Machine), CoMap and the Annenberg Foundation (VISUmap animations for "For All Practical Purposes" mathematics telecourse.)

During this period, CCP staff continued to extend the research boundaries and publish new and innovative results. Former staff members included Shaun Ho (SGI), Michael Collery (PDI), Scott Dyer (Nelvana), Jeff Light and John Berton (ILM),Susan Van Baerle, Maria Palazzi (ACCAD), Doug Kingsbury, John Donkin, Peter Carswell (ACCAD), Paul Sidlo (RezN8), Jim Kristoff and Dobbie Schiff (Metrolight),Rick McKee (SGI), Jean Cunningham (PDI), John Townley and Steve Martino (click3west), Tom Longtin and many others.

The software was purchased by Lamb and Company in Minneapolis, and some of the management of CCP moved to Los Angeles to form Metrolight Productions (President Jim Kristoff and Director of Sales Dobbie Schiff) and RezN8 Productions (Creative Director Paul Sidlo).

Chuck Csuri left CCP in 1985 to return to his OSU duties at CGRG, and Vice President Wayne Carlson took over the Presidency of CCP in 1987 in order to see it through Chapter 11 liquidation, and returned as an Assistant Professor to the Ohio State Computer Science Department when the company closed. He later became Director of ACCAD and Professor in the Department of Design.

More details and videos of Cranston/Csuri and Ohio State's graphics program can be found at
http://design.osu.edu/carlson/history/ACCAD-overview/overview.html

Additional images from CCP can be seen
by clicking here.

 


CCP 1984 Demo
More CCP videos can be seen at the CCP detail site.

 


Canadian Broadcasting promo - produced for Bo Gehring and Associates

 

 


 

 

 

Pacific Data Images (PDI) was started in Sunnyvale, California in 1980, by Carl Rosendahl, Glenn Entis and Richard Chuang. Rosendahl contracted with Rede Globo in Brazil to develop software for their television promotions for the network, and designed some early show opens and specials. As a result, this helped finance the development of their software environment, which included an animation scripting language, modeling, rendering and motion design programs, all written in C. They started their production using DEC VAX systems, but were instrumental in introducing what was called the "superminicomputer" to the production world, in the form of the Ridge 32 computer. It was 2-4 times faster than the VAX 11/780 at a fraction of the cost, and its virtual memory allowed PDI to expand beyond the 2MB memory limitation of the VAXen. Along with Cranston/Csuri, PDI focused on direct to video production, as opposed to film output that was being done at Abel and Digital Productions. While CCP used a modified Electronic Still Store (ESS), PDI modified the interface to a Sony BVH-2000 in order to do single frame recording. They also used an IMI500 for motion design.

Some of the early production contracts included Globo, Entertainment Tonight (produced for Harry Marks), ABC Sports 84 Olympic promos, NBC news, the Doughboy for Pillsbury, Crest, and Bud Bowl, etc. While the early focus was on TV network productions (they captured over 50% of that market in 1985), PDI introduced the digital film scanning process in 1990, which they have used to popularize automated rig removal and image touchup. They also were instrumental in introducing performance animation for theme parks, ads and movies, starting with a project with Jim Henson Productions for a real time performance character.

Commercial popularity of morphing was helped along with a music video, Black and White, produced for Michael Jackson in 1990. They broke into the movie production business with contributions to such films as Batman Forever, The Arrival, Terminator 2, Toys, Angels in the Outfield, and produced the 1998 fully CGI hit AntZ. They also produced the Simpson's Halloween Special Homer in 3D in 1995.

The strengths of PDI include character animation, lip synch, rendering effects, the aforementioned rig removal and cleanup, and performance animation. The industry has acknowledged that their employee focused approach to business has helped them succeed where others have failed. PDI has always had a history of letting their animators pursue individual projects and shorts, and they have produced award winners in this category, including: Opera Industrial (86), Chromosaurus, Cosmic Zoom and Burning Love (88), Locomotion (89), Gas Planet (92), Sleepy Guy and Bric-a-Brac (94).

 


Pillsbury Doughboy


Gas Planet


Batman

Scenes from PDI Homer Cubed Simpsons Halloween Special


Ad for PDI from 1984 Computer Pictures Magazine


Opera Industrial

 


Burning Love

 


Sleepy Guy


Chromosaurus

 


Locomotion

 


Metropopular


Cosmic Zoom

 


Gas Planet

 


Bric-a-Brac

Entis left PDI for the game industry in 1995, joining Dreamworks Interactive (now Electronic Arts) as CEO. He earned a Scientific and Technical Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, is a founding board member of Los Angeles' Digital Coast Roundtable, and is chairman of the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences. Carl Rosendahl sold his interest in PDI and left in 2000 to become managing director for Mobius Venture Capital and a board member of iVAST, an MPEG4 software company, and several other Bay Area technology firms.

In March 1996, PDI signed a co-production deal with DreamWorks SKG to create original computer-generated feature films, including Antz. In February 2000, DreamWorks acquired the majority interest in PDI to form, PDI/DreamWorks. Under this union, Shrek, PDI's second animated feature film, hit theaters in spring 2001, and Shrek 2 in 2004, and PDI is developing Madgascar.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences (A.M.P.A.S.) recognized PDI's proprietary animation system with an Oscar, a technical achievement award in 1997. PDI R&D team-member, Nick Foster, was awarded a 1998 A.M.P.A.S. technical achievement certificate for his development of software tools built to simulate water and fluid.


83 Demo


88 Demo


95 Film Reel


84 Demo


93 Demo


Siggraph 88 Open


85 Demo


Making of She's Mad


2000 Demo

 

 

 

 

 

Omnibus was founded in Toronto. They were originally in the business of marketing and communications, and expanded into video production. They founded Image West in Hollywood in 1975. Image West primarily used analog video for production, including the famous Scanimate. In the late 70s, Image West split from Omnibus.

In 1974, they hired John Pennie as President, and they established Omnibus Video, Inc. in 1981 (using the NYIT Tween software), and Omnibus Computer Graphics in 1982. The produced the first CG commercial in Canada in 1983, and went public later that year.They opened an office in New York in 1984.(which was headed by George Heywood) , and in 1986 purchased Digital Productions for 800K shares of stock valued at $12M, and Robert Abel and Associates for $7.3M to establish a presence in LA in the film world. They also opened a Japanese facility, which still exists and still uses the Omnibus logo.

Omnibus purchased the Foonley F1 from III and placed it on the Paramount lot. The investments that allowed for the takeovers of DP and Abel were in part due to predictions by Pennie that investors would see income of upwards of $55M per year. They consolidated the efforts of the three and initially laid off 50 people. As a result of the extremely fast expansion and alleged discrepancies in the stock offering, they accumulated a $30M debt, including losses of $5.9M in one quarter alone. As a result, they closed the doors on the combined companies in October of 1987, thus closing the three CGI powerhouses in one fell swoop. Almost 150 people were affected by the closure.

Omnibus productions (pre DP/Able) include Explorers, Flight of the Navigator, Wonderworks, and the promotion for the Vancouver Expo. The PRISMS software (funded by a grant from the Canadian government) developed at Omnibus was sold to former employees Kim Davidson and Greg Hermanovich who started SideFX Software in 1987. They currently market the Houdini software product.

 

From an issue of the Canadian publication Graphics Exchange:

Technology Stories Your Grandfather Never Told You

JOHN PENNIE WAS A CANADIAN BOY WITH A DREAM . He knew without a shadow of a doubt that there was a big, bright future in computer graphics, and he was determined to be part of the big boom when it happened.

In 1982 he started a company called Omnibus . By 1984, Pennie had Omnibus steam-rolling; slick annual reports and state-of-the-art computer animation studios in Toronto and Los Angeles made it easy for Pennie to dazzle heavyweight investors with high tech glitz and the promise of having a piece of the digital future. In Canada, Pennie could point at the whirling logos of CTV and CBC on any television set to demonstrate how his company was on the leading edge of the industry.

But Pennie still wasn't satisfied. His ultimate goal was to own the computer graphics industry - all of it. This was the 80s - the Me decade, the decade of big bucks, and bigger bucks always just around the corner. In 1986, Pennie landed a really big sugar daddy, in the form of the Royal Bank. He had a megaplan, and now he was ready to go into action - south of the border.

The two largest computer graphics companies in the United States at that time were Digital Productions and Robert Abel & Associates Inc. In June, 1986, backed by various investors and $6 million of the bank's money, Omnibus swallowed Digital. In October, it dropped $7.3 million to take over Abel & Associates. Pennie could see his dream starting to unfold. Omnibus now controlled the North American computer graphics industry (and had a pair of $13 million Cray supercomputers to prove it). Unfortunately, the founders and management of these two companies didn't share Pennie's grandiose vision, and they got out fast.

The dream didn't last long. By March, 1987, Omnibus was sinking under the weight of $30 million in debt and in default on its loan agreements; in May it was in bankruptcy, leaving the American computer graphics industry in ruins. Omnibus was omnibust, and the cream of the continent's digital animators were out on the street.

Such is the nature of influence. One individual's actions can alter the course of a whole industry. In the case of John Pennie, his overzealous attempt to dominate an industry wound up shattering it. Yet the demise of Omnibus spawned a host of smaller, more aggressive companies throughout the U.S. and Canada (one of which is Toronto's Side Effects Software) and the computer graphics industry successfully regenerated itself with new technologies and new visions to become what it is today.

 


 


Omnibus videos coming soon!

 

Bo Gehring was at Cornell University in Electrical Engineering when he became interested in design. He quit the EE department in 1961 and worked with welding metal sculptures and running a machine shop. When the computer industry expanded, his shop was hired to design and build computer-controlled drilling machines for IBM circuit boards. Gehring was hired by Phil Mittleman of MAGI in 1972 to develop the division of the company focused on computer image making (MAGI Synthavision). Gehring later moved to LA to create test sequences for Steven Spielberg's CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. and started his own company, Bo Gehring and Associates, which focused not on the film industry but the advertising industry.

Gehring produced animation for the films Demon Seed (1977, with Julie Christie and Fritz Weaver) and Nightmares (1983, with Emilio Estevez and Moon Zappa). He also worked with the famous television promotion producer Harry Marks. Although the film industry beckoned those companies in LA, Gehring chose to stick with television. "Ninety million dollars is spent each day on advertising in the United States," Gehring told Greg Bear in an interview. "Feature films can't begin to match that level of financing. I'm secure where I am."

Two years later, Gehring was producing about half of his work for feature films, and the other half for advertising at Venice based Gehring and Associates. His "boutique" business had several motion control tracks and several high end vector and raster systems, but he often did the front end design for productions, and contracted with other companies (eg, III and Cranston/Csuri) for the image computation and compositing in order to keep his capital costs at a minimum. This focus on software investment at the "front-end" resulted in the development of one of the first film scene tracking software algorithms (STAR- Scene Tracking Auto Registration), a sort of electronic rotoscoping system (assistance in the coding was provided by Jim Clark, later of SGI fame).

Gehring also was interested in digital sound synthesis. "I'm one of those people who has to pull off the road when something really intriguing comes on the car radio. I firmly believe that sound is at least the equal of sight in bandwidth-- complexity of information--and synthetic sound is a fascinating area that's barely been explored." (also from the Greg Bear interview) After the closing of his Venice based venture Gehring Aviation, he moved to Canada for a stay at Banff, where he pursued his audio interest, starting a company called Focal Point (http://www.fp3d.com/ ) to develop software for the Mac.

According to Gehring: "The Focal Point 3D Audio system takes any sound and processes it to generate signals for each ear. It's a cursor for the sound," he explained. "It's the same sound as before, but built into it is new information to make the brain think it's coming from a new direction".

 


Gehring demo reel coming soon

 

 


Frame from ABC campaign


Frame from Apple Computer ad


Frame from KCOP promotion


Frame from NTech commercial


Ad from 1983 Computer Pictures

 

 

 

 

 


Next: Standards are developed and professional organizations are founded
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