Vectors & 3D Animation!

Last week in Bill’s 9832b class, we spent some time understanding how to visualize within a Vector environment.  I can’t believe that I’ve been working with Adobe Illustrator, a 2D Vector graphic design application, for almost 18 years!  Even with all of those years, I learn something new every time.  As you can see in my post Flag Widget! – Part I I used Illustrator to trace out an object into a vector file format that could be read by a 3D Printer or other physical printing device.  By no means am I an expert and readily rely on Romelle Espiritu, friend and colleague to do any of the heavy Illustrator “lifting” on major projects.  However, Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and Acrobat are the three mostly widely tools in my graphic arsenal.

This weeks post is really a little of a history lesson on 3D Animation in Canada.  Let me explain first by talking a little about the rich and deep history of 3D Animation in Canada.  I also want to say something about nomenclature.  Since the release of Avatar a few years ago, the use of the term “3D” in the general public means steroscopic movies, or in general terms, watching a movie with those funny glasses.  In the business we call this “S3D”.  When I talk about 3D Animation, I’m using the traditional industry term for Computer Graphic Images (CGI) or 3D Animation.

Most Canadians and generally most industry professionals outside of Canada don’t realize that it was two Canadian NRC physicists who invented the basis for computer animation, namely “Computerized Key Frame Animation”.  In the late 60’s Marceli Wein and Nestor Burtnyk while on loan to the NFB researched and created the first vector based computer animated film; La Faim.

In order for Wein and Burtnyk to create the technology to produce the film, they devised several very interesting tools for the time; real-time rendering to film, a wooden mouse to interface with the vector artwork and of course the ability to create computerized keyframes, as done in traditional animation at studios like Walt Disney and Warner Bros.

In 1997, the Academy of Motion Picture and Arts awarded Wein and Burtnyk with a Technical Oscar, recognizing  their contributions to the film industry.  Below is a NFB documentary on their technical process for computer animation.

After La Faim, an explosion of industry firsts propelled Canada front and centre on the world stage as the preeminent country to produce Animation of any kind.  Sheridan College became the first School in the world to offer Animation as a College Program.  Nelvana was founded and became the largest non-film animation studio outside of California but most importantly three Canadian technology companies; Softimage (first use of inverse kinematics for character animation), Alias (first use of nurbs modeling software) and Side Effects Software (inventor of procedural animation) exploded on the scene with computer animation tools which at the time allowed traditional artists to actually use the technology……although somewhat still dependent on an army of technical gurus, in a truly artistic way.

I graduated from Sheridan College in Computer Animation in 1996.  Immediately I went to work for Side Effects Software as a demo artist and was proudly employee number “34”.  In the following three years, Side Effects sent me around the world several times to meet studios, demonstrate the software to far superior professionals in the industry than I and to understand the nature of 3D animation production, pipelines and film making.  Along the way I’ve worked with Kim Davidson, Greg Hermanovic, Henry LaBounta, Sean Lewkiw, Katsuhiro Otomo, Ken Perlin, Nick Park, David Sproxton and a host of memorable mentors, friends and associates.  I’ve been interviewed on Japanese television debating the fine points of a CGI Godzilla versus a “guy in a rubber suit” and given live demonstrations to thousands of people at a time.  In May of 2000, I personally animated/modeled/rendered my last file.  Since that time, my role in the industry has been developing and implementing animation pipelines, building studios, Executive Producing series, films and various projects.  So, although I’m the “3D Guy”, I haven’t actually animated, modelled, light or rendered ever since.

It should be interesting what I can come up with for this weeks class assignment to work in Google Sketch, Blender or any other new 3D software : )

One Reply to “Vectors & 3D Animation!”

  1. I’m being a little picky, but Nestor and Marceli were not “on loan to the NFB”. The work was done at NRC, as part of their group’s research into what was then called “Man-Machine Communications”, and included computer music as well as animation. Also, the mouse was not developed at NRC. NRC’s mouse, probably the 2nd mouse in the world, was based on plans from Stanford Research Institute – which had built the first mouse.
    You might want to mention the interest in computer graphics generated in various universities in the 70’s partly as a result of this work – particularly at Toronto and Waterloo. And, this group at NRC started up the semi-annual conference – Graphics Interface – the longest running technical conference in Computer Graphics anywhere.

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