Chapter 14: CG in the Movies

14.1 Introduction

As the image making capabilities advanced during the move from the lab to full scale production in the 1970s, Hollywood took notice. There were several movies that included one or more special effects scenes that were CGI.

For example, John Whitney Jr. produced some graphics effects for Michael Crichton’s Westworld in 1973 – in particular, the “robot view” of the main character was the first example of digital image processing used in films;

Information International Inc (III) produced a 3D representation of Peter Fonda’s head for the movie Futureworld in 1976;

Peter Fonda digitized for 3D model

Susan Dey was digitized by III for several scenes in Michael Crichton’s 1981 film Looker;

Cindy’s head from the movie Looker (1980). Actress Susan Dey is digitized from reference lines by Art Durinski and Larry Malone.

Larry Cuba produced a scene for Star Wars using Tom DeFanti’s software at the EVL at University of Illinois in Chicago, and another scene was done with SCANIMATE;

Larry Cuba graphics for Star Wars

John Whitney, Sr.,        R/Greenberg and others produced graphics for titles, including the famous Superman titles; Disney’s The Black Hole used a 3D effect for the opening and for some trailers;

the “Genesis Effect” was produced by Lucasfilm for Star Trek: the Wrath of Khan in 1982.

Genesis Effect (1982)
TRON Solar Sailor

But it was the 1982 sci-fi movie TRON that pushed the issue, using four major production companies to produce over 20 minutes of full 3D graphics. Whereas the movie was not a box-office success, it did prove that this new medium had tremendous potential for the industry. Read more details about this movie and the effects production In Section 3.

The cost of TRON, coupled with its poor performance at the box office, caused Hollywood to take a step back from CG film production. They became excited once more when Digital Productions produced the tremendous imagery for the movie The Last Starfighter.

The Last Starfighter – Universal Pictures (1984)

Read more about the production of TRON and The Last Starfighter in the article Science and the Silver Screen from the Time-Life series Understanding Computers: Computer Images (1986).

Rotten Tomatoes published a list of the 85 greatest computer animated movies ranked by critical review.

IMDB created a list of all 3D animated movies (created – 27 Jul 2013 | updated – 29 May 2018)

Greatest Visual and Special Effects (F/X) – Milestones in Film
from THE GREATEST FILMS – The “Greatest” and the “Best” in Cinematic History website


Movie 14.1 Animated Characters in the Movies