Nowadays we tend to take hyper-detailed computer-generated film wizardry for granted. But a few decades back, even a simple floating polygon set to a Phil Collins song was considered a massive achievement.
The YouTube channel VintageCG has over one-hundred animations from the formative years of computer-generated imagery. It's not unlike looking at the high school yearbook of today's blockbuster films and marveling at their awkward teenage haircuts. Here are some of our favorite oddball animations and demo reels, including perhaps the least exciting Pixar film ever made.
This is the 1981 JVC special effects reel "Time Rider - Computer Dreaming." Watch it sober, and you'll feel like you're high. Watch it high, and you'll transform into Quetzalcoatl. [Spotted on The Retroist]
A 1985 reel by Intelligent Light. On a related note, "Sussudio" is the universal donor of ridiculousness.
A fairly creepy 1974 animation from the University of Utah demonstrating facial CGI.
This 1985 demo by Pacific Data Images surely impressed many a potential client. ("Ah, these chaps specialize in chrome dinosaurs. I like the cut of their jib.")
The frenetic 1981 Image West demo reel. Between the disco sports montage and the use of Yellow Magic Orchestra, your skull may collapse out of sheer intensity.
Optomystic's 1989 animation reel "Peedee Meets the Dragon." It is hypnotic for reasons I cannot adequately explain.
An Uncanny Valley-riffic 1989 animation by Kleiser-Walczak. As VintageCG notes, "While this is rubbery and a bit creepy by today's standards, it was quite groundbreaking at the time, making extensive use of then-novel motion capture and facial animation techniques."
A surprisingly funky AT&T Bell Labs short film demonstrating the properties of computer-animated fabric.
This 1988 reel somehow manages to be scarier than Lawnmower Man at a fraction of the cost.
A 1981 Marks & Marks reel filthy with logos.
Before they became a household name making animated movies, the bread-and-butter job at Pixar — yes, THAT Pixar — was selling a high-end dedicated image processing computer of their own design. This $30,000 (and up) system provided unprecedented performance for the time, and was the cornerstone of Disney's CAPS animation system.