How a War Surplus Anti-Aircraft Gun Helped Inspire 2001: A Space Odyssey

In the late 1950s, animator John Whitney (perhaps most famous for assisting Saul Bass to create the opening title sequence for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo) built a mechanical analog computer using the mechanisms from several WW II anti-aircraft guns. He used the resulting “cam machine” to produce short experimental animated films, releasing a demo reel in 1961 under the title Catalog. 2001 special effects artist Douglas Trumbull saw Whitney’s Catalog and was inspired by the artist's slit-scan technique, using it for the animated sequences in 2001. According to writer William Moritz, Whitney submitted “a proposal for a monolith as a computer-generated effect that would have looked different from anything else in the film. He was turned down.” Nevertheless, Whitney became IBM’s first artist-in-residence in 1966, and is considered one of the forefathers of computer animation.


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