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Moving innovation : a history of computer animation
Sito T., The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2013. 376 pp. Type: Book (978-0-262019-09-5)
Date Reviewed: Sep 11 2013

Significant episodes in the rapidly growing field of computer animation are the subject of this comprehensive and fascinating account. The author, himself an animation artist and spectator of the last 40 years of computer graphics and animation development, catches the most important moments of its sometimes-painful technological development. The book serves as an homage to the pioneers and pathfinders who worked out the complex details of what has today become a quotidian, familiar feature of the digital landscape.

The story begins early in the digital revolution, when television, film, and computers were emerging and merging, driven by early romantic visionaries such as Oskar Fischinger, the Whitney brothers, Vannevar Bush, and Francis Ford Coppola. The latter captured how contemporaries felt about that moment when he said, “We are on the verge of something that will make the Industrial Revolution seem a small out-of-town tryout.” This revolution leads right up to today, when we can watch a full-length movie without noticing that it is sheer computer graphics (the victory of Toy Story).

The author starts with a review of research conducted in academia (MIT, Stanford, the University of Utah, and New York Institute of Technology (NYIT)), at corporate and industrial campuses (Xerox Park, Hewlett-Packard (HP), and Pixar), and under defense contracts. Some salient figures are mentioned with regard to their first achievements or failures, and their enthusiasms and disappointments, such as Ed Catmull, who developed the first computer-animated hand; Charles Churi and his animated hummingbird; and the story of Tron, the first entirely computer–produced science fiction film. The book moves on to accomplishments in the area of computer games, commercials, computer animation, and experimental filmmaking. The reader will discover a lot of both emblematic and obscure figures and learn about their contributions to computer animation.

Although the main stage of the most important events in computer graphics is situated in the US, the author does include important names and accomplishments from other areas around the world. France produced the inventors Gouraud and Bézier, and of course the Lumière brothers are not left out. The Japanese pioneered animation with Donkey Kong and Pokemon, the Russians gave us the addicting game of Tetris, and the British created the first synthespian in the game series featuring Lara Croft.

The book focuses almost exclusively on the application of computer graphics in today’s cinema animation industry, so the more obscure aspects of the evolution of computer science are interleaved with cartoon animation and cinematography. The personalities of Walt Disney, Steven Spielberg, Steve Jobs, and James Cameron are evoked, along with milestone movies such as Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and Titanic. The story covers the 20th century, and several stages of the process appear as historical background.

The application of computer graphics in several scientific fields, such as medicine, biology, engineering, and physics, do not figure in the book. Readers looking for details on computer graphic imaging algorithms will not find any, only a list of briefly explained computer graphics terms at the end of the book.

The book is very pleasant to read, beautifully written, punctuated with savory stories, and illustrated with a remarkable collection of archive images. I can recommend this as a first-class piece of literature for computer or cinema enthusiasts, as well as for anyone who loves reading a good story.

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Reviewer:  Svetlana Segarceanu Review #: CR141538 (1311-0997)
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