Introducing a new Visual Language

Introducing a new Visual Language

By John Halas

This article was originally published in Animafilm, the International Animatied Film Association’s quarterly magazine. John Halas has served as president of the International Animatied Film Association (ASIFA) since 1975.

Interactive raster graphics terminal from Genisco Computers.

Take a classic Picasso painting, mix it with Salvador Dali’s melting clocks, combine these in fluid movement, and you have the capability of the latest computer graphics system. The effect of this is quite a new experience; a new visual language; smoother and richer than anything one has observed before.

The technique which has achieved such effects was developed during the past years by the introduction of new ideas applied to computer graphics, simulation, image processing, microfilm and video painting systems.

There have been many attempts in the past to utilise the capabilities of computers to generate images. In the late sixties, for instance, A. Michael Mall, on the research staff of Bell Telephone Laboratories in the USA, made scientific films which contained aesthetic values, showing movements and choreographic compositions instructing dance students and teachers alike. Another scientist, K.C. Knowlton, also at Bell Laboratories, originated systems which helped to advance the range of the computers s visual capabilities. Two artists, John Whitneyin California add Lilian Schwartz from New Jersey produced experiments which exploited the new tool’s artistic possibilities. These achievements have inevitably brought the inanimate tool of the computer closer to the reach of the artist, establishing a partnership which had been propagated by Leonardo da Vinci some four hundred years ago, and later by C.P. Snow in his concern with the inter-relationship between the two cultures; science and art.

There is no doubt that many of the early experimentalists during the last fifteen years have advanced the basic concept of this promising new medium, as well as the understanding of it. However, until recently the trouble has been that they were obliged to use extremely heavy and expensive equipment, not entirely suited and constructed for the task to be performed. The heavy-duty IBM computers of the sixties costing millions of pounds, were definitely not the type of equipment an artist liked to be confronted with to produce a light-fingered visual ballet. Not even a moving abstract experimental picture, which was the fashion of that time. The process demanded a series of complex mathematical calculations which few artists were able to comprehend. Consequently it was realised that a substantially simplified and rationalised system was needed if the technology was to be of real use as an instrument for graphic designers and film makers. It was also gradually realised that the complexity of the digital computer must be streamlined to make it accessible to visualisers.

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