In 1974, SIGGRAPH was formed by a small group of professionals who shared a common interest in an emerging trend: computer graphics. Since its conception, conferences, events, and award ceremonies have been held to promote the generation and dissemination of this relatively new artform, and thanks to the Internet Archive the entries from 2001 have been preserved in time for all to see.
This is a snapshot to some 13 years ago, when Wikipedia first graced the Web and Apple released an odd-looking white box of tricks known as the iPod. That year Microsoft put the final touches to Windows XP, and the PlayStation 2 continued to dominate games console markets. For many, computer animation was pretty impressive in 2001, but the films you’re about to see were truly astounding for the time.
What Is SIGGRAPH?
SIGGRAPH is a group that exists as part of the Associate for Computing Machinery, the world’s first and largest society dedicated to computing technology. They hold annual conferences, support an education program focusing on computer graphics and animation. They are not responsible for creating these films, but rather documenting and celebrating their existence and awarding the creators the praise and honours they deserve.
For computer artists, inclusion in a SIGGRAPH awards list is a big deal, and as you’re about to see, it takes vision, skill, and patience to pull it off.
Directed and produced by Wayne Lytle and credited to the musical animation company Animusic, Pipe Dream is a rather complex marriage of sound and visuals which still manages to impress today. The most impressive feat is that virtually no traditional animation keyframing is used. Instead the work relies on proprietary software to analyse the music and use this data to make the sound and animation fit together pretty much perfectly.
This is a part of the whole collection, which is now available in BluRay (after initially being a DVD release) via the Animusic website.
Le Processus is a rather surreal and haunting black and white animation in which one man finds himself an outcast for being different. The film’s production company is listed as Supinfocom, considered by some to be the world’s finest computer graphics university, with credits given to Philippe Grammaticopoulos and Xavier de L’Hermuzière.
The art style here is really quite special, with a woodcut effect not only looking great but adding to the film’s subtext about alienation, uniformity, and individuality.
Thankfully, computer animation involving animals has improved considerably since the early 2000s, thanks in part to the huge number of feature-length animations that rely on them. Say Cheese looks a little dated now, though the art style that involves anthropomorphising mice with human teeth and facial expressions is a little unsettling too.
That said, check out the fur effect (and how far we’ve come) in addition to the reflections and lighting. Pixar, we salute you!
A short that thrives on its own weirdness, Harvey tells the story of a man who has been cut in half directly down the center of his body from head to groin but who mysteriously remains alive. It’s a weird and wonderful short horror film fusing computer animation, brooding cinematography, graphic gore, and undertones reminiscent of Eraserhead.
Everyone and his dog has an opinion on what it is the filmmaker was trying to say with this, as is evidenced by the comments section. Earns a “viewer discretion” and NSFW tag for gore and some nudity. You have been warned!
A little bit Matrix and a little bit Ghost In The Shell, Freeware is a short action film in which some rather blocky-looking heroes infiltrate a powerful IT company in order to “download” and free an assistant known as Maia. This is one film that typifies the art style of the time, with characters that look like they’ve fallen straight out out of SiN.
Old PC gamers should listen out for the original Half-Life “healing” sound which makes an appearance at around the four minute mark; it is bound to make you feel old.
The Oddworld series of games emerged in 1997 with the debut title Abe’s Oddyssee casting the player as Abe, a loveable yet simple life-form known as a mudokon. If you missed it the first time, developers are working on a new HD version of Abe’s Oddyssey due to be released this year. Till then, check out this 2001 promotional video shown at SIGGRAPH for another of the series titles, Munch’s Oddyssey (which has also since been re-released).
The art and sense of humour closely mirror the games, which vary in style but settle somewhere between platformer and puzzler. You can find out more about the Oddworld games on the Oddworld Inhabitants website.
There are a total of 94 items in the SIGGRAPH collection at the Internet Archive, and while that in itself is an impressive number it really is a shame that there aren’t more examples of classic computer animation to trawl through. One day, maybe those archives will expand for the rest of us to enjoy, but until then you’ll have to stick with the hundred or so films currently in existence from the 2001 conference.
Let us know what you think of these classics, as well as any of your favourite examples in the comments below.