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Peter Foldès while directing his film <strong><em>Metadata</em></strong> (1971). © NFB

Peter Foldès while directing his film Metadata (1971). © NFB

<strong><em>Metadata</em></strong> (1971) - Peter Foldès. © NFB

Metadata (1971) - Peter Foldès. © NFB

Pierre M. Trudeau handling a movement sensor to make his characters move. Photo: Caroline Hayeur © NFB

Pierre M. Trudeau handling a movement sensor to make his characters move. Photo: Caroline Hayeur © NFB

<strong><em>Operation Cuckoo</em></strong> (2002) - Pierre M. Trudeau. © NFB

Operation Cuckoo (2002) - Pierre M. Trudeau. © NFB

<strong><em>Showa Shizan</em></strong> (2002) - Alison Reiko Loader. © NFB

Showa Shizan (2002) - Alison Reiko Loader. © NFB

Nicolas Brault while directing his film <strong><em>Antagonia</em></strong> (2002). Photo: Caroline Hayeur.  © NFB

Nicolas Brault while directing his film Antagonia (2002). Photo: Caroline Hayeur. © NFB

<strong><em>Antagonia</em></strong> (2002) - Nicolas Brault. © NFB

Antagonia (2002) - Nicolas Brault. © NFB

Paul Morstad used the SANDDE™ system while directing <strong><em>Moon Man</em></strong> (2004). © NFB

Paul Morstad used the SANDDE™ system while directing Moon Man (2004). © NFB

<strong><em>Moon Man</em></strong> (2004) - Paul Morstad. © NFB

Moon Man (2004) - Paul Morstad. © NFB

Chris Landreth in <strong><em>Ryan</em></strong> (2004). © Copper Heart Entertainment/ NFB

Chris Landreth in Ryan (2004). © Copper Heart Entertainment/ NFB

<strong><em>Ryan</em></strong> (2004) - Chris Landreth. © Copper Heart Entertainment/ NFB

Ryan (2004) - Chris Landreth. © Copper Heart Entertainment/ NFB

Play excerpts of films that use this technique

Cuckoo, Mr. Edgar!, 1999

Cuckoo, Mr. Edgar!, 1999

Play this excerpt

By Marcel Jean
Animation Expert

During the 1960s, a few large American computer companies provided equipment to a number of experimental filmmakers. In 1966 IBM set up a research program and hired John Whitney, who made films like Permutations (1968). A few years earlier, Stan VanDerBeek had started to make Poem Fields (1964–70) using the Beflix language devised by Kenneth Knowlton, an engineer at Bell Telephone Laboratories. His experiments were among the first real films made using computer animation. They are abstract films conceived in the pure "underground" spirit.

But they cannot be said to mark the beginning of computer art. American Ben P. Laposky had actually made the first electronic abstracts in 1952; then, in 1960, Germans Kurd Alsleben and William A. Fetter made the first synthetic images on a computer.

At the NFB, starting in the 1960s, computers were used for experimental films. Bernard Longpré (Test 0558, 1965) and Pierre Hébert (Around Perception, 1968) were pioneers. In neither case, however, did the computer actually generate pictures. For Around Perception, Hébert used the computer to create random juxtapositions of shapes cut out of paper.

It was not until 1971 and Metadata, by Peter Foldès, that computer graphics arrived. Foldès, a Hungarian filmmaker who had worked in France, Great Britain and the United States, went on to make Hunger (1974), a film denouncing overconsumption, in which the filmmaker continued the technical research he had begun with Metadata.

In 1981 Pierre Moretti made Graphic Variations on Telidon as a test to illustrate the graphic possibilities of Telidon, a videotext system supported by the Canadian government. In the 1980s, on the initiative of producer Robert Forget, the NFB produced animated segments for Transition (Colin Low, 1987, in stereo) and Emergency (Colin Low and Tony Ianzelo, 1988). For Emergency, Doris Kochanek's animation was transferred to Imax film, a first.

At the same time, Forget produced If Only ... (Marc Aubry, 1988), in which computer animation techniques were applied at some stages of the traditional animation process. Once the animator had done the key drawings on paper, they were digitized and the in-betweens were computer generated. Similarly, inking and painting were also done by computer. Aubry's film showed how the computer could increase the number of layers of images without running up against the density limitations and handling problems inherent in cel animation. In the years following the film, in fact, the entire animation industry gradually shifted to computer processes for these stages. Among the large number of films illustrating this technological shift are Overdose (Claude Cloutier, 1994), The Boy Who Saw the Iceberg (Paul Driessen, 2000), Flux (Chris Hinton, 2002), Noël Noël (Nicolas Lemay, 2003) and Stormy Night (Michèle Lemieux, 2003).

In 1989 Marc Aubry and Michel Hébert made Anniversary, for which they used 3-D computer graphics. Along with Mirrors of Time (Jean-Jacques Leduc, 1990), this was the NFB's foray into the field. Other films followed, such as La Salla (Richard Condie, 1996), Cuckoo, Mr. Edgar! (Pierre M. Trudeau, 1999) and Showa Shinzan (Alison Reiko Loader, 2002). Chris Landreth's Ryan, a documentary on animator Ryan Larkin, completed in 2004, is the acme of composite imagery.

In the 1990s, the computer became one more tool in the hands of filmmakers using traditional techniques. By the end of the decade, most animators were using computers one way or another to make their films. The role of computers became more general and diverse. For example, for La plante humaine (1996), Pierre Hébert digitized his direct-on-film etched images and did the painting by computer. John Weldon, for The Hungry Squid (2002), developed "recyclomation," an ingenious way of working with puppets, photographs and simple software applications. For L’Éternel et le brocanteur (2002), Michel Murray combined live action, photographs and digitized images to create an amazing science-fiction world. Some animators, like Nicolas Brault (Antagonia, 2002), also draw directly on a graphic tablet.

The constant desire of NFB artists to experiment and innovate technically can be seen in the use, for instance, of Imax's SANDDE (Stereoscopic Animation Drawing Device) system, which makes it fairly simple to draw animated films in relief. Munro Ferguson (Falling in Love Again, 2003; June, 2003) and Paul Morstad (Moon Man, 2004) have successfully used this system, developed by Roman Kroitor.

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