Way back when I was very little, Mom and Dad recorded a VHS tape of little computer animated shorts produced by Pacific Data Images and some other artists. It was a much-loved tape, and a few of the things on it were obscure enough that I still haven't located them on YouTube. In many cases, it took a little detective work to find the title of a piece, especially when human error in recording cut off a title card or other details.

The majority of the movies on the tape had a copyright date at or very close to 1986, which makes them the same age as me.

Here are a few classics.

If you investigate "Vintage CG" at all you'll find these easily, but they might be buried in compilations, or packaged with alternate soundtracks. If you ever watched any of the Mind's Eye or Short Circutz compilations, they often changed the soundtracks.

Locomotion - This was always my favorite. A lot of old CG is essentially a "dancing bear"--it need not have much of a plot because all it has to do is show that the animation is possible. This piece, however, is quite polished, has a real narrative, and uses squash and stretch to good effect to give the characters personality.

Stanley and Stella in Breaking the Ice - Another piece with a good plot. I always thought the little sphere floating in space seemed a very lonely place to be, even with a flock, school, and a good love story going on inside.

Deja Vu - Wonder what I mean about dancing bears? I mean like this. No plot whatsoever! But the commentary on the video is true: its color palette was unique at the time.

Speeder - Arright, this one's obscure, but I finally found it just today! (Arguably, anything not by Pacific Data Images or in Mind's Eye is obscure.) I'm especially happy to find it because Mom and Dad didn't hit "play" until a few seconds in, when the tumbleweed goes over the road. In fact, this movie taught me what tumbleweeds are, because I had to ask Mom what that thing was! This one has the look of a wacky old video game...and that's not even counting the armadillo. This version is missing the credits though, so the last few seconds of soundtrack are lost.

Particle Dreams - Another dancing bear, showcasing what was cutting-edge at the time. Particle effects and liquid are still hard. I didn't realize they used the soundtrack from Dune until I saw a bit of the movie once on TV and recognized it.

Megacycles - The bears continue, this time in fractals.

Fair Play - This one has a plot. The music will haunt you. Sadly, this edition is missing the credits, which were impressive in their own right because of the particle-effect fireworks behind them. I love the big multi-layer merry-go-round.

Eurythmy - We'll finish with another classic. This one is notable for having a fair amount of Work In Progress material on YouTube, including these motion studies and a wire-frame draft. Our tape had an alternate soundtrack.

Compare all that work that went into the dogs' gaits in Eurythmy to something like Spore, where the program knows how to animate an animal with any number of legs you give it, procedurally. That represents about 25 years of progress.

These pieces were for CG what the Silly Symphonies were for Disney animators: a place to try things out on a small scale so that big things could be made from them later.

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