Timeline of computer animation in film and television

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This is a chronological list of films and television programs that have been recognized as being pioneering in their use of computer animation.



Vertigo 1958To create the spirals seen in the opening credit sequence of his film, Alfred Hitchcock hired John Whitney who used a WWII anti-aircraft targeting computer called "The M5 gun director" mounted on a rotating platform with a pendulum hanging above it that it tracked. Its scope was filmed to create the various spiral elements used in the opening sequence. The raw footage was curated with aid from graphic designer Saul Bass, and the final near two minute long sequence became the first computer animation in a feature film. [1] [2]


Rendering of a planned highway1961In 1961, a 49-second vector animation of a car traveling up a planned highway at 110 km/h (70 mph) was created at the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology on the BESK computer. The short animation was broadcast on November 9, 1961, on national television. [3] [4]
Hummingbird1967A ten-minute computer-animated film by Charles Csuri and James Shaffer. This was awarded a prize at the 4th annual International Experimental Film Competition in Brussels, Belgium and in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York City. The subject was a line drawing of a hummingbird for which a sequence of movements appropriate to the bird were programmed. Over 30,000 images comprising some 25 motion sequences were generated by the computer. [5] [6]
FlexipedeThe first entertainment cartoon. Made by Tony Pritchett on the Atlas Computer Laboratory near Oxford and first shown publicly at the Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition in 1968.
Kitty1968A group of Soviet mathematicians and physicists headed by Nikolay Konstantinov created a mathematically computable model of the physics of a moving cat. The algorithms were programmed on the BESM-4 computer. The computer then printed hundreds of frames to be later converted to film. [7] [8] [9] An accompanying scientific paper describes the foundation of the employed physics simulation techniques that nowadays are commonly applied to animation films and computer games. [10]


Metadata1971This is an experimental 2-D animated short drawn on a data tablet by Peter Foldes, who used the world's first key-frame animation software, invented by Nestor Burtnyk and Marceli Wein. [11] [12] [13] [14]
Out of the Unknown Produced by Charles McGhie, some early computer-generated imagery techniques were combined with stop-motion and real-time visual effects to create the opening title sequence for the show's fourth and final series.
A Computer Animated Hand 1972Produced by Ed Catmull, the short demonstrates a computer-animated hand, as well as human faces. Added to the United States National Film Registry in 2011.
Westworld 1973First use of 2D computer animation in a significant entertainment feature film. The point of view of Yul Brynner's gunslinger was achieved with raster graphics. [15] [16]
Faces (Faces & Body Parts)1974 Fred Parke's thesis film on facial modeling at the University of Utah. [17]
Great 1975The Academy Award-winning 1975 short animated film about the life of the Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel contains a brief sequence of a rotating wire-frame model of Brunel's final project, the iron steamship SS Great Eastern .
Logan's Run 1976Used analog computer animation to create the forcefield in the Carousel sequence.
Futureworld First use of 3-D computer graphics for animated hand and face. Used 2-D digital compositing to materialize characters over a background. [16]
Hobart Street SceneFirst use of a 3-D hidden-line removal movie depicting an architectural street scene. [18] [19] It shows the planned Crown Courts in Hobart in 1976 and was used for planning approval. The buildings exist today.
Demon Seed 1977Used raster wire-frame model rendering for the Proteus IV's monitors.
Star Wars Used an animated 3-D wire-frame graphic for the trench run briefing sequence on Yavin 4. Added to the United States National Film Registry in 1989.
Alien 1979Used raster wire-frame model rendering for navigation monitors in the landing sequence. [16] Added to the United States National Film Registry in 2002.
The Black Hole Used raster wire-frame model rendering for the opening credits depicting a 3-D wire-frame of a black hole. [20]


Looker 1981First computer-generated model of a whole human body. Also, first use of 3-D shaded CGI. [20] [21]
The Works 1982The New York Institute of Technology Computer Graphics Lab debuted a trailer at SIGGRAPH for their CGI project. This would have been the first feature-length CGI film, but it was never completed.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan ILM computer graphics division develops "Genesis Effect", the first use of a fractal-generated landscape in a film. [22] Bill Reeves leads the Genesis Effect programming team, and creates a new graphics technique called "Particle Systems".
Tron First extensive use of CGI including the Light Cycle sequence. [23] Also includes very early facial animation (for the Master Control Program). A sequence of 15 minutes of the film was fully computer-generated.
Return of the Jedi 1983First Star Wars film to use shaded CGI. Translucent shaded models were used for the holographic diagram of the second Death Star orbiting Endor during the Rebel briefing sequence. Added to the United States National Film Registry in 2021.
Golgo 13 First animated film to incorporate CGI sequences. [24] Entirely digital models of revolvers, skeletons, helicopters, and skyscrapers (created by Toyo Links Corporation and Osaka University's CG division) are used in the film's title sequence and part of the climax; the remainder of the film is traditionally animated by Tokyo Movie Shinsha.
Dream Flight First 3-D generated film telling a story, shown in Electronic Theater in SIGGRAPH '83.
Rock & Rule First Western animated film to use computer graphics. [25]
The Last Starfighter 1984Uses CGI for all spaceship shots, replacing traditional models. First use of "integrated CGI" where the effects are supposed to represent real world objects. [25]
Lensman: Secret of The Lens Uses CGI for spaceships and other scenes.
The Adventures of André and Wally B. Lucasfilm's computer animation division creates an all-CGI-animated short. The first CGI animation with motion blur effects and squash and stretch motion.
2010: The Year We Make Contact Jupiter's turbulent atmosphere is CGI-rendered, mostly during the black spot shots.
Tony de Peltrie 1985First CGI-animated human character to express emotion through his face and body language. [26]
The Jetsons & Yogi's Treasure Hunt The first animated series to use digital ink and paint.
Young Sherlock Holmes Lucasfilm creates the first photorealistic CGI character, "stained glass knight" with 10 seconds of screentime. [27] [28]
"Money for Nothing"The first computer-generated music video. [28] The animators would go on to found Mainframe Entertainment.
Flight of the Navigator 1986The first use of reflection mapping in a feature film, used for the flying alien spacecraft. [28]
Labyrinth First realistic CGI animal. [28]
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home First use of the Cyberware 3-D scanner, first 3-D morphing. [28]
Luxo Jr. First use of shadows in CGI, made with the specially developed software Photorealistic Renderman. First Pixar film, and first CGI film to be nominated for an Academy Award. Added to the United States National Film Registry in 2014.
The Great Mouse Detective The first Disney film to extensively use computer animation --notably for the two-minute clock tower sequence.
The Golden Child First use of primitive photorealistic morphing. [29]
Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future 1987First TV series to include characters modeled entirely with computers.
Knightmare First game show with interaction between humans and computer-generated surroundings.
Rendez-vous in Montreal First 3-D generated film involving virtual actors Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart
Doctor Who First title sequence to be made with 3-D animation. Debuted in season 24 featuring the Seventh Doctor.
Willow 1988First extensive photorealistic use of CGI morphing effect in a feature film. [30]
Akira CGI is used to animate the pattern indicator, and to plot the paths of falling objects, model parallax effects on backgrounds, and tweak lighting and lens flares. [24]
Tin Toy First computer-animated short film to win an Academy Award. Added to the United States National Film Registry in 2003.
The Abyss 1989First digital CGI water visual effect. [31]
The Jim Henson Hour TV series with real-time and rendered CGI featuring digitally puppeteered CGI character "Waldo."
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade First all-digital composite. [31]
Les Fables géométriquesFirst broadcast series of animated CGI shorts.


Total Recall 1990Use of motion-capture for CGI characters.
Die Hard 2 First digitally-manipulated matte painting. [31]
RoboCop 2 An early use of real-time computer graphics or "digital puppetry" to create a character in a motion picture. [32]
The Rescuers Down Under First 2-D animated film to be produced with solely digital ink and paint (CAPS). First fully digital feature film.
Backdraft 1991First use of photorealistic CGI fire in a motion picture. [32]
Terminator 2: Judgment Day First realistic human movements on a CGI character. [31] The first partially computer-generated main character and the first blockbuster movie to feature multiple morphing effects. [32] First use of a personal computer to create major movie 3-D effects.
PentagonFirst use of photorealistic CGI architectural fly-through. First use of human movement on a CGI character [32]
Quarxs One of the earliest computer-animated series.
The Lawnmower Man 1992First feature film to use computer animation to explore the subject of virtual reality. First virtual reality sex scene. [33]
The Babe First computer-generated crowds.
Death Becomes Her First human skin CGI software. [31]
The Muppet Christmas Carol First use of a green screen for digital chroma key compositing in a feature film.
Babylon 5 1993First television series to use CGI as the primary method for its visual effects. First TV use of virtual sets.
The Incredible Crash Dummies First fully CGI-animated TV special.
Jurassic Park First photorealistic CGI creatures. [31] Added to the United States National Film Registry in 2018.
Live & Kicking First TV program to feature a live computer-generated character as part of its cast.
VeggieTales First completely computer-animated direct-to-video release.
Insektors [34] First fully computer-animated TV series. First use of character animation in a computer-animated television series.
The Crow 1994First deceased actor (Brandon Lee) to be re-created through CGI.
The Flintstones First CGI-rendered fur. [31]
The Mask First use of CGI to transform a live actor into a photorealistic cartoon character.
ReBoot First half-hour computer-animated TV series. [35]
Radioland Murders First use of virtual CGI sets with live actors. [36]
Casper 1995First CGI lead character in a feature-length live-action film, and first CGI characters to interact realistically with live-actors.
Batman Forever First CGI stunt doubles, created through motion capture.
Waterworld First realistic CGI water. [31]
Casino First use of digital compositing to create a period-appropriate setting, and first use of radiosity lighting in a feature film.
Toy Story First CGI feature-length animation. Added to the United States National Film Registry in 2005.
Cassiopeia 1996Second feature-length CGI animation and first CGI feature film not to use scanned models for heads. First Brazilian CGI feature animation. Produced and released by NDR Filmes.
The Island of Dr. Moreau First film to use motion-capture CGI to portray a character.
Donkey Kong Country First half-hour computer-animated TV series to use motion-capture for their characters.
DragonHeart First 2-D all-CGI backgrounds with live-actors. First film to use ILM's Caricature software (created during the film's production).
Beast Wars: Transformers First CGI Transformers animated series produced by Mainframe Entertainment. Sequel to the original Transformers.
Star Wars (Episodes IV, V and VI Special Editions )1997First re-release of a film to incorporate CGI characters and elements.
Marvin the Martian in 3D First CGI film created for viewing with 3-D glasses.
Titanic First wide-release feature film with CGI elements rendered under the open-source Linux operating system. [37] Also included a number of advances, specifically in the rendering of flowing water.
A Bug's Life 1998First CGI anamorphic widescreen film. First all-digital transfer to DVD. First film to be reframed for home video releases.
Invasion: Earth First major use of digital effects in a British TV series
What Dreams May Come First use of CGI in combination with 3-D location scanning (Lidar) and motion-analysis based 3-D camera tracking in a feature film.
Fight Club 1999First photogrammetry based virtual cinematography scenes, including the first bullet time sex scene with fully naked body renderings of body doubles for Helena Bonham Carter and Brad Pitt; renderings of different settings with both extreme close-ups and wide shots; and the first very photorealistic close-up rendering of a human face - which also belongs to a famous actor in a leading role (Edward Norton) - with detailed facial deformation and extreme close-ups (starting at the cell-level of the brain, flying through the different layers of tissues, a follicle and the skin with sweat droplets).
The Matrix First use of CGI interpolation with bullet time effects. Added to the National Film Registry in 2012.
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace First film to have a fully CGI-rendered supporting character using performance footage captured on-set, pioneering this commonly used technique. Extensive use of CGI for thousands of shots, including backgrounds, visual effects, vehicles, and crowds.


Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within 2001First CGI feature-length digital film to be made based on photorealism and live-action principles. The first theatrically released feature film to utilize motion-capture for all of its characters actions. [38]
Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius First CGI feature-length movie made using off-the-shelf hardware and software.
Shrek First CGI-animated movie to win an Academy Award for the Best Animated Feature Film.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring First use of AI for digital actors (using the Massive software developed by Weta Digital).
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers 2002First virtual actor to win an award (Critics' Choice Movie Awards by Andy Serkis playing Gollum), in the newly created category Best Digital Acting Performance
Spider-Man First digitally rendered photorealistic costume.
Ice Age First CGI full-length feature animated film exclusively rendered with a ray tracer (CGI Studio). [39]
The Matrix Reloaded 2003The Burly Brawl - the first use of "universal capture", the combination of dense (rather than point-based) motion-capture, per-frame texture capture and optical flow of pixels over the data from 7 camera setup bought into a shared UV space by projection onto a neutral expression geometry leading to the introduction of realistic digital look-alikes
Able Edwards 2004First movie shot completely on a green screen using digitally scanned images as backgrounds.
Olocoons First CGI-animated series to use Cel-shaded designs and backgrounds mixed with 2-D elements.
Shrek 2 First feature film to use global illumination. [40]
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow First movie with all-CGI backgrounds and live-actors. [41]
The Polar Express First computer-animated film to be created with motion capture.
Chicken Little 2005First feature-length computer-animated film released in 3D.
Elephants Dream 2006First CGI short movie released as completely open source. Made with open-source software, theatrical and DVD release under Creative Commons License. [42] Unique that all 3D models, animatics and software are included on the DVD free for any use.
Flatland 2007First CGI feature film to be animated by one person. Made with Lightwave 3D and Adobe After Effects. [43]
Plumíferos 2009First CGI feature-length movie made using Open Source/Free Software for all 3-D models, animation, lighting and render process, under Linux operating system.
Avatar First full-length movie made using motion-capture to create photorealistic 3-D characters and to feature a fully CG 3-D photorealistic world. The first virtual art department and complete virtual production pipeline was developed by director James Cameron and team to create the film in real-time.
Up First computer-animated feature to be nominated for Academy Award for Best Picture.


Zafari 2018First television series produced entirely using a game engine (specifically Unreal Engine 4).
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse 2018First feature film to heavily use machine learning on artist-generated original data to aid production. [44]
The Mandalorian 2019First usage of a 360-degree LED screen to combine virtual sets with live action actors.


Avatar: The Way of Water 2022First use of motion capture in underwater photography.

See also

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