brni (brni) wrote,

in the 1960s, they built computers out of lincoln logs

but only the high-end, cutting-edge ones.

With ideas predating 1962, Lee Harrison Ill had the dream creating animated figures. His idea was to view a stick figure as a collection of lines that could be independently moved and positioned to form an animated character. The figure would be displayed on a Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) and be electronically generated and controlled through vector deflection of an electron beam. Each figure was composed of bones, skin, joints, wrinkles, eyes, and moving lips, all drawn in sequence to create a "cathode ray marionette." The idea evolved into a hardware contraption called ANIMAC which could perform "big animation." ANIMAC was developed in the early 1960's by Lee Harrison and Associates in Pennsylvania.

ANIMAC's basic character starts out as a stick figure, with each stick called a "bone," made from wire-frame line segments. A "skin" is added to the bones by superimposing curlicue springs that. modulate the stick vectors with circular sweeps of spinning vectors. T'he thickness of the bones, or displacement of the rings from the center of the line, is voltage modulated by a "skin scanner." The scanner is constructed from a "flying spot scanner," a vector camera pointing at an intensity graph with higher brightness representing a larger bone displacement. The "joints" or connection of bones to skin are formed by drawing the bones in a specified order, the endpoints being momentarly held till the next bone is drawn. A synthetic mouth, lips and eyeballs are created through parabolas and sine waves modulated with precise control from voltage sources. The entire figure is manipulated in three dimensions by passing the control signals through a three dimensional (3D) rotation matrix, These control signals are formed from horizontal and vertical sweep generators, with camera angle, size and position voltages run through rotation matrices constructed from adders, multipliers and sine/cosine generators.

To give the illusion of depth, an additional camera tracks the intensity of the skin, giving the illusion of an edge by modulating the skin brightness and leaving it in silhouette. This same camera can scan a texture and superimpose it on the skin surface of the bone.

The ANIMAC was largely a proof of concept prototyped with vacuum tubes mounted on 2 by 4's, using a Heathkit oscillator as the master clock and driving an XY oscilloscope for the display. Most of the results are. documented in film, with a film camera pointed at the XY display. Multiple passes with Red, Green and Blue filters, were used to create color flgures. Numerous experimental input voltage sources were tried, from knobs to joysticks to an "animation harness." The harness was fabricated from potentiometers and Lincoln Logs used as armatures. Manipulating the harness tied tactile movement into control voltages, making the character "dance."

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