“A Computer Animated Hand” Added to National Film Registry

40 Year Old 3D Computer Graphics (1972) from Robby Ingebretsen on Vimeo.

Recently, Ed Catmull and Fred Parke’s computer animated version of Catmull’s left hand done at the University of Utah was added to the National Film Registry. (For some reason, Parke is not given any credit in the Registry’s announcement.) (The film embedded above, I should note, also includes footage of an artificial heart valve and an unidentified computer animated face.) Needless to say, the film proved to be a landmark in the development of computer animation and was later incorporated in Richard T. Heffron’s Futureworld (1976).

Ed Catmull's hand in Futureworld

Interestingly, another computer animated left hand showed up a few years later in Michael Crichton’s Looker (1981), when the Susan Dey character’s naked body is scanned into a computer; there’s no particular reason to include the hand, since one would think the viewer’s prurient interest would lie elsewhere .

Looker_010

Rebecca Allen, who worked at the New York Institute of Technology after Catmull left there for Lucasfilm in 1979, mentioned to me that Catmull left behind a digital version of his wife’s body, which Allen used for her own projects at NYIT. Thus, my question is was the hand in Looker a reworked version of Catmull’s or someone  else’s? Ah, such are the mysteries of film history.

Author: Harvey Deneroff

Harvey Deneroff is a Los Angeles-based independent animation and film scholar specializing in labor history. He formerly taught at the Savannah College of Art and Design and was editor of Animation Magazine, Animation World Magazine, and Graiffit (published by ASIFA-Hollywood). He is the founder and past president of the Society for Animation Studies.

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