Fractal Fantasy (1987)

By -
2 mins
Last modification: 16 Sep, 2017

I just noticed that someone uploaded to YouTube an old animation I did for Siggraph way back in 1987. It is nice for me to see, as my own copy (on tape) had degraded to the point it was virtually unviewable.

At the time my wife was getting her Phd at Princeton and this gave me access to a brand new lab filled with the first generation SGI Iris computers. No classes were yet using the lab so I had it pretty much to myself. There was no animation software, however, so I had to write my own, as well as write drivers for the expensive frame at a time video recorder (which broke as a result of recording this animation). The animation was all hardware drawn with an early version of GL. Rather than saving images to files, which would have been a lot of memory for a full animation in those days, each frame was hardware drawn then captured on video. The video recorder had to pause a minute or so while the frame was rendered then do a preroll to capture it, something that is rather hard on the machine when doing it for days at a time.There was no hardware texturing back then (I'm not even sure if specular shading was available). In the simple animation system I wrote everything was generated by a script that would invoke procedures to draw objects. There was no UI and no animation curves but rather sequences of ease-in, ease out statements written to a script.

I was really into programming recursive procedures and was very excited about the new ability to explore 3D mathematical patterns using computer animation. The video shows a Menger sponge, which has zero volume at the limit( it is nothing but holes ) and infinite surface area, along with related structures.  As well there are some animated spirograph shapes inspired by the pioneering work of John Whitney Sr. who developed the field of visual music.

As I was leaving the lab had just gotten copies of the very first Alias system, and I was quite impressed with the quality of the software rendering, texturing and the nurbs surfacing, although I could not have done this animation with that system. Little did I know at the time that I would go on to work at Alias a few years later.


Published In
  • Animation
  • Misc
  • Looking Back
To post a comment please login or register
| 7 years ago
Impressive ! Regards Duncan !
Edited by YwSR1yFN 7 years ago
super coollll Sab
Edited by xm0OOd4f 7 years ago
| 7 years ago
Very cool Duncan---and a treat to see it! Besides the fact you programmed it yourself, I think one of the best things about it is you didn't use that typical 80's synthesizer-generated 'out of this world' music and actually had a cool soundtrack in it. Really nice work! Jeff
| 7 years ago
I remember this animation. And the process for doing animation is those heady days. Hearing the video recorded shuttle back and forth to record a frame at a time was amazing and scarey. No one with a recorder would let you use it because you where working the drives very hard. Reminds me of "Not Knot", I think - a similar work. To compare writing code to render back then on the old IRIS 2400 and what we do now on the latest Nvidia gtx 590 is so much different, worlds apart.
| 7 years ago
let me join in and say what a great piece of history. the animation still captures my interest today!
| 8 years ago
Visionary, I greatly admire you for your accomplishments!
| 8 years ago
"How long did it take you?" My memory is vague on it. The animation system along with the routines for various fractals took about a year and half, then another half year for the animation and sound track. I had a full time day job building pipe organs at the time, but also was interning at a production house in N.Y. I was also doing a lot of french horn gigs evenings, so it was a pretty busy time in my life (my son was born that year as well). I'm not quite sure how I managed to juggle it all... oh to be young!
| 8 years ago
Something about the soundtrack to this reminds me of the sound in the environment transition pieces in the Landreth short Bingo.
| 8 years ago
Its funny how many 80'ies cgi videos seems to use a similar colourscheme :)
Edited by xOT63lHP 8 years ago
| 8 years ago
I have Maya and I still don't know how to do half the things you did in '87. That is so much work. How long did it take you?
| 8 years ago
for respect, for memory, for your contribution in this domain. thanks Duncan!
| 8 years ago
Dang. '87! Dude, how in the world does "one" just write animation software in a lab like that....then animate and music... In '87 at ta? Pure brainiac my friend. Where does one get the "time" to do this?
| 8 years ago
Nice job sir! I'm into playing with this stuff in maya, I think I might send you a render. Kind regards, Ryan
*Save $66 per month on Autodesk's Suggested Retail Price (SRP) when purchasing 1 year term 3ds Max or Maya subscription.