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Queens Chronicle

The intriguing history of computer animation

Hollywood veteran Tom Sito describes a new industry’s emergence at MoMI

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Posted: Thursday, November 21, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:38 am, Wed Nov 27, 2013.

From moving lines to cartoons so realistic they could possibly be mistaken for people, computer graphics have come a long way since they were first used. And in just two hours on a damp Sunday afternoon, visitors were able to see two-decades worth of significant progress in computer graphics at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria — and hear about them from an expert.

Tom Sito, an animator who has worked on projects for Disney classics and DreamWorks, presented parts of the New Age: Computer Shorts program, along with Dean Winkler, who has focused more on the technical side of the computer graphics spectrum. Both have been in the business for years and have seen the industry change and grow each step of the way.

“I’m fascinated by the people, by the artists, by their passions,” Sito said to the crowd before showing the first short, the history of computer graphics in 90 seconds. “I saw computer graphics rising in the east.”

A variety of topics were shown in ’70s and ’80s computer shorts, such as hunger in “La Faim” by Peter Foldes, from 1974, and trees in Steina Vasulka’s “Treecuts,” from 1980. A distinct note of progress was shown as years went on, such as the introduction of computer graphics on MTV, such as in “Adventures in Success” by Lynn Goldsmith and Joshua White in 1983, and the depiction of the Voyager 2 Flyby that was used on the news in 1981.

According to Sito, at one time the idea of using a computer for art was controversial. But since the early years of computer graphics, it has become more accepted.

Woody Vasulka’s piece “Explanation,” from 1974, was a 12-minute short, but showed the true experimentation of landscapes that are still used today. Some of the pieces, like Winkler’s “Aquarelles” in 1980, showed the experimentation in real time, as Winkler said he and his friends were turning knobs to see what would happen as they were happening on the screen.

“It was a great variety of films,” Anna Sergiienko, who is studying acting in Queens now, said. “Very simple films that gave an idea of how computer graphics worked.”

For her, Sergiienko said, it was interesting to see how computer graphics evolved and when shorts showed how they were becoming more useful, such as on the news or in music videos.

After the program, Sito had a book signing for his new book, “A History of Computer Animation,” the first of its kind to talk about the history of the people who made computer graphics come to be.

But before the book signing, Sito, Winkler and a few of the directors of the shorts — including White, Dov Jacobson and Barbara Hammer — had a panel before inviting questions from the public. They discussed how difficult it was at the time of its inception to make the shorts that were seen, as well as where computer graphics have gone, mentioning “Avatar” and “Gravity.”

“You have to get a sense of how hard it was,” Winkler said. “It’s only going to get better and faster.”

Sito, 57, is a Brooklyn native who has been described as one of the 100 most important people in animation. He makes his home in California. His brother Ray Sito is general manager of the Queens Chronicle.

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