Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Charles Csuri's Hummingbird: Early Computer Animation

So I'm currently taking a beginning electronic art class that's 'teaching' me the basics of Photoshop, 123D Make, and some other Adobe and Autodesk software. I say 'teaching' because I'm already familiar with the basics of the software, but there are always things I will have missed or forgotten. One of the cool things about this class, though, is that I get to learn about the history of electronic art (or digital/new media art). My assignment is to write about an early electronic artist and I've decided to look Charles Csuri's work 'Hummingbird.'

'Hummingbird' was created in 1964 with the IBM 7094 computer, which worked off of computer cards. The computer cards were a simple program, telling the computer when to put the 'pen' down and when the end of a line was reached. Csuri described the piece himself:
“The subject was a line drawing of a hummingbird for which a sequence of movements appropriate to the bird were outlined. Over 30,000 images comprising some 25 motion sequences were generated by the computer. For these, selected sequences were used for the film. A microfilm plotter recorded the images directly to film. To facilitate control over the motion of some sequences, the programs were written to read all the controlling parameters from cards, one card for each frame. …”
Image from http://csuriproject.osu.edu/
The animation was awarded a prize at the 4th International Experimental Film Competition, Brussels, Belgium, 1967. Csuri's 'Hummingbird' was one of several morphing animations, where one image was fragmented, then morphed into another. Unfortunately, it was hard to find much information about Csuri's piece. I did find out some interesting information about Csuri himself, however.

Csuri is recognized by several organizations, including ACM, as the founding father or leading pioneer of computer animation. He also founded the first computer animation company, Cranston/Csuri Productions. He became a professor at Ohio State University, where he started many groups focused on computer art and animation, including The Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design and the Computer Graphics Research Group.

Early computer animation really fascinates me. It's cool to see how artists like Charles Csuri pushed their medium beyond what it was originally intended for. 'Hummingbird' is a good example, since it was created using a punch card program. Punch cards were originally created for vital statistics tabulation by the New York City Board of Health. It's easy to see how punch cards could progress from there to computer programs, but it's harder to see the development into animation. It really took creative, passionate people to get us to our current concept of computer animation.