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Pixar, 'The Road to Point Reyes' and the long history of landscape in new visual technologies

Pixar, 'The Road to Point Reyes' and the long history of landscape in new visual technologies
Pixar, 'The Road to Point Reyes' and the long history of landscape in new visual technologies
In March 1983 the Lucasfilm Computer Division, soon to become known as Pixar, embarked on a project to demonstrate their new rendering algorithm. Having already created the groundbreaking ‘Genesis Effect’ sequence for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan they were experienced in creating computer generated landscapes and chose as their subject a view of the local vicinity, Marin’s Point Reyes, which also lent its name to their renderer: REYES (Renders Everything You Ever Saw). The subsequent landscape image “The Road to Point Reyes” marks a critical moment in digital imaging. While computer processing power limited the result to a single frame, it was nevertheless the division’s first film-resolution image. This ‘one-frame movie’ demonstrated, at least theoretically, the possibility of creating full length sequences, or even a feature film, composed of images which matched the quality of 35mm film.

While technologically this image marked a further step towards digital cinema, away from the photochemical, its choice of landscape as a subject places it in a historical lineage in which landscapes have repeatedly been used as a proving ground for new visual technologies. In the 1820s and 30s the fixing of views of landscapes was central to the development of photography, with figures such as Niépce, Daguerre, and Fox Talbot all taking views from nature as a central purpose and test for their experiments. Similarly in the 1890s landscapes were among the most celebrated subjects of the earliest moving image presentations, such as Robert Paul and Birt Acres’ Rough Sea at Dover and the Lumière’s Barque sortant du port/Boat Leaving the Port.

This chapter examines early computer generated landscapes through the framework of this long history of landscape in new visual technologies. Such a reading finds strong parallels between these historical moments, particularly a tension between the natural and the cultural, present both in the images themselves and in the technologies which created them, especially the newly emerging fractal mathematics. This not only provides fresh insight into the work of Pixar by placing it in a longer tradition of visual culture than normally applied, but also has implications for the study of computer generated imagery more generally.
9781628923490
Bloomsbury Academic
Cook, Malcolm
e2e0ebaa-c791-48dc-8c67-86e6cbb40b75
Pallant, Chris
Cook, Malcolm
e2e0ebaa-c791-48dc-8c67-86e6cbb40b75
Pallant, Chris

Cook, Malcolm (2015) Pixar, 'The Road to Point Reyes' and the long history of landscape in new visual technologies. In, Pallant, Chris (ed.) Animated Landscapes: History, Form, and Function. London, GB. Bloomsbury Academic.

Record type: Book Section

Abstract

In March 1983 the Lucasfilm Computer Division, soon to become known as Pixar, embarked on a project to demonstrate their new rendering algorithm. Having already created the groundbreaking ‘Genesis Effect’ sequence for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan they were experienced in creating computer generated landscapes and chose as their subject a view of the local vicinity, Marin’s Point Reyes, which also lent its name to their renderer: REYES (Renders Everything You Ever Saw). The subsequent landscape image “The Road to Point Reyes” marks a critical moment in digital imaging. While computer processing power limited the result to a single frame, it was nevertheless the division’s first film-resolution image. This ‘one-frame movie’ demonstrated, at least theoretically, the possibility of creating full length sequences, or even a feature film, composed of images which matched the quality of 35mm film.

While technologically this image marked a further step towards digital cinema, away from the photochemical, its choice of landscape as a subject places it in a historical lineage in which landscapes have repeatedly been used as a proving ground for new visual technologies. In the 1820s and 30s the fixing of views of landscapes was central to the development of photography, with figures such as Niépce, Daguerre, and Fox Talbot all taking views from nature as a central purpose and test for their experiments. Similarly in the 1890s landscapes were among the most celebrated subjects of the earliest moving image presentations, such as Robert Paul and Birt Acres’ Rough Sea at Dover and the Lumière’s Barque sortant du port/Boat Leaving the Port.

This chapter examines early computer generated landscapes through the framework of this long history of landscape in new visual technologies. Such a reading finds strong parallels between these historical moments, particularly a tension between the natural and the cultural, present both in the images themselves and in the technologies which created them, especially the newly emerging fractal mathematics. This not only provides fresh insight into the work of Pixar by placing it in a longer tradition of visual culture than normally applied, but also has implications for the study of computer generated imagery more generally.

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More information

Published date: 27 August 2015
Organisations: Film

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 385604
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/385604
ISBN: 9781628923490
PURE UUID: 62ddf513-dfde-47c6-b195-4655ace53eac

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Date deposited: 20 Jan 2016 15:24
Last modified: 14 Jul 2020 16:33

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