Bits in Motion

Early British Computer –Generated Art Film

Program notes for an event held 07/03/2006

The event was supported by the London Centre for Arts and Cultural Enterprise, Birkbeck University of London and held in conjunction with the Computer Arts Society.

The event was a screening of rare and little-known works from the beginnings of British computer animation as well as onstage discussions with pioneers from the early days of this field and will include discussions with leading practitioners of the time. It marked the culmination of CACHe, an extensive research project at Birkbeck into the untold stories behind the early days of British computer arts.

The accompanying notes discuss early computer animators, artists and practitioners who were active at the time, including Stan Hayward (creator of Henry‘s Cat) and Malcolm Le Grice, Dr Charlie Gere and Dr George Mallen. With no ‘off-the-shelf’ software, tutorials and manuals, these pioneers had to learn programming from the bottom up, gaining only occasional access to industrial and university mainframes to experiment with imaginative ways to bend technology, working with equipment designed for a completely different purpose.

Malcolm Le Grice, 2008

The program notes introduce the experimental animations on show at the event, but what I find most interesting is the tireless ingenuity and determination of these early animators. Consider the process: planning, in the way any traditional animation is planned, programming (whilst learning a programming language), converting the program to a hefty series of punch cards, submitting the punch cards to a main frame (which the animator would only have limited access to), waiting the week or so for the program to compile, then check and correct the program the errors and start the whole process again until a satisfactory movie is made. This process must have taken longer that creating a frame by frame animation in the traditional sense.

Interestingly though, at no point was the authenticity of the process called into question or even considered. The work of these early computer artists was, and is considered to be pioneering. Without pre-made software, there was no need to even consider corporate collaboration and it’s consequential lack of worth, or the suspicion and derision with which we now look at computer art works. The question of authenticity is a contemporary one brought around by the very success, and subsequent ubiquity of computers.

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