Usually I’m stuck somewhere in the 30s or 40s writing here at Cartoon Research, but here’s a really interesting more recent (!) piece of history.
My first full-time animation job was at a place called Media Station, starting at the end of 1993, working on CD-Rom games. It was the first animation job I’d ever seen in my home town of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and I was thrilled to be animating rather than fixing films at the University of Michigan Film Library. I was determined to get as good of animation as possible on those little CD-Roms. We worked on games for Disney, Mattel, Simon and Shuster, Tiger Toys, Hasbro (Tonka Toys) and many others. Perhaps my favorite thing was working on two games based on Jay Ward’s characters.
Media Station managed to get all this kind of work because they were one of the first companies to develop programing that could run animation well on the then-newer computers with a CD-Rom drive. The best of these machines had 66 mghz processors- tiny compared to today! Funny enough, I did a lot of my animation there on paper, then scanned the drawings into the computer and clean them up, pixel by pixel. The smaller stuff I’d animate right in the computer, in Photoshop, compiling it frame by frame.
After Media Station, I went on to other animation work both here in Michigan and Los Angeles, even running Thunderbean as a small animation studio full time for a while. We were often doing work for Media Station (who only had a small group of artists working there full-time at that point).
Media Station managed to stay afloat for a while after the CD-Rom market fell apart, working at developing various kind of other games and technology. They went out of business in 2001. At that point, I was working at my current job as an animation instructor at The College for Creative Studies.
That’s a lot of back story to get to this one point!
During the Media Station auction/sale, I purchased many of the Wacom tablets, animation desks and other things that we used to use there. As I was about to leave, one corner of the former office had a bunch of junk laying on the floor; among the items there was a VHS tape labeled ‘Pixar Marketing Tape’. It turns out it’s from 1990, and the paperwork with the tape showed that Media Station was interested in working with Pixar on developing technology to have CG/3D animated objects work in presentations. At that point, Media Station wasn’t making CD-Rom games yet- they were a technology company working mostly with Steve Job’s ‘Next’ computers on designing an engine that could run things like the games we worked on a few years later. This tape was sent along as promised per a conversation with Media Station and Pixar in early 1991.
It’s a great document of how Pixar viewed itself at the time, and a guess as to what technology would be needed by businesses for presentations and advertising. There’s no mention of the idea of an animated feature here, but at this point Pixar had produced 3 or more shorts, doing something that most CG animation didn’t do- use the conventions of film as well as story construction and character animation timing. Take a look at any of the ‘Mind’s Eye’ DVDs to see this in full display. Often, these early shorts were being produced by programmers more than artists. Most of the animation produced in CG at this point thrived on the novelty of the medium, spinning the camera around objects and following them through doors or pulling into the air rather than storytelling.
On this tape, you’ll first see a 3-minute promotional faux-news story (narrated by KNBC News Anchor Chuck Henry) and later, a second Pixar-produced Renderman promo video; an FNN report (featuring young Ed Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith) and a French ad for Volkswagen that is surprisingly racy. No John Lasseter in sight, but his films are certainly celebrated. The shot of Pixar’s offices, looking like any small office complex anywhere, brings a smile knowing what was to follow. I show this tape every year in my animation history class, and I think it’s a good time to share it here.