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Check Out These Mesmerizing Computer Animations from the 1960s

Rob Walker
Tech Columnist
Yahoo Tech

Fridays on Yahoo Tech, The New Old Thing tells you about what’s not-new — but still great and available to you right now thanks to the magic of technology. Your tips are welcome; send to rwalkeryn@yahoo.com.

Via Melt

This week: Kelli Anderson, designer/artist extraordinaire, who is always up to something cool, points me to the early computer animation of John Whitney.

And I mean early: These examples, via the site Melt, date back to the 1960s. Whitney already had an established rep for film-visual experimentation — collaborating on the famous title sequence for Vertigo, for example — when he founded Motion Graphics Incorporated and started making unique animations with an analog computer of his own devising in 1960.

Here’s an early “demo reel” of sorts:

The animated abstractions are hypnotizing (or “mesmerizing,” as the Internet is fond of saying nowadays), and curiously soothing. There’s also something organic about them — by which I mean that at times the moving geometric shapes seem almost like creatures seen under a microscope. There’s also a painterly warmth to the imagery.

According to whoever uploaded this next one to YouTube, Whitney described it this way: “In Permutations, each point moves at a different speed and moves in a direction independent according to natural laws quite as valid as those of Pythagoras, while moving in their circular field. Their action produces a phenomenon more or less equivalent to the musical harmonies. When the points reach certain relationships (harmonic) numerical to other parameters of the equation, they form elementary figures.”

Noted. But whatever the thinking, the results are beautiful:

In 1966, Whitney became IBM’s first “artist in residence,” exploring the possibilities of computer graphics. Though his work was new to me, its influence on others — including the makers of 2001: A Space Odyssey — has been widespread and long-lasting 

Here’s one more piece, from 1975:

Delightful stuff. And it holds up remarkably well.

So well, in fact, that … yes, it’s totally GIF-able!

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