At the 25th Annual SAS conference in LA last month, Tom Sito delivered the opening keynote entitled ‘Moving Innovation, A History of Computer Animation’. In it he examined the history of computer animation – which many of us think we know; Apple, Steve Jobs, Pixar, Dreamworks, Star Wars, Tron etc.  Sito went beyond this and discussed the parallel history of computer graphical outputs which were largely militaristic in origin (much like the Internet and many other technological innovations) but became part of our more familiar history. This fascinating paper highlighted the many gaps in animation (and film) history.

We’ve spoken at length elsewhere about the reasons for some of these gaps (including time, money and attitudes to animation among many others) but this post isn’t about complaining about marginalisation, but more considering the extent to which we take much of our recent history, and developments for granted (and why).

Those of us who remember a largely pre-home computer (or VCR) age can still marvel at many of the digital effects, games and animations being create; though there are new generations who must assume it has always been as it is now.  This is a history which Sito and others (including Cholodenko et al in 1991 and 2007) are trying to present and yet as Maureen Furniss suggested in her recent blog post – we don’t have any perfectly complete accounts in one place.

While I would argue that we shouldn’t necessarily strive for that, (it would be a very large book), we do need to keep in mind that there are sections of contemporary industry and theory which are being largely ignored.  Is it the sheer pace of change versus the lack thereof in traditional publishing? How can we address these gaps? Do we need to increase the amount of digital publishing to keep pace with the visual media being developed or do we retain our selective process of research and gradually present what we can, knowing that there is too much to look at?

We also need to consider the preservation of history. We will want to be able to show the new students and scholars the origins of their subject but I think we need to be mindful of how to preserve the new technology and think about digital archives as well as traditional ones.  This throws up so many more questions about the volume of information we have access to and this is where ‘taking it for granted’ comes in. Are we now at risk of digital overload and fatigue?

This post is not going to offer any solutions, this is all about questions to ponder as we go forward in our work, but to add another one…can the film and television (and indeed other humanities) scholars comment on how the digital is so pervasive that we don’t always notice it, and how are they addressing it?

I’ll end on a link to a digital effects show reel which I must say rather ruined much of what I see on TV…so I’ll ruin it for you too.  I think it says a lot about the extent of our ‘invisible’ digital world…


Dr Nichola Dobson is based in Edinburgh, lecturing part time at Edinburgh College of Art, University of Edinburgh. Founding editor of Animation Studies from 2006 until 2011 and has recently established a new academic blog Animation Studies 2.0. She has published on both animation studies and television, most recently The A to Z of Animation and Cartoons (2010) and Historical Dictionary of Animation and Cartoons (2009) for Scarecrow Press.  She has published in anthologies on Crime Scene Investigation and Life on Mars as well as shorter works for the online journal FLOW.  She is currently working on a book on TV animation with Paul Ward for Edinburgh University Press and a book on Scottish animator Norman McLaren.  She began a new role as Vice President of the Society for Animation Studies in autumn 2011.