Thursday, July 23, 2009

Computer Art From The Bronze Age

I was looking through some old CDRMs recently, and came across this image of a robot floating down a smoky high-tech corridor. It was created in a 3D program called Swivel 3D, circa 1995.

I worked at a CD manufacturing plant back then, and for some reason they had a copy of Swivel 3D lying around. I started messing around with it and eventually learned it. It was pretty easy to use, and you could get some decent results, although nothing that would keep Pixar up at night.

The CD company had an in-house TV network that would display news and goings on from around the plant on monitors in the lunch room. My goal was to create some short 3D animated "bumpers" to play between news items.

I learned how to model figures and sets, how to use texture and bump maps, how to light a scene and to generate atmospheric effects to give a scene some depth. Swivel 3D also had some basic animation functions that were fairly easy to use.

Unfortunately, 3D animation is very memory intensive, and the computers we had back then just couldn't handle the kinds of animations I had in mind. I could generate small 3" square Quicktime animations, but they were far too low res to display on a large screen. We just didn't have the memory or disk capacity to create full screen high resolution movie clips. Oh well. It was a good idea even if it didn't work out, and I learned the basics of 3D modeling and animation.

I don't think they even make Swivel 3D anymore. The company that made it probably got bought out or swallowed up in a merger sometime in the past 15 years.

The image above is just a static frame. If I remember right I did make a crude low-res animation of this scene, but it's lost in the mists of time. The plan was for this to be like a countdown to a news item. Three robots would glide into frame one at a time and float past the camera. Each robot would have the number 3, then 2, then 1 on its chest to count down to the news story. Here's a tip for any would-be animators out there-- if you make your a floating anti-gravity robot, then you don't have to model or animate legs!

In case you missed it the first time, you can see some even more ancient computer art from me here.


  1. wow very impressive image from the bronze age!!
    i would have never guessed it was from 1995.

    i wonder if in 10 years it will be kewl to use outdated software because it is retro...? hmmmm

  2. Thanks! I remember it took days and days of work to make this one scene. That's the downside of 3D.

    I hope I can still use my current software 10 years from now, but I don't know. If Adobe has their way with their so-called "legacy software" it'll all self destruct in a few years.


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