Electric Image - London

Simon was a Senior Designer and Animator at Electric Image from 1988 through until the mid 1990's. Acclaimed by Disney amongst others Electric Image was one of the UK's most successful and innovative pioneering computer graphic companies

Electric Image was one of the UK's most successful, innovative and of course pioneering computer graphic companies. It started trading in 1983, a whole 12 years before 'Toy Story', one of the first computer animated films. 

At the start Electric Image used something which is still difficult to achieve now, and that is real time animation and rendering. The system offered real-time in 16 colours and was used to create animations and title sequences for a huge array of TV shows and commercials, such as the BBC's 'Every Second Counts' to Coca-Cola commercials. It was hired out by the half day with an operator, for around £600 a day I think, but I could be wrong!

Electric Image (not to be confused with the Electric Image 3D animation software)  then struck an agreement in the USA which led to it licensing, developing and using software derived from Robert Abel and Associates

"Abel and his team created some of the most advanced and impressive computer-animated works of their time, including full ray-traced renders and fluid character animation at a time when such things were largely unknown. A variety of high-profile television advertisements, graphics sequences for motion pictures (including The Andromeda Strain and Tron), and work on laserdisc video games such as Cube Quest, put Abel and his team on the map in the early 1980s"(Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Abel_and_Associates accessed 9/9/2014

My favourite work of theirs from this period is entitled 'Brilliance' and it features probably the first rotoscoping (following of live action frame by frame). The commercial showcases the first humanoid motion, at a time when the concepts of a hierarchy or ray tracing barely existed, and such this is truly pioneering work, paving the way for instance for the T1000 silver robot cop in Terminator 2.

Many people who worked at Abel went on to other projects which impacted on the history of computer graphics, including the founding of  Wavefront Technologies which later acquired the french company Thomson Digital Image. This combined company later merged with Alias becoming known as Alias:Wavefront, which was then acquired by Silicon Graphics, the leader in CGI hardware at the time. This company was then later acquired by Autodesk with the combined software becoming the now famous 3D software - Maya

Electric Image completed work for agencies across Europe and TV stations and had around 10 staff working for it. Like its competitor company Digital Pictures, it had it's own Research and Development department. The computers we used were very slow and large, with one computer taking up a whole air conditioned room.  

Electric Image developed the basic software from the Abel USA and we continued to add to it as we developed each project. Its full name was Digital Optical Raster Imaging System or Doris.  At this time nothing was interactive and we modelled everything using scripts. Each circle, square, box and vertex was manipulated by hand, that is by writing a command in a script and running that script again and again and again.

We did have nobs and whistles however in the form of dials that we rotated to move and offset objects, and this is how we animated objects. Because the computers were so slow, we were experts in rendering in passes and combining the work thereafter in layers, again using scripts to composite.  The final work was usually recorded to 1" inch video tape although we had the option of recording to film. We were all well practised at loading video tape as we also had to load computer tapes into the huge main frame style computers we used. 

In the USA Rhythm and Hues Studios and other studios developed from Abel, and many people and companies connected with this company and its software development went on to win a wide array of awards.

Electric Image continued to develop and moved away from Abel software to Thomson Digital Image software, which at the time featured IPR rendering and a host of other excellent features winning many awards and accolades during its lifetime before closing in the early 1990's.

My first day (approx Dec 1998) at Electric Image was the Xmas Day party. I remember that day discussing with various staff the future of Computer Graphics and London and Soho and its future. The focus of the company was on film, and that film CGI/VFX would soon be in London and not solely the focus of California and the USA.  This is now the case, with several of the largest VFX houses in the world based in Soho, London. Electric Image were there, just many many years ahead of time!

More to come:

Simon Mckeown - 9/9/2014