The CG Story: Computer-Generated Animation and Special Effects by Christopher Finch was released in December 2013. Christopher Finch is a familiar name to most Disney fans. He authored the many, many, many editions of the Art of Walt Disney, which is a superb book in its own right. He’s also written about Judy Garland, Norman Rockwell and Jim Henson. So, Finch is a perfect person to cover the topic of computer graphics as an art form, especially with his background as a painter and his firm grasp of the entertainment field.
Computer graphics might seem commonplace today, and, sadly, the preferred medium of most moviegoers, but it’s hard to remember a time when it wasn’t. Through 288 pages and 14 chapters, Finch offers an in depth history of computers and cinema. My only issue with the book is that it begins with a fairly comprehensive look at computer animation and then, by necessity, goes so broad that Finch only hits the biggest and the most groundbreaking films. (Also, many of the groundbreaking titles in the latter part of the book are foreign films that received little distribution in the US and will be unfamiliar.) Finch also disregards television CG simply because it wasn’t used as heavily or artistically until the late 2000s.
We start in 1839 with a look at punch cards and the beginnings of modern computing. Finch discusses how computer graphicswere formed and started the nascent CG industry in the 1950s and 1960s. Pixar is the major player in the beginning, although it’s not introduced that way. We run into Ivan Sutherland, Ed Catmull and companies like MAGI/Synthavision. Finch lists a who’s who of the biggest players during the first years and it’s hard to imagine, today, that these people struggled to get their art created.
Lucas comes into play, of course, then Spielberg, then Blade Runner and TRON. From there, it’s a pretty detailed and exhaustive look at the evolution and changes in the industry. We meet other big players and films that advanced the art, almost painfully slow, until Jurassic Park and Toy story. Of course, CG exploded around that time.
From there, it’s a incredible litany of massive films and special effect laden blockbusters. Finch argues the point that the art of CG was advanced solely through commercials, then animated films, then massive Sci-fi movies, until it has become just another way to make films. It’s incredibly commonplace today and Finch explores the films that use CG as readily as they would use a physical actor. The final chapters look at the modern artistry and how CG has overtaken the animation industry. We see the Marvel blockbusters, Avatar, Harry Potter and the latest Disney and Dreamworks films.
There are some pretty strange things with the book, though. Many of the stills and images are presented sideways, even when the other photos are presented in line with the text. Also, the quotes for the photos are pulled directly from the text which seemed odd in a modern work. Stylistically, both push me to think that the book was rushed into production.
The book is massive and filled with some amazing stills and artwork. For anyone with a vested interest in animation and computer graphics, this is a must have. Fans and students of film will be thanking Finch for years and use this work as a solid starting point. The index if large and will aid people that need to look up a quick fact or person. It is rather expensive, coming it at retail for 75.00 but a worthy addition for animation and film fans. The majority of the coverage does focus on Pixar and Lucasfilm, but not to the detriment of other companies and artists.
Are you going to pick up this book on the history of CG in film? What do you think was the most groundbreaking CG-related film?
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