Computer Animated Hand (1972)

Computer Animated Hand (1972)


First polygonal 3D animation, first shading, first interpolation, first 3D CGI titles


Silent film


Fred Parke's wife comupter animated hand
Fred Parke's wife was used as model for film


1) Directed by Ed Catmull (later in Pixar) and Fred Parke, the short demonstrates a computer animated hand, as well as human faces. The film was inducted into the National Film Registry in 2011.

2) Fred Parke, a fellow Ph.D. student in his class who helped produce the film, recalled that computer animation was "sort of on the lunatic fringe at that time. People were just barely to the point where they could get a computer to put out still images."

3) Catmull used his left hand as the basis for the clip, first creating a model of it. He began making a plaster-of-paris mold of his hand and accidentally pulled off the hair on the back of his hand while removing the mold. He then made a plaster model from the mold and drew 350 small triangles and polygons on the model in ink. Digital counterparts of these polygons would represent the surface of his hand in the computer.

4) Catmull and Parke spent much time crafting the film, measuring the coordinates of each of the corner points of the polygons and typed them into the machine with a Teletype keyboard. With a 3-D animation program Catmull wrote, they could reproduce the disembodied hand on a screen and make it move. During this time, Parke had created a computer animation of his wife's face as well, which is seen in the film.

5) Transferring the images to film was a task in itself. Because the display hardware never showed the entire image on screen at any one moment, Catmull could see a frame of his work only by taking a long-exposure Polaroid of the screen and looking at the snapshot. Once satisfied, he then shot the footage using a 35mm camera the department rigged to take photographs from a CRT screen.

6) First polygonal 3d and shading in a videogames was in I, Robot (1983). First interpolation in a videogame was in Sim Drive (1992).