The First 3-D Computer Animation: 1972

“Animation is not the art of drawings that move but the art of movements that are drawn.” —Norman McLaren

In a Nutshell

This short digital sequence, aptly titled A Computer Animated Hand, was produced in 1972. It’s the first of its kind, and the hand was modeled after that of its animator, Ed Catmull, the founder of Pixar and current president of Walt Disney Animation Studios.

The Whole Bushel

In the early 1970s, computer animation was a fringe endeavor at best. University of Utah graduate student Ed Catmull aspired to be an animator before discovering he could not draw and pursuing computer science instead. He decided to test the feasibility of using computer animation in a pretty big way with a 1972 project, a short film entitled A Computer Animated Hand.

The hand in the film was modeled after the one at the end of his left arm and was shown making a fist and pointing at the viewer while rotating—the first 3-D-rendered model. With it, Catmull laid out all of the basic principles that computer animators still abide by today, and it’s the first known example of “texture mapping,” among other things. While the short was only made as a demo, it was picked up by a Hollywood producer and briefly featured four years later in the 1976 sci-fi film Futureworld (the first use of 3-D CGI in a feature film).

The short was added to the National Film Registry in 2011, and its creator did pretty well for himself, too—Ed Catmull went on to found Pixar, and is the current President of Walt Disney Animation Studios as of this writing.

Show Me The Proof

Pixar Founder’s ‘Hand’ Added To National Film Registry
Pixar’s Collective Genius
A Computer Animated Hand—YouTube