Issue: Volume: 24 Issue: 7 (July 2001)

Making History

By Barbara Robertson

In the early 1990s, two box office hits opened Hollywood's doors to computer graphics as never before:

In 1991, Disney's animated feature Beauty and the Beast put 2D characters inside a 3D ballroom and set 3D silverware dancing in Busby Berkeley style on a CG cake. Although 3D elements had been used in minor roles in prior Disney feature animations, this application was the most spectacular. Directed by Kirk Wise and Gary Trous dale, the film has produced revenues of $348 million.


In 1993, Universal Pictures' Jurassic Park, directed by Steven Spielberg, proved in a big way that 3D creatures could be as believable and cost effective as animatronics. Industrial Light & Magic created the digital creatures and integrated them into the live-action movie; Dennis Muren was the visual effects supervisor. The film grossed $50 million during its opening weekend and has produced revenues of $913 million.


The films were turning points. Computer graphics has taken an increasingly larger role in effects movies ever since, with 400 shots per movie now commonplace. Animations have been created entirely with 3D computer graphics. And 2D feature animations routinely include 3D elements.

This summer, two films-Disney's Atlantis, an animated feature directed by Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale; and A. I. Artificial Intelligence, a live-action feature directed by Steven Spielberg, with visual effects created at ILM under the supervision of Dennis Mur en-could mark another turning point.

For Atlantis, for the first time, people in the 3D group at Disney were invited to be part of the design process, and the resulting cel animation has 3D elements in nearly every shot. For A. I., ILM gave Spielberg 3D tools for interactively planning camera moves in virtual environments and turned a bluescreen set into a virtual set.

As you'll discover in the following stories, each project moves 3D further upstream in the production process, something visual effects studios and 3D groups within traditional animation studios have been trying to do since the beginning... well, at least since 1991.