Film lovers would no doubt agree that the last two decades of the movie
industry was the time that filmmakers were able to stretch the
imagination of moviegoers. At the same time, many stories that were once
thought to be unfilmable have now been enjoyed by millions. A huge part
in this success was the emergence and the maturity of the computer
Computer animation is the systematic use of computers to produce moving images. Film effects prior to the use of computer animation involved massive layering and chemistry. Matte paintings were employed early on to create wide vistas and large backdrops. A combination of lenses and physical trickery made people smaller or larger than they usually are. Different types of chemicals were mixed and photographed to create various visual effects such as lightning and laser beams.
Perhaps the most popular way of creating visual effects then was stop- motion animation. It involved clay figures in minute movements, which when played back produced passable movements. Classics such as Clash of the Titans and King Kong made use of this technique.
When the computer came along, it wasn't yet clear how it could be used by directors and producers. However, when pong and other video games came about, it was evident that computer can be programmed to generate images on screen. One of the earliest works to employ computer wizardry was a Disney movie called Tron. Already set inside a computer, many of light cycle chases and other scenes with vehicles were computer animated.
Since then, computers were mainly used in the background such as generating film titles, creating pre-visuals, and animating simple movements. One of the earliest computer companies that were solely made to create effects for films was Pixar. The company was started by George Lucas to assist him in making effects for his film projects. One of the notable results they made was the knight made of stained glass in the movie Young Sherlock Holmes.
The breakout film for computer-generated imagery was Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park. The full-body dinosaurs were supposed to be brought to life by stop motion, but a computer artist from Industrial Light and Magic (another Lucas company) was able to convince producers to use computer-animated dinosaurs instead. The movie was a very big hit around the world with the nearly realistic dinosaurs moving onscreen.
Jurassic Park's computer animation opened the possibilities for other movies to be made. Lucas was able to create prequels for Star Wars. James Cameron's Titanic used computers to recreate the fabled ship. Peter Jackson was able to bring Lord of the Rings to life when a lot of critics thought it could not be made. It was also clear that movies with science fiction and fantasy themes benefited largely from computer effects.
Another result of computer animation was the emergence of full three- dimensional or 3D movies. It was also Pixar that pioneered and succeeded first in this endeavor. From really short films, they were able to create massive blockbusters like Toy Story, A Bug's Life, and Monster Inc, among others. Today there are even more 3D-animated films than major 2D titles out there.