When I think of early CGI filmmaking, it’s usually things like early Pixar shorts, or wire-frame models, or low-resolution renderings of a particular teapot. It seems like a given that computer animation means 3D animation, even if I’m fully aware that most 2D animation these days is also made entirely on computer.
But even from the beginning, that wasn’t always true. Peter Foldes’ film Hunger, released by the NFB in 1974, is one of the first computer-animated films ever made, and it looks a lot closer to the “cartoon modern” style of animation popular in the ’50s and ’60s (solid blocks of color, relatively simple lines) than anything Pixar has ever put out.
The film’s unique style comes from a software developer’s realization that in-betweening, the process of filling in the frames between the “key frames” drawn by the lead animator, would be a perfect job for a computer. Give it two reference frames, and the software could morph one into the other, stretching, moving or rotating lines until point A becomes point B.
In watching Hunger, it doesn’t take long to see that the software’s decisions on how to ‘tween aren’t exactly the same as what your average human animator would choose. It gives the film an off-kilter feel, which suits the surrealish parable—it’s the kind of story that should appear a bit unnatural all the way through.
The technique didn’t exactly catch on, but it was an important milestone in animation, and a well-made film in its own right (with a pretty killer soundtrack, too). It picked up a Special Jury Prize at Cannes, a BAFTA award and an Academy Award nomination.