Did ‘Vertigo’ Introduce Computer Graphics to Cinema?

 

Saul Bass is a much celebrated graphic designer who was responsible for many of the title sequences during the 50s and 60s. For Vertigo, Bass wanted to create perfect mathematically defined spirals and he turned to a computerized gun controller, working with collaborator John Whitney to create what was one of the first computer aided graphics in film history.

John Whitney

For the title sequence to Vertigo, Hitchcock had an additional, often unnoted, collaborator: John Whitney. A pioneer of computer animation who worked in television in the 50s and 60s and in the 70s created some of the first digital art, Whitney was hired to complete the seemingly impossible task of turning Bass’s complicated designs for Vertigo into moving pictures. A mechanism was needed that could plot the shapes that Bass wanted, which were based on graphs of parametric equations by 19th mathematician Jules Lissajous; plotting them precisely, as opposed to drawing them freehand, required that the motion of a pendulum be linked to motion of an animation stand, but no animation stand at the time could modulate continuous motion without its interior wiring becoming tangled.

To solve this problem, Whitney made use of an enormous, obsolete military computer called the M5 gun director. The M5 was used during World War II to aim anti-aircraft cannons at moving targets. It took five men to operate it on the battlefield, each inputting one variable, such as the altitude of the incoming plane, its velocity, etc.

Rhizome | Read the Full Article