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Film Recorders: how did they get CGI onto film?

A deep dive into VFX History discussing how computers were able to render digital images on physical film.

Back in 2019, I posted a question on Creative COW ​⁠wondering how it was possible that a computer in the 1980s could render an image onto a celloid film strip. The answers I got to that post led me down a rabbit hole of competing technologies, historical imperatives and some fascinating anecdotes. I talk about John Whitney and his work, Lee Harrison and the Scanimate team, John Whitney Jr and Gary Demos at Triple-I, later Digital Productions and of course, I talk about the PDP-10, Foonly F1 and Cray XMP computers.

I’ve tried to sum up my findings here and inevitably, I will have missed out crucial steps and glossed over important points. Still I hope you find this VFX history entertaining, if not informative.

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