Vintage demo reel from CGI firm behind the original Tron lifecycle

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Came for my love of vintage computing, stayed for a cathartic step in in curing my 80ies nostalgia.


Does anyone know how they got these images out of the computer and onto film?

I’d guess either a TV monitor, which would add distortions, or separate red, green and blue film scans, like with a laser plotter or a microdensitometer run in reverse.But I’m sure they had something more exotic and obscure.

Memory dump from the big machine at the office


I worked with a bunch of ex MAGI people in '84 and at that time we used a Celco film recorder, which scanned images off of 9 track tape (about 5 frames per tape) and was run by a PDP-11. Each frame took about 30 seconds per R, G and B color separation to film onto (typically) Kodak 5247 film. I’m sure they used something similar at MAGI. I could ask. It was very flat and repeatable so we could shoot mattes onto hi-con and send the color beauty pass and hicon mattes to an optical printer and get composites without matte lines.

A bunch of ex MAGI people started Blue Sky, btw.

The story I always heard was people were working on the ‘hidden line removal problem’ and MAGI president at a speech said, "what problem?’ Made people think they didn’t understand the field (they were into other things than CGI) but the MAGI software was designed to analyze how solids absorbed radiation and one day an engineer suggested, ‘if we analyzed how solids reflected radiation we could make pictures.’ And skip over the hidden line removal problem in the process.

That’s was how I heard it, anyway.


Some other interesting things–

Their solids were analytically defined, so a sphere was round at any distance and never resolved into tessellated polygons on screen. They did a lot of Boolean CSG stuff at render time.

If you’d like to see some photos of the MAGI parking lot circa 1982 reflected in a low dynamic range light probe (a Christmas tree ornament) then check out their reflection mapping work. Examples are hosted on Paul Debevec’s site:


While MAGI and Abel & Associates could output to a film recorder, I remember seeing ‘making of’ footage once that showed how some of the animation was done by outputting the wireframe art to a plotter and then tracing each frame on paper and painting it like an animation cel. A lot of the art in TRON was extremely low-tech. The whole movie (the computer world parts) was filmed in 70mm black and white, the actors wearing leotards with electrical tape and lines drawn on in Sharpie, and then hand-colored frame by frame.


I think I remember them using Foonly PDP-10 clones at the time. In fact a friend at MIT was convinced that the movie was named TRON because the PDP-10 TRON instruction was opcode 666…

I’m pretty sure the making of footage with MAGI comes from the special edition dvd of TRON.

This footage isn’t “vintage” in the sense that it is just now being found. It’s been around on dvd for a while.

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