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Bringing Graphic Entertainment to Life: the 3D Revolution

November 17, 2014

Both cartoons, and video games started out as 2D. In the early games, a radical new move was made to introduce a third dimension to game play, through such games as Q*Bert and Zaxxon, which both used isometric projection to simulate “back-forth” and “left-“right”, while maintaining vertical space. Soon after, came Congo Bongo (a sort of 3D ‘Donkey Kong’ by Nintendo’s archrival Sega) and Crystal Castles by Atari. The vector graphics Star Wars game also had 3D sections where you were moving forward (and could slow down or speed up a bit), and had full right-left and up-down movement.
Not too long after that, the first karate fighting games arrived. While the first ones such as “Karate Champ” were the old crude 2D games, the genre would eventually become a good platform for 3D, and which would eventually revolutionize games, using a simple play area, where you could move back and forth, right and left, and do vertical jump kicks. (And then, Nintendo’s Punch-Out, which was the first with finer resolution graphics).

At the end of the decade, we began getting a retro kick, where the companies tried to redo classic games in 3D. So we got Pacmania, which realigned the mazes isometrically, and added vertical relief, and also jumping capacity. If they couldn’t add true 3D play, they at least added 3D “relief” to graphics, so then we got “Galaga 88”, “Blasteroids” and the “Majestic 12” (An updated Space Invaders). A new 3D-oriented classic was Klax. (And Tetris was a another 2D one with 3D relief).

So all of this 3D made me think, where’s the best game ever; Mario, in 3D form? After the drastically different Super Mario 2, I even wrote to Nintendo with drawn illustrations, asking them to return the game to the original “Mushroom Kingdom” form, but in 3D. It would take a few more years for Super Mario Kart to come out, which nicely translated the Mario worlds to 3D, but was a racing game rather than a normal platformer. A few years after that, we finally got the first true 3D Mario platformers: the third party Super Mario RPG and the 64 bit system debut’s Super Mario 64. (Which was based on more primitive “polygon” technology with a lot of straight lines and angles making up the images).

By that time, I was married and focused on writing, and pretty much out of the gaming fray. (Inbetween, around that same time, a Virtual Reality version of PacMan came out, which we saw at an arcade near Times Square, so my wife and I played it once. Kind of clunky, but interesting).
But 13 years later, I would finally be prompted to reenter the world of Nintendo with Wii system, and the new Mario games being produced for it. At first, they rebooted the 2D format of the game, though with all new graphics, but then, Sunshine and the Galaxy series were introduced which opened up truly 3D worlds with much more improved graphics (including very realistic looking static water). So I got the second Galaxy, and soon after that, a more original-formatted game came out for the handheld 3DS, Super Mario 3D Land, and I got that as well. This has been followed by the even better Super Mario 3D World, but as this is on a newer Wii system, I haven’t gotten that, and with the four player capacity, I think I would rather play it in a group than by myself.
Also, the CD/DVD-ROM based Sims series continues to improve its graphics, though somewhat behind the others.

Meanwhile, in animation, not long after those first 3D arcade games, you had the first crude attempts at 3D computer generated image (CGI) animation graphics. I remember both channel 11, and channel 9, at different points had movie wraparound graphics that had plain boxy images of buildings (theaters, likely, IIRC). Next, some really crisp sparkly, and surprisingly modern looking graphics were produced for the Dow “Scrubbing Bubbles”. In the 90’s, we then got the Real Adventures of Jonny Quest, which had short “Virtual Reality” segments that were 3D, and then finally the whole short series “Reboot”, which was more “computer graphics” (i.e polygon)-looking still.

But in the middle of the decade, Toy Story brought 3D CGI to the mainstream, in a greatly improved form. Human skin looked very “plastic”, but this was OK for the toy characters.
Pixar and two other studios then began increasing production of 3D features. More commercials would be released; my favorite being this Sugar Bear entry (from Ontario based TOPIX Computer Graphics), from right around the time of Toy Story, but with surprisingly more realistic looking graphics: Right after that, another, similarly done CGI animation was Cartoon Network’s “Cartoon Library”, which took rotoscoped cells of classic cartoon characters and placed them over a new, realistic looking CGI background. Then the short series used as filler on CN and then Boomerang: “Bernard” (a polar bear, by Rg Animation Studios).
Polar Express had very good graphics, though they “cheated” with a process called “motion capture”, where they recorded actions of human actors, and used that to animate the digital character models.

Eventually, series followed, such as a short Star Wars based series on Cartoon Network, and now, Garfield. Graphics on these would vary, sometimes being very “pasty” like the latter. (This is likely the style, probably being cheaper than more crisp graphics. Still a nice adaptation though, and buildings look realistic).
You had other specials, like a foreign Tom & Jerry commercial that was in very nice 3D, (and here’s another one I never saw, for McDonalds: Here’s a school project someone did of a familar classic Tom & Jerry scene: but the next series released here in the US went back to 2D, though with some new techniques that give it a sort of 3D look. A lot of cartoons series are using this. (This is what I saw in the new JLA Back in Time DTV as well). The new Looney Tunes show was similar, but also added nicely done 3D Roadrunner cartoons.

So now, I’ve been seeing these pictures from a new Peanuts movie being produced.

This looks very good! The “plastic” look 3D skin fits well on them, since they were essentially (almost) stick figure characters anyway.
The backgrounds look very good (realistic) was well!

I think the reason 3D is so nice, is because it “brings more to life” these stories or characters and settings we like. It’s like I liked Mario so much, having it in 3D made it more like I’m actually in the game, or that’s it’s real. Even in 2D, it was always nice to see attempts at realism, such as in subways and other Manhattan scenes, in cartoons as divers as the 1945 Tom & Jerry “Mouse in Manhattan” or the 1979 Scooby & Scrappy episode “Ransom of Scooby Chief”. The 3D CGI allows them to make these things look even more realistic (like the subway scene in one of the Madagascar movies).

  1. Finally got to watch the Peanuts movie last weekend (this is April already). Again, pretty good, and I love how the hair looks real, but manages to be still true to the look of the comic.
    And a nice ending for Charlie Brown! A nice finale for the franchise.

  2. OK, Channel 11 (who I recently started following on Facebook) put up their 3D movie sequence I mentioned above, from 1985!

    (So remember; this is from a full decade before Toy Story!) Channel 9 also had one, that IIRC, showed moving around a studio lot or city from the ground, rather than flying over it. That’s the one I remembered most, and forgot what exactly this one looked like, but I did remember ch.11 had one too.

  3. And here, looking so modern, is another WPIX CGI sequence, from 1990!

  4. The new Lion King remake looks so real! It’s being criticized by some cartoon fans as a waste, because you lose the cartooney effects of traditional animation, yet otherwise is really the same lines and story.
    I would think they should have just redone the visual and dub the original audio over it, instead of producing it totally new, and having to cast new actors and musicians to record everything over. I would love to see them do this with many old cartoons.

    The name of thes graphic technique (whether computer animated or even hand drawn) is “photorealism:

  5. And now, Scooby done completely in CGI, and he himself now looks much more like the original 2D version than the live action movie CGI! (I too think they messed up Fred. Looks like they’re trying to make him look like the real life actor, who’s not even Frank Welker this time!)

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