AT&T Archives: Incredible Machine





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Published on Apr 22, 2011

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This 1968 short shows some of the ways that Bell Laboratories scientists used computers in communications research. Contains sequences of computer-generated movies, photographs, music and speech. The entire score and main title and credits of the film were produced on a computer - which seems like nothing today, as every film and video in modern production makes its way through a machine - but at the time this was radically early for computer graphics and music.

Bell Labs was responsible for a few computer graphics and music firsts:

1961: computer performs "Daisy Bell" with music programmed by Max Mathews and speech programmed by John Kelly and Carol Lockbaum. This was later the inspiration for the computer "HAL" singing the song in the movie 2001. Daisy Bell was also the nickname of one of Alexander Graham Bell's daughters.
1962: The first digital computer art was created at Bell Labs by A. Michael Noll.
1963: The first computer animated film was produced by Edward Zajac at Bell Labs.
1963: The first computer animation language, BEFLIX, was created by Ken Knowlton.
1966: first ASCII art was created by Ken Knowlton.

These scientist/artists worked on IBM 704 and 7094 computers:

IBM 704
The computer these artists and scientists originally worked on in the 1960s had 192K of RAM, 6mb of memory on tape, cost $200 an hour to use and filled a whole room.

IBM 7094
The earliest computer-generated films, created using an IBM 7094 computer and Stromberg-Carlson 4020 microfilm recorder, cost approximately $500 per minute of output. The 709-series computers were transistorized, and a typical 7094 sold for $3,134,500 in the 1960s.

This film won the CINE Golden Eagle and is in the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.

An Owen Murphy Production
Title and credits computer animations by A. Michael Noll
Artwork and computer graphics by Ken Knowlton
Computer-generated music by Max Mathews


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