[hackerspaces] More Digital Film Technology Re: first time seeing tron

Jerry Isdale isdale at gmail.com
Thu Sep 6 06:31:11 CEST 2012

> Date: Wed, 05 Sep 2012 22:13:26 -0500
> From: Stewart Dickson <mathartspd at gmail.com>
> ...
> 1987 was THE FIRST GREAT CGI CRASH -- The Big Three 3D computer 
> animation houses all went bankrupt simultaneously -- Digital Productions, Cranston-Csuri Productions and Omnibus.

Digital Productions and Robert Able & Associates were both acquired by Omnibus Computer Graphics in 1986. The Omnibust implosion happened in February/March 1987.

DP had a CRAY XMP as well as a bunch of UNIX workstations for modeling and motion planning (and a VAX 11/782). DP had the film scanner & printer attached to the Cray.  RAA and Omnibus were pretty much UNIX shops  although Omnibus had also acquired the Foonly F1 from Triple-I along with the Dec System 10 and the film printers used for TRON, Westworld, FutureWorld, Looker and other Triple-I efx films.  Omnibus used the F1 and film printersin production of Flight of The Navigator, Explorers, and a bunch of other films/commercials at Omnibus's Los Angeles location (on Paramount Studio lot). 

When Omnibus acquired DP and RAA they announced they were going to combine all 3 tech/production groups but all focus would be on supporting the production chain into the CRAY... because they had a $10mil loan on it.  When they went bankrupt and dumped all those great CGI folks on the street (pretty much literally), lots of companies sprang up from the dust (Digital Domain, Rhythm & Hues, Kleiser-Walczak, etc).  The Toronto Omnibus programmers bought rights to the PRISMS software, which survives today as foundations of SideEFX Houdini.  PRISMS won an Oscar for its tech contributions, as did the DP folks.

Other little known fact from that period... Omnibus was the first international commercial user of the Internet for distributed development. This was at the time ARPAnet was split into .mil and .edu.  Omnibus somehow managed to get in on it and we had development teams in NYC, Toronto and LA. Every night a daemon would sweep up our local code repositories, send them to Toronto, merge and redistribute.  Our software and art teams collaborated using email, ftp, talk, etc.

I worked at Digital Productions from their early days, doing the installation and setup, etc. in 1982/84. I joined the software team at Omnibus in 1985 and was laid off (with a full month of severance pay) one month before they failed to make payroll and imploded.

It was a fun time - and an incredible amount of unpaid overtime (which is still SOP in the industry).

Jerry Isdale
isdale at gmail.com
USA Director, SpaceGAMBIT
Global Alliance of Makers Building Interstellar Technology

This email is intended only for the personal and confidential use of the human(s) named above. If intercepted by an extraterrestrial civilization, all opinions expressed in this email are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of mankind as a whole.

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