Lee Harrison iii's - ANIMAC

ANIMAC (Hybrid graphic animation computer), 1962

Lee had a very original approach to stick figure animation. Sadly the prototype machine, has long since rotted away on the dump pile. Luckily, it gave birth to a still existing machine, the SCANIMATE.

Lee Harrison III (on right), receiving the National Academy of Television Arts and Science award for "Outstanding Achievement in Engineering Development," with his colleague Edwin J. Tajchman (left), V.P. of Engineering at Computer Image Corporation, Denver, Colorado.

Born in 1929 in St. Louis, Missouri. Studied at the School of Fine Arts, Washington University, St. Louis. 1953 U. S Coast Guard OfficerTraining, New London, Connecticut: stationed in Long Beach, California. and the Philippines. 1955 Technical illustrator, McDonald Aircraft, St. Louis. 1956-59 Engineering School, Washington University, St. Louis. 1959-65 Engineer at Philco Corporation, Philadelphia. 1965 Bio-cybernetic Engineer at the Denver Research Institute, University of Denver. 1967-68 President, Chairman of the Board, & CEO of Lee Harrison Associates. 1969 Founder & CEO of Computer Imaging Corporation. 1971 President until it closes. Lives in Denver, Colorado.

The following is taken from ARS ELECTRONICA 1992:

Besides the stick figure, well researched, described and conceptualized in a series of patent papers, Lee must have been responsible for a series of sonar analyzing films: very beautiful sets of matrices of vector sticks and expanding/contracting circles, each operating in a different frequency spectrum.

Lee is the true pioneer, clearly predating all the efforts of the legitimate avant-garde. Although his thinking and lifestyle did not belong to the contemporary art scene of the sixties, his work in its concept was visionary and esthetic. Obviously he follows a long tradition of the maveric legendary inventors, working out of their basement or garage. I can see no way in which his project could have succeeded in its totality. I think it was the sudden success of his company which shelved his dream while the rapidly changing technology took away his concept of human figure animation, certainly unique and original. Even as an oddity, it shines in the dawn of the computer age. -W.v

"WE STARTED OUT by developing what later became ANIMAC. At first we called our machine "The Bone Generator" because it made sections of straight lines that could be hooked together and could be individually animated or moved in three dimensional space. To determine what a bone was you had to determine where it was to start in X, Y, Z space, in which direction it went from there, and for how long, in order to detennine its length. The parameters that determined which direction it was going in also determined the actual length projected onto the face of the tube. lf you saw a bone from the side you saw its full length but if it were pointing toward you, you saw only a portion of it. A bone was composed of a bi-stable multi-vibrator or a flip-flop. To start it was to essentially put a signal on a line that governed the opening of a lot of sampling gates. The inputs to the gates were the parameters that governed the position and some of the qualities and characteristics of that bone. To program it we had a patch panel.

We always had a navel point on our figures and we'd always flip back to the navel point. We'd go up and out and arm and go back to the navel point, go up and out another arm and back to the navel, go up and out to the head. Those were all fly-back bones and we would fly-back by just collapsing the information that was contained on a capacitor.

ln order to determine the length of a bone we used time as the basis. We'd start drawing in a certain direction determined by the specific parameters and wc'd go in that direction until we'd turned that bone off and then esscntially we'd wait there until we drew another bone. The length was determined by plugging a timing circuit into a place which was reset after each bone. When you started a bone you also started that counter and that flip-flop was plugged into the counter that would turn that bone off. It was pretty much all digital. The next bone would be plugged into another count and so forth aud you varied the counts depending. A count represented some number of high frequency units that. was part of the clock network of the whole machine.

The patch panel was color-coded and it was a big patch panel we got out of the junkyard someplace. If you understood the code you could actually see the bones on this patch panel. There would be a certain color like green and the output might be a blue. If you were going to bone number one, you brought a start pulse that was located somewhere and you'd plug into the first bone and then you'd plug in the output of the first bone into the second bone and so forth. The inputs to the parameter gates were not located on that panel. They were located down a little lower on the face of the Animac and there were hundreds of them. You had all of these hundreds of inputs required to make the thing happen and to change it over time. After this, the main thrust of our development was to make things change over time which eventually culminated in what we called key frame programming where we would turn knobs until we got what we wanted." L.H. 3/2/92


With ideas predating 1962, Lee Harrison Ill had the dream creating animated figures. His idea was to view a stick figure as a collection of lines that could be independently moved and positioned to form an animated character. The figure would be displayed on a Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) and be electronically generated and controlled through vector deflection of an electron beam. Each figure was composed of bones, skin, joints, wrinkles, eyes, and moving lips, all drawn in sequence to create a "cathode ray marionette." The idea evolved into a hardware contraption called ANIMAC which could perform "big animation." ANIMAC was developed in the early 1960's by Lee Harrison and Associates in Pennsylvania.

ANIMAC's basic character starts out as a stick figure, with each stick called a "bone," made from wire-frame line segments. A "skin" is added to the bones by superimposing curlicue springs that. modulate the stick vectors with circular sweeps of spinning vectors. T'he thickness of the bones, or displacement of the rings from the center of the line, is voltage modulated by a "skin scanner." The scanner is constructed from a "flying spot scanner," a vector camera pointing at an intensity graph with higher brightness representing a larger bone displacement. The "joints" or connection of bones to skin are formed by drawing the bones in a specified order, the endpoints being momentarly held till the next bone is drawn. A synthetic mouth, lips and eyeballs are created through parabolas and sine waves modulated with precise control from voltage sources. The entire figure is manipulated in three dimensions by passing the control signals through a three dimensional (3D) rotation matrix, These control signals are formed from horizontal and vertical sweep generators, with camera angle, size and position voltages run through rotation matrices constructed from adders, multipliers and sine/cosine generators.

To give the illusion of depth, an additional camera tracks the intensity of the skin, giving the illusion of an edge by modulating the skin brightness and leaving it in silhouette. This same camera can scan a texture and superimpose it on the skin surface of the bone.

The ANIMAC was largely a proof of concept prototyped with vacuum tubes mounted on 2 by 4's, using a Heathkit oscillator as the master clock and driving an XY oscilloscope for the display. Most of the results are. documented in film, with a film camera pointed at the XY display. Multiple passes with Red, Green and Blue filters, were used to create color flgures. Numerous experimental input voltage sources were tried, from knobs to joysticks to an "animation harness." The harness was fabricated from potentiometers and Lincoln Logs used as armatures. Manipulating the harness tied tactile movement into control voltages, making the character "dance."

In the late 1960's ANIMAC was converted into a transistorized vension and numerous patents generated for it's underlying processes. To commercialize on the scan processing experiments, the animated cute springy character transformed itself into a means for moving logos and high contrast graphics about the screen. The curlicue skin is "unraveled" and becomes small movable rasters called "flags." The Skin Scanner is modified, and now points at the "Artwork" of a logo or corporate graphic. The intensity of the scanned image fills the undulating flag and is flown and spun across the surface of the screen. The multiple bone mechanism is simplified into five flag generators. The XY display is now re-scanned by a video camera with 5 levers of colorization and comined with a background graphic for recording on video tape. These modifications combined with it's new commercial function were named in 1969: SCANIMATE. The company went public and was renamed Computer Image Corporation.
-Jeff Schier

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