These 80s Videos Are Why I Got Into Computer Animation and Video Art

I've been slow to realize the early influences on the work I'm doing now. I never really addressed issues of artificial embodiment & figuration except at the very start, and now. Avatars, talking heads, animatronics, CGI, digital clones, haunted houses... and once these memories opened up, I remembered that my first childhood career ambition was to be a ventriloquist. No joke!

This Kraftwerk video was created by pioneering digital/interactive artist Rebecca Allen in 1983 using then-state of the art facial animation software and beautiful low-poly avatars of the band.

I don't mind confessing that Matt Frewer's Max Headroom persona was a huge revelation. Not only the pseudo-AI character himself but the morphing, ambient modernist/new-wave grid background environments that prefigured 'screensaver art'. The first and only cyberpunk stand-up comedian? (Matt, are you listening? Let's work together!)

These funny skits from Laurie Anderson feature her interacting with a greenscreened altered 'clone' of herself and aired on the PBS show Alive From Off Center. At the time they seemed like magic -- how could any artist have access to the technology to make this?! -- and they are still really witty.

Everybody was creeped out and fascinated by this ground-breaking music video for Herbie Hancock's instrumental 'Rockit' from his album Future Shock. Directed by Godley & Creme and featuring a terrifying domestic tableau of fragmented, spasmodic androids by British robotics artist Jim Whiting. Hancock himself appears only in a talking-head partial view on a TV screen.

This seems like where I'd insert an easy reference to TRON, but before there was TRON there was this mostly forgotten 1981 Michael Crichton action thriller 'Looker'. In this movie, a shadowy corporation run by James Coburn (doing his best bad Bond villain impersonation) is creating a database of 3D scanned human models that are programmed to be "perfect" virtual advertising actors and political candidates... after which the original human actors are murdered using a perception-altering ray gun. Yup! I don't know I was allowed to watch this film but it had some wonderfully prescient ideas about the media, and a hilarious shoot-out finale with the real and virtual characters 'interacting' before a horrified audience. Quote: "You don't need people anymore. You use computers to create perfect commercial images! ... Don't look at the screen! They use computer animation to put a hypnotic light pulse in the eyes of the commercial."
This scene is a stylish high-tech ballet where Susan Dey gets 3D scanned for the first time.

I'll continue to add to this post as I remember more ... stay tuned.