Today in History – November 21, 1877 – Edison announces the invention of his “talking machine”, the phonograph. Also on this date in 1995, Disney releases “Toy Story”, the first full-length movie created entirely by computer animation.
Thomas Alva Edison, nicknamed the “Wizard of Menlo Park”, had 1,093 patents to his name. Some of Edison’s inventions were so advanced that many disbelieved his claims. When he announced the phonograph in 1877, a Yale University professor told the New York Sun that “The idea of a talking machine is ridiculous”. While working to improve the efficiency of a telegraph transmitter, Edison noted that the tape of the machine gave off a noise resembling spoken words when played at a high speed. He wondered if he this could be used to record a telephone message. He began experimenting with the diaphragm of a telephone receiver by attaching a needle to it. He reasoned that the needle could prick paper tape to record a message. His experiments led him to try a stylus on a tinfoil cylinder, which, to his great surprise, played back the short message he recorded, “Mary had a little lamb.” The phonograph would ultimately lay the groundwork for future generations of audio recording technology such as magnetic tape, compact discs and audio compression standards like MP3. Today, the public is offered a wide selection of exciting new products associated with digital music and videos. The iPod represents the next generation of digital music players and has inspired copycats and extensions.
Toy Story was the first feature-length computer-animated film. Released on this date in 1995, this Academy-award winning film helped create a new age of digital cinema and 3D computer graphics. Toy characters proved easier to animate than people, which explains the sparse human subjects in the film. The Toy Story characters used hundreds of features to control movement and facial expressions, whereas, robots in the recent Transformers film use well over a million features. Toy Story would eventually pave the way for motion-capture, simulations of skin, hair and cloth and many advanced computer animation technologies. Later computer graphics movies such as Shrek and Final Fantasy: the Spirits Within would improve upon the photo realism of human characters. The latest big test of motion-capture technology is the recently released ‘Beowulfâ€’. This film represents the most advanced attempt to show realistic-looking humans with computer generated imagery.
3D graphics are now pervasive in entertainment and education. First-person computer games and 3D movies represent the latest developments in immersive entertainment. Computer animation is also an engaging and intuitive tool for collegiate and K-12 education. 3D computer simulations provide visualization to complex systems in such fields as aeronautics, materials science, mechanical engineering, signal processing and data mining. Alice is an innovative 3D programming environment that makes it easy to create an animation for telling a story, playing an interactive game, or a video to share on the web. Alice is a teaching tool for introductory computing in K-12 or college and it is helpful in broadening diversity in computing. It uses 3D graphics and a drag-and-drop interface to facilitate a more engaging, less frustrating first programming experience. The software is a free open source object-oriented educational programming language with an associated development environment developed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon, including Randy Pausch.
Also on this date in history in 1977, the first commercial flight of Concorde, London to New York.