Note From Michael
Everything's digital these days, but it wasn't' always so.
In 1973, I made a movie called Westworld, which was a fantasy about robots. The film required us to show the point of view of the main robot, played by Yul Brynner. But what special-effects technique would best suggest a machine's point of view?
I proposed a rather simple solution: to show the point of view of a machine, use a machine. I wanted to film the scenes and then manipulate the film with a computer.
Such a process had never been used for motion picture films before, and not of the special-effects houses even knew what we were talking about. At this time, film special effects were limited to purely photographic processes, such as solarization - the technique used, for example, to make the shimmery, bizarre-colored landscapes in 2001. None of the special-effects houses had computers or were even thinking about them; all they could do were variations on photographic techniques. But photographic techniques look just like that - darkroom manipulation of the filmed image. I wanted a mechanical process.
Finally, we went to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. At least they knew what we were talking about. They explained that the technique had thus far been used for single images, because each required massive computer power. We were talking about two minute of film, or 2,880 separate images. But they said they could do it: they could process two minutes of movie film. It would take nine months and cost $200,000.
Since the entire film had to be finished and released in six months at a total cost of $1 million, we had to look elsewhere. Eventually, John Whitney Jr., agreed to undertake the job in four months for $20,000. Working long hours and nights with giant mainframes, John was able to process only a few seconds of film a week.
But in the end, we got what we needed. Westworld was the first feature film to process imagery by computer. We obtained a sort of blocky, animated effect that was remarkable in 1973 - and a cliché seven years later, when similar imagery appeared in every thing from perfume ads to paintings by Salvador Dali.