The Unseen Artists of Cinema

Ashlyn Stetzel, Entertainment and Theater Journalist

It is without a doubt that our modern movies couldn’t be made without CGI, or Computer Generated Imagery.  A majority of modern movies have some sort of CGI incorporated into them.  That being said, CGI artists are greatly underappreciated for their work.  Few people ever stay through that rolling black screen of endless credits where those artists are acknowledged and even fewer people actually understand how those effects come to exist.

Ed Kramer is a CGI expert who worked for George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic; his most noted works include “Star Wars,” “Jumanji,” “The Mummy,” “Galaxy Quest” and so much more.  He spoke at ACC on Tuesday September 27th about what it takes to work in CGI and how it all started.

CGI originally started in our very own hometown, Denver, by a man named Lee Harrison.  Harrison (1929–1998) started the Computer Image Corporation in the 1960s and invented Scanimate, the first full analog computer animation system.  Through this technology, the first computer graphics were seen in full feature movies such as “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”, “Star Wars: A New Hope” and “Grease.” They used basic harnesses made out of tinker toys on the actor’s body to create the character’s movement – similar to the motion capture techniques we use today.  The early 1980s were a transitional period for CGI with the introduction of 3-D and digital animation.  By 1986, analog graphics had all but disappeared, replaced by the modern CGI instruments of today.

In addition to the history of CGI, Kramer also explained all the steps involved with the art.  From the initial sketches to the character modeling to the testing to the actual animation, the number of steps required goes beyond anyone’s imagination.  In addition to all the computer work, CGI artists work heavily with practical effects.  They work with models, rigs, green screens and other technologies in real life to create the best effects possible.

Ed Kramer himself is a very genuine, kind person who I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting.  He is an extremely knowledgeable person who cares immensely about giving talks to his students and groups around Denver about his art.  I was honored to be able to speak with him.  He is currently writing a book and documentary called “The Wizards of Hollywood,” specifically highlighting the artists behind the scenes responsible for the magic you see on the big screen.  On the subject of his book, Kramer said, “This book is about the artists who are behind these movies…it’s kinda cool to talk to them and get the stories behind these shots and a lot of them have interesting backstories.” He hopes to uncover the unsung heroes of this ever growing art form and acknowledge the incredible work they do to bring us modern cinema.

Want to support Ed Kramer and his new book?  Head to and enter your email to join his subscription list.  The more subscribers, the more likely his book will be published!