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The First-Ever Computer Animated Character Is a Creepy Cat

We take seamless computer animation for granted these days. It’s hard not to when it’s growing increasingly difficult to decipher between reality and various simulated worlds. But computer animation had to start somewhere, and in the below video we get a glimpse of the first-ever computer animated character: a (sort of spooky) cat.

Boing Boing picked up on the above video, which shows an animation Soviet mathematician Nikolai Konstantinov and his colleagues produced in 1968. The mathematicians utilized a Soviet mainframe computer—BESM-4—to produce the images. The machine runs a program that solves the differential equations governing the animated cat’s movements.

The animation itself consists of hundreds of paper frames with alphabetic symbols on them. The collections of symbols represent the solutions to the differential equations, and Nikolai et al. later filmed each frame in sequence.

N.Konstantinov via Ultimate History of CGI

Despite the fact that the mathematicians produced the animation, “Kitty,” more than 50 years ago, it’s shockingly good. Obviously, it’s incredibly crude but the computer animated cat still moves seamlessly. Its walking movements are especially fluid, and seem to have a “smooth” quality to them; one unlike that of movements from normal animation from the ’60s. For reference, here’s a clip from One Hundred and One Dalmatians from 1961.

Aside from walking from right to left, the animated cat also pops its freaky face out at viewers. At around 20 seconds in, the cat arches its back, stiffens its tail, splays its claws, and flashes a happy (and creepy) grin. This slice of movement isn’t as smooth as the cat’s walk, but it’s impossible not to love the cat’s flashing peepers. No wonder we love seeing cats in animation. And outside of animation doing all the wonderful cat things. And trying to squeeze their liquid bodies through small openings. But it’s cool to know that this is where digital cats began.

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