This film was a specific project to define how a particular type of satellite would move through space. Edward E. Zajac made, and narrated, the film, which is considered to be possibly the very first computer graphics film ever. Zajac programmed the calculations in FORTRAN, then used a program written by Zajac's colleague, Frank Sinden, called ORBIT. The original computations were fed into the computer via punch cards, then the output was printed onto microfilm using the General Dynamics Electronics Stromberg-Carlson 4020 microfilm recorder. All computer processing was done on an IBM 7090 or 7094 series computer.
Specific details on the process can be found in these articles:
- Computer-Made Perspective Movies as a Scientific and Communication Tool, 1964
- Film Animation by Computer, 1967
Zajac didn't make the film to demonstrate computer graphics, however. Instead, he was interested in real-time modeling of a certain theoretical construct. At the time, The Bell System was still deeply engaged in satellite research, having launched Telstar the previous year, with plans to continue developing communications satellites. Zajac's model is of a box ("satellite"), with two gyroscopes within. In the film, he was trying to create a simulation of movement — the pitch, roll, and yaw within that system. He gives these particulars in an article in the Bell System Technical Journal, from 1964.
Zajac worked at Bell Labs from 1954 to 1983. He passed away in 2011; his last appointment was as part of the Economics faculty at the University of Arizona. For the latter part of his career, he specialized in the economics of communications and telecommunications.
(See another of Zajac's early computer graphics films, A Pair of Paradoxes, from 1967)
Footage Courtesy of AT&T Archives and History Center, Warren, NJ