Computer Generated Imagery ( CGI ) Timeline


Rendering of a planned highway


In 1961, a 49-second vector animation of a car traveling up a planned highway at 110 km/h was created at the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology on the BESK computer. The short animation was broadcast on November 9, 1961, on national television.



A ten-minute computer-animated film by Charles Csuri and James Shaffer. This was awarded a prize at the 4th annual International Experimental Film Competition in Brussels, Belgium, and in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York City. The subject was a line drawing of a hummingbird for which a sequence of movements appropriate to the bird was programmed. Over 30,000 images comprising some 25 motion sequences were generated by the computer.



A group of Soviet mathematicians and physicists headed by Nikolay Konstantinov created a mathematically computable model of the physics of a moving cat. The algorithms were programmed on the BESM-4 computer. The computer then printed hundreds of frames to be later converted to film. An accompanying scientific paper describes the foundation of the employed physics simulation techniques that nowadays are commonly applied to animation films and computer games.




This is an experimental 2D animated short drawn on a data tablet by Peter Foldes, who used the world's first key frame animation software, invented by Nestor Burtnyk and Marceli Wein.


A Computer Animated Hand

Produced by Ed Catmull, the short demonstrates a computer-animated hand, as well as human faces. Added to the United States National Film Registry in 2011.



First use of 2D computer animation in a significant entertainment feature film. The point of view of Yul Brynner's gunslinger was achieved with raster graphics.


Faces (Faces & Body Parts)

Fred Parke's thesis film on facial modeling at the University of Utah.



The Oscar-winning 1975 short animated film about the life of the Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel contains a brief sequence of a rotating wire-frame model of Brunel's final project, the iron steamship SS Great Eastern.



First use of 3D computer graphics for animated hand and face. Used 2D digital compositing to materialize characters over a background.

Hobart Street Scene

First use of a 3D hidden-line removal movie depicting an architectural street scene. It shows the planned Crown Courts in Hobart in 1976 and was used for planning approval. The buildings exist today.


Demon Seed

Used raster wire-frame model rendering for the Proteus IV's monitors.

Star Wars Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)

The fourth, Star Wars film was the first to use 3D wireframe graphics (Futureworld was first for 3D graphics). The graphics were used to create the Death Star attack briefing, as well as the targeting of the Millennium Falcon's guns. The film is also known for the birth of Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), the special effects juggernaut. Which led to the CGI-heavy Attack of the Clones, but every rose must have its thorn.


The Black Hole

Used raster wire-frame model rendering for the open credits depicting a 3D wireframe of a black hole.


Used raster wire-frame model rendering for navigation monitors in the landing sequence. Added to the United States National Film Registry in 2002.




First computer-generated model of a whole human body. Also, first use of 3D-shaded CGI.


The Works

First that was never completed The New York Institute of Technology Computer Graphics Lab premiered a trailer at SIGGRAPH for their CGI project. This would have been the first feature-length CGI film, but it was never completed.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

ILM computer graphics division develops "Genesis Effect", the first use of a fractal-generated landscape in a film. Bill Reeves leads the Genesis Effect programming team, and creates a new graphics technique called "Particle Systems".


First extensive use (15 minutes fully computer generated) of 3D CGI including the Light Cycle sequence. Also includes very early facial animation (for the Master Control Program).


Golgo 13

First animated film to incorporate CGI sequences. Entirely digital models of revolvers, skeletons, helicopters, and skyscrapers (created by Toyo Links Corporation and Osaka University's CG division) are used in the film's title sequence and part of the climax; the remainder of the film is traditionally animated by Tokyo Movie Shinsha.

Dream Flight

First 3D generated film telling a story, shown in Electronic Theater in SIGGRAPH ‘83

Rock & Rule

First Western animated film to use computer graphics.


The Last Starfighter

First use of "integrated CGI" where the effects are supposed to represent real world objects. Uses CGI for all spaceship shots, replacing traditional models. 

Lensman: Secret of The Lens

Uses CGI for spaceships and other scenes.

The Adventures of André and Wally B.

First CGI animation with motion blur effects and squash and stretch motion. Lucasfilm's computer animation division creates an all-CGI-animated short. 

2010: The Year We Make Contact

Jupiter's turbulent atmosphere is CGI-rendered, mostly during the black spot shots.


Tony de Peltrie

First CGI-animated human character to express emotion through his face and body language.

Young Sherlock Holmes

First photorealistic CGI character, "stained glass knight" with 10 seconds of screentime, Lucasfilm.

"Money for Nothing"

First computer-generated music video. The animators would go on to found Mainframe Entertainment.


Flight of the Navigator

First use of reflection mapping in a feature film, used for the flying alien spacecraft.


First realistic CGI animal.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

First use of the Cyberware 3D scanner, first 3D morphing.

Luxo Jr.

First use of shadows in CGI, made with the specially developed software Photorealistic Renderman. First Pixar film, and first CGI film to be nominated for an Academy Award. Added to the United States National Film Registry in 2014.

The Golden Child

First use of primitive photorealistic morphing.


Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future

FirstTV series to include characters modeled entirely with computers.


First game show with interaction between humans and computer-generated surroundings.

Rendez-vous in Montreal

First 3D generated film involving virtual actors Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart



First extensive photorealistic use of morphing effect in a feature film.


First CGI is used to animate the pattern indicator, and to plot the paths of falling objects, model parallax effects on backgrounds, and tweak lighting and lens flares.

Tin Toy

First computer-animated short film to win an Oscar. Added to the United States National Film Registry in 2003.


The Abyss

First digital 3D water effect.

The Jim Henson Hour

First TV series with real-time and rendered CGI featuring digitally puppeteered CG character "Waldo."

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

First all-digital composite.

Les fables geometriques 

First CGI TV broadcast series of animated CGI shorts.

The Little Mermaid

First 2D animated film to use the CAPS digital ink & paint software — in the penultimate shot of the film, when the ship sails away under a rainbow.



Die Hard 2

First digitally-manipulated matte painting.

RoboCop 2

First use of real-time computer graphics or "digital puppetry" to create a character in a motion picture.

The Rescuers Down Under

First 2D animated film to be produced with solely digital ink and paint. First fully digital feature film.


One of the earliest computer animated series.



First use of photorealistic CGI fire in a motion picture.


First use of photorealistic CGI architectural fly-through. First use of human movement on a CGI character

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

First realistic human movements on a CGI character. The first partially computer-generated main character and the first blockbuster movie to feature multiple morphing effects. First use of a personal computer to create major movie 3D effects.


Death Becomes Her

First human skin CGI software.

The Lawnmower Man

First feature film to use computer animation to explore the subject of virtual reality. First virtual reality sex.


Jurassic Park

First photorealistic CG creatures. Added to the United States National Film Registry in 2018.

The Incredible Crash Dummies

First fully CG animated TV special.

Live & Kicking

First TV program to feature a live computer-generated character as part of its cast.


First completely computer animated direct-to-video release.

Babylon 5

First television series to use CGI as the primary method for its visual effects. First TV use of virtual sets.


First fully computer animated TV series. First use of character animation in a computer animated television series.


Radioland Murders

First use of virtual CGI sets with live actors.


First half-hour computer animated TV series.

The Flintstones

First CGI-rendered fur.

The Crow

First deceased actor (Brandon Lee) to be re-created through CGI.



First realistic CG water.


First CGI lead character in a feature-length live-action film, and first CGI characters to interact realistically with live actors.

Toy Story

First CGI feature-length animation. Added to the United States National Film Registry in 2005.



First CGI feature-length animation that did not use scanned models for heads.

A Brazilian CGI animated feature film produced and released by NDR Filmes in Brazil on April 1, 1996. 

The Island of Dr. Moreau

First film to use motion capture CGI to portray a character.


First 2D all-CGI backgrounds with live actors. First film to use ILM's Caricature software (created during the film's production).

Beast Wars: Transformers

First CGI Transformers animated series produced by Mainframe Entertainment. Sequel to the original Transformers.


Star Wars (Episodes IV, V and VI Special Editions)

First re-release of a film to incorporate CGI characters and elements.

Marvin the Martian in 3D

First CG film created for viewing with 3D glasses.


First wide-release feature film with major elements rendered under the open-source Linux operating system. Also included a number of advances, specifically in the rendering of flowing water.


A Bug's Life

First CG anamorphic widescreen film. First all-digital transfer to DVD. First film to be reframed for home video releases.

Invasion: Earth

First major use of digital effects in a British TV series

What Dreams May Come

First use of 3D CGI in combination with 3D location scanning (Lidar) and motion-analysis based 3D camera tracking in a feature film.


Fight Club

First photogrammetry based virtual cinematography scenes, including the first bullet time sex scene with fully naked body renderings of famous actors in leading roles (Helena Bonham Carter, Brad Pitt); renderings of different settings with both extreme close-ups and wide shots; and the first very photorealistic close-up rendering of a human face - which also belongs to a famous actor in a leading role (Edward Norton) - with detailed facial deformation and extreme close-ups (starting at the cell-level of the brain, flying through the different layers of tissues, a follicle and the skin with sweat droplets).

The Matrix

First use of CG interpolation with bullet time effects. Added to the National Film Registry in 2012.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

First film to use CG extensively for thousands of shots, including backgrounds, environmental effects, vehicles, and crowds. Several CG characters stood alongside real actors in dozens of shots, making them the first CG "supporting" cast members.


Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within


First feature-length digital film to be made based on photorealism and live action principles. The first theatrically released feature film to utilize performance capture (motion capture) for all of its characters actions.

Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius

First CGI feature-length movie made using off-the-shelf hardware and software.


First CGI animated movie to receive Academy Award for the Best Animated Feature Film.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

First use of AI for digital actors (using Massive software developed by Weta Digital).

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers


First virtual actor to win an award (Critics' Choice Movie Awards by Andy Serkis playing Gollum), in the newly created category Best Digital Acting Performance


First digitally rendered photorealistic costume.

Ice Age

First full-length feature animated film exclusively rendered with a ray tracer (CGI Studio).

The Matrix Reloaded


The Burly Brawl 

First use of "universal capture", the combination of dense (rather than point-based) motion capture, per-frame texture capture and optical flow of pixels over the data from 7 camera setup bought into a shared UV space by projection onto a neutral expression geometry leading to the introduction of realistic digital look-alikes


Able Edwards

First movie shot completely on a green screen using digitally scanned images as backgrounds.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

First movie with all-CGI backgrounds and live actors.

The Polar Express

First computer-animated film to be created with motion capture.


Chicken Little

First feature-length computer-animated film released in limited 3D releases.


Elephants Dream

First CGI short movie released as completely open source. Made with open-source software, theatrical and DVD release under Creative Commons License. Unique that all 3D models, animatics and software are included on the DVD free for any use.



First CGI feature film to be animated by one person. Made with Lightwave 3D and Adobe After Effects.



First CGI feature-length movie made using Open Source/Free Software for all 3D models, animation, lighting and render process, under Linux operating system.


First full-length movie made using performance capture to create photorealistic 3D characters and to feature a fully CG 3D photorealistic world. The first virtual art department and complete virtual production pipeline was developed by director James Cameron and team to create the film in real-time.


First computer-animated feature to be nominated for Academy Award for Best Picture.




First television series produced entirely using a game engine (specifically Unreal Engine 4).


The Mandalorian

First usage of a 360-degree LED screen to combine virtual sets with live action actors.