MAGI Synthavision Demo

Inspiration for Original Tron

Here are some cool demos of the MAGI Synthavision from the late 70’s/early 80’s. On the first video, I would turn your sound down….


In 1967, MAGI developed a software program called, “Synthavision” to create CGI images and movies. Synthavision was one of the first systems to implement the later concept of ray-tracing for making images. The software was a constructive solid geometry (CSG) system, in that the geometry was solid primitives with combinatorial operators (such as Boolean operators). Synthavision’s modeling method doesn’t use polygons or wireframe meshes that most CGI companies use today. The combination of the solids modeling and ray tracing (later to become plane firing) made it a very robust system that could generate high quality images. In 1972, MAGI/SynthaVision was started by Robert Goldstein, with Bo Gehring and Larry Elin covering the design and film/tv interests, respectively.

MAGI created the world’s first CGI advertisement for IBM. It featured 3D letters that flew out of an office machine.


In 1981, MAGI was hired by Disney to create half of the majority of the 20 minutes of CGI needed for the movie Tron. 20 minutes of CGI animation, in the early 1980s, was extremely gutsy, and so MAGI was a portion of the CGI animation, while other companies were hired to do the other animation shots.

Since Sythnavision was easy to animate and could create fluid motion and movement, MAGI was assigned with most of Tron’s action sequences. These classic scenes include the Lightcycle sequence and Clu’s tank and recognizer pursuit scene.

MAGI sped up the process of supplying its work to Disney Studios in Burbank by a trans-continental computer hook-up. Before each scene was finalized in MAGI’s lab in Elmsford, N.Y., it was previewed on a computer monitor at Disney. Corrections could then be made in the scene immediately. Previously, the only way of previewing the scene was to film it, ship it to Burbank, get corrections made, ship it back to Elmsford…. and continue this “ping-ponging” until the scene was correct. The computer link cut between two-and-a-half to five days from the creation of each scene.

During the production of Tron, animators and computer image choreographers Bill Kroyer and Jerry Rees invited John Lasseter (who would later co-found the famous CGI studio, Pixar) to see some the lightcycle animation. Lasseter said in “The Making of Tron” featurette, that the lightcycle animation was the first CGI animation he had ever seen.


In 1983, Disney commissioned MAGI to create a test film featuring characters from the children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are”. The test used CGI animation for the background and traditional 2-D animation for the main of the book character, “Max” and his dog. What is notable is that this test film was directed by John Lasseter, of Toy Story and Pixar fame.

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