The history of the Video Animation System (VAS), a technology that transformed the animation industry beginning in 1976, remains vivid in the minds of animators who used them at CalArts, Bakshi Films, Walt Disney Productions, Industrial Light and Magic, the USC Film School, and throughout the animation industry.
The history of the Lyon Lamb Video Animation System, from its inception until 1980, is now being documented to shine a light on a disruptive time in animation and special effects history.
During this period, Lyon Lamb created some of the most future forward analog tools: the Video Animation System (VAS) and the Video Rotoscope. Digital was just around the corner in the '80s, and the VAS was the leading tool used at CalArts by the now legendary class of CalArts animators.
The story began in Laguna Beach California, 1976. John Lamb was a young animator and avid surfer who'd found a beach side studio paradise. The only thing that would get him to leave Laguna was to drive to Los Angeles to photograph, process and develop his animation.
Video technology (Betamax) had just arrived on the scene and Lamb saw a promise that would give him more time in the water and less time on the road. With the immediate playback of video, Lamb envisioned a self-contained video camera that could provide instant results for testing animation. A chance meeting with Bruce Lyon, a local video artist and TV specialist, led to lengthy industry discussions, as both realized a need in the film industry for such a device: a video pencil test system.
With Lyons' technical expertise and Lamb's animation background, after nearly two years of rigorous research and development, the Lyon Lamb VAS was created and a new product was born. As one dream began, with the realization of the VAS, another one ended. Instead of reducing his trips to Los Angeles, Lamb moved found he needed to move to Los Angeles to market the product.
Walt Disney Productions was the very first customer. Legend has it that they leased the VAS and took it apart to reverse engineer it. After five frustrating months, they were unable to recreate it and finally purchased a few. Ralph Bakshi for actually purchasing the first VAS, however. Many VAS went to commercial houses such as Hollywoods' Kurtz and Friends and to educational institutions like Cal Arts when the "greatest generation" of animators were just starting out.
With Disney as a calling card, the door opened to the entire animation community and the VAS became an industry standard. It soon became apparent that every animator needed one.