“Even in the year 3000, we’ll see the brilliance of food in cans.”

In the year 1985, the brilliance of this commercial was plain to see. Premiering during the Super Bowl, the 30-second spot advertised the work of the Canned Food Information Council (nope, we didn’t know there was such a thing either). “Brilliance” was reportedly never aired again, but its place in the history of cg animation is secure. Watch it below:

The improbable task of making canned food sexy fell to Robert Abel & Associates, a production company that pioneered computer animation in the 1970s and 1980s. Working from an eight-frame storyboard about a “sexy robot” in space, the filmmakers, led by Randy Roberts, vowed to create a film that would mark a “quantum leap” for commercials.

Their production pipeline, which they describe as “the ultimate in improvisation,” is outlined in a fascinating six-minute documentary, embedded below. They reveal their knack for ensuring fluid animation by using a rudimentary form of motion capture, and discuss the joys and challenges of modeling and rigging their robot with the computer power at hand. “This entire image really never existed outside the computer itself,” notes the narrator, with a hint of awe.

Whether canned food is still hot stuff in a thousand years remains to be seen. In one sense, however, the makers of “Brilliance” have already been proved right: their work here, dated as it now looks, anticipated tools and techniques that the industry would go on to develop. The film was meant to sell canned food, but really, it was an advertisement for computer animation itself.

A print advertisement that acccompanied the ad campaign.
A print advertisement that acccompanied the ad campaign.

Alex Dudok de Wit

Alex Dudok de Wit is Deputy Editor of Cartoon Brew.