Freight Yard Symphony Freight Yard Symphony

Before he struck out into the burgeoning field of computer animation, Robert Abel (1937-2001) studied at UCLA, earning a degree in film and design. One result: Freight Yard Symphony (1963), a mini-masterpiece of mixed-media modernism.

The film uses cut-out animation, combining original artwork and photos, to capture the energy of a rail yard in operation. The simple, geometric visuals show the influence of the title sequences of Saul Bass, with whom Abel would later work. Freight Yard Symphony is a strikingly accomplished experiment in design, especially for a student film, and it looks even better now thanks to a restoration by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. Watch it below:

Abel went on to a legendary career in computer graphics. After graduating, he worked with artist and inventor John Whitney, one of the pioneers of computer animation, before going solo.

With his firm Robert Abel & Associates, he produced many acclaimed and innovative cg-animated commercials, including the “sexy robot” Super Bowl spot for the Canned Food Information Council. The studio also created digital effects for Disney’s The Black Hole and Tron.

Freight Yard Symphony
“Freight Yard Symphony,” before and after restoration

Abel’s career would move far away from the techniques used in Freight Yard Symphony, yet his flair for design, evident throughout his work (which you can watch below), is already unmistakable in this early short.

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