The Digital Worlds blog, an Open University blog, has an excellent look back at the artistry of early video tubes entitled “Oscilloscopy.”

There’s John Whitney’s “showreel” from 1961, which shows off the ground-breaking (1961, folks!) possibilities of his “mechanical analog computer,” as appropriated from an antiaircraft gun director. Wait … say that again? Yep, Whitney actually used a mechanical contrivance to rotate layers of graphics. When that technique met up with the power of  It’s an idea that’s just waiting for today’s DIYers to tackle, perhaps mixing modern digital techniques with mechanical ones.

Next, also from the above blog post, witness the gorgeous oscilloscope graphics and mechanical control pads of Tennis for Two, an early (thought to be the second-ever, though you never know with these things) video game made by William Higinbotham at the Brookhaven National Laboratory. Again, DIY project? Mechanical controllers, but this time coupled with 3D graphics? It is the 50th anniversary year of the title. (People under 35, remember that the next time your parents start talking about “back in their day” before video games. Tell them it’s not your fault they never dropped by the Brookhaven National Laboratory.)

Heck, I wish even oscilloscopes looked that pretty now.

There’s something really inspiring and elemental about these works — amplified by mechanical elements used in their creation and control. It’s something I think is possible in code; maybe it’s just challenging in a different way. (And maybe when you have that feeling of magic, you know you’re in the right place.)

This certainly gives me a different source of inspiration as I work with generative techniques in Java/Processing and the like. If this inspires any of your work, send us photos / video links — we’d love to see it! And motion graphics history buffs, happy to know more about these — and other — pioneers.