Eric Darnell working in the Computer Animation Lab with the Cubicomp PictureMaker circa 1988

The Computer Animation Lab (CAL) was founded in 1983 by the Dean of the School of Film/Video, the late Ed Emshwiller. The original lab was located in the CalArts Library and consisted of a single Cubicomp IBM PC based 3D graphics system. Vibeke Sorensen was hired later that year to teach a 3D CG animation class. Vibeke served as Computer Animation Lab Director until 1995 when she accepted a position as chair of the Division of Animation and Digital Arts at USC. Michael Scroggins served as Interim Lab Director until the summer of 1996 when he was formally appointed Director of the Computer Animation Labs.

CalArts received a grant from the Jones Foundation in 1984 enabling the purchase of a state of the art 3D computer animation system comprised of an SGI IRIS 3130 graphics computer and Wavefront Technologies 3D animation software. The arrival of the SGI/Wavefront package prompted the relocation of the CAL to a larger space with constant air conditioning and 7 day a week 24 hour a day access (F105). The CAL grew over the years with the purchase of additional Cubicomp systems and generous donations of hardware and software from SGI, ILM, Rhythm & Hues, and Wavefront Technologies. A substantial software grant was obtained from SOFTIMAGE in 1994 and SOFTIMAGE|3D continued to be our primary animation package until the Fall of 2000 when a grant from Alias|Wavefront allowed us to migrate to Maya Unlimited. A major grant from SGI was obtained in early 1997 and the SGI 4D series machines were replaced with fifteen SGI Indigo2 IMPACT series workstations, an ONYX RE2 /CHALLENGE Vault XL system configured as a file server, and an ONYX InfiniteReality intended to do double duty as a high-end compositing and VR system. The Fall '97 semester began with the installation of five Intergraph TD-225 Windows NT workstations acquired as a portion of a larger grant from Intel. The Intergraph systems were set up for image processing, sound processing, and multimedia authoring software, supplementing the seven Apple Macintosh computers that had primarily been used for these purposes.

The SGI Indigo2 Impacts were retired in the Summer of 2001 and replaced with fifteen Windows 2000 Pro workstations supplied by Bell Computer. Those were eventually succeeded by a new generation of Windows XP Pro workstations located in the original fifteen seat lab (located in room F105) and a new thirty seat teaching lab constructed in room A109. This addition allowed the lab in F105 to become primarily a production lab thus providing students uninterrupted access to work on their projects while classes in which they are not involved are in progress. In the summer of 2010 the Windows XP workstations were upgraded to Apple Mac Pro quad core workstations running OS X Snow Leopard.

In addition to workstation upgrades the Computer Animation Labs now have multiple terabytes of storage via a fiberchannel file server and distributed network rendering through a dedicated 60 CPU renderfarm.

Over the years the number and structure of courses taught in the labs has grown to match the needs of students and faculty working in the constantly changing field of 3D computer graphic animation.