Prix Ars Electronica

Prix Ars Electronica 1987

The film mental images was awarded an “Award of Distinction in Computer Animation” at Prix Ars Electronica 1987. From the findings of the jury:

“The decision [...] is supported by the jury’s recognition of the excellent expression of the designer’s creative fantasy. The team involved in the realization has successfully shaped a seemingly real course of action into an exciting voyage. The single sequences of action and images are combined in the spectator’s mind into an unreal story with various possible associations and interpretations.”

Out of the 116 submissions the Prix Ars Electronica jury awarded the Golden Nica to John Lasseter (PIXAR, San Rafael, USA) for Luxo Jr. and another honorary mention to Mario Canali (Correnti Magnetiche, Milan, Italy) for Urbana.


The movie mental images has been created at Mental Images GmbH & Co KG, Berlin in 1986-1987 by the following team:

Rolf Herken Creative and Technical Director
John Andrew Berton Creative and Technical Director
Axel Dirksen Software Development
Hans-Christian Hege Software Development
Robert Hödicke Software Development
Ulrich Weinberg Technical Director and Sound Engineer
Roger Wilson Technical Director


The film begins in a subway car in a tunnel – mimicking the reality in a subway of Berlin’s public transport. The train runs into the station “mental images” and stops. With the door opening the image of the platform visible in the door window slides sideways and provides a view of an artificial, crystalline landscape. The incipient movement leads through the hilly terrain with well-preserved art-historical finds. With a fall over the edge of this area a flight over plain felsenmeer begins. The rocks are furnished with paintings on the sides facing away from the observer. More and more of these paintings becomes visible during the flight as the point of view of the imaginary painter is approached. By taking this point of view the paintings comprise an image of a coastline with offshore islands. A giant drop falls into the sea. More drops follow in ever decreasing time intervals, washing the islands away on the waves. Heavy rain is falling on the water surface. Stepping back, it becomes clear that there is a pool of water, whose tiles replicate the image of the sky and the clouds. Night falls, the tiles turn into paintings of the Berlin Wall, and the water surface into a wet road. A newspaper is blown along the graffiti-covered wall, an indicator light on the subway station and a stairway to the street come in view. The shadow of a person climbing the staircase falls on the stairs. Street, wall, houses, lamps and an advertising column become visible. The gloomy atmosphere near the Berlin wall during the 60s to 80s becomes noticeable. The person takes a few steps. Its shadow glides over the curb, a cigarette butt falls, a match flares up. The person approaches a doorway. The steel door slides sideways and opens the way to a dark hall where a shiny black table shows up, illuminated by a hanging lamp. A roll of a dice on this table ends the film.

Music: Arnold Schönberg, String Quartet no 2, op. 10 (interpretation: The Juilliard String Quartet) and soundtrack of Eddie Jobson, Memories of Vienna.

Making of the Movie

The movie was created using Wavefront 3D Animation Software (Model, Preview and Image) and in-house software. The in-house software was mainly required for creation of the scenes. For this sometimes we used fairly advanced geometrical algorithms. For instance, to create individual rocks and to generate the boulder littered landscape I used randomly disturbed Poissonian Delaunay triangulations of spheres and geometric packing algorithms, respectively.

On the hardware side we used Silicon Graphics IRIS 3030 workstations for interactive specification of the scenes and animations, and a Celerity 1260 as rendering engine. The renderings were taped with single frame recording and time-expensive pre-roll using a 1 inch (SMPTE-C) Sony video tape recorder (BVH-2500P). Later we bought a costly Abekas A-60 digital disk recorder, complying to the CCIR-601 standard (10-bit, 4:2:2 color encoding, interlaced video), that allowed to store fabulous 750 frames on parallel striped disks and record these thereafter in real-time, e.g., on a Betacam recorder. The movie was distributed on analog 3/4″ U-matic videocassettes.

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