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YouTube has rediscovered early 3D animation—and it’s horrifying

Cannot unsee.


Luke Winkie

Internet Culture

Posted on Sep 2, 2015   Updated on May 28, 2021, 1:23 am CDT

It’s strange to think that in 2015, Super Nintendo games look better than ever, thanks to a strange compression of what you and I would consider vintage. Everything in pop culture is on a different time table. Old things get ugly, then they get ironic, then they get cool. The 2001 Toyota Corolla is an indisputably hideous car. But the 1973 Toyota Corolla? Not bad! 

It’s such a unique cycle of disgust and appreciation. The ’90s were indisputably one of the most garish decades in recent history, and everyone was terribly excited to put those aesthetics behind us. But here we are, not 20 years later, and it’s our primary destination for nostalgia. Ironic nostalgia, sure! But give it a few more years and the ’90s will regress from chortled celebration to genuine classic status. That’s where the Super Nintendo is right now. Those 16-bit pixels are untouchable. It’s practically Citizen Kane at this point.

On the ass-end of that aesthetic cycle are Nintendo 64, the Sony Playstation, and other platforms that offered us primitive, blocky 3D animation. As the liquid-sheen programming of the early ’90s begins to enjoy its timeless status, the block-fingered, primary-colored blobs of the late ’90s have only gotten more disconcerting.

For those who don’t have a geek friend to condescendingly explain such things, there’s this concept called the Uncanny Valley. The idea is that the closer something gets to representing authentic humanity, the creepier (or more uncanny) it becomes. You’d never find anything unsettling about a sprite from Super Mario World. But what about Super Mario 64? What if that game bugged out and started projecting horrible, eviscerated versions of the happy-go-lucky polygons it means to present?

Well, in that case, you might find a burgeoning scene of YouTubers exploiting our nascent millennial fears of an archaic future. The clip above is what happens when you tilt a Super Mario 64 cartridge a bit when you’re putting it into the N64. That’s what produces chilling glitches like the pupil-less Mario eyes and broken legs. Again, it’s just a video game, but there’s something about this era of graphics that seems almost… sinister.

Let’s focus now on something a little more deliberate:

Here we have a fabulous abomination: Some tortured soul has programmed his cackling fever-dream demons into a Jimmy Neutron cartoon. It is very low-quality, intentionally low quality. I’m not sure why I have a hard time watching Jimmy Neutron characters flail around a Windows 98 texture set, but it’s seriously kind of damaging, right?

Oh, and the text-to-speech voices. God, those voices. They push this burgeoning genre of horror cinema over the edge.

Amazingly, it only gets weirder from here. In my YouTube spelunking I discovered a channel entirely dedicated to the 3D rendering of leg/disability fetishes—which, despite how strange that sounds, is not even designed to be upsetting!

Here, meanwhile, are all of your favorite Disney characters slowly melting as the integers defining their graphical consistency fold in on themselves.

Here is something that’s is actually beyond my powers of description!

And another unspeakable something!

This stuff is disturbing enough that I wonder if it will ever have its ’73 Corolla moment. The wax faces and fudged animations of early 3D might well go down in Internet history as universally and eternally repulsive. So far, these textures have only begotten nightmares. This is its legacy. A whole period of digital art might be forever known for its ability to slightly nauseate. I don’t think Super Mario 64 will ever muster the aesthetic radiance of a particularly dated cereal box. It just doesn’t work that way.

Or maybe we’ll eventually we’ll reach the singularity and permanently merge with machines, and then the imagery of blocky 3D models being twisted apart won’t faze us anymore. Through our cybernetic eyes, Jimmy Neutron Happy Family Happy Hour will be the equivalent of Steamboat Willy. Only time will tell.

Photo via Joe/YouTube 

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*First Published: Sep 2, 2015, 10:30 am CDT