In founding Commodore International and helping create the legendary Commodore 64, Jack Tramiel set into motion events which would put more computers into the homes of average people than in any other period in history. But his legacy extended far beyond the machines themselves. Just days before news of his passing, a group of filmmakers at the Penny Arcade Expo in Boston presented their documentary on the sometimes-forgotten but undeniably important subculture which emerged from the foundations Tramiel had placed: the demoscene.
Above: "The Art of Algorithms" by Moleman
Powered by the rise of affordable and capable home computers like the Commodore 64, Atari ST and Commodore Amiga, the demoscene became history's first widespread computer art movement. The scene, which emerged from early communities of software pirates, involves the creation of elaborate, hardware-intensive audiovisual productions that bring hackers, musicians and graphics wizards together, blurring the lines between artist and programmer, amateur and professional.
Demos are highly competitive in nature, and in the scene's heyday, each release was typically an attempt to upstage some other group of code-crunchers, proving that the authors could make more impressive demos using the same hardware and less resources. Even today, these contests continue — this past weekend, Revision, currently the world's largest demo party, held its second annual meetup in Saarbrücken, Germany. Many original demoscene artists and musicians have also gone on to work for high-profile video game studios, or started their own.
Tramiel set the stage for much of this in his mission to make powerful computers "for the masses, not the classes," and machines like the C64 helped drive the creativity that led to rapid advancements in computer graphics throughout the 80's and 90's. In memory of Tramiel's seminal contributions to computing, take a gander at this small reel of historic demoscene highlights, below.