“Heart of the Machine”: Jan Nickman’s “The Mind’s Eye” (1990) was an audio-visual head trip

By on March 19, 2018

This syndicated two-hour episode from 1991 — exactly as it aired in the greater Los Angeles area on Channel 9, the CBS-owned station KCAL-TV, with the original commercials intact — gives you a really pretty good idea of what it was like to watch original “Night Flight” episodes back in 1991.

Watch it now on Night Flight Plus!

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Among the many highlights featured in this particular episode was the “Heart of the Machine” segment from Emmy-winning director Jan Nickman’s The Mind’s Eye: A Computer Animation Odyssey a pioneering compilation of early computer-created and still somewhat experimental animation that many credit for giving rise to the popularity of blockbuster Hollywood animated features like Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Antz and Shrek.

Animation Magazine‘s Karl Rathcke once called Nickman’s film “… the type of audio-visual ‘head trip’ for the ’90s that Stanley Kubrick‘s 2001: A Space Odyssey was for the ’60s.” (Video Reviews, September/October 1991).

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The 40-minute short film The Mind’s Eye was assembled from the work of some three hundred creative artists working at different studios, collectively showing us how advanced computers were getting at the time by using the very latest cutting-edge abstract computer art/animation techniques, including state-of-the-art 3D movement, complex action and a great use of bold, vibrant colors.

Imagine a kind of surreal CGI take on Godfrey Reggio‘s Koyaanisqatsi, where each segment of the film is designed to show man’s progress and the development of technology, presenting a spectacular odyssey through time beginning at the dawn of creation and moving through the rise of man and technology, all the way up to the present day, which in this case was 1990.

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In order of their sequence, the first two segments chronicled the formation of Earth (“Creation”), and the rise of human civilizations (“Civilization Rising”), while the rest of segments — in order, they were “Heart of the Machine,” “Technodance,” “Post Modern,” “Love Found,” “Leaving the Bonds of Earth,” and “The Temple” — focused on the technological advances of humanity from the advent of agriculture to the future exploration of the cosmos.

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Read more about The Mind’s Eye below.

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The Mind’s Eye — produced by Steven Churchill and Nickman for Miramar Images, a video album company — was initially released in September 1990 on VHS (by BMG) and Laserdisc (Image Entertainment).

The entire project is set to a synthesized musical score by James Reynolds — the soundtrack, on cassette and CD, was made available through Miramar Recordings — which contributed heavily to The Mind’s Eye‘s resounding success.

Sales of The Mind’s Eye reached double-platinum status, and the title landed on Billboard‘s video hits chart at #12.

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Several excerpts from The Mind’s Eye can be seen in the 1992 film The Lawnmower Man, which itself was featured in 1992 film Beyond the Mind’s Eye, one of the sequel films which followed (this one featured a soundtrack by Jan Hammer).

Other sequels in the series include The Gate to the Mind’s Eye (1994, featuring a soundtrack by Thomas Dolby), and Odyssey into the Mind’s Eye (1996, featuring a soundtrack by Kerry Livgren of the rock band Kansas).

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Jan Nickman’s career in film and television began as a studio camera person and editor with the ABC network in Sydney, Australia.

Upon returning to the U.S. and graduating with a degree in communications from Washington State University, Nickman began producing and creating stage and lighting designs for leading edge, live multi-media concerts combining rock bands with symphony orchestras along with his filmed images projected onto large screens above the performers.

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Nickman then became a news photographer for the Seattle-based NBC affiliate KING-TV, and he went on to become a senior producer and director in production.

With audio producer Paul Speer, Nickman created an Emmy-winning music video series called “REV,” an innovative rock ‘n’ roll series which featured music reviews, comedy sketches and live music performances (Queensryche made their TV debut on the show).

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Nickman and Speer co-founded Miramar Productions with the release of Natural States (1985), which featured a music score by New Age music giant David Lanz.

Its success created more opportunities for similar films, including Desert Vision, and Canyon Dreams (which earned Tangerine Dream a Grammy nomination for their music score) and Third Stone from the Sun.

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By the mid 1990’s the creative partners behind Miramar sold the company to Unapix Entertainment.

Watch “Heart of the Machine” from Jan Nickman’s The Mind’s Eye and see lots of other cool-ass visually mind-melting surprises in this vintage “as-aired” two-hour episode from 1991, now streaming on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.