Why did grids = high tech in the 80s?

Okay, so grid backgrounds were a recurring motif in 80s film and television. Anytime you wanted to represent something “high tech”, you stuck it on a grid. The Airwolf intro, for example..

It’s all through the Transformers cartoons and the like, too.

Why? Is it as simple as schematics and graph paper? Or is there something more to it than that?

Ask this kid.

Yes, with the only addition that in the '70s, computer aided drafting was starting to reach public consciousness as synonymous with high tech - even if people generally didn’t know the terminology. Computer imagery was green and griddy, that’s all.

Don’t forget Max Headroom.

Also, every space-themed LEGO set in the '80s.

The holodeck on the Enterprise. The holosuites on DS9 looked like car audio demo rooms at Best Buy or something.

Haha, I remember that background. I probably picked it in elementary school.

The public you dealt with was more advanced than the public I dealt with… (small wonder, mind you; Spain spent the 70s discovering that he hadn’t left things as tied-down as he’d thought, specially women’s tops).

I just checked and AutoCAD’s first version is from 1982. By that time I’d been taking Draftsmanship classes for three years, and we had to use the most ink-spreading paper known to man; the translucid non-ink-spreading paper wasn’t acceptable until 10th grade (schoolyear 1983-4 for my cohort). Rotring pens were acceptable in 12th grade - and boy did we jump on them, the 12th graders from the Applied Sciences track buying their Rotrings were the closest thing to invading barbarian hordes my little town had seen since the 5th century, and the show was on every September.

Anybody you saw with graph paper was on the Sciences track, about half of us were the future Engineers and Architects. I got to use it in 10th grade Math (to draw trigonometric functions), again in 12th grade Draftsmanship (the same functions, but this time inked) and again in college (1st year Numeric Calculus, 1st year Christalography).

Draftsmanship used to be Architecture’s Killer Subject. There were universities whose 1st Year Draftsmanship exam lasted 3 days, with students being allowed to leave and come back (there was no direct access to the toilets from the examinations room) and to bring food, drink and sleeping bags. There were 5th Year students who had passed every subject except that bedamned 1st Year Draftsmanship, and they couldn’t start their Project (think a “Design-based Thesis”) until they’d passed every single subject. In some universities, one of the exercises from that exam was done on graph paper.

Now when did I see someone from Humanities, Social Sciences or Biological Sciences with graph paper… thinks thinks some more gets a headache Oh, wait: never after 10th grade Math.

So yeah, graph paper = tech.

Yeah, I have noticed the phenomenon myself. My favorite example of this is the opening credits to Disney’s The Black Hole, 1979. Great music as well.


Grids meant high-tech because they suggested wire-frame 3d computer graphics.

I guess nobody back then realized computers would very quickly become powerful enough to put UV skins on those 3d models.

Grids represent dimensional planes, and vector graphics represented current, and therefore future, tech, in a stylised shorthand.

Grids are still used that way, but are more sophisticated and dynamic.

Don’t forget Tron,
… and Luke’s computer screen in his X-wing when he destroys the Death Star.

Escape From New York had a grid shot which was made by hand - glow in the dark strips were taped onto the edges of model buildings made out of black cardboard.

I didn’t mean to suggest that saw this type of imagery and said “Oh, that’s computer aided drafting,” but CAD has been around since the '60s, and by the '70s there was even 3D CAD - still in the realm of high, high tech. By the time the eighties started, most people had seen gee-whiz news items about CATIA, and how the Mirage fighter was designed entirely in a computer. The look of this sort of software penetrated the public imagination as “high tech computer design stuff” long before CAD was available for mere mortals with PCs.

My favorite example of this is the cartoon M.A.S.K.'s intro.

It’s computery!

Yes, in the 80s, I took a course in computer graphics at my university. We used Silicon Graphics Iris workstations which were fairly cutting edge at the time. The graphics that it could render in real time were wireframe (grids). You could also add surfaces, textures, light, and shadows but that was slower because it was computationally expensive. An Xbox can do decent 3D graphics in real time because computers are so much faster now.

God what a kick-ass song that was!

Also - what was that stand-up arcade game in the 80s that had the tank sights that you stood up into and could look around? It had a 3D(ish) wire-frame environment.


One expects no less than great from John Barry.

I had totally forgotten that show. There goes my weekend.