Cartoons, Computers and Antics

In Part Two Alan Kitching gives a detailed account of his own creation: Antics.

In the last issue, I gave a general outline of the different types of computer graphics machines around today, and what relevance, if any, they might have for animators. The majority are “3-D” modelling systems, which aim to achieve a machine-made photographic realism, with varying degrees of success.

From the viewpoint of animators wishing to work freely in their own style of drawing or painting, these are of little relevance unless that particular look happens to be what you want. From this point of view, the most interesting machines can be described as “paintbox-plus” systems, some are colouring systems that allow ordinary pencil line-test drawings to be fed in and painted automatically, direct on the screen, others are essentially paintbox systems with extra facilities added for 2-D animation. Antics could be described as such a system but to my knowledge, however, none of the machines available to date comes anywhere close to matching the versatility of Antics, which might better be called an “animated paintbox”, since animation is specifically what it’s been designed for, right from the outset 15 years ago and in all that time the basic principles haven’t changed.

Antics works by a combination of three things: Drawings, Effects and Movements. Drawings are made with a pen on a drawing tablet, as on a paintbox system, except, as well as the full-colour paint screen, there is also a second screen which simultaneously shows the drawing in outline “line-test” form. Drawings can be divided into separate parts called Cels.

Effects define what kind of animation a drawing or cel is to do and Movements shape the way an effect moves. The main effects (“FX”) are: Camera FX, which do things generally similar to conventional rostrum camera functions, but with greatly added versatility, like Zoom, Spin, Pan, Tilt Fade, etcetera; Graphic FX, which perform various graphic distortions, like Twist, Flip, Wave, Squash, Wobble, Sphere, Freak, Mirror, etcetera; Inbetween, which makes one drawing or cel transform gradually into some other drawing or cel; and Skeleton, which gives a drawing a simple outline structure, such as a match-stick skeleton, or an overlay grid. The skeleton can then be animated, and the fully-detailed drawing automatically follows.

Any aspect of any effect can be animated with any kind of movement, such as Key-Frame, where you set specific positions at specific points, and the machine fills in the movement in between; Hand-Drawn, where you draw out the movement with a pen; plus simple mechanical movements like Swing (wave movement) or Random.

There is virtually no limit to the number of different drawings, cels, effects and movements that can all be simultaneously composed together, and this is done on the screen with an Animation Chart, similar in principle to a conventional dope sheet or bar chart. The machine gives a full real-time replay of any animation in line-test form, and final fully- painted recording (frame-by- frame) is completely automatic, on film or video, at any chosen resolution.

Eva Gloss with an Antics machine.

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