A survey by Ken Clark – Part One
In computer parlance an “anim” is an animation and has come to mean a form of movement more akin to diagrammatic or model animation. But that was yesterday – times they are a-changing.
It might seem paradoxical, but at a time when the makers of the Amiga computer, Commodore are facing a business crisis, their product has found favour among distinguished professional film-makers. The Amiga system is capable of producing sci-fi spaceships and alien worlds af a fraction of the cost of its big brother competitors. Long acknowledged as a leader in the field of graphics and as a home games machine, these very factors have made the Amiga the ideal workstation to produce and manipulate animations.
Even the humblest Amiga is capable of acting as an efficient line-tester. The limitations at this initial stage determined by computing power, memory and memory acceleration, and software efficiency. Many small studios have upgraded their old Al 500, A2000 and/or A3000 with these peripherals, and their work appears regularly on our TV screens.
News of a new peripheral has reached our shores from the USA. Available in NTSC format only, at present, it is called a Toaster. On its own it is pretty revolutionary with its advancement in storage capacity -a new facility called a CD ROM disk – it marks the dawn of a new age. Consider for a moment: one CD disk can contain the equivalent of 640 Amiga floppy disks.
The Toaster 4000 costs $2500 for an installed version, and has taken the US. by storm by its ability to render excellent animations, manipulate and digitally alter live-action or hand-animated images in sixteen-and-a-half million colours. Make no mistake, this is a multi-purpose kit with ability to combine seven inputs.
Much of its success is due to its rendering software, Lightwave-3D. This program allows the operator to surface-map objects with every equivalent traditional sculptors tool at his disposal. Small wonder then, that Foundation Imaging chose to create all of the sci- fi effects for their TV series, Babylon 5 using a bank of twenty Toasters and Amiga computers. This 22-episode series has yet to be seen this side of the Atlantic, but Spielberg’s Sea quest DSV containing a great number of Toaster generated effects can be seen on our TV screens every Sunday on ITV.
Mother innovation called the Screamer has been made available by the manufacturers Newtek in Kansas. Controlled by the Video Toaster 4000, the Screamer is a .$ 10,000 network capable of rendering images forty times faster than the Amiga 4000/40. At present, PAL versions of the Toaster and the Screamer are not available in the U.K. but Lightwave-3D software is now on sale.
A converter card to enable the NTSC version to be used on the PAL system has been marketed by an American company Prime Image, this full length card has been made to fit into the Amiga 4000. It is available in this country from Vortex (081 579 2743) who tell us that although the images produced are not up to British broadcasting standard they are on a par with Betacam:, and SVHS images, quite good enough for home TV screens and for use by semi-professionals. It may not be long before a proper PAL version makes its appearance.
PD Disk Animators
No-one would argue that the Amiga is all things to all men, but there is no denying that in the field of animation it offers great possibilities. In the amateur world there are those who have already achieved professional status as a direct result of work completed on this computer.
British Chris Hall and American Eric Schwartz both found fame by making their early animations available free on floppy disks distributed in the Public Domain or PD as it is called. PD disks are a phenomenon made possible by enthusiasts who have set up libraries of these programs on the understanding that they are run on a non-profit making basis and freely distributed. The only permissible charge covers the cost of a disk, occasional printed instructions, and packing and posting, thus a single disk can cost between 75p and £3.50. There are thousands of animations, utilities, games and demos to choose from, among them top quality material. If your work finds favour in the Public Domain it may well attract the attention of head hunters, opening the door to a future career.
Chris Hall is a perfect example of this form of job creation. He was a graffiti artist for a period of three years, but unlike many of his kind he did not decorate British Rail carriages, instead he teamed up with friend Mark Strong and calling themselves Mac 2 they made backdrops for Tyne Tees TV quiz shows and late night programmes.
In his spare time, he bought an Amiga 500, without a proper monitor, simply the use of his home TV screen, and the art/paint program DeluxePaint 2. In the beginning, because of the half-Mb limited memory he designed individual pictures which he fondly believed could be used as games start-up screens. Many were reproduced in Amiga magazines. Upgrading to 1Mb he made his first cartoon-on-disk entitled Mr. Potato Head.
Running for twelve seconds and consisting of five scenes and a title page, the storyline was necessarily brief. It involved one set: a theatre stage with open curtains. On to the stage slides Mr. Potato Head coming to rest stage left, he shuffles back to centre stage and a black walking cane somersaults on-stage from the wings. Mr. P.H. catches it and does a little tap dance, throws the cane offstage, performs a high speed pirouette, falls on his back, puts his hat on, gets up and bows twice to the audience, The End.
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