Alan Kitching and ANTICS computer animation – Page 2

        Issue #13 Summer 1985

K.C.: So speaks the man who scratched designs on black 16mm film at the tender age of twelve.

A.K.: Ah! Yes – but I spent a year in a professional animation studio run by Trevor Bond before going to university. That is how Trevor started. We had one desk and one rostrum camera. He sat one side of the desk and I sat the other learning the business the hard way. I was at Cambridge the same time as Dick Arnall, and we were primarily responsible for presenting the British Animation Festival, which Dick followed a year or so later with the first Cambridge Animation Festival.

Later on, I did some freelance work, and then joined the Grasshopper Group because I had been told they had a 35mm rostrum camera. In fact, it was the first rostrum camera to be owned by John Halas after his arrival in this country. It was an amazing beast – rather like a four poster bed complete with motorised cycle-chain movements. John had thrown it out and it had been passed from one to another before finding a home with the Grasshoppers. But they were more active on 8mm and 16mm and not using it much, whereas I was working professionally and could afford 35mm, so I was able to do all my work on it. I made commercials, educational material and a cartoon for the B.F.I.

A computer set-up for ANTICS with a drawing tablet.

Then came the chance meeting with Cohn Emmett in 1972. Our main problem was the utter lack of suitable equipment. We call our present apparatus “Stone Age” creation; in 1972 it was 100 times more primitive. There was no such thing as a “graphics pad” or a “pen” – we had to programme-in every point, which then came out in the form of punched tape. This had to be removed and placed in another piece of apparatus – Oh! it was all so time consuming, and as an alternative to conventional animation – quite impossible.

It took us about six months to put together the first version of ANTICS in the Atlas Laboratories in Oxford, and it was good enough to show us the basic possibilities. The old Atlas computer was an enormous machine designed in the Fifties and set up by the Government as a Bureau for the use of universities. There were no such thing as transistors then, this was a valve computer and occupied one whole floor of the building. It was less powerful than the one we now use which is no larger than a domestic refrigerator.
The Atlas was operated with punched cards; everything had to be typed in using a special typewriter which produced the cards. We did have a cursor, but were forever cursing it! All very tedious, and at that time, only mathematical geometric designs were being produced – no drawings. It seemed pretty far out to think of producing a hand drawn picture, let alone animations. But within months, results were good enough to convince me we should persevere.

K.C.: I am surprised you haven’t asked Len Lye or Norman McLaren to try their hand on
ANTICS.

A.K.: I would dearly like McLaren to have a go, to experiment. Incidentally all the examples you have seen tonight on the show reel were jobs we completed in the first few months of commercial operation. You also saw work I did with a friend of mine, Yukio Ota. He has devoted his life to the design of graphic symbols for “communication without words”.
K.C.: Rather like the Neurath’s Isotype symbols used by Paul Rotha?

A.K.: Exactly! We spent 4 days with 48 hours of machine time and made a 4-minute movie based on his ideas. Then we went to Japan and took his idea a stage further, this time taking 2 weeks to prepare the storyboard, 7 weeks to make the animation lasting 7 minutes, then another 2 to 3 weeks to complete the video editing. About a minute a week – but a more sophisticated production and that is the difference.

The United Nations is anxious to exploit new medias, new technologies to put across their messages and ideas on an international scale. The language problem and the constant need for translations is a big hassle for them.

K.C.: I see the significance of Yukio Ota’s work, devising universally recognised symbols.

A.K.: Quite! You can explain so much with animation. Tom and Jerry cartoons have no words yet they are instantly understood the world over. The medium has scarcely been exploited in this fashion. When one thinks of animation, one thinks of Disney, never of communication.

Any movement can now be animated by drawing key frame skeletons. ANTICS automatically inbetweens the action and produces finished full colour animation.

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