Alan Kitching and ANTICS computer animation – Page 3

Samples of ANTICS graphics photographed from TV screen.

K.C.: To be fair, British animation has always attempted to find its own style. Very little of the earlier surviving material exhibit signs of Disney’s influence.

A.K.: Yes, that’s true. But I mentioned the United Nations just now – we made a slick promotional short for the U.N. University. Yes! – the U.N. actually has its own university, not many people know that, and our film had to acquaint more of the fact of its existence, its aims and its intent. Yukio and I wanted to make it work visually but they were not immediately sympathetic to our ideas. They wanted a glossy, sophisticated promotional and had signed Peter Ustinov to do the commentary. However, we went ahead and made our version of the film which almost works – but not quite! It is too quick, leaving little time in which to grasp all the visual imagery. It needed the commentary.

K.C.: Is Yukio an animator?

A.K.: No – he is the graphic designer. I provide the animation. It is a partnership – a union of skills. I kept in touch with all that is going on in the computer industry and in graphics in particular. There does not seem to be many others doing the things I am doing.

K.C.: Well, there is Stan Hay wood.

A.K.: Yes, as a matter of fact he came along and tried ANTICS early on, and he took a showreel to Monte Carlo to promote our system. He used to say to me, ‘You should see what they can do in the States,” you may think ANTICS is expensive, but their systems cost 10 times as much. Very little of their earlier work is good animation in the old fashioned sense, it was all done by engineers, not animators.

K.C.: Old fashioned animation?

A.K.: I’m thinking of the early Max Fleischer films. I’ve always thought Fleischer was better than Disney in many ways. He strayed into some excellent surrealistic work which I don’t believe Disney ever considered. It is a great pity Fleischer lacked Disney’s business sense.

K.C.: The heart of ANTICS is your software programme, isn’t it, and it is clever programming that removes much of the “donkey work”, making the system relatively simple to operate?

A.K.: Yes! Eventually, we hope ANTICS will become just another everyday tool for use by kids in school – just as children in Sweden have been doing.

K.C.: How old were they?

A.K.: The youngest was about 7 years, the eldest 10 years.

K.C.: The system is as simple as that to use?

A.K.: It is self-explanatory. It is complex insofar as you cannot expect to sit down and master it in a few moments. It takes quite a time to learn all that the machine can do; it is so full of possibilities. On the other hand, it is not difficult to do that. You can do it on your own, you do not need organised training sessions, or an instructional textbook. It explains itself on-screen as you go along. I am not saying it is simple to produce good animation from the start – it isn’t! But you can get results on your first day.

K.C.: For character animation you just feed in front, side and rear view model sheet data and relate them to the skeletal figure and thereafter animate using the skeletal figure only.

A.K.: But you must get the skeletal figure right, paying keen attention to the pivot points. Squash and stretch may be controlled in this manner, by shortening or lengthening the distance between two related points. Nothing could be simpler.

I was very lucky during my trip to America to demonstrate ANTICS. The week I visited Atari happened to be the very week they opened their new animation studio at their HQ near Silicone Valley.

For the first time they had employed the services of professional animators. I found them sitting around wondering what on earth they were supposed to do. It was marvellous timing turning up with ANTICS at that precise moment because they were able to see something they understood.

K.C.: Because of the limited storage capacities, I would have thought your graphics too sophisticated for the domestic games market. The average display is still comparatively crude.

A.K.: It is true we are coming in at the top of the ladder, but technology is improving at an incredible rate. It will not be too long before we meet on common ground.
We must first establish the “Stone-Age machine”, then proceed with hardware development work and the modification of the software programme to include new “goodies”. Basically we are selling a programme – we earn royalties – we are not hardware people but we are working with people who are and who interpret our ideas. And, of course, there is the all important side of the business – production!

You know, people are afraid of Japanese competition, but it should be remembered that although they were very interested in computer graphics, at the outset they lagged far behind us in this field. Japanese Univac were looking to America to provide the ideas until their customers started referring to ANTICS, expressing the view that it sounded interesting. So, I was invited to Japan to demonstrate it, after which they were prepared to talk business. This happened after I had been all round the potential areas in this country, the States and Europe. The Japanese were the first to put the money on the table.

I believe the process of animation is the closest we may get to free exploitation of the human imagination. It embraces all other arts; ballet, pottery, drama, they all find a place in animation. Furthermore, you can exploit those other disciplines to a far greater degree, so much so that ultimately, animation becomes your most powerful medium of expression. The more sophisticated we make ANTICS the closer we get to that ideal.

In short, you could say our ambition is to take ANTICS to the point where imagination can be translated into visual terms in the cheapest, easiest way possible. Indeed, so easy that it will be found in every school, educating and stimulating future generations.

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Printed in Animator Issue 13 (Summer 1985)