Alan Kitching and ANTICS computer animation

In spite of the incredible range of animation effects that can be produced by ANTICS it is described as a Stone Age Machine by it’s inventor Alan Kitching. Ken Clark talks to the man behind the machine and finds out why.

When I first met Alan Kitching, I have to admit, I was taken aback. With his shoulder length hair and face full of whiskers he looked for all the world like a member of a hillbilly band. But underneath that hairy fungus I discovered an utterly charming man, whose burning enthusiasm for his brain-child ANTICS threatened to set his outcrop on fire.

In this interview we talk to the man; in subsequent issues we will be taking a close look at his self styled “Stone Age Machine” and its incredible range of effects. Perhaps more than anyone else, Alan is aware that computer assisted animation has some way to go before competing equally with hand drawn animation. No matter!!! In the field of diagrammatic movement ANTICS takes the bore out of a chore and does it brilliantly, while figure work is well up to Hanna-Barbera standard.

The Japanese were the first to recognise a good thing when they saw it. Univac Ltd are selling it, Nippon Animation are using it, and one is installed by a computer training school where it is being used to teach computer graphics. Which begs the question:

KEN CLARK: How do the costs of hand drawn animation compare with work produced on ANTICS?

ALAN KITCHING: Very difficult to compare. If you are talking about simple character animation, of the sort Nippon are producing, then you could probably do it cheaper by hand. Even so, you would be able to achieve a better quality movement with ANTICS. But I hasten to add, that is because the hardware is so expensive at present, something in the order of £150,000. The video recorder alone costs £60,000 – you need 1 inch tape for single frame work. Which means, of course, in order to make it pay you have to do a great deal of commercial work. The cost will come down in the next few years. More and more people are becoming aware of the potential of our system, with an equal increase in development of the hardware.

K.C.: It is the old story, isn’t it? The people who make the equipment are not animators, they are engineers. And you do not find too many animators who are also practising engineers. It is not until the two disciplines meet to discuss requirements that the engineer is encouraged to produce refinements which satisfy the animator’s needs.

A.K.: Right! There are just two major hardware items. Now, it is likely that in a couple of years or so, you will be able to use an ordinary JVC domestic video recorder costing approximately £750 and a 32-bit micro computer at around £5000 which will be quite sufficient for our needs. In addition to the Japanese installations, others are located in Amsterdam and Brussels.

K.C.: Do we have any installation in England?

A.K.: Not at the moment.

K.C.: I imagine that was your intention at the outset.

A.K.: Let me explain – I stumbled upon computerised animation quite by accident. As you know, I was making films by hand, although I had considered the possibility that one day a computer might do a great deal of the work. Then I met Cohn Emmett who told me he was using a computer at the Royal College of Art to assist in the making of movies. Accepting his invitation to “come along and see how it works”, I resisted his suggestion to “have a go”, retorting I knew nothing about programming. Cohn laughed, “It’s not that difficult
– get a book out of the library and teach yourself Fortran. When you have done that, come to the College and we’ll pass you off as my assistant.”

I began in 1972. A year later we made the first presentation to the B.K.S. conference. It is interesting to look back on that old original material. The ideas were basically the same as today’s. We had it all there twelve years ago. It has taken us all this time to develop the hardware to the point where it can work and be an economically viable proposition. I continue to call it a Stone Age system because this is only the beginning. Development will – and must – continue!

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