Desk Top Animation

Animation is being used in a number of ways for diverse reasons: as a therapy, a teaching medium, a hobby, for entertainment, at seminars, in workshops, and in advertising studios. Then there are the Amiga computer owners who are being told by Commodore that such things are available to them. The influence of animation is encroaching on areas hitherto unconnected with the medium. All part of the new wave we call multi-media, writes Ken Clark.

Ken Clark looks over Stan Hayward’s shoulder as he operates the Amega.

The humble line tester used to consist of a movie film camera with a single frame facility perched on a lighted rostrum photographing pencil animations held flat under a glass platen. The only drawback being the time it took to process the film and make ready for viewing. Then came the video camera and overnight the process permitted instant replay. With the arrival of the digitiser the drawings can now be grabbed by a computer, and suddenly the door has opened to a totally unexpected user, but first…

In a recent article I questioned the possibility of traditional hand-drawn animation ever finding a place in this new electronic environment. For that to be possible it would be necessary to digitise the cleaned-up pencil animations; store a minimum of 750 drawings; hold on instant recall a virtually unlimited exposure sheet length which automatically recorded each exposure, with serial printer interface for exposure sheet printout; variable speed play back for movement and audio analysis; voice synthesis for shooting control; video output for video recording; a professional system offering a full colour facility and sound track origination, compilation and full sync. In short, a complete studio system replete with readily available resources such as superimposition, erase, insert, overwrite, etc, etc.

As you are probably aware, these systems are already on sale. One in particular has been making a name for itself in quite unexpected fashion. I refer to the Commodore Amiga 2000 computerised line tester which has an answer to all of the above listed requirements. John Prudence and Mike Daniels of Chromacolour Ltd gave me an impressive demonstration of the latest tricks of the trade when I visited their new premises. The Amiga shows the way forward and provides the traditionalist with answers to most of our long held objections and reservations. It will undoubtedly improve with the benefits derived from future development and more sophisticated software, but even in its present form it is doing sterling service.

From 1st January 1990 the Commodore Centre began a series of courses in the field of research, design and marketing in association with the London College of Printing. Commodore Business Machines provided a suite of Amiga computers together with associated software and peripherals. Networked to existing hardware installations within the college the centre is now capable of teaching the next generation the secrets of interactive video, film, audio visual, print, typography and animation.

ILEA ran a course on video animation using a very primitive set-up: an ordinary video camera without a single frame facility which they operated by jabbing the button momentarily for each exposure. Of course the number of frames actually shot varied with each picture. It took them an age to shoot a film, resulting in something like two minutes by the end of term. With the Amiga they can produce two minutes of filmed material every four minutes. Ken Ager and Sue Dobbinson have produced a useful little book for them entitled “Video Animation”.

Video Animation was published in September 1989, one month later the Special Education Resources Team (SERT) received the Commodore Amiga computer/video animation set up. Sue Dobinson contacted Stan via Chromacolour after having heard of his Childrens’ Animation Workshop project. Shortly after, he advised Chromacolour and Commodore to put machines in at SERT. As the ILEA no longer support this project at SERT, and Sue Dobinson has left, anyont interested in such Workshops should contact him directly at 25 Walm Lane, London NW2 5SH. This year Sue Dobbinson, SERT and Stan published a second report entitled “Computer Animation” which summarises work with children who have moderate learning difficulties; those with emotional behavioural difficulties; those who are partially sighted; and pupils who are physically disabled, from nursery school age to sixteen plus, up to GCSE Art and Design standard on the Amiga.

There is little doubt we are witnessing a new era. It has been a long time coming. Computer engineers have been struggling with a graphics facility for three decades. The pinnacle of their success may be witnessed in the work of John Lasseter.

In the strange way in which coincidence plays a part in ones life, events have conspired to propel Stan Hayward into his role as principle freelance researcher. He is not a teacher by profession or by academic attainment. He prefers to call himself a ‘school helper’.

In 1969 he won the New Scientist Award for suggesting a new use for the computer by suggesting they could be used for making animated films. This was shown on Tomorrows World and from this award and programme he managed to get Government funding to set up Video Animation:

which I did at the Imperial college because they had the sort of equipment I required. No computer animation had been done at the Imperial college prior to that time. To the best of my knowledge, this was the first computer animation studio for commercial work in Europe, commercially operating in 1971.” Stan is primarily a scriptwriter lured into the unlikely position of researcher by accident. I called at his flat in North London to learn more.

Printed in Animator Issue 27 (Summer 1990)