Sheila Graber on her conversion to computer animation

From Darkness to Light or from Super 8 to Super-Nova.

Sheila Graber.

In 1970 I bought my first ever Movie Film Camera, a Super 8 Chinon, and was hooked by the magic of the single-frame-release. Having become fully kitted out with Super 8 Gear, everything from 2X Diopter Close Up lens to Home Sound Striping Machine, I discovered the wider world of 16mm.

In 1975 I bought my first 16mm Movie Film Camera, a Clock-Work Bolex H16, and what had been a hobby grew into Full Time Free-Lance Broadcast Animation Work. Having become fully kitted out with 16mm Film Gear, everything from a Full Size Rostrum Camera to Double Band Projector and 4-track Pic-Sync, I discovered Video.

In 1985 I bought my first VHS Video Camera, a Panasonic Ml, and was fascinated by the instantaneousness of it all, both for live-action and animation (in short jerky bursts, certainly not Broadcast quality, but great for Kids of all ages in the many work-shops I run). Having become fully kitted out with Super VHS Gear, everything from a Broadcast Camera and 3-Machine edit Suite to DAT tape for sound tracks, I discovered computers.

In 1987 I bought my first Computer – an Amstrad Colour Monitor with integrated Key-Board and cassette, wow, a lot of fun, but there seemed no way I could ever produce Broadcast Quality Work on an (almost) affordable system. Then I discovered the Mac.

In 1991 I bought my first Mac: an llcx with 80Mb Hard Disc and 8Mb Ram; it was purchased out of sheer necessity and panic.

Throughout the year I had been working on a 30-minute fully animated 16mm film for National Distribution; the aim was to combine my Film Animation with some sections overlaid in computer graphics. A colleague working on a Super Nova machine (a sort of scaled down Paint Box) provided some fine graphics but Keying over film proved very tricky, indeed impossible, and the dreaded deadline was fast approaching.

Kiddies record album commercial animated with Macromind.

So the Mac came to the rescue. Using Swivel 3D, a programme that does exactly as the name implies, I drew in basic boxy shapes and flew them about (this is what the script called for), printed out the wire frame images generated by the computer via a Black & White Laser Printer, pegged the A4 sheets in register on my light box, traced them onto acetate, painted them, bunged them under the camera on top of artwork created in the “normal” way, and there it was.

“Computer Graphics overlaid on Film Animation”, the job was complete and everybody was happy, thank goodness, or rather, thank Mac.

I am sure that many animators in my age range will have shared in that short saga from Super 8 to Super Nova.

However, we all share the need to get our ideas down in animated form as quickly, clearly, cost-effectively and hopefully, as creatively as possible.

My ever-expanding Mac System has helped me do just that and I hope the following account of my experiences will help other animators to find their way through the Pixel Puzzle.

The “Print, Peg and Paint” routine worked, but slowly. The next logical step was to invest in a Colour Printer (the Hewlett Packard Paintwriter XL) and dump coloured graphics from this under the Film Camera. Most of the images illustrating this article are printed out by this machine.

Swivel 3D is fine for simple geometric shapes, but how to catch ye olde hand-drawn style?

1. Give up using a Mouse, it is like drawing with your left foot. Invest in a Graphics Tablet of some sort, I chose the Wacom as it’s got a cordless pen, just like a good old 2B pencil really (but a little more expensive).

2. Choose an animation programme that suits your machine. I find Macromind (now in its 3rd generation) fine for moving shapes about screen, in-betweening, and building up full scale, full colour animated sequences.

3. Play around as much as possible to get the hang of it all, then get your teeth (or your tablet) into a real job, it helps clear the mind wonderfully. My first job involving Macromind, Tablet, etc. was for a local Museum. They wanted a 15-minute video tailored to their local history gallery; taking visitors on a guided tour of the exhibits. As it was for family audiences I created a Family on the Mac. It was a bit fiddly but once the characters were in it was very easy to dress them up in varying period costumes as they travelled through time in the Sunderland Story.

This job also called for overlaying the animated sequences over Live Video. By adding a Nu-Vista+ card to the machine and several thousand cables to hitch it to my SVHS system I found you could do just that and grab in images from video to play about with in the computer. The 20-minute programme now plays on a three hour continuous VHS loop. It has run none stop for the past six months, six hours a day, so VHS tape doesn’t wear out as quickly as you might imagine.

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