Animating with the Commodore Amiga

Christopher Barnatt looks at animation packages for the Commodore Amiga computer.

Although way behind IBM and Apple PCs in the general popularity stakes, the range of Amiga computers from Commodore have long proved popular for animation and desktop video (DTV).

One reason for this popularity is the fact that it is extremely easy to obtain video output from any Amiga. Another is the fact that a wide range of relatively inexpensive art, animation and 3D modelling programs are available for the Amiga computer range. This article recounts my experiences of three such programs – Deluxe Paint IV AGA, Deluxe Video III and Take 2 – both in creating computer animation, and as aids in the traditional animation process. Deluxe Paint IV AGA is the latest Amiga version of the classics personal computer animation program Deluxe Paint (see Animator issue 29). Following version IV, the AGA revision of the program was released due to advancements in Amiga hardware.

In Amigadom, AGA stands for the Advanced Graphics Architecture now featured in both the Amiga A 1200 and A4000 range of computers. These offer a wide variety of screen resolutions from a low-res 320 x 256 to a hi-res PAL overscan of 736 x 580 and beyond. Unlike on pre-AGA Amigas, the number of colours available on screen does not decrease with higher resolutions, with up to 262,000 colours (from a palette of 16.7 million) being available simultaneously in any display size. Most of the revisions to Deluxe Paint in its AGA version were therefore made to allow easier colour handling. For example, a mixing palette has been added where the user can apply colours on top of one another until the desired hue is created.

In line with other versions of Deluxe Paint, the Amiga AGA revision is fairly well endowed with animation features. Animations can be created in any screen mode, although it is usually not advisable to use a palette of more than 256 colours due to memory and speed restrictions. Even with an accelerated machine (I currently own an A1200 with a GyP A 1230 Mark II 40MHz accelerator with 4 megabytes of additional RAM), full-screen high-res 256 colour images will not run at 25 frames per second.

Fortunately, for cartoon style animation, far less colours are really needed (perhaps 8, 16 or 32), meaning that full speed can be achieved. Even an unexpanded A 1200 is fairly nippy when only handling this many colours on screen, and for most cartoon work l2fps is perfectly sufficient. (Let us not forget that most film animators work on doubles most of the time).

In common with the previous Deluxe Paint IV, Deluxe Paint IV AGA allows the animator to cut out and manipulate animbrushes. Whereas a brush is a cut out part of a single picture, an animbrush is a cut through’ of a number of animation frames. By cutting out animbrushes, it therefore becomes possible for sections of an animation to be copied, stored and manipulated. It is possible, for example, to use a video digitizer such as Vidi Amiga to grab a sequence of live video a frame at a time to be used as an animbrush. You may then manipulate the image -allowing it to break-up and fly-away with spectacular 3D gyrations whilst still moving. Even when only working in low resolution in 16 colours, the results of animbrush manipulation can be very impressive.

Deluxe Paint AGA will even metamorph one image into another, creating an animbrush with a specified number of in-betweens. More conventional animbrush uses include storing stock animation such as character walk-cycles or head turns as animbrushes for repeated use.

Also worthy of mention is Deluxe Paint IV AGA’s animation control panel (a feature also shared with the previous version). This appears at the bottom of the screen and offers VCR style controls to play and step through an animation in both forward and reverse. Frames can also be added and deleted, whilst a scroll bar allows you to quickly move around a large animated sequence. The animation panel also permits access to a lightbox feature, allowing other frames to be seen below’ the current image.

Unfortunately, the light box is not quite as amazing as it may first sound. For a start, it is extremely processor intensive. I have tried using the feature in Deluxe Paint IV on an Amiga A500, and then in the AGA revision on both a standard and accelerated A 1200. Only on the accelerated A 1200 have I found the light box to be fast enough to actually use, and even then you have to wait a second or two for the computer to catch up as you move between different frames. Additionally, there is very little choice as to which frame(s) can be seen below the current image. There is no provision, for example, to easily view frame (1) and frame (9) under frame (5) in order to produce a key between the two.

Perhaps I’m being picky, but until the lightbox feature does what an animator requires, rather than what its programmer imagines is useful, then it will remain little more than a gimmick. Fingers crossed that the forthcoming version 5 of Deluxe Paint for the Amiga will improve the flexibility of the lightbox.

Whilst Deluxe Paint is a vital weapon in almost any Amiga animator’s armoury (it does few things superbly but is at least adequate at everything!), it is best suited to the production of the components of an animation, rather than to complete sequences or productions. Deluxe Paint anims are simply created as a continuous sequence of frames. Thus, if an action is to be repeated many times (with a character waving his arm, for example), then the motion has to be stored over and over in precious computer memory.

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