27
Jun
11

Rigel Seven Up

My first computer was purchased in December 1984. It was an Atari 800XL with 64K of RAM.

My second computer was bought some months later (maybe May 1985). It was an Atari 130XE, which was basically the same machine as the 800XL but with better video output and 128K of RAM. The extra RAM was useless for programs, but could be configured as a “RAM Disk” which made some tasks easier.

Some the of the earliest software I purchased for these computers were art and animation tools. These were easy to get because by that time the Atari 8-bit computer line was going on five years old.

The third computer was purchased in August 1985. It was an Atari 520ST, a low-cost 16-bit marvel with a staggering 512K of RAM built-in. I was an early adopter. Hell, I got one the first week they were available! I recall it cost me $937.50 for the computer, one single sided 3.5″ floppy drive, and and SC1224 color monitor.

The trouble with buying a brand new computer model, especially one with a new operating system, is that upon release there’s typically scant software to accompany it. Such was the case with my brand new ST. I had a computer many times more powerful than my other ones, but I had so little software that it was barely useful for anything much for the first few months I owned it.

Fortunately, one of the few programs that shipped with the ST was an early version of a paint program called NeoChrome, so at least I could work on improving my computer graphics skills as I waited for something approaching an animation tool to arrive.

I posted one of my earliest ST graphics yesterday and the day before, but the most elaborate image I drew in those early days of the ST was the following recreation of a scene from the first Star Trek pilot: an abandoned fortress on the planet Rigel VII.

What circle drawing tool?

What I remember about drawing this image was how hard it was to do.

  1. It was an attempt to recreate digitally a very colorful matte painting using only 16 colors.
  2. My source was a tiny screenshot on the back of a book, less than 2″ wide.
  3. The NeoChrome program was v.0.5, which means not even a full-featured paint program, and amongst those missing features were any tools for drawing arcs, ellipses or circles!

So, how to draw a giant moon looming on the horizon sans a circle drawing tool? I knew eyeballing it would be an exercise in futility, so what I did was use a protractor to draw a circle of the right size on paper. I then cut out the circle so I had a stencil, stuck it onto the monitor, and—one pixel at a time—drew in one-quarter of the outline of the circle. I then used the cut and paste tool to duplicate and flip this to complete the circle. Insane, but it worked!

Below is a screen-grab of the original matte shot. The book I was working from had the colors way oversaturated, so I got that wrong. Still I think I didn’t do badly for 16 colors out of a palette of 512 possible. Heck, the image was good enough that when I used it to illustrate an article on graphics I wrote for ANALOG Computing Magazine they used it on the cover of their ST-Log Magazine insert for issue number—you guessed it—seven.

The original matte shot I was aping.

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