29
Jun
11

Making It Move

Some months ago I was posting about my earliest computer graphics work, starting on the Apple ][+ and moving onto the Atari 8-bit systems.

Memory is probably failing me on this account, but what I recall is that I had developed a growing interest in animation in the years leading up to and through 1984 and one of the reasons I bought my first computer was in order to do animation in a way that wasn’t going to be as monstrously expensive as traditional film methods. I bought an Atari 800XL and immediately set about getting tools. I don’t recall the order in which I purchased them, but amongst my earliest purchases were an Atari Touch Tablet, and Atari Light Pen, and, most importantly, a program called MovieMaker (no relation the Windows program of the same name).

As I’ve discussed in recent posts, the Atari computer’s graphics were fairly limited (albeit in some ways superior to other low-end computers of the era). Most paint software worked in a mode called 7-Plus (or Graphics 7½), which displayed 160×192 pixels in four colors chosen from a palette of 128, which was arguably the best multicolor graphics mode the machine could do. However, MovieMaker utilized Mode 7 graphics, which took half as much screen memory, but at a cost of half the vertical resolution, so animations and the artwork used to build them were at a resolution of 160×96 pixels.

There were other limitations.

  1. One screen for the background
  2. One screen that had to contain all the graphic elements you would animate, so you could only animate as much stuff as could be crammed onto one 160×96 screen
  3. Four colors at once, but you could change the palette frame by frame if you so desired.
  4. A maximum of 300 frames per animation file
  5. Three different sets of nine sounds each, but you could only use one sound set in a given animation

Here’s a set of animations created with these tools, most by me and two by Jennifer Voigt (the island dancers and Easter Eggs). (The native computer-generated sound were retained when these animations were assembled to video, but in a few clips recorded music and voices were substituted, as you’ll hear.)

A lot of these animations were created after I purchased the more powerful 16-bit Atari ST computer, but no real animation software was available to me for that system for the first 15 months I had it, hence I was forced to stick with MovieMaker and its limitations for quite a while.

A number of MovieMaker animations (and others) were assembled on video as a demonstration for potential business uses, but by the time I finished putting that video together I knew it was already obsolete. Still, working within MovieMaker’s rather stringent restrictions again taught me how to do a lot with very very little, something that continues to serve me well to this day.

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6 Responses to “Making It Move”


  1. 1 0xF
    December 13, 2011 at 1:52 am

    Hello,

    I develop a viewer of Atari 8-bit pictures: http://fail.sourceforge.net/

    I’d like to add support for the Movie Maker files. While googling for some test files I came to your blog and I’m truly amazed by your animations!

    Could you please send me your Movie Maker files? I’d also appreciate any technical information about these files. I have the Movie Maker ATR, but really don’t know how to use this program.


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