Archive for the 'Filmmaking' Category


Making it Move pt. 6: Bits N Pieces

Continuing on the earlier posts about my early animations on the Atari 8-bit computers using MovieMaker.

Loose Ends

To round out the pitch video I pulled out the bulk of the other animations and animation tests that I’d done in the time since I’d first gotten by hands on IPS MovieMaker (at some point after I first got it, the software was republished by Electronic Arts, with a few audio compatibility issues added, just for fun). They were:


The Amiga computer launched during the period these animations were being produced and virtually everyone was aping their (then-impressive) BOING! demo, featuring a spinning ball bouncing back and forth across the screen. I was writing for ANALOG Computing magazine at the time, so I got the idea to do a twist on “Boing!” that would have the magazine’s “A” initial bouncing around the screen. All the boing type demos I’d seen up to that point were very flat and there was no attempt at dimensional shading, so I decided to make my bouncing “A” flash through a series of color to enhance the idea that it was an object reflecting light (much as I’d done on the 2nd Artek logo mentioned in a previous post). Because MovieMaker animations couldn’t really loop seamlessly, instead of starting the animation with the letter on-screen I had it enter, bounce around, then exit before the 300 frame limit.

The ANALOG Computing “A” gets bouncing.

Click to start animation (opens new window).

One thing I don’t recall is why I decided to have the letter bounce off all four sides of the screen instead of bouncing in an arc like the ball on the Amiga… but possibly it was just laziness of my part!


Since my sister and brother had Atari 8-bit computers, I made a few digital birthday cards to send to them using MovieMaker.

Birthday Blast is simply a match lighting a candle on a cake, which then explodes, leaving the message “Happy Birthday!” to drop in from the top of the screen. Nothing much notable about it except that animating the flickering flame was the most work…albeit I don’t think I did it very well.

Another birthday “card” repurposed.

Click to start animation (opens new window).

A more elaborate animation was based on my love for Warner Bros. cartoons, so I decided to let Marvin Martian finally use his “Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator” to blow up that pesky Earth as birthday fireworks…with predictable results.

“Low resolution makes me very angry!”

Click to start animation (opens new window).

I was pretty happy with the simple but effective vista I was able to create, especially the gun and the Earth. In contrast to the rolling waddle I’d done on the Opus animation, I recalled Marvin walked in in a very stiff fashion with everything but his legs stationary. I did do this, but I didn’t get the feet right. At the time I didn’t have home video (hard to believe in this day and age) and had no easy easy way to study how the cartoons animated his feet (fact: they’re just a blur of too many tennis shoes).

I dunno what this fascination with explosions was…probably just a cheap way to get a punchline across. Hey, it worked for the Muppets!


One other animation I’d done was a test to see how well I could make simple facial expressions read. For this I repurposed a Batman parody I’d created for a comic I’d drawn in high school: Catman (before I knew there was a DC comics villain with that name). All I did with this was animate the eyes, eyebrow stripes and mouth, and moved the head up and down a bit. I also used the ZOOM feature again, this time to go from a medium wide to a medium shot (with the accompanying halving of the resolution).

CATMAN: Nag nag nag…

Click to start animation (opens new window).

The thing I like most about this animation was my using the MovieMaker musical tones to create sound in sync with his lips, and to emphasize the eyebrow actions. It keeps the animation alive.


This was actually a series of animated segments making fun of computer development. These included a 2001: A Space Odyssey sendup in which the monolith is revealed to be a Univac mainframe than can’t add 2 and 2, and an Apple logo being sliced in two by an arrow and reveal to be “rotten” because it was “too expensive” (lame). I could be wrong in my recollection of the order of these events, but I believe that those were added as “prequels” to the animation below: a silly piece in which the logos of various home computer brands slugged it out in “The Big Shakeout”. It was inspired by an Atari computer demo called “Apple Kill” in which an Atari logo takes down its Apple counterpart (wishful thinking on an Atari user’s part to be sure).

“Apple Kill” goes WW III

Click to start animation (opens new window).

I like the animation in this because it’s so simple. The most fun things to animate were the Texas Instruments logo clip clopping around, the Atari logo playing Space Invaders cannon, and the Commodore logo first squeezing down so it’s “flag” shoots off as a projectile, and then animates like a Space Invader.

The full animation isn’t included in this clip, but it ended with Atari triumphant. Wishful thinking, indeed.


Making it Move pt. 5: Place Yer Bets

Continuing on the earlier posts about my early animations on the Atari 8-bit computers using MovieMaker.

Betting on Computer Animation

As I recall, the aforementioned couple who were interested in trying to find some business outlets for computer graphics had some contacts with someone at the Fitzgeralds casino in downtown Reno, and as we discussed that we talked about the idea of pitching a computer-animated video that could play on a loop on a casino hotel’s TV system that would not only plug the casino’s facilities, but would also have little tutorials on how to play some of the more complex games, like craps.

As part of this, I animated a few segments related to casinos. For example, animating the clover floating down and landing in place in the Fitzgeralds logo. I imagined this would be an interstitial that would appear between other segments.

You always win at a place with a 4-Leaf Clover emblem, right?

Click to start animation (opens new window).

I used the very limited musical scale in MovieMaker to create a short descending motif that I thought worked well.  I don’t recall exactly why I went for a blue background, but I suspect it was so that the clover could light up in bright green upon landing.

Next up was demonstrating a casino game, and I picked the hardest game to explain: CRAPS. There were two parts to this animation, only one of which appears in the video linked here.  First up was the title card, in which a floating glove picks up dice on a craps table and rolls them right into the camera and then the name of the game would appear.


Click to start the animation (opens new window).

The dice rolling and bouncing in perspective was fairly easy to do, and I settled on the floating glove because the MovieMaker program’s limitations didn’t leave much room for animating a largish human figure.

What does come back to me about the process of making these animations, when looking at this one, is that I recall drawing a lot of the elements outside of MovieMaker (which used a joystick as a drawing tool) using the AtariArtist software and an Atari Touch Tablet (click to see Alan Alda hawking it). AtariArtist had more sophisticated (by the day’s standards) paint tools (lines, rays, circles, ellipses, etc.), but the problem was it drew in the Atari’s mode 7-plus not the mode 7 that MovieMaker used, so the vertical resolution was twice that of MovieMaker. I don’t recall what tool I used to convert the files back and forth, but I remember doing it. So I’d draw the art in AtariArtist, downscale it, and then do cleanup tweaks inside MovieMaker.

Atari Artist out PhotoShop!

Anyway, the second part of the animation used text and animated spinning dice to explain how the rolls worked in craps, but the way I did it would have probably been more confusing rather than enlightening, and I’d have needed to rethink it in order to convince any casino that it was a good idea.

The final animation was a slot machine, but I don’t recall if I did this before or after the animations mentioned above. I don’t like it very much as the drawing of the machine is very flat and uninteresting, and I should have put some sort of payout chart on the front instead of the logo.

If only...

Click to start the animation (opens new window).

Speaking of that logo, HiSUG was the High Sierra Users Group, a Reno-based computer club. I wrote for its newsletter a few times.

Since this video was outmoded by the time it was finished none of this material had any obvious payoff. One might argue that I’d placed some bad bets, but everything I learned working within the strict confines of MovieMaker and the Atari 8-bit would serve me in good stead in work that would pay off, and, surprisingly, many of those skills would come back into play 15-20 years later when working on graphics for mobile phones.


Making it Move pt. 4: Crass Commercialism

Continuing on the earlier posts about my early animations on the Atari 8-bit computers using MovieMaker.


During the period I was making these animations I got together with a couple who were likewise interested in trying to find some business outlets for computer graphics. With them I solidified the idea of taking some of the animations I’d been playing with and assembling them and some new ones into a demonstration presentation. One of the ideas was to figure out how to make commercials for local TV to advertise local businesses.

I wish I could remember how this idea popped into my head, but I’m sure it was simply a matter of literalizing “the hills are alive” from the opening number of The Sound of Music. This lead to the idea of animating a parody of the opening of the film, and then using that as a hook for a video rental business.

Julie Andrews gets what's coming to her.

Click to start the animation here (opens new window)

Due to Moviemaker’s limits, this actually consisted if three separate animations. One was the title card (not shown here) that read “The Sound of Marshmallows”, followed by this segment of Julie Andrews being devoured by the lively hills, and finally the plug for the company. In this case it was a fictional video store called “Oasis Video” (which was the name of the video business belonging to the guy who did the taping of the animation for me). For this I animated a completely stereotypical Hollywood dancing girl, paying no mind to anything real or realistic.

Just where in the world is this?

Click to start the animation here (opens new window)

In retrospect while this is a moderately funny gag, it doesn’t really sell the idea of a commercial spot because I didn’t make the plug at the end feature basic stuff like an address or phone number. The logo I came up with is also, frankly, terrible, and the scratchy little weeds around the bottom left don’t help matters one bit.

Two additional notes:

  1. The colors in these animation clips and the frame grabs aren’t quite accurate to the way the original animations looked because I “recovered” these animations by running them through an Atari emulator which does a great job but never gets the colors quite the way they looked on a NTSC TV (for instance, the sky in “Marshmallow” was actually a bit more purplish than seen here).
  2. The voiceovers you hear in these clips are all replacements done by the amazing Erik Braa, since the original audio on the VHS copies I have is awful.



I’m back to work on the “Gigi” film I shot in June—ostensibly for 2010’s 48 Hour Film Project but didn’t submit due to a hard drive “FAIL”—and finding it rather a challenge. The highly stylized nature of the film, coupled with the fact that it’s a rather downbeat piece, has me really stretching in terms of editorial technique and choices. The fact that everything was shot on greenscreen gives me a weird latitude to do things like splice two different takes together, or change the distance between the characters, which is liberating, but strange.

Some things change as I edit, as always. For instance, in the shot posted here, the original idea was for the characters to step forward and reveal signs behind them but that didn’t work well when I actually edited it together.  I then decided to create shadows for them, with the idea that the shadows would move and reveal the signs. That sorta worked, but the framing didn’t work, as the signs were revealed at the left and right side of the frame, making your eyes have to travel to two sides of the screen.  The latest experiment is to put the characters farther apart and have the shadows grow and converge towards the screen center, actually revealing the signs in shadow as opposed to in light. Yes, it’s counter-intuitive, but graphically interesting (I hope).


My First Storyboard

Film’s been an interest of mine since I read a preview article on Star Wars back in 1977. I got involved with a schoolmate who also had an interest in film, and together we made a bunch of bad 8mm mini-epics like “Attack of the Killer Basketball” and the stop motion “Adventures of Mr. Blue”. But the costs of making films on film were high, given that film was expensive and lab costs added to it. So, I gravitated away from filmmaking and focused on writing: taking stories I wanted to make movies and writing them, first as scripts, then novels which I never published.

One other thing I was interested in was animation, and, while the details are fuzzy decades on, I recall being quite taken with Warner Bros. cartoons in High School, and going out to see animated films like American Pop, Heavy Metal, and the like.

In 1982 I made friends with a guy named Vince, who was a self-styled artist of sorts. He hold me he had this idea of doing an animation to the Rush song Cygnus X-1, and showed me a few drawings he’d done of a spaceship and these trippy 60s-poster-esque “laser rocker” characters. I was quite taken by the idea (and was too naive to realize the licensing rights issues), and got involved with it. Essentially, I took over the idea and drew out a fairly extensive storyboard for this proposed animated music epic. It remains the largest storyboard I’ve ever drawn, and consisted of probably hundreds of panels, only a percentage of which I still have (foolish me).

© 1983 Maurice Molyneaux

At some point I actually started to calculate how much it would cost to make this epic, and, film negative costs aside, it was staggering to see how much acetate animation cels alone would cost (we’re talking something like 7,400 frames if we shot “on twos”, and many shots would require multiple cel layers, so I we’re talking probably 20,000 acetate sheets).

© 1983 Maurice Molyneaux

Then there was the issue of actually animating the thing. Neither my friend or I had ever done animation. The idea of drawing and then painting 20,000 cels plus backgrounds was staggering. In my enthusiasm, my reach escaped my grasp. This wouldn’t be the first time this happened to me in the 80s.

So, the storyboard got shelved and I went on to other things. But the animation bug had bitten me, even if I hadn’t actually animated anything yet. It wouldn’t be long until technology would come to rescue and allow me to try my hand at making things move without the costs of cels and film.