Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 135 / NOVEMBER 1991 / PAGE 88

Start your own cartoon studio. (computer animation software)
by David English

It was hard work for the Disney Studios to string together millions of individual drawings to create an animated movie. Each frame of Pinocchio and Fantasia was carefully painted by hand and photographed in sequence with a motion picture camera. In the movie theater, the cels were pojected 24 times every second to generate fluid motion.

By contrast, much of today's animation is called limited animation--most of the time only the characters' mounts and hands move. it's just too expensive to use Disney's methods. Not even Disney does it the way Disney used to. Costs are kept down by using computers to create some of the backgrounds. A computer can quickly calculate the steps necessary to move an object from point A to point B.

Given the state of today's animation--limited animation on the low end and computer-assisted on the high end--and the graphics capabilities of today's powerful 386- and 486-based PCs, you can create fine computer animation. And there's no better place to start than with the recently released Autodesk Animator Pro (Autodesk, 2320 Marinship Way, Sausalito, California 94965; 415-332-2344; $795).

Like Autodesk Animator ($295), which was released in 1989, Autodesk Animator Prooffers cel animation (where you can create each frame as an individual picture--much like traditional Disney animation), tweening (where you can transform one shape into another by letting the computer draw each in-between shape onto a separate frame), and optical animation (where you can use television-style special effects to add swirling, twirling, spinning, flipping, and squashing motions to a shape or an entire frame). Both programs include text titling and a built-in 256-color paint program.

But while Animator restricts your work to a resolution of 320 x 200, Animator Pro lets you work in 640 x 480, 800 x 600, and even 1024 x 768. Because the animation backgrounds are stored in GIF format, I downloaded several interesting 640 x 480 photographs and was able to load them directly into Animator Pro.

Other improvements in Animator Pro include enhanced tweening, better font support, WACOM graphics tablet support, and a new animated cel option that lets you paint one animation over another as though you were painting with a brush.

Although it's a great program, there are limitations. As you advance to higher resolutions, you'll find that your animations slow down. While Autodesk recommends a 286 with 640K of RAM for Animator, it recommends a 386 or 486 with 4MB of RAM for Animator Pro.

There are some things you can do when using these programs to place less strain on your PC's processor. While you'll probably want to use the full screen for your backgrounds, try to keep the moving objects relatively small. With tweening, color cycling, and the optical animation techniques, you can create dramatic effects without having to move the entire frame. And if you plan to bring your animations over to video, consider purchasing or renting a video recorder with the ability to record single-frame video. Then you can make your animations as complex as you like because you won't have to depend on your PC to move the objects in realtime.

Both Animator and Animator Pro have an easy-to-use interface that actually makes it fun to try out your ideas. And the Animator Pro package includes a generous selection of animation files that illustrate many of its techniques. (You'll need a whopping 11MB of hard drive space to install everything that comes with the package.) By the end of the year, you can expect to see a Windows-based animation player, a Visual Basic DLL, and support for sound cards within Windows. Add it all together, and you have a great way for a future Walt Disney to get started in animation.