Classic Computer Magazine Archive Article from Compute! magazine

The World Inside the Computer

Fred D'Ignazio, Associate Editor

Do-It-Yourself Movies On An Apple

Recently my ten-year-old daughter Catie asked if I'd like to help her with her school science project. Oh, boy! I thought. Here's a chance to show her how she could take advantage of a computer!

I was almost afraid to suggest that we use a computer, however. She's not quite as fanatical about the machines as I am, and she gets tired hearing how every family activity can somehow be tied to computers. So I didn't mention the word "computer" at all. Instead, I said, "Hey, Catie, how'd you like to make a movie for your science project?" This idea delighted her, so off we went.

The first step was to choose a subject. Catie chose black holes. "Okay," I said. "You have to do two things: Draw a bunch of squares like you see in the funnies in the newspaper, and draw pictures inside the squares of the black hole—how it's born, how it grows, and so on. Next, sit down and write a script for the movie. Match what you say in the script with the pictures in the squares."

Frame By Frame

Catie raced off and drew the pictures and wrote her script. When she came back, I was sitting in front of our Apple IIc. "Daddy," she said, "why are you sitting at the computer? We're supposed to be working on my movie."

"Aha!" I said. "The computer is going to help us make that movie." I introduced her to a program called Fantavision. Fantavision looks like a normal drawing program—it has a drawing window surrounded by lots of tools and menu options around the border. I showed Catie how she could draw things freehand or with rubber-band lines, squares, circles, and so on. She could fill the objects with color, stretch them, rotate them, squish them, cut them, and paste them anywhere in the window.

But this was just the beginning. When she was done creating a picture of a happy face, I showed her how she had just created one frame in a cartoon. She could use the mouse to scroll the screen and begin creating the next frame. Catie then drew a face of a kitty cat.

"And now you've got a little movie," I told her. I pointed the mouse to a menu box labeled GO, and we watched a short cartoon of the happy face changing into the face of the cat.

"A whole movie from only two frames? The secret is a complex technique that animators call tweening (derived from between), Fantavision automatically constructed dozens of new frames from Catie's first frame and second frame, then inserted them between her frames to smooth out the transition. These new frames, called tweeners, made the happy face in her first frame change gradually into the kitty's face of her second frame.

From Giant To Dwarf

With very little help from me, Catie sat down at the computer and learned how to use Fantavision in about half an hour. She copied her hand-drawn frames from her notebook onto the screen. The first frame was a picture of a normal, yellow-looking sun surrounded by stars in outer space. The next frame was of the same sun, now billions of years older, swollen to become a red giant star. The third frame showed the star shrunken into a tiny white dwarf star.

The white dwarf continued to shrink until it became a black hole. Catie drew a picture of the black hole that was straight out of Walt Disney—with swirling white clouds of cosmic gas spiraling around a dark center. Next, using the COPY, MOVE, and ROTATE commands, she drew successive frames of the black hole rotating and gobbling up stars.

Then Catie designed a title, which turned out to be one of the most spectacular parts of the movie. By using the ZOOM command, Catie was able to create several successive frames with the words "The Black Hole" growing larger and larger. And when the movie starts, the letters in the title break up into pieces which come together to form the stars and the sun. This looks like an amazing special effect, but it was completely unintended; it was just a by-product of Fantavision's tweening capabilities.

Finally, Catie and I set up the Apple in the room with the stereo cassette player. We bought a copy of the soundtrack to the movie Jaws and aimed a video camera at the computer screen while the hungry shark music was playing in the background. Catie read her script as the movie progressed—from the opening title to the birth and growth of the black hole. It took us several tries to synchronize the music, Catie's narration, and the Fantavision movie, but it was well worth it, The next day, Catie took her project to school and won a blue ribbon for her efforts.

I was really proud of her, but my biggest thrill came when she ran up to me after the judging and said, "You know. Daddy, sometimes I'm glad that our family has a computer."

(Fantavision is available for $49.95 for all Apple II-series computers with at least 64K of RAM. For more information, contact Broderbund Software, 17 Paul Drive, San Rafael, CA 94903.)