Movie Maker. (evaluation) John Anderson.
You love graphics, and you love quality. The most exciting computer programs you ever come across for those that take full color advantage of your Atari. These are the ones that push the hardware to new heights of capability, and leave you full of admiration for their programmers. When a program that fits that description makes an appearance, it is an absolute must for your software shelf. IPS: Atari Celluloid Heroes
In March of last year, we reported very favorably on a program called Paint. This package allows the Atari to become a formidable graphics tool, and in all respects exceeds the criteria outlined above. It was put together by a very talented group of people in Washington, D.C. who collectively called themselves SuperBoots. The program was initially marketed by Reston Software, and still is, but it has also joined the main software line from Atari. It is a classic. SuperBoots Strikes Again
Well the boys no longer call themselves SuperBoots, but they haven't stopped being super. Now calling themselves Interactive Picture Systems, Guy Nouri, Eric Podietz, Mark Scott, and Jimmy Snyder have released a new package through Reston Computer Group called Movie Maker.
In the concluding paragraph of our review of Paint last year, we mused about the potential of animated graphics for the Atari. Creating and saving colorful still graphics on the Atari is very rewarding. But to put real animation capability in the hands of the consumer -- that is a wholly new realm. As we stated in that review, Pain gave us the hint that if anybody could do it, Messrs. Nouri, Podietz, Scott, and Snyder were probably the ones.
Much to our delight, they were. Movie Maker allows the user, with a reasonable investment of time and attention, to get the Atari to do what it does best: animated graphics. On the flip side of the Movie Maker disk are some good examples of its potential. A robot assembles itself before your eyes. A chorus line of robots does a great Busby Berkeley routine. Changing geometric shapes spin hypnotically. A certain well-known silent screen comedian offers flowers to his love. A scampering dog slams into a garbage can. Warfare takes place in deep space. A wizard casts his spell -- in the form of the letters IPS, for Interactive Picture Systems, appearing magically from the ether. A magician pulls a cat out of a hat to the surprise of our aforementioned canine friend.
The animation demos in the package are credited to Bob Svihovec, who has done quite a superlative job in graphically documenting the potential of Movie Maker.
Turn up the volume, and you are in for a real surprise: four-voice sound effects and music. And all of this potential is put into your hands for $60. Absolutely amazing.
It would be wrong for us to minimize the work it will take a new user to become familiar with Movier Maker -- to master the powerful commands and make high quality animation and sound possible on the Atari computer. You will have to spend some time with the package, working through the provided examples, studying how effects are achieved, and experimenting on your own.
But Movie Maker is without peer on the software market for the Atari or any other microcomputer. And compared with the difficulty of attempting animation directly from Basic or machine language, it is an absolute breeze to work with. It has been designed to provide the maximum result for the least possible effort. It is just that the effort must, nonetheless, be made.
Fortunately, Movie Maker makes the effort fun, and its excellent accompanying documentation helps get you thinking along the right lines. While we wouldn't reccommend it to children under about 12, we are sure there are a few 10-year-olds out there who are just waiting for a package like it. After only a few hours, you can have our own animated shapes moving across you own animated backgrounds, making sounds as they go.
Like Paint, Movie Maker is menu-based. From the main menu, the following choices are offered:
* Compose, which allows you to create and save shapes and backgrounds for animated sequences.
* Record, which allows you to create and save animated sequences.
* Smooth, which takes out jumpiness and flicker and smooths the overall look of an animated sequence.
* Play, which plays back a saved animated sequence.
From any of these main menu selections, you are presented with a submenu. For example, if you choose to Compose, you will be presented with the utility menu shown here as Figure 1. By using the arrow keys, you move the highlighting cursor around the submenu. Press Return when you desired choice is highlighted, and you have made that choice. Depending on which choide you make, you may be presented with another submenu. This nesting of self-promoting menus makes working with Movie Maker about as simple as it possibly could be. The Animated Atari
Let's create a simple animation. First we need some shapes to animate and a background for them to move on. You choose selection 1 from the main menu, Compose. If you have two disk drives, you can save yourself annoying disk swaps by first moving to Select Drive on the utility menu, then choosing drive 2 as the current drive. You may then keep the Movie Maker program disk in drive 1 and your own file disk in drive 2. If you have a single drive, you will have to make occasional disk swaps to get where you're going. It is a bit of a pain, but you can learn to live with it.
Next you can begin composing shapes. Two full screens are reserved for your drawings: one for shapes to be animated or repeated in the background, and another for the background itself. Using the joystick or arrow keys, you can draw on these pages in four colors. The colors themselves are continuously selectable, and can be modified at any time and from either screen. If you are a lefty, you may even choose to modify the joystick, through software, for lefthanded use.
So start drawing shapes. This drawing always takes place inside a "window," the size of which is continuously adjustable. Why windows instead of freehand drawing? Well the window makes lots of special features possible. It allows you to duplicate shapes or parts of shapes--this makes animation shape changes much easier to draw. It also affords a still drawing feature of great power: to be able to hold a shape in memory and repeat it all over the screen. Not even Paint offers this feature.
Say you have drawn a tree. In the duplicate mode, you can move to the background screen and put trees in all over the place. Start in the "back," as new trees will appear to be put down "in front" of older ones. And voila--a forest in seconds.
To make a plain old shape into an animated shape, you simply outline it with a window, then press the 0 key. That's it. Now you can duplicate and modify the original shape, and make it the second incarnation of the animated shape by outlining it as you did the first shape. With five or six shapes to a sequence, you can have a jogger or a pulsating spaceship moving across the screen with a surprisingly smooth effect.
As in Paint, you can zoom from the default graphics mode 7 into graphics 5 or graphics 3 to do detail work. These zoom motions can even be incorporated into a finished animation. Bear in mind, of course, that at maximum zoom, graphics mode 3 is about so lo-res as an Atari can get. Carefully designed shapes, however, will look acceptable even when viewed in graphics mode 3.
Other powerful drawing commands allow enclosed areas to be filled with color, and shapes to be flipped symmetrically (mirrored) across the X or Y axis.
Once you have multiple animation shapes and a background, you can really get to work animating them. For this you choose the menu entry Record. You have 300 possible frames to play with in a single sequence, and though that may not sound like much, you can make an awful lot happen in 300 frames. (You can also chain sequences together for longer pieces, punctuated by pauses to spin the disk drive.)
As in the Compose mode, a help line appears at the bottom of the screen during Record. It is even more important to monitor this line during Record than it is during Compose, as all the specific characteristics of motion are defined by it (see Figure 2).
They include the following:
* F: Frame Rate. Equivalent to the click of the shutter on an animation camera shooting single frames. Adjustable from 1 to 9, slow to fast. In concert with other commands, animation may then take place in something approaching "real time." Or, by choosing an F rate of O, you may take charge of each single frame, and shoot only when the spacebar is pressed. This gives you total control over screen movement.
* K: Kwickness. Determines the number of frames for which each shape is held on the screen before the next shape in the sequence is put up on the screen. Using this command, you can make one animated shape move faster than another by recording them at different K rates.
* J: Jump. Determines how far an animated shape will move for each movement of the joystick or press of 0 arrow key during actual recording. A J rate of 0 sets an accelerating jump rate.
* L: Loop. Determines the number of times the current sequence cycles during recording. An L rate of 0 keeps cycling continuously. Tuning In
If you don't already have Movie Maker, you may have begun to lose the thread of our discussion. Hang in there; these functions will become clear very quickly when you view them in action--when you have an opportunity to experiment with them.
In fact, the tuning and adjusting of your own animated sequences--"editing," as the documentation calls it--is probably where you will spend the most time with Movie Maker. You can play with a sequence to your heart's content, fine tuning it until it looks just the way you want it to. This process not only helps your work look better, but helps you lear what really makes Movie Maker tick. Several commands allow you to pinpoint areas within a sequence:
* P: Playback. Cycles through the playback of a sequence from an indicated point.
* G: Goto Frame. Puts you into playback and positions the recorder at the frame number specified.
* R: Rewind. Like the P command, except in reverse. Sets you into reverse playback at an indicated frame rate, cycling continuously.
*/ (Slash): Frame Marker. Allows you to mark a frame, then stop there automatically during recording or playback.
In addition, holding shift and pressing the left or right arrow key allows you to move back or ahead a single frame at a time. This can be very useful in editing several animated shapes. This function works during record or playback.
The size of outlined shapes can be altered using the Scale file, which is accessed separately. Shapes can be expanded horizontally or vertically.
Moving shapes, or "actors," as they are called in the documentation, can be repositioned or even traded on the fly, and colors can be changed from within the record mode. This allows for multiple sequences within a single animated file and neat color effects, such as fades to black. If only you could do dissolves!
Then there are sounds. You can incorporate a variety of sounds into your animation files by recording one to four "soundtracks." You get the sounds from a special file on the master disk and add them to an otherwise finished animation file. The sound library consists of lots of beeps, boops, and crashes, but unfortunately you may not add your own sounds to this complement. There are, however, quite enough sounds to punctuate the most intricate animation.
You can even add titles and text to your work using a special Text file. Smoothing Things Over
The Smooth function on the main menu works completely automatically. When you have a completed work, Smooth will remove any flicker from your animation file and produce a finished Movie Maker file. This file can then be played back in one of several ways.
You can play files directly from the Movie Maker master, using the selection Play. Alternatively, you can boot the flip side of Movie Maker, then insert your own set of animation files. They will play one after another in the order that they were recorded on the disk. Or, you can make your own autorun disk, using a utility program on the flip side of Movie Maker. This is the best way to play back multiple files. The Limitations
Movie Maker lets you get more out of your Atari than any graphics program we have seen. But it does have its limitations:
* Four colors. You can get only four colors on the screen at a time.
* Nine sequences. You can keep only nine sets of multiple shapes at one time. An unlimited number of sequences can be stored in an animation file, however, and as these can be changed on the fly, you can get around this restriction.
* Sixteen frames in a sequence. Only 16 "incarnations" of an animated shape can be kept in a single sequence. Under normal conditions, this should be more than enough. And as stated above, you can switch to a second sequence and gain an additional 16 shape changes.
* Sixty-four outlines on the shape page. For nearly all intents and purposes, this is more than enough for even the most sophisticated animation.
* One-quarter screen for a shape outline. The largest single animated shape possible is a quarter of the total screen. You might make a larger shape by using two shapes together. Bear in mind that the larger the shape, the slower it can move.
* Six actors at a time. You can have only six moving shapes on the screen at one time. This allows for quite a bit of action. Still, with a little ingenuity, you might actually be able to group two shapes to move as a single actor, freeing up a new actor to move independently.
* Three hundred frames to an animation. You can make an animation longer by slowing the frame rate of its display. Or you can loop the playback, or chain to another animation file. There will be a pause while the new file is being read from the disk. Use your imagination to make the pauses occur at natural breaks in your storyline.
Because Movie Maker is such a superlative package, we wince at criticizing it. It is easy to say it should do this, that, or the other thing, but tough to do so while underscoring our respect of the marvel of programming it represents. That said, here is the wish list.
Graphics 7 is fine, but if the program could also operate in graphics 7+, its resolution would be nearly twice as good. Even if such a potential limited overall screen size, it would have made for much more dramatic resolution. As it stands, it is not the very best the Atari could do.
It would have been absolutely magnificent if the program allowed for backgrounds to be larger than a single screen in size. Combined with the ability for fine scrolling, this would allow for dramatic "tracking shots," wherein animated shapes could gallop, amble, or shimmy at center screen, while the background moved smoothly behind them. Again, such a potential would push the Atari to the very limits of its capability--if you have seen scrolling games like Zeppelin or Quest for Tires, you'll know what we mean.
With its 128-color capability, the Atari in four colors is a letdown. The four-color restriction of this program puts it in the same color category as Atari Basic, which is a bit disappointing. It is especially drab next to Atari graphics applications that present an incredible rainbow of hues. In all fairness, however, getting around this in a program with the capabilities of Movie Maker would probably be utterly impossible.
It is too bad that the sound library is canned, and does not allow you to define your own sounds, just as you can do with shapes. Again, this would have presented a serious programming challenge. A whole new sound editor module would be necessary. But it would have been terrific if it was there.
In the wake of these comments, let us reiterate: Movie Maker is a masterpiece; it puts the fantastic animation capabilities of the Atari in the hands of us mere mortals. These fellas are to be watched closely. They understand not only the power of the Atari, but the creative desires of Atari owners. And most important, they comprehend how to package that power in a way that makes it easy and fun to use.
First with Paint and now with Movie Maker, the authors have shown that it shouldn't have to take the mind of a Bill Budge of multi-thousands of dollars to get a taste of sophisticated animated graphics creation. A most worthy and gratifying accomplishment. For that, Interactive Picture Systems, we salute you. Please keep it up.
Products: Movie Maker Tool Kit (computer program)