All the latest news for the ST user
Desktop Video for the ST
By GREGG PEARLMAN, Antic Assistant Editor
"Desktop video" has come to Atari ST computers. Cyber Studio (featuring CAD-3D 2.0) and Cyber Control animate 3-D solid models which can be integrated into 2-D frame-by-frame animations with Cyber Paint. Spectrum 512 gives you 512 colors to create high-quality still pictures. This is computer-generated graphics and animation at an advanced level which would otherwise require a dedicated graphics workstation costing at least $10,000.
"We're trying to put together a system that quickly and easily visualizes graphic ideas-particularly those ideas requiring movement," says Jack Powell, Antic Software's Manager of Product Development.
Most personal computers, including the Atari ST, can't provide the visual quality required for network television-at least 512 x 480 vertical and horizontal lines of resolution. (However, there is a Public Broadcasting station in San Jose, California that creates station breaks with an ST.) What the ST can do, because of the affordability of the computer and software, is allow companies to buy several stations for their employees, who in turn can do rough concept sketches quickly before polishing them on the expensive graphics workstations.
Interestingly, it's an advantage for desktop video that ST graphics aren't as detailed as those on the Amiga and the Macintosh. The more colors and resolution you have onscreen, the more memory that screen takes up. "If you're doing a screen-by-screen animation," says Powell, "not only does it take up more memory if each frame is larger-because of colors and so on-but all that raw data must be moved, so speed as well as memory are affected."
The Cyber products work with both three-dimensional object-oriented images as well as two-dimensional raster images.
A raster image is a matrix of addressable 2-D points onscreen-in other words, screen memory. Painting software like DEGAS and Spectrum 512 produce raster images. The only way to change an image is to paint over it or use something like a cut-and-paste block move.
CAD systems such as CAD-3D and Easy Draw are object-oriented. Creating an object in such a system gives data information to the computer to the effect of, "The object starts at this XYZ location and moves, in a line, to that XYZ location." Since the objects are represented simply by numbers, they can be manipulated: you can change their size or zoom in almost infinitely, for example.
Object-oriented data can be converted to other systems. You could create a space shuttle in CAD-3D, transfer its data to a professional graphics workstation system, such as an IBM PC or IRIS, and manipulate it there.
"Cyber Studio can be thought of as a 3-D solid-modeling toolbox to create your actors, objects and set," says Powell. The package consists basically of CAD-3D 2.0 and Cybermate, an advanced, Forth-based animation editing language essentially for programmers.
CAD-3D is unusual in that it's both raster and object-oriented. In Superview mode, when you render an object or image, you can paste it onto a raster background created with a paint program such as DEGAS or Cyber Paint. Then you can take the object and change the lighting and the drawing mode (wireframe, solid, etc.), then paste it again in another spot and keep on going. Cyber Studio has libraries of 3-D clip art available for CAD-3D.
"When you create animations using CAD-3D," says Powell, "the computer saves raster images of your objects a frame at a time. When you play it back, it looks like a dimensional object moving in real time because it's properly lit and had been an object in CAD-3D."
Because of ST hardware limitations, each rendered frame can have only 16 colors. Ranges of those colors are used to simulate lighting and shading of the objects. More colors would be needed to achieve more advanced effects.
"We're currently developing a program that uses Spectrum 512 to provide the colors needed for advanced techniques such as ray-tracing or texture-mapping," says Powell. "It will be available this year."
Cyber Paint can be a number of things-an animation paintbox used to touch up Cyber Studio animations, a standalone animation paint program, a 2-D "cel" raster animation system, and an ADO motion effects system.
"Because Cyber Paint is so flexible, it's hard to pin down-and that makes it difficult to market," says Powell. "There's no problem marketing Spectrum 512. People understand that it's a paint program which lets you use 512 colors. But Cyber Paint has so many features. It lets you throw animations together so quickly and manipulate all the different types of graphics files available to the ST-it's a lot of fun. I think it will be one of our biggest hits once people understand what it is.
Cyber Paint saves animation sequences in a specially compressed format called delta files. The general idea of a delta file is that in saving the first frame, you save all the pixel information onscreen. Saving subsequent frames just saves information about what changes have taken place since the last frame. That's what "delta" is-a measurement of the change.
The effectiveness of delta compression depends on what you're animating. Moving large blocks of pixels requires more memory than moving small sections. The more visual change there is per frame, the more RAM is used.
Perhaps the most important feature of Cyber Paint is the ADO-Antic's Digital Omnimover, an ST adaptation of the Ampex Digital Optical Printing System. The ADO can move a 2-D image, either an animation or a clip, on a 3-D path through space, rotate it on the X, Y and Z axes, and make it appear to move closer or further away. And it can remap an animation to a 3-D image instead of just moving it.
Also, ADO allows infinite levels of image overlays and underlays, much like chroma key, a professional technique in which, for instance, the starship Enterprise would be filmed in front of a blue background and then laid over a background with stars or a planet.
Cyber Control is a very flexible scripting language that, among other things, allows highly sophisticated motion-control animation of 3-D object-based models created with Cyber Studio. These animations can be played back from the computer with ANIMATE3.PRG, a public domain autoplayer, touched up in Cyber Paint, or sent to video.
"Tom Hudson tried to make the Cyber Control language as simple as possible without sacrificing power," says Powell. "It's modeled after BASIC, which many people know. And even if you don't know BASIC, you could learn to use Cyber Control for simple animations."
"You can also create objects with it that you can't with CAD-3D alone. And only Cyber Control lets you create animations with flexible 3-D objects. Darrel Anderson used Cyber Control to create a demo featuring flexible membranes-an extremely advanced computer graphics technique."
In Cyber Control (which requires Cyber Studio) you can set a few points and tell the system that you want a curve which follows those points. This curve would be a spline-a path that smoothly follows set points. You can set three types of splines-smooth curves that go through the points, straight lines that go from point to point, or lines that gravitate toward the points without passing through them. Once your points are set, you can have an object-or the cameras or light sources-follow those points. Or you can have the program create an object using those points as the object's shape.
Spectrum 512 is a paint program for making high-quality still pictures. It's not designed for animation. But the latest slideshow program for Spectrum 512 lets you set up batch files for page-flipping animations (about 12 frames on a 1Mb ST and 80 on a Mega 4) as well as creating stereo pictures for the Stereotek glasses available from the Catalog.
(This program, SPSLIDE8.PRG is part of the file SPSLD8.ARC and can be found in download library 1 of the Atari Developers SIG on CompuServe. Only two programs can be kept in the Cyber Connection area of ANTIC ONLINE, so when new programs become available, the previous ones are moved to the SIG.-ANTIC ED)
"Essentially, Spectrum 512 is the best painting software for this computer," says Powell. "The anti-aliasing and dithering functions in Spectrum 512 can make an image look almost photographic. Anti-aliasing is a process that, in effect, 'averages' adjacent colors, softening the border between them. You really need many colors to do this. Professional computer graphics people will tell you that if they must make a choice between many colors and more detailed resolution, they'd prefer the colors. You can create illusions with color that you can't create with higher resolution."
Spectrum 512 generates a solid 512 colors which can be placed almost anywhere onscreen. Up to 48 colors can be placed on any scan line, and the program automatically does a "best fit" on any color over 48. This allows the software to closely simulate "truecolor" effects similar to what the AT&T Targa board can do on the IBM PC or the Mac II.
Spectrum 512 also uses dithering to simulate as many as 24,389 colors. Dithering is a technique where a pattern of pixels is used to create the illusion of another, unavailable color. "Let's say you have only the colors red and yellow in your paintbox and you create a checkerboard using those colors," Powell says. "You make a color that looks, from a distance, like orange. Spectrum 512 uses this idea with different percentages; for example, 25% red and 75% yellow produces a yellowish orange. If it's the reverse, it'd be a reddish orange. Spectrum 512 primarily uses this technique for photodigitizing-to convert Amiga 1FF files and CompuServe GIF files (created with a Macintosh II, for example) to the Spectrum 512 format. DigiSpec, a $39.95 program from Trio Engineering, creates 24,389-shade pictures on the Atari with Computereyes. (See ST New Products in this issue.)
"Even though the ST's low resolution is only 320 x 200 pixels, it's important for people to realize that not only does dithering increase the colors, but that effective antialiasing is really only possible with a lot of colors."
At this writing, if you bought nothing but Atari hardware and Antic software, you could get true video output only from a 520ST which has RF television output and was upgraded to at least 1Mb to work with the Cyber software.
The big problem, according to Powell, is that the Atari ST is not designed for NTSC (National Television Standards Committee) video output. But Practical Solutions makes a converter box for the ST that changes RGB analog output to NTSC composite video output. You'd need either this converter or the built-in composite output which 52OSTFMs have.
"The most important thing for video output in terms of our software is the upcoming Genlock unit from JRI," says Powell. "This will let you combine computer-generated images with true video from a television, VCR, or videocamera.
"The product that will tie all this together is Cyber VCR, Tom Hudson's newest program, which lets you set up a script-a list of all the animations in your library that you want to run. You can decide what order to run them in, repeat animations more than once, choose the number of frames you want to run from an animation, run it backwards or forwards at variable speeds and so on. You can choose the splices you want-fades, cuts, etc. And you can design fancy custom wipes in Cyber Paint."
Cyber VCR works with any Sony Beta or 8mm VCR that has a special "Remote" jack (5-pin micro DIN style). The program will read files off the computer and automatically control the VCR's recording of the various animations via an included custom cable designed by Mark Kimball and Antic's Director of Product Development, Gary Yost. The final output is completely free of editing glitches, due to Sony's foresight in designing flying erase heads for these VCRs.
Recently Antic alpha-tested Supra's real-time SupraView digitizer which captures images at up to 24 frames per second as they move. SupraView will be compatible with Cyber Paint. It should be released early in 1988 and will probably cost around 199.
The current SupraView digitizing software is "adequate," according to programmer Mark White, head of technical support at Supra Corp. But Supra is working on improved software which will be available as an upgrade for registered owners. Supra Corp. is also working on a way to digitize pictures for Spectrum 512 using red, green and blue filters
CAD-3D 2.0 has two modelers-a spin-tool which is like a lathe and an extruder which is like a jigsaw. Hudson's new Cyber Sculpt (available this spring) will provide all the modeling tools you'd find on an advanced 3-D graphics workstation. You can grab a vertex on a model you've made and drag it, twist it, push it, punch it, or slice it. "You'll have full flexibility to create very natural shapes for CAD-3D," says Powell. "This program will be a desk accessory like Cyber Control, only mouse-controlled and very easy to use.
Antic Software will also bring out more design disks with advanced Cyber
Control clip-art for 3-D character animation and video titling, and an
upcoming program will let you map pictures onto 3-D objects-in other words,
you'll be able to put raster images onto oblects- to create,
for example, moebius strips or realistic water.
SPECTRUM 512-$69.95, ST0249 (color)
CYBER STUDIO-$89.85, ST0326 (1Mb)
CYBER CONTROL-$59.95, ST0250 (1Mb, Cyber Studio)
CYBER PAINT-$69.95, ST0251 (color, 1Mb)
Antic Software, The Catalog, 544 Second Street, San Francisco, CA 94107. (800) 234-7001.