Get to know the first computer used for motion graphics and animation, Scanimate, and the men who have kept the machine alive for the last 40 years.
(upbeat music) - When I learned After Effects, I learned every button and how to move everything and make all my key frames really nice. There was always missing that extra special quality that I couldn't name, I didn't know what is was. (upbeat music) When I saw old graphics from 70's and 80's when I grew up, when I remember that stuff and I still see it online today, there's something about the quality of that that I've been trying to replicate forever.
A lot of what we call traditional motion graphics idea came from this machine. The idea that you could fly a logo in and promote a brand that way was made on this machine. And trying to emulate that has been making plugins for years. This is where it all came from, this is where it all started. (upbeat music) - [Voiceover] It all started in 1960 in an attic in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania with some glass tubes, color-coded wires, some two-by-fours and the imagination of Lee Harrison and his associates.
- He was at home watching TV and getting ready to go to bed, and he reached over and he turned off his television. And as he did that, instantly he saw that picture shrink real fast and go down to a dot, and he thought, it's just the deflection circuits are collapsing. So hence, I could just affect the deflection circuits and we could make animation, make things move on the screen. (upbeat music) - Originally, they were just making interesting spirographic patterns and they hire the guy, I think from IBM that was a salesman.
- And we're trying to figure out how to make money with this thing. And he said, "Well, if you could move words, "then I think you might really have something." - For a while that we were doing show opens. I get to open the Super Bowl eight and we ended up doing effects for the show called Logan's Run. There were runners and the cops would shoot you with a laser gun and you would glow and collapse. It's great, and for the production company, they loved it because it was not a very expensive effect to do.
Things were getting out of hand. I was doing the engineering, I was doing production, the animation work, and I was a tape operator. And so there were certainly a lot of things that were beyond my abilities. So, I needed to find an engineer. So, we put up an ad-- - I saw the ad. - They've showed up and-- I think the deal was, if you can fix this machine, you're hired. - I grabbed one of the books and looked at some of the schematics and see if nothing complicated here, I think I can keep this work.
I don't necessarily know what it does. I wouldn't know if it's working right. But these guys knew when it was working right and they would say, "This is supposed to do this "and it's not working right." "I can fix that." (upbeat music) - I was at a history of computer animation panel and they were going through all the history, 60's, 70's and about to go into 80's and all the computer animation that I knew.
And somebody stood up at the back and said, "You forgot about something. "You forgot about Scanimate." And I leaned forward in my chair and when he played the demo reel, that's when I knew, this is what I've been trying to find for years. (upbeat music) You can get this kind of animation on film was such a expensive and long process.
The idea that a computer animation can be real time in the 70's and early 80's is crazy. We're just now getting to the point where we can start to do real time three D, and you guys have had it all along. That's why I'm here, I wanted to come see this because you guys have the magic of what I've been chasing this entire time. (upbeat music) - The way it's working is the Scanimate's ability to break the raster into segments.
- [Nick] So the client gives your artwork with different words and then you can break each word up separately and animate words that way. - Yes, yes. The monochromatic camera that's looking at that raster then goes into a colorizer and gets colored and keyed and brought back out in the real world for a television production facility. I think originally they were shooting on film but as soon as they made the jump to shooting on video, then they realized I think that they had a very powerful theme.
- All the blooming that you're getting from the CRT that is basically an artifact to the CRT is really what I think makes this machine have its own look. When I started to learn about the Scanimate, when I saw that it was an analog machine filmed by a real camera, a lot of it started to make sense to me which is all the blooming and all the light artifacts weren't digital, they weren't processed, they were real light artifacts because it's coming off the CRT into another camera and all of these stuff together, it's real life.
You have an element of real life in here that even today's motion graphics doesn't have. (upbeat music) - The alternative was cel animation which took weeks and weeks to produce and crank out. If you didn't like it, you had to go back and it's another two and a half weeks. And with Scanimate, you could see it, you could say, make a little faster, make a little slower. And as soon as you liked it, you lay it down and you'd be done.
(upbeat music) To make things move, we would vary the voltage that's going it the deflection circuitry. So, if I change the horizontal offset which is labeled position, it moves everything left and right and the other one would be up down. If you changed the gain of them both, it ends up being depth.
- [Nick] Like a scale. - All the elements are very simple, but it's how they get pads together and how the knobs get tweaked to get the certain effects that this is the magic of it. Okay, goes from A to B. Well, can't you make it slow down a little bit when it lands? 'Cause in real world, things have mass, and they don't just bang bang, you know. So, the engineers were like, "Yeah, we can put in a little sign instead of a triangle "and whatever it is." All those little things that evolved over time, they have now become just like, "Oh, yeah.
"That's just the way it works, it's automatic." - Every key framer has it is and is out and those are all standard things now and for us they were, we actually made those alternatives, now they're everywhere. (slow instrumental music) - [Nick] When I first looked at all the stuff, I didn't understand how. Did they have 10 people all move the knobs at the same time? And then, and then-- - Originally.
That was how it started. - I was like, "How are they animating all these?" If it's real time and it's analog and there's no way to control all these knobs. - Well, I think that's the same thing where the operators would say, "I needed to do this." And so, the machine is really an evolution of some brilliant engineers and its very creative operators that were able to communicate with each other 'cause nothing would happen if you couldn't communicate those. (upbeat music) They call it initial position and final position.
Final is the ending position and when you go to the initial position, all the parameters are multiplied off. You can build any circuit that you want and the voltage package that you're building is ultimately going to make something move on the screen. (upbeat music) You know if you came back tomorrow and said, "Need that." I could not because they all say, "I don't know, "I know have no idea what the frequencies are." - [Nick] It's like what I am.
- It's complicated stuff, you know. There's no undo button. If I pull out the patches, and then the client goes, "Yeah, you know, that was gonna be okay, "let's just go with what we had." - You would make something gorgeous and they would love it and walk out with it, and the guy would come in the next morning and it's like, "I showed it to my boss "and we just need to make this one little thing." You can start over, you'll get something completely different but it's not gonna be at all, well, you walked out-- (upbeat music) - The Scanimate and all the designers and all the team built the first plugins.
I mean if you look at the cords and everything here, you might have built the first plugins. - But it's literally plugging in. - Yeah, right. Like you guys built the formulas that have turned into plugins that have turned into other formulas that have turned into things that motion graphic artists have tried to emulate for years. The stars-filled stuff was one of those things where it started to click with me that this was analog stuff. That this was star filters and all these things.
I mean, this is classic. When I was watching cartoons in the early 80's and all the commercials and stuff, this was it. (upbeat music) - It was all about the end-product. It didn't matter how you got there and we all walked around with a little screwdriver. And if you wanted to change the color of the background but it was not a controllable thing, you could change the face of it so that the hue of it would swing around.
And you would literally be misaligning equipment to create an effect. The engineers, they would just go crazy. You can't do crap like that. This is a delicate piece of electronic equipment. Well no, it isn't. - That was my part of the whole thing because my job was more to keep the machine working. Okay, is the machine broken? Or is it just hooked up weird? Or has it been misadjusted to get a certain effect? - It was a great thing because he had the right attitude which is, "Alright, I'll just align this machine "and it's perfect but if you need to screw it up for an effect--" - Go for it - Knock yourself out.
You know, we'll just put it right back. - Alright, so I have an idea. I'm at Scanimate, I have to see if you can help me animate my logo Scanimate style so I can have an authentic Scanimate animation. - Alright, so what I'm gonna do is pull out the patches that we have. - Okay. - We're gonna go back to VGA mode so we can your artwork in there.
You gave me this artwork. - [Nick] Yup. - As however you gave it us. Is there an easy way for you to feed it to me 90 degrees? - You rotate before you give it to me. - Yeah, I think so. Keep it four-by-three and just flip it. Like that? - Yes but go 180 now. - [Dave] There you go. - [Nick] Like that? - [Dave] Perfect. - [Roy] And we want just the word, right? - Yup.
Oh, I see that they're just clipping on both sides to open it up. Oh my gosh, that-- Why am i so excited about an outline? It looks great. It just looks all glowing and nice and-- Look at that. Just the quality of that image like it's just a little bit off, it's not ever perfect. It's so great.
It's those things that analog technology does naturally that digital technology pulled away. And in some cases, digital technology made a cleaner and more replicatable and you could save things in hi-res. All these nice things came with digital technology but it's the imperfections and the natural things that analog equipment just gives you for free that we lost in the transition to digital. (upbeat music) - Animations are kind of a personal thing.
And it's a creative thing. Early on, I probably can't think about or what but a lot of it has gotten a lot easier. The easier it gets though, the farther away you get from what you really going on. I think that it's one of the keys to my success was I always tried to understand what is really going on here. (upbeat music) We still don't completely understand why they're so good but we see it and we feel it.
I sometimes wonder why I bothered trying to keep this thing alive but the fact that it's here today, it works, all the knobs still work. You can do things with it, it still makes all the stuff it used to make. To me, that's the magic of it and that's what we're trying to keep alive as long as possible.