[mag cover]

From the December 1984 issue of Graffitti

Technically Speaking:
We'll Whazzit on the Whozzit?

by Philip Denslow

Are you an animator who is beginning to get your feet wet in the ocean of video animation? Have you had someone say something like: "We'll just key this through the DVE while we bump it up?" These days it can be tricky to be a new customer at a video production house or post-production facility. There is a lot of loose jargon flying around that can be bewiIdering. If you are shopping around in order to add a little something to your project or commercial, it helps to have some kind of idea what the terms mean, or at least be able to ask the right questions.

One of the hardest things to learn is the capability of the equipment belonging to the people you are talking to. Someone who comes from a video production background may call animation the ability to cycle colors within a shape so that it looks like a flowing fluid. This can be a useful and arty effect, but it might not be what an animator would call animation. Communication difficulties can arise.

The best way to know the capability of something, of course, is to get a demonstration. What I would like to do here is give you a little head start with some of the terminology and types of equipment. A complete description would take many pages, so please understand that some items are going to be left out or slighted. And of course the day after this is printed some new and amazing device that should have been included will be announced.

There are several broad categories of equipment that can produce animation of various levels of sophistication. The simplest of these are video switchers. Over the years video producers have been given more and more ways to manipulate images using the device that essentially allows them to switch from one signal to another. Fades, dissolves, wipes, keys (super- impositions), patterns, borders, and other graphic effects can be done in real time (you see the results immediately). Special effects generators can be attached to simple switchers to get more options. Digital video effects devices add the ability to store an image in "memory" and invert, flip, rotate, posterize (divide into areas of color and value), put the image onto a plane (the geometric kind, not the kind with baggage) in perspective, or wrap it around an imaginary object.

Character generators were invented to present typography on a video screen. Today they can not only scroll and pop on the type, but aIso spin the letters around in three-dimensional space.

Paint systems are found in both video and film production. These enable the artist/ producer to create or modify images directly within the system, rather than on paper or canvas. This has the advantage of allowing easy modification of the art by someone who is not necessarily skilled at manipulating paint or penciIs. Animation is sometimes achieved with metamorphic interpolation, which means that a computer does inbetweens that transform one shape into another with an often unintelligible shape half-way through. Animation can also be produced with more complicated computer programs that move two-dimensional and three-dimensional shapes and objects. Some can display the motion in real-time, making the process of change and correction much faster. Which brings us to the subject of money.

You usually get what you pay for. The fancier the effect, the more changes you ask for, and the faster you want it, the more you pay. Time at a post-production facility usually starts at a couple of hundred dollars per hour. The more you ask for in terms of devices to add images to your project, the more per hour you pay. This is because the equipment was very expensive to buy, and the technicians expensive to train. The more you have planned ahead, the more you may save. At places with the more flexible equipment, ask to see effects that have already been developed and decide if you can use one of them, rather than paying them to develop new ones for you. Shop around to see how different facilities are using similar devices to get perhaps very different effects. And, if possible, do this at the planning stage.

Part of the lexicon of video animation is the names of the machines in use. The following is a list of some of the video devices that have animation capabilities.

Switcher/special effects generators: Abekas A52, Digital Services FlexiKey, Harris IRIS with ICS option, Picture element PEL Video Sequence Processor.

Character generators: Beston Marguee 2000 and 3000, Chyron VP-l and VP-2, Laird 7200, Quanta Q8.

Paint/animation systems: Artronics PC 2000, Au rora VidioG raphics AU -100, Bosch FGS-4000, Computer Image System IV, ComputerCraphics Lablmage II, Dubner CBC V ideographics Generator, Genigraphics 100V, MCl/Quante DPB7000 "paint box", Thomson-CSF Vidifont Graphics V, Via Video System 1 and System 2.

Graffiti: published by ASIFA Hollywood. For more about ASIFA activities call (818) 842-8330.