Commodore User1st April 1986
Published in Commodore User #32
A software package that lets you construct and animate pictures on your machine sounds impressive. Ariolasoft's Movie Maker claims to be able to turn you into Cecil B de Mille, give you a library of readymade movie shots and great soundtracks. We sent our very own Barry Norman, Daniel Gilbert, off to the cutting room to check the screenplay. Cue lights... action!
In light of the recent boom in 'aesthetic value' software, and following their "construction" theme, Ariolasoft have released Movie Maker which has to be one of the strangest ideas yet. In essence it resembles any games designer in that sprites, images, backgrounds and sound are manipulated, but at that point all similarities end. These facilities are in fact combined to enable creation of short (a few minutes or so) animation sequences.
The package consists of two disks - the first with the main program and demo 'movies' on alternate sides, the second a data disk of shapes, backgrounds, sound effects and tunes.
Having loaded the main program, the user is confronted with a four choice menu of Compose, Record, Smooth and Play. Each subsection is loaded individually from disc, theoretically giving a greater amount of memory and therefore detail to each section.
Compose is the main designing area of the package. The simplest application here is to use a rather poor graphics designer to draw backgrounds. This is rather slow, however, and lacks any of the subtleties of a modern utility - such as lines, circles, or box drawing.
The core of the unit, though, is the animator, which allows several shapes to be designed and then shown in a specified sequence within a display window.
For example, images of a man in four different positions may be played in sequence in the window to effect a man walking. The use of an efficient graphics duplicator means that a single shape can be designed and then copied repeatedly on the screen. Each copy is then slightly altered for different frames of animation and reasonably smooth action can be obtained.
Rates of replay, movement, etc, can all be altered, and the animation display window may be moved around the screen in a sprite-like manner so the effect of a particular sequence can be experimented with before it is placed in a film.
Your saved sequences are now utilised in the Record mode of the program. Films are made in real-time, although they may be made at a slower rate than eventual playback speed, by moving your animations over the background as they play.
They are added to the film one at a time with all previous additions being played back simultaneously, so the action is gradually built up, much like filming one actor in a room at a time, repeating this, say, four times and finishing with a film of four people in a room.
This section of the package is the best imitation of film-making; the film may be played forwards and backwards at almost any rate, or frozen. Different animations can be assembled on the film independently, with a maximum of six different animated objects on screen at once. Six people, for example, could be on-screen all moving and/or acting individually.
While still on Record mode, a rather restricted soundtrack may be added; although four voices are available, only ten notes are available for each of three voices and ten effects for the fourth.
The recorded film is now taken to the Smooth section ("now take your film to the Stage Manager in the cutting room", the manual says) for the finishing touches to be added. A page of well-scrolled text may be placed at both the beginning and end of the film and the 'flickeriness' of the frames is removed at this stage too.
The film is now saved as an independently-loading file and may be played back on the computer in its entirety. The manual suggests taping several films back-to-back using a video recorder to make a proper length film (!!).
The package, although technically sound, has a few drawbacks. Firstly, who is actually interested in making films such as these? The idea is quite 'cute' but since this is the C64 and not the Amiga, then the quality of the films is significantly less than ideal. The situation is certainly not helped by the underwhelming sound facilities.
Then there's the manual, which appears, unfortunately, to have been prepared for American consumption; it takes the role of a tour guide taking you round a Hollywood film set. This has the effect of entangling the essential instructions in pages of garbage, which means that it may take you quite some days to actually understand how to use the program at all!
The actual length of time required to create a 300 frame original will probably be quite daunting to most people too. Drawing a single animation in detail, such as the large dragon shown in one of the demos, would require not only a great deal of eye-strain, but also several hours hard work. Producing up to six of these and altering them 300 times each would be no mean feat, so making any reasonably large film would take weeks.
So although the idea may have been a pleasant one, the reality is somewhat different. A great deal of time is needed to produce any sort of substantial film, and with all the technical constraints the quality is still more than likely to be unrepresentative of the effort involved.
Movie Maker does, however, add another dimension to the applications of the computer, involving the user's creativity, rather than his reflexes, and saves the consciences of people who still claim to have bought the machine "for educational purposes"?