Making Movies

John Davison becomes a Movie Director


Issue 23

Sep/Oct 86

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Electronic Arts/Ariolasoft

Here's a program package for people who enjoy using their computer as an aid to creativity. Belonging to the same class of software as AtariArtist and Music Construction Set, it gives you the electronic equivalent of a film animation studio, providing everything needed to produce your own animated video movies. The whole production process is covered, from creating background scenery and characters, through recording the action and adding the soundtrack, to the final screening of the finished product.

It comes in a glossy cardboard package containing two double sided disks and an instruction manual. The package opens like a book and the centre is printed with what looks like afterthoughts to the manual.
Movie Maker is complex, so a good instruction manual is essential. The 41 pages of instructions supplied get you proficient fairly quickly, thanks mainly to the tutorial section, however, the programs are driven by menus, keyboard commands and joystick, which can be confusing at times. Knowing what to do where takes a little practice.

Disk 1 contains the main production programs, and an autoplay program, which enables you to make a bootable disk capable of automatically showing any movie files you store on it. Also, six ready made movies are provided to give you a taste of what can be achieved. Disk 2 contains four partially completed movies, which you have to finish yourself before you can show them. But there's more - you also have the component parts used in making these movies, including sound and musical effects. You can use them to make your own movie without having to draw anything yourself, a fact exploited by the tutorial section of the instruction manual.

Making a Movie

In Movie Maker terms, a movie consists of a background against which up to six actors can play their parts, while up to four channels of sound effects and music enhance their performance. You build it using the four major departments of the studio, these being the Composing Room, Recording Room, Cutting Room, and Screening Room, corresponding to the four major functions of Movie Maker. You're helped by your electronic crew, including the Director, Cameraman, Soundman, Stage Manager and Art Department. These, of course, represent sub functions of the major areas mentioned above.

Composing Room

Your computer generated movie consists of two basic types of artwork, these being backgrounds and shapes. Backgrounds are exactly that - static scenery against which your characters move. Shapes are the basic elements of your animation, being images of your characters drawn in different positions to represent different stages of a given movement sequence. Shown rapidly in succession, they give the impression of animated movement.

The Art Department provides you with 14 functions for drawing backgrounds and shapes in up to four colours from a palette of 128. Line drawing is achieved with a joystick and/or cursor keys with keyed commands used to perform functions such as colour fill, colour change, and duplicate a shape. Other features include Mirror, to assist with symmetrical shapes, Zoom, for magnifying the image for detailed work, and Scale, to automatically change the width or height of a drawn shape. Text may be entered from the keyboard, a nice feature, as drawing text by hand can be a painful experience. Unfortunately, there are no aids to help you draw circles or boxes, and no 'rubber-banding' of the type found in many computer art programs.

The Director and Cameraman handle functions relating to shape animation and movement, such as sequencing the shapes to create the animation effect, and speed of movement, amongst others. You rehearse the sequences with different settings until you get the effect you want. Then you get the Stage Manager to take you to the Recording Room, where each sequence is allocated to an actor for recording.

Recording Room

Here, you have what might be termed a six track video recorder, and a four track sound recorder at your command. Each video track can record the movements of one actor, the idea being to build up interactions between several actors one track at a time. While recording an actor, you can see any other actors you-ye already recorded, so it's relatively easy to synchronise the new actor's movements with existing action.

Recording capacity is 300 frames (individual images) per track, giving playback time up to about a minute depending on projection speed chosen. If you own a video recorder you can build up a longer movie by transferring several 300 frame sections to video cassette, from which they can be shown without a break.

When you finish recording a track, you can play back the movie including the track you've just recorded. If you don't like the result, you simply re-record all or part of the bad track - action on previously recorded tracks remains intact. The Cameraman can be very useful to you here. He can position the recording at any frame, play the recording forwards or backwards at any speed, and mark a frame so he can rewind straight to it from any point. He can also zoom in for a close-up of the image being recorded.

The Soundman helps you record up to four separate sound tracks, using predefined effects and musical sounds played from the keyboard. There's no facility for defining your own sounds - a pity, as the supplied ones are rather crude. As with video tracks, each sound track may be recorded separately, but all play back together in the finished movie.

Cutting and Screening Rooms

It's the Stage Manager's job to ensure your masterpiece is presented in the best manner. Here in the Cutting Room he smoothes out any flicker or jerkiness in the animation, and helps you add fine scrolling titles and credits to the beginning and end. Then, having saved the final product to disk, he takes you to the Screening Room to see the fruits of your creativity. Even here there's a measure of control. Through the Director and Cameraman you can vary the speed of projection, and stop the movie at any frame. This can then be printed in colour on a Okimate printer, if you happen to own one.


Overall, this is an impressive package. It's fun to use (but hard work) and even has practical applications. How about using it to produce eye-catching animated advertisements in shops, notices at school or club meetings, or animated charts for educational or business use? The more you think about it, the greater the possibilities become. If you're interested in animation, why not give Movie Maker a try? I can recommend it.