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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.