Macintosh: Desktop Media & the Making of Pencil Test (1 of 2)

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TOPIC ---------------------------------------------

Companies who want to implement computer-generated video systems for their
training and PR departments wonder whether to go with the Macintosh open,
modular system or with an integrated system.

Some have seen non-Apple solutions that include a single, Amiga-based package
with automated, three-dimensional, frame-by-frame generation of NTSC video
sequences. The package also handles the problems of hiding window
boarders/title bars, genlocking, and so on.

Most have seen the "Pencil Test" video and feel that the quality of this video
is acceptable, but they were told from one of the other vendors that Apple
invested incredible resources into creating "Pencil Test" and that the process
used for "Pencil Test" was very time-consuming and inefficient.

What was the exact process for the creation of "Pencil Test"? How many people
worked for how long to produce the video?

DISCUSSION ---------------------------------------------

There are advantages and disadvantages both to the totally integrated systems
and the open modular systems. Totally integrated system's advantages include
having hardware and software tied directly together and having one place to get
support. Disadvantages include being locked into the one company's point of
view about how to do things, working only with their tools, and, often, being
locked into that company's software. An integrated solution on non-Macintosh
systems is most likely pieced together from a variety of third-party products.

Open module systems offer one of the main advantages of Macintosh: integration.
With the Macintosh consistency of user interface, different modules from
different publishers have the familiar user interface. The best drawing program
can be used with the best animation program while using the best video card.

There are standard graphics file formats that are used by animation
applications. Also, graphic images can be copied and pasted among most
Macintosh applications. For example, if a corporate logo is designed for
publishing in Macintosh publishing programs, that logo can be brought into the
Macintosh animation programs. The logo also can be used in programs for making
35mm slides or overhead transparencies. You don't need to redraw it or convert
from one computer format to another.

Another advantage of having a modular system is the hardware. The current
standard for graphics applications is 8 bits of data for each pixel or 256
colors at one time. Many hardware and software companies are now working on 32
bits of data for each pixel or more than 16,000,000 colors on screen at one
time. In a modular environment, as technology progresses, the animation
environment can progress by updating the portions that are necessary--not
changing to something entirely different.

The basis of the MacroMind system is VideoWorks. VideoWorks II and Director
has the ability to hide window boarders, title bars, and menu bar. MacroMind
has also worked with other graphics companies to establish a standard file
format for the exchange of animated sequences. This format is called PICS.

Aegis offers Showcase F/X for doing animated titles.

Certain Macintosh video cards, designed for outputting to NTSC, correctly
handle all the issues concerned with placing Macintosh graphics on video tape,
like overscan and genlock. The AST video board, the Mass-Micro Color-Space II,
ComputerFriends TV Producer, TrueVision NuVista cards with VIDI/O Box, and
RasterOps ColorBoard 64NC all are boards that handle the proper placement of
the graphic images for full-screen coverage and genlock.

There are other methods for moving Macintosh graphics to video tape. For
example, RGB Technology has RGB/Videolink 400, 1400, and 1400A. These are
video scan converters for the RGB output of the Macintosh II. One issue that
normally surfaces with the NTSC boards is NTSC flicker. Flicker occurs because
a television image is created by scanning alternate lines. When a computer
graphic image is only one pixel wide, it is put on the screen only half of the
time. This is what causes flicker. Video scan converters eliminate this
interlace flicker.

For a Pencil Test-quality production, any system from any vendor requires
similar amounts of time and resources to be spent. It is a simple equation in
the computer animation business: Quality = Time + Resources.

Amiga animation and Pencil Test do not compare well. The Amiga solution uses
256 colors/8 bits per pixel, while Pencil Test uses 16,800,000 colors or 24
bits per pixel. Doing the shading used in Pencil Test on an Amiga results in a
palette of a few main colors with many shades of those few colors. Also, be
aware that many of the video products for the Amiga work at a resolution of 320
x 200 pixels. This is a fairly low-resolution graphics when compared to the
Macintosh solutions using a minimum of 640 x 480 pixels. Using a product like
RGB/Videolink 1400A, it is feasible to use pixel counts as high as can be
purchased; that is, 2048 x 1024, 1024 x 1024, and so on.

Of interest, the developers of the top Amiga animation products are in the
process of moving their applications to the Macintosh II. Many have completed
the move.

Published Date: Feb 18, 2012