Scanimate: The Last Analog Motion Graphics Machine

Scanimate is the name for an analog computer animation (video synthesizer) system developed from the late 1960s to the 1980s by Computer Image Corporation of Denver, Colorado. It is a form of analogue video synthesizer. The 8 Scanimate systems were used to produce much of the video-based animation seen on television between most of the 1970s and early 1980s. Given the primitive working conditions of that era, the images are surprisingly sophisticated and colorful, and created some very memorable graphics for their time. By the mid-1980s, it was superseded by digital computer animation.

Scanimate is an analog computer animation system that can generate extremely fluid animation (60 fields for NTSC vs 24 frames per second for film). A special high-resolution monochrome camera records high-contrast artwork that is then displayed on a high-resolution CRT screen where it’s deflection signals are passed through a special analog computer that enables the operator to bend the image in a variety of ways. Then end result could be anything from slightly warped image to results that look like oscilloscope art. The resulting gray scale image is then shot from the screen with video camera and fed into a colorizer.

It is a fascinating part of early history of computer graphics. The unusual collaboration between operators and engineers led to some of the most iconic motion graphics of the 1980s—including spots for Super Bowl VIII, Star Wars, and more. Some people still think that nothing comes close to the real (analog) thing, so some of the last devices are preserved. Dave Sieg (was maintenance engineer of the device in 1979)  have the dubious honor of owning and maintaining a working Scanimate system. The device has it’s own home page, own Wikipedia page and SIGGRAPH 98 History Project: Scanimation in the Analog Days presentation.

It is a very interesting device for technological and artistic viewpoint. Here are some interesting videos on this device.

Meet the Engineer Preserving The Last Analog Motion Graphics Machine

Engineer Dave Sieg has spent the last 20 years preserving the only working Scanimate, an analog motion graphics machine that was the staple of film/tv animation in the 70′s and 80′s. Dave discusses the technical and cultural impact of the Scanimate and what the future holds for this iconic machine.

Scanimate: The Origins of Computer Motion Graphics

Image West Scanimate Demo 15B

Excerpts from the DVD-1 from scanimate.net. Electronic Animation from the 1970′s and 1980′s made with the Scanimate Analog computers at Image West in Hollywood.
Scanimate News Report

Introduction to the Scanimate Part 1

Introduction to Scanimate Part Two

Introduction to Scanimate Part 3 – Analog circuits

Introduction to the Scanimate Part 4 – Using Phase-Locked Oscillators to Change Personality

Scanimate Clips

Scanimate Files 20171028

Scanimate: The Origins of Computer Motion Graphics | Lynda.com from LinkedIn

Top 15 Best Scanimate Logos

Dolphin Productions 1974 demo reel

This is a 4-minute demo reel of TV commercials, logos, and graphics created by Dolphin Productions of New York, circa 1974. The material was created with their in-house “Scanimate” computer, outputting analog graphics to monitors which were then rephotographed and keyed using conventional 1970s video switchers. Given the primitive working conditions of that era, the images are surprisingly sophisticated and colorful, and created some very memorable graphics for their time, some of which hold up even today.
Scanimate Effects Excerpt

5 Comments

  1. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Roy Weinstock encounters Scanimate after 30 years!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyjZSp4Rf-g

    Roy was top animator at Image West back in the day. He recently visited ZFx and played with Scanimate for the first time in 30 years!

    Reply
  2. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Scanimate-style Experiments
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L4ZIfW0uVPM

    Lars Larsen & Johnny Woods in Denton, Texas experimenting with scanimate-style animation using the LZX Visionary modular video synthesizer and a Tektronix 620 X-Y display monitor.

    Reply
  3. Tomi Engdahl says:

    The Dream Machine Trailer
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScAvz44TJrk

    Trailer for The Dream Machine, a documentary about the engineers and artists who used analog computers called Scanimates to pioneer what has become a billion dollar electronic animation industry

    Reply
  4. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Joe Mullen talks about using Scanimate to make new high-def graphics for the Got Milk campaign
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qe_bByV3eGw

    The Scanimate analog computer used to do many of the most memorable animated graphics from the seventies and eighties has found a new niche thanks to Buck.tv and the RED Digital Cinema camera! Buck’s Joe Mullen has just wrapped three days of shooting retro-looking graphics at ZFx studios in Kingsport, TN for a “White Gold” Rock Opera being launched for the Got Milk Campaign Oct 5.
    Joe talks about his experience using this vintage piece of technology in tandem with the latest digital imaging technology to harness the power of “analog light” as he calls it to create high definition effects unlike anything possible with digital technology.

    Battle for Milkquarious HD
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zDMhwq3pcA

    Battle for Milkquarious is an advertisement for milk in the form of a 22 minute long rock-opera. Yep, total batshit nuts, right?

    Reply
  5. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Friday Hack Chat: Visual Synthesis
    https://hackaday.com/2018/10/17/friday-hack-chat-visual-synthesis/

    For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re going to be discussing generating analog video for visual synthesis. What’s on the front porch?

    Visual Synthesis Hack Chat
    Learn about analog visual synthesis with Jonas Bers on the Hack Chat!
    https://hackaday.io/event/161750-visual-synthesis-hack-chat

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

*