Review - MovieMaker

by Interactive Picture Systems

11480 Sunset Hills Road
Reston, VA 22090

48K Disk $49.95
by Bob Curtin

Here's another good one, folks. MovieMaker is a program or, more correctly, a series of programs which allow the user to create animated "movies" about thirty to sixty seconds long, with a very professional appearance. The animated computer graphics which can be created with this package are as good as any the "big boys" make, and you're limited only by time and your imagination.

MovieMaker is broken up into four sub-programs entitled compose, record, smooth, and play. The compose mode allows you to draw characters (the actors) as a series of shapes which, when combined into sequences, give the illusion of movement. Each shape is the equivalent of a single drawing in regular animation, and up to sixteen shapes can be combined to create an action sequence. This would be the equivalent of flipping sixteen pages or "frames" in normal animation. Many action sequences can be strung together and/or played simultaneously, to create a full-length feature up to 300 frames long.

Drawing shapes in this mode is much the same as in Datasoft's MicroPainter or Atari's Paint program -- that is, with the joystick and keyboard. However, several clever little features take a lot of the work out of drawing scores of tiny, repetitious shapes. The program allows you to duplicate and move shapes around. These shapes can then be altered and duplicated, and altered and duplicated again, and so on [you get the picture? (pun intended)]. A mirror-image feature is provided, so you only have to draw half of symmetrical shapes; the computer will draw in the other half automatically. As in the other graphics generation programs, there's a zoom feature that makes attending to details in your drawings a lot easier. The zoom feature can also be used when recording your movie, to give the effect of a shape coming closer or vice versa.

Most of the work is done in the compose mode, creating the action sequences and the backgrounds. Multiple shape files can be stored on disk for use later, when you start the actual "filming" of your movie in the record mode. These shape files can also be used to build backgrounds, and accumulated for use in sequences in future animations.

Once the shapes, sequences, and backgrounds are completed, these elements can be combined in the record mode, to create the finished film. There are a variety of controls in this mode, which allow you to record up to six "actors" on the screen at the same time. This is accomplished by re-recording additional sequences over an existing film. You can start and stop anywhere in the film, adding actors, changing colors, zooming, changing the recording speed (similar to filming in fast or slow motion), adding sound and fine tuning the whole creation by using the many editing commands.

Once the recording is done and the animation saved to disk, the next step is the easiest. Enter the smooth mode and give the computer some room. Your Atari will go over the film and take out all of the silent-film jumpiness -- giving you back a work of art.

MovieMaker is a complex package, and with complexity comes a learning curve. There's a lot to remember. There's a myriad of controls, procedures and commands, and it takes a while to learn them all. Once learned, however, the complexity will be appreciated for the control that it gives you over the animated graphics you can create with this program.

The documentation provided with MovieMaker is in the form of a hundred-odd page booklet with step-by-step instructions, tips for advanced users, a trouble-shooting section, glossary, detailed summary of commands and (lo and behold) an accurate and detailed table of contents. The booklet is well written, clean, and (although it leaves nothing to chance) you don't get the impression that it was written for the crayon and bubblegum set. There are also several sample movie files provided, as an example of what this package is capable of when in the right hands.

Unfortunately, there's no way to play back these films, except with the MovieMaker program. Reston did not see fit to provide a subroutine or reproducible program which you could use to play back the animations you create. That's a gripe I had with both the Atari Paint program and Datasoft's MicroPainter program. It'd be a simple matter to list such a subroutine in the documentation, or provide one on the disk, that could be reproduced and used in your own programs. I grant that it would be more difficult with MovieMaker, but certainly within the realm of the possible. With software running nearly 20% of the cost of the computer it's used on, I think the software houses ought to pay at least as much attention to their customers as they do the software pirates. But that's another story.

It is a good buy. As I've said in the past, these wondrous devices are capable of so much more than creating hordes of killer tomatoes. It's both refreshing and gratifying to see programs as good as this on the market. When my kids put aside their game disks and booted up MovieMaker, I was interested to see their reaction. Well, several weeks later they're still at it -- struggling at times, but sticking to it and obviously enjoying themselves. I think Reston has a winner.

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Original text copyright 1984 by ANALOG Computing. Reprinted with permission by the Digital ANALOG Archive.