About Me

I'm just someone struggling against my own inertia to be creative. My current favorite book is "Oh the places you'll go" by Dr. Seuss

Friday, May 8, 2009

Autodesk Animator

UPDATE: New website, animatorpro.org , Source code now online.

Here's a little story about a neat old computer program, and how I plan to save it from the brink of digital death.

For the past few years I've been fascinated by this program. Way back in the beginning, I became aware of the existence of dedicated communities devoted to solely pixel art.

One of the communities, pixelation, had a highly regarded tutorial titled "so you want to be a pixel artist?"

(Links are to mirrors, the original site is long gone). When I read that tutorial was the first time I became aware of the fact that there was a program called "Autodesk Animator". The native format of Animator (fli, flc) was certainly ubiquitous in the 1990's. Even today, Mac OS X doesn't need any special software to play FLI files, quicktime handles them natively. I have also been a participant in the pov-ray community, which used independent dos utilities to string together ray-traced frames into Animator's FLI and FLC format. Why? It was the very first widely available delta compressed video format!

What really grabbed my interest, was this spectacular animation by a guy named Paul Robertson.(NSFW!) who allegedly used Autodesk Animator to make it.

So cargo cultist that I am, I set about attempting to obtain the software. This is really difficult to do, it turns out. Eventually I succeeded. (*whistles). The software can only be run on a modern computer by means of emulation. DosBox is quite capable of running the software. Here's me on the DosBox forums trying to make that experience suck less.

The software is really very much like another contemporary peice of software called Deluxe Paint. Between Autodesk Animator, and Deluxe Paint, you can account for about 90%*(making shit up) of the game artwork produced between 1989 and 1999. These were *the* pixel art programs. They belong to a class of paint program designed around the limitations of computers that can only display small amounts of colors. A style of paint program that has really fallen into obscurity ever since the photoshops of the world took over with their fancy 24-bit color modes. (oh and by the way, Dr. Katz, Home Movies, and Science Court were made in Animator, also, most of these youtube videos, and also, my cool dinosaur animation)

What sets Animator apart from its contemporaries is its direct keyboard control over animation functions, a very useful Sprite animation mode, and a built in scripting language named PocoScript.

What sets it apart from Modern paint programs is that while it is only capable of producing 256 color images and animations, it has a vast number of tools, inks, filters, and effects that modern programs cannot use in their highly crippled 8-bit modes. In addition, the functions available for manipulating that limited palette are unmatched by any other program I've seen. These properties make it ideally suited for producing art for platforms with limited capacity (such as game consoles, mobile phones, toys, etc) in other words, "pixel art". In its own time, this was thought of as a severe limitation. Today, this is its advantage- this is its characteristic difference.

Just one problem.

So, I'm going to do something about it! I had an idea. In my research, I found out quite a bit about the history of this program. I found out that before it was a PC program named Autodesk Animator, it was an Atari ST program named "Cyberpaint'. Before that it was Aegis Animator, and Flicker, and a conglomeration of other small paint programs and experiments, all authored by a guy named Jim Kent, who had a funny habit of negotating software contracts that let him keep the rights to the source code. Hmm. Interesting little story about Jim Kent. In the year 2000, he mapped the human genome using a cluster of 40 commodity PC's in his basement, Beating out a biotech firm by a day, and thus saving the technology, and our genes from patents. Oh yeah, and he likes open source software.

So I decided to email him, asking if he might, maybe, kind of, consider maybe open sourcing our favorite program. This was his response:

Oh, and by the way...

So, he kept his rights to the source code, and now, he is granting me access to the source code, to make it available to you all! Well not so fast. He also asked me to get in touch with Gary Yost to ensure that he didn't object. (Former owner of Yost Group who licensed the original software to Autodesk), Well okay, that wasn't so easy, since he's now a big shot vice president in a tiny little company called Mental Images

But I managed, and I got his support too! So now that all the relevant parties are up to speed with my idea let's go!

Hold on, though, there's some chores to do first before I can release it to the public. I know I know, blah blah blah. First off, there's a bunch of material in these little zip files which suspiciously looks like stuff that Jim Kent did not write. There's piles and piles of documentation that looks suspiciously.. .copyright autodesk. There's piles of fonts licensed from-- Anim8 inc, a company that I can find ZERO information about. (help?) and Sample artwork that I can't use, because I don't know who made it.

There's also the technical challenges. It would be nice before I release the source code, if I knew all the tools and software that it depends on, and how to compile it. It would be even better if I could adapt the code to compile with tools that are Free and Open Source, rather than tools that are proprietary, out of date, and impossible to find

So I know it's frustrating, but I'm going to have to sit on the code for a short while, so I can sort these issues out. I'm soliciting for anyone that can help with writing documentation, any artists that are willing to make sample artwork using the software, any lawyers that are willing to offer me advice on how to avoid stabbing myself in the foot, and anyone who is a particularly clever programmer that knows anything about programming for MSDOS, or is willing to try their hand at pocoscript to make some sample scripts. I'm kind of a clever cookie myself, and given enough time I can probably get a lot of this stuff done on my own, but it will take me a loooong time without help. I will detail the technical challenges in an upcoming post for those interested, and document my progress through this new project.


▓▒░ TORLEY ░▒▓ said...

I came here searching for Aegis Animator and what had become of it — I didn't realize such a storied history would unfold.

Your devotion to keeping Autodesk Animator's memory alive is inspiring. While I don't plan to use the source code, I can definitely relate to your passion.

Unknown said...

It's just more that great! Bringing those beautiful paint programs back to the life is just a wonderful plan! Let me know if I could help somehow!

Unknown said...

I loved AAT, and now trying to rewrite it (Not progressed too much tough).

Is it possible to peek into the source as far as I don't want to see the Autodesk's and others copyrighted part?

(I happily clicked the picture of the .ZIP files just to see that they are only pictures... :-) )

Breton Slivka said...

You show me yours and I'll show you mine.

(email zenpsycho@gmail.com)

Eric Garrison said...

Inspiring post! Did you use 1.0 or 1.3? If so, what version do you reccomend?

Breton Slivka said...

I used 1.3, and there are definately a lot of improvements in that one. There are also one or two features that have either been removed, or are much more difficult to find and use.

As for the source code, 1.0 will be much easier to deal with from that end. 1.3 is about 10 times bigger, weighing in at roughly 300,000 lines of code. When I posted this, I had not fully taken into account the magnitude of the problem I face. It's been some months now and I have not made very much progress unfortunately. I'm making my goals a bit more modest now. Of course I'll post again when there's something to report.

Anonymous said...

Could the sources be freely available?
This program is really needed...
I saw it in action. Used it. Good luck!

r.kachowski said...

A great idea!

I was experimenting with autodesk animator a few years ago (also after reading an article about Paul Robertson) but I found it pretty unintuitive to work with, after being spoiled by the friendly image programs we have now. One thing that really crushed me was the lack of reference and tutorials.

Some kind of noob friendly guide to AA would be awesome (hint :D)

Breton Slivka said...

Yes, the interface is a bit weird, and different from what we're used to. There's a learning curve. But I have books, and manuals, and text files, and so my plan was to make a wiki.

In the meantime, I found a great quickstart guide here http://forums.tigsource.com/index.php?topic=2916.0

r.kachowski said...

actually I started that thread, but there is still quite some information missing.

a wiki sounds like a great idea! your efforts are much appreciated :)

Anonymous said...


Breton Slivka said...

@r.kachowski d'oh! i didn't even notice! How lame of me!

I also posted later on in that thread, that was shortly before I'd found an Autodesk Animator book in my local library, which filled in some of the missing pieces.

In the meantime, you may wish to have a look at this interesting little text file, in amongst the source code


Unknown said...

Hey, I read your thread on the DOSBox forums. I'm just wondering if you ever did find a way to get this to play well with tablets? It doesn't even have to be DOSBox.

Breton Slivka said...

I did, and I wrote about it in the dosbox thread. I just haven't quite gotten it to work yet. Thanks :)

Sirocco said...

Hi there. Glad to see people are still enjoying Animator. I recently started working on a remake of Animator using Allegro. It's being designed to work at the pixel level, but without any of the actual animation features of the original program. You'll still be able to work with multiple frames, but not save them to a FLC, for example. In exchange for the optics and stuff that no one ever uses these days, I'm adding in support for true color as well as palleted image editing, and the ability to edit images of any size. The wonky cel scaling and rotation, though impressive as hell for its time (raw speed!) will also be improved.

It's called Moai, and it will be done fairly soon-ish.


dzutrinh said...

Thank you for releasing the source. I've been working on a MS-DOS 2D/3D graphics engine in Borland Pascal and this could help me out alot.

I got the 2 softwares and another awesome software piece from Autodesk too - Animator, Animator Pro and 3D Studio 2.0 - with full installation diskette long ago and still love them alot until now.

dzutrinh said...

Thank you so much for releasing the source. I've been working on a MS-DOS based 2D/3D graphics engine in Borland Pascal. This could help me out alot.

I got the softwares long ago, at about 1992, Animator 1.0 and Animator Pro 1.3 full installation diskettes and another awesome software piece from Autodesk too, 3D Studio 2.0. Having lost the diskettes, it seems impossible to find the softwares again until I have access to the Internet 10 years ago.

Sirocco said...

Hi there, just posting a follow up to my previous comment. My spiritual successor to Animator, Moai, is finished and publicly available at Codethulhu();. Right now it's a Win32 project, but there's a good chance it'll land on Linux if Allegro cooperates. While I didn't incorporate any of the original source in the program (indeed, I barely looked at it), I did find it a fascinating study in how a top-notch piece of software is pushed out the door in record time. The documentation is the real gem here: file formats, thoughts and concerns, design considerations... even bugs... are all laid out in the various TXT files.

Unknown said...

Hey there!

Finding this post and your animatorpro.org site / github repo made my week. I still have the original discs in a bin, somewhere, from when I was in high school.

I was wondering-- the github repo doesn't seem to have seen too much action in the past eleven months. Is the upgrade of the project still going on?

Thanks for doing this!
~ K

Breton Slivka said...

Hi there, yes, I'm still working on it. I am just really really frustratingly annoying slow. remember that I have been tinkering on this thing since 2006, bit by bit, whenever my attention is drawn to it away from the various other projects I have. Note the theme of this blog is that I have too many damn ideas for my own good ;)

Here is a report of progress which has not been checked in to the github repo yet:

I have got the Animator Pro build process to get MOSTLY through, with a really maddening linker error that I haven't been able to figure out yet. But the interesting thing is that the build *has* progressed far enough to allow new custom tools, inks, and image format plugins to be created for existing builds of animator pro. So that's neat.

Breton Slivka said...

Oh also, the packaged in "Sample Artwork" that I said I couldn't include because I didn't know who made it. Well, now I know who made most of it. And he's got a youtube account here: http://www.youtube.com/user/UnkaDug1

Breton Slivka said...

Wait a second, did you say you have the original discs? the ones for Animator Pro by any chance?
Do you happen to have any of the other materials as well? I've had a bit of difficulty trying to get a full accounting of everything that was included in the Animator Pro box.

David Clark said...

The Animator Pro v1 box contains:
6 x 1.2mb 5.25" floppy discs,
Installation and performance guide, staple bound, about 36 pages.
Animator Pro Player Users Guide, staple bound, about 44 pages.
Utilities User's Guide, wirebound, about 95 pages.
Reference Manual, wirebound, about 320 pages.
Tutorials, wirebound, about 320 pages.

These books are all with full colour card covers and the wire binding makes them easy to use next to the keyboard.

I used Animator Pro v1 in the early 90's for small animations used to spice up product launch presentations - all for venue projection using the AniPro Player scripting. What I enjoyed was the really easy and effective macro record and playback capabilities - once up to speed it made for really creative painting over multiple frame sequences. I later updated to using v1.1. I still have the v1 boxed set in my office cupboard store, and sometimes think of getting into it again for some fun projects - what are today considered 'limitations' are likely to produce a unique visual character.

In those days, 1991, pricey software came in really fancy boxes and complete printed documentation. I also have 3D Studio v2, Acad 12 DOS with discs and docs in similar mint condition. I backed the software to CD's many years ago, when floppy and stiffy discs gave way.

I first started with Animator, though moved to Pro quickly for the higher frame resolution capabilities. So, also in my library is a well thumbed copy of Deke McClelland's 'The Best Book of Autodesk Animator' published by SAMS in 1990, all of the content highly useful in all versions.

David Clark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Clark said...

Just remembered, to add to my previous comment - I used to (as a sideline) sell the Vibrant Graphics range of graphics accelerator software drivers, which, in common with all Autodesk products then, used parallel port 'dongles' as hardware licence limiters. ProRes was their offering for Animator Pro ... I used to have a stack of 6 dongles linked together (AutoCAD & SoftEngine Graphics driver, AniPro & ProRes driver, 3D Studio & LiquidSpeed driver). Perhaps in your project you could look into incorporating the ProRes driver technology to speed up graphics performance.

What options are available to solve the 'dongle' problem ... on 'locked' software? I haven't worried about it - on the shelf under the Animator Pro box is an old Pentium 2 Twinhead laptop with DOS 6.x, Win 98 and a parallel port around the back.

Breton Slivka said...

re: contents- what's on those disks? what sample artwork gets installed I wonder.

Re: graphics accelleration- That whole business has been made super redundant by cross platform hardware abstraction libraries like allegro and SDL. An openGL driver could be written for accelerated graphics performance on modern hardware.

Re: locked software- The software is rather unlocked as is, but I note that there's a copy protection thingy source file that I can just simply bypass if it ever becomes a problem - since, well, I have the source.

Cadtoon said...

Great forum, I have been following it for some time now. I started working with these products (Acad 9, 3ds1 and animator) back in 1989. I still have 3ds4, Acad 12, ANI Pro and Animator studio. With exception to Ani studio these are dos programs that once installed all you need is a backup of the directory and it will work. I eliminate the need of using the dongle when a crack finally came out for it.

It has been so long since used Ani Pro I was searching for a copy of the reference manual to refresh my memory. If someone could provide a copy I would really appreciate it.

FYI: back in 1991 I took second place in a contest by Catalyst Magazine for 2D animation. I still have the duck animation. ANI 1.0 was only 320x240.

Thank you DosBox for giving me the opportunity to run Ani Pro again, on windows 8. Happy, Happy


Breton Slivka said...

I actually have the reference manual, I just haven't got around to scanning it. Augh! Anyway, if/when I do, I will probably put it on http://animatorpro.org and tweet about it on @animatorpro
I love this software and I work on it whenever I can-

though I feel like I have been neglecting it because, you know, life keeps getting in the way.

Anonymous said...

Where do you find the AFLC codec to play the old AVI files that animator created?

Breton Slivka said...

i don't know exactly but you may have some luck here:

Anonymous said...

hi breton,

github page was very confusing. i finally found the AKA, which remarkably seems to load fine onto DOSBOX in RISCOS on a new Raspberry Pi 2.

the Autodesk.zip file linked from the original tutorial has some hiccups when loading in the same environment.

any possibility of making available a precompiled for DOSBOX zip of the Pristine Pro?

gotta copy of the SAMS book on its way. thanks!

enok said...

Found this blog post yesterday via animatorpro.org - just wow!

Animator & AniPro were quite popular with the demoscene back in the nineties. I did some graphics (logos and the like) back then with this program, loved the VESA X-modes, especially the ones with weird pixel aspect ratios. I think AniPro was the most advanced program of this kind. Thinking about it, a 24/32 bit version (a'la TrueBrilliance or Newtek Aura) could have been a nice followup.

Although I'm not doing pixel art anymore but seeing this project brought back nice memories. :)
Btw. some of the (scene) stuff I've done can be found here: