In the past I’ve hinted at my all-time favorite software, how I have an old backup copy (the original licensed one is no longer used – the company went bankrupt and nobody else knew how to use it) and how I”d love to get a license for it so I can start using it again. After discussing it last week I bit the bullet and contacted the developer.
And they didn’t reply.
Which is hardly surprising, since everything about the developer’s site is geared to current products. For example, just to ask a question you have to specify which product it’s about, and only current products are shown. I found a general sales link that said they try to reply 24 hours. That was about a week ago.
I did find one person who said he had an old copuy of the software to sell, but that was from months ago. I contacted him anyway, but again, no reply.
Since then I’ve done some searching and I’ve found a modern product at a reasonable price that does some of what product X did, so with great reluctance it looks like the world’s greatest software will have to be consigned to the garbage bin of history, because of licensing issues. Oh how I wish there was a sane legal abandonware law. The present law seems designed to destroy the best ideas and punish those who want to be legal.
Anyway the name of the mystery software? (Drum roll please):
Autodesk Animator Pro
(note: this is the classic 1992 version, 1.3, not much simpler 1.0 or the so-promising-yet-disappointing Windows version)
What AAPro does that nothing else does:
* Unparalleled (and easy) palette control. Back in the days of DOS, palettes really mattered. With AAPro you can perform clever time-based changing of individual palette positions, you can assign a particular part of an animation to a particular set of palette positions, you can copy, merge, cycle, shrink, adjust (with or without color fitting) on a position by position basis if you wish. This allows some really interesting effects, low file sizes and general cleaning up of images (e.g. by moving all the errors into a certain palette range then obliterating it).
In comparison, every other animation program I’ve ever seen either makes palettes tricky to access (tiny headache-inducing palette sizes, several awkward clicks for even he simplest change) or more usually, many changes involve automatic clumsy recalculation of the entire palette, losing all your fine tuning, losing the most important colors, remapping everything blindly and adding in unwanted colors. Ugh.
* Huge combination of brush and ink combinations. Little things like outlining, or blurring and antialiasing at 8 bit level without converting to true color first (and thus losing vital palette control), or sweeping for orphan pixels (many still image programs allow this in high color, but not with the palette control that AAPro allows)
* Fully featured layer option (where one animation is placed on or under another). Some animation programs allow you to paint with an animation as a brush, but their level of control of the second animation is crude or awkward.
* Fast rendering (compared with, say, Animation shop of any high color based program). This isn’t a huge deal breaker, but occasionally the difference in speed is huge.
* General awesomeness. OK, this one is a bit subjective. But the whole thing just feels well programmed, and there are so many nice extra touches (sophisticated control of 3D effects, vector morphing with any ink type, heck it even has its own plug-in language). I suppose everyone gets used to a certain way of doing things, and back in the early 90s me and AAPro just clicked.
If anyone knows of another animation product that can do this in the hundred dollar range, I’m interested.
(To be fair, AAPro was originally rather more that $100, but back in 1992 software in general cost a lot more than it does today.) Much of its awesomeness, and why I give it the title greatest software ever, has to be seen in the light of what other products could do at the time. Most of them were still stuck in 640k, or had to run with Windows limitations. Animator could use ALL your memory, and even run DOS simultaneously if you wanted.
To see Animator’s awesomness in context, a couple of years after its release Computer Shopper (or one of the other major computer magazines, I forget which one) did a big feature on animation software. For some reason they didn’t test Animator, but tested all its rivals, including Macromedia Director. Director back in those days was a joke – to animate you needed to individually store seperate frames in little boxes. Ugh! The magazine concluded that there were NO good animation programs available for the normal user. All other animation programs were horribly limited. But ah Animator…
Anyway, regarding the use of Animator in my game, I have to duplicate its functionality (without the beautiful palette control) using a collection of other software: Photoshop Elements (excellent for individual frames, and can output to animated GIF), Animation Shop (can input Photoshop’s animated GIF format and output FLC, plus it’s good for quick and crude frame by frame drawing), Bink and Smacker RAD tools (for conversion to and from other formats – e.g. to input video), the GIMP (for separating frames and only showing changes – useful for keeping file sizes down in AGS), and a new product that I’m currently evaluating (which used FLC mainly) and will blog about if/when I buy it.
Incidentally, Animation Shop has also been discontinued, but luckily I bought a second hand version. This seems to be a trend for animation software: it’s either highly expensive and over-featured (for professional animation studios), cheap but too limited for me (e.g. GIF Animator), aimed at Vectors and Flash (e.g. Toon Boom and others) or it gets discontinued. I guess nobody does 8 bit pixel-level 2D animation any more. Well I do!!
Sorry this post is so long. Again. If I had more time it would be shorter.