Amazing Animation

published by Claris Corp.

by Stuart Bonwit

Washington Apple Pi Journal, January/February 1995, p. 58, reprint information

Broad Brush

Amazing Animation is a multimedia production software package for the 5- to 14-year-old crowd. Surprisingly sophisticated movies with sound can be produced. My personal favorite features: the Uh-Oh button is the Un-Do and the Firecracker button is the Delete! The Uh-Oh button says, "Uh-Oh," in the voice of an 18 month old and the Firecracker button sounds like one!

This software is too good for kids!

The package is set up so that children can pick a level of difficulty suitable to their age group. For the easiest level, one can pick one of nine canned background scenes, one of thirty canned objects to be animated in the scene, and one of fifty-five canned sounds. At higher levels, one can create original scenes, animation objects, sounds, titles, and special effects, including rotation, sizing, wipes, pauses, and interactive buttons. The teacher or parent may select "Little Kids" level, which hides the advanced level menus.

For every command that is given, a funny synthetic sound is heard. No two commands have the same sound as far as I've found.

The software was "beta tested" by three children ages 7, 9, and 14 years old. A 5-year-old was not immediately available. It was an overwhelming success. The biggest problem was getting them to quit.

Details

The package is supplied with either four high density (1.44 MB) floppy disks or a CD-ROM for installation. Installation with the floppies was straight-forward. The software comes in the form of SIT files which are expanded during the course of installation. The owner's name is required as well as the serial number from the registration card before the application can be opened. It apparently records this on the hard disk, not on the supplied disks.

The 62-page User's Guide is well written and logically laid out. It should be easy to follow for children in the upper end of the age range, but I doubt that they would read it or even need to. Children in the lower end of the age range will require help getting started, but after that, watch out!

The Screen Shot shows a typical situation. The buttons at the bottom are:

  1. Scenes. This brings up a selection of backgrounds. A background is constant in the animation until a new one is selected.
  2. Stamps. This brings up a selection of objects that can be animated in the scene.
  3. Sounds. This brings up a selection of sounds which can be introduced anywhere in the animation.
  4. Firecracker. For deleting a selected item.
  5. Uh-Oh. For undo-ing the last command.

[Amazing Animation screen shot]

The word "Basic" indicates the lowest level. The up and down arrows lead to the higher levels. In the upper left are the "Play", frame number, step frame forward and backward, and go-to beginning and go-to-end buttons. Clicking the frame number displays a film strip showing all the frames in the animation, each one being numbered. Clicking on a particular frame in the strip moves the main screen directly to that frame.

The "Jungle" scene and the "Monkey" stamp have been selected. A rubber stamp appears which can be moved around to place the monkey (rubber stamp it!) anywhere in the scene. Clicking the mouse clears the stamp and places the monkey at the selected point as seen in the Screen Shot. During the course of all this, voice prompts tell you what you can do next. The monkey stamp actually consists of many images that animate the monkey swinging from tree to tree. These are brought out by dragging the monkey image across the scene. As the image is dragged, beeps indicate where the individual monkey frames will appear in the movie. At the same time the frame number count increases.

Let's say we want a monkey sound at frame 009. Opening the film strip and clicking on frame 009 in the strip selects that frame on the main screen. Clicking the upper left square in the film strip or the frame number on the main screen clears the film strip. Clicking the Sounds button opens a selection chart. Clicking on the Monkey sound in the selection chart puts the Monkey sound at frame 009. Clicking on the double-left arrow moves the movie to the start. Clicking on Play plays your first masterpiece! The movie can then be saved.

There's one little glitch that only the nit-pickers (and 14 year-olds) will notice: When the movie gets to a frame with sound, there's a momentary pause while the sound is called up.

Cris, the 14-year-old child, was first at the controls. After a few basic instructions he was on his own. When Collin, the 9-year-old, came in, Chris instructed him. Collin was soon on his own. Each vied for chances to be at the controls. Nobody ran out of ideas. Later, Casey, the 7-year-old, came in. After minimal instruction he was off and running, ideas coming faster than he could implement them.

At the higher level there is a paint program to create new backgrounds and stamps (objects). It has many of a paint program's basics which are adequate. There are "buttons" that can be inserted in the movie to allow a viewer a choice of paths to follow (interactive). But the things that really impressed me were the "Wipes." These are actually transitions that are inserted between two frames. It is most spectacular when the background scene changes. There are 20 Wipes available including: straight line wipes in the four directions; new scene sliding in from the four directions; fade out/fade in (by randomly inserting, then removing, black pixels); dissolve (by randomly replacing pixels from the first scene with those of the second), vertical page rolls, etc.

Even with all the combinations of scenes, stamps, and sounds, I have a feeling that eventually the program would run out of steam for children. These canned items are essentially unalterable except for size and orientation. The paint program might hold a child's interest, but only the most talented and persistent child would be able to create any animation with it. (Author's opinion; the test children were not here long enough to test it.)

However, I still say: this software is too good for kids!

Conclusion

I am most favorably impressed with this package. It would be a welcomed gift to any child (no matter what age!) that likes to play on the computer. Any school should be glad to get the package but must observe licensing agreements.

Hardware requirements for the Mac are:

Amazing Animation is a product of:

Claris Corp.
5201 Patrick Henry Drive
Box 58168
Santa Clara CA 95052-8168
List price $59.

*


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