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Animation Software

This is a story I got from the friend of a friend who works for a Hollywood special-effects company. In other words, it's a FOAF-tale (Friend Of A Friend) and may have as much credibility as Burt Reynolds's toupee. Remember the cheesy 1970s TV series Battlestar Galactica? It did well enough to spawn a movie with the same name.

When filming of the Battlestar Galactica movie began, the specification of the spaceship bridge set called for lots of CRTs with animated wire-frame displays. Since the displays should show pictures of various space craft and look futuristic, the images had to rotate wildly.

When the staff at the special-effects company started to generate these displays, they discovered that programming real-time animated computer graphics is quite a bit more difficult than stop-motion photography of clay animation models. Shocking as it sounds, these people were not really programmers at all; what they did was create motion-control sequences to "fly" model spaceships through combat maneuvers for the camera. Writing real software to display wire-frame images on the monitors was a venture into the unknown.

Their attempts to write code proved fruitless. Finally, they reverted to doing what they knew best: They got the model shop to build them some wire-frame models out of actual wire, sprayed them with fluorescent paint, and hooked them up to servomotors inside dummy CRTs illuminated with ultra-violet lamps. Then they wrote a little code to run the servomotors. The wire models rotated, tilted up and down, glowed brightly, and apparently looked very realistic on film, even to people who knew what wire-frame graphics should look like.

All this cost only a small fraction more than it would have cost to learn the graphics programming or to hire someone who already knew how to do it. The great thing is that Hollywood's reputation was upheld for having, underneath all that fake tinsel and glitter, real tinsel and glitter. Battlestar Galactica was still a cheesy movie, but in this case at least it the cheese was real.

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