Marshall McLuhan who first studied how media affected us said that when new technology is introduced, it includes the old technology. Television was a combination of radio and film. Computers are now a fact of life in the arts and in filmmaking, but when they were first introduced, they mimicked the old technology. Digital software is virtual and is not subject to the laws of the physical world such as gravity and fiction. To attract users of the old technology, programmers had to build in some of those remnants of the physical world.
If a tool makes a job easier, it is the proper tool. If it makes the job harder, it is the wrong tool.
Final Cut Pro was one of the first editing programs designed to replace the physical cutting of film. Before computers came along, cutting film was a long and tedious process. You had to have bins where you could hang pieces of film so it stayed off the dirty floor. Then you could grab those pieces and splice them together with the other pieces of film. In the digital virtual world, you didn't have to hang pieces of film anymore. But Final Cut Pro made virtual bins anyway. They built in the inconvenience of film, even though the inconvenience was obsolete in the virtual world.
To create a cross dissolve in film, you had to gradually decrease the exposure of one piece of film down from 100% to 0% while increasing a second piece of film from 0% to 100%. This film had to be sent to a film lab where it double exposed the the two pieces of film onto a third piece of film. A real pain in the ass. In the virtual world of Final Cut Pro, this long process was no longer necessary. You could just drag and drop the cross dissolve in between clips and instantly see it like in Apple's iMovie. But in Final Cut Pro, after dragging and dropping a cross dissolve between shots, you had to wait for it to render before you could see if you liked the cross dissolve or not. They had to build in the pain is the ass to make people familiar with the old technology comfortable in their misery.
iMovie was simple and straight forward. You just dragged and dropped a transition and could immediately play it without rendering to see if you liked it. Before iMovie, desktop publishing was possible on computers. After iMovie, desktop movie making and editing was possible. iMovie was what made me switch from the Amiga to the Mac.
Another pioneering art program was Photoshop which mimicked traditional painting tools. In Photoshop, you couldn’t just hit the ground running with a brush. You had to “configure” the brush. This consisted of going through several menus and sub’menus, choosing the taper of the brush, the wetness of the brush, the fall off of the brush, the shape of the brush. By the time you had gone through all these choices, you forgot why you originally wanted to use the brush.
ArtRage is a very powerful painting tool with a very simple user interface. You choose a brush. If it is not exactly what you want, a slider goes from 0% to 100% to tweak it. Less headache and way less price.
When the movie Roger Rabbit came out, the Amiga computer was popular and Eric Daniels, who had animated on Roger, was hired to animate a Roger Rabbit game for the Amiga. So he could animate in the traditional way, the programmer wrote code for an in-house animation tool. It allowed Eric to draw extremes and then inbetween them for smooth animation. As luck would have it, though, the Roger Rabbit game wasn't a big success. But the programmer sold the animation program to Disney who renamed it The Disney Animation Studio and successfully marketed it.
In the old technology, an animator for film drew on a light table. If, for example, the animator was drawing a pitcher throwing a baseball, drawing number one would be the beginning of the action with the arm pulled back. Then with the light on, the animator would lay another sheet of paper over drawing number one and draw number three, which would be the end of the throw where the pitching arm is extended forward. Then the animator lays a third sheet of paper over the other two and draws the in-between, which is drawing number two. In this drawing, the arm follows an arc and is positioned somewhere between the beginning pose and the ending pose. The drawings are out of order (2, 3, 1), so the animator has to take them off the peg bars and put them in the proper order (1, 2, 3) to see it move correctly as they flip it.
The Disney Animation Studio literally transposed that process to the digital world, so you drew number one, then drew number three, and then number two. If you pressed play, it would be out of order and not move correctly. To see it move correctly, you had to trade the drawings around from what was onscreen to a buffer and then go back to the buffer to retrieve the drawings in the proper order before you could hit play and see it move correctly. While it was offscreen and invisible to the naked eye, you could easily lose a drawing if you weren't paying attention. So the tedious process of the old technology was built into the new technology to keep it cumbersome.
Along comes Deluxe Paint III from Electronic Arts. They took advantage of the digital technology and before you drew anything, it had a template of image sequence called P and N. First you drew a frame. When you added a frame, it made the previous frame P (P for Previous). When you jumped back to the previous frame, the next frame was N (N for Next). You could jump back and forth between P and N with the left and right arrow keys and see the basic movement. When you were on P, you could add a blank frame by hitting the pluse key. With the light box on, you could see the Previous frame and the Next frame and in-between it. Then just hit spacebar and you could see the animation loop. The drawings never got out of order. It took advantage of digital reality to make the process of drawn animation easier.
The programs I mentioned in this blog were at the transition from old technology to new technology. As computers are now a big part of our lives, software designers are creating better user interfaces that make the process of creating art and film easier. They don't have to build in extra tedious steps to make the process the chore it used to be. With some of the newer software, it leaves you freer to let the imagination loose.