Lights, camera, Amiga Action!

Largely thanks to NewTek’s (initially) Amiga-exclusive, leading-edge hardware post-production and editing suite, the Video Toaster, and its accompanying 3D modelling software, Lightwave, many movie and TV producers gravitated towards our platform of choice.

The package offered video switching, chroma-keying, character generation, animation, and image manipulation tools that convincingly rivalled the high-end, gold standard equipment favoured by the professionals, only on a shoestring budget.

The upshot for movie and TV lovers was the emergence of a raft of revolutionary, mind-blowing special effects that previously would have to be created using physical models and painstakingly low-tech tricks like stop motion animation.

Sublime creative talent + the Amiga + the Video Toaster = ?

There’s no single, succinct answer to that question, but the following examples should help illustrate the seemingly limitless possibilities…

(A) GVP’s ImageFX software was engaged by Warner Bros’ director of animation, Rusty Mills, to produce the titles and credits for the cartoon TV series, Animaniacs.

(A) Graphic designer, Rick Probst, and his Pacific Motion studio based in Burbank, California harnessed the power of the Amiga to produce storyboards and superimpose titles over the comedy hit movie, Three Men and a Baby.

In fact Pacific Motion worked on a plethora of Hollywood movies including Good Morning Vietnam, Shoot to Kill, Cocktail, Batteries Not Included, Young Guns, Twins, The Fly II, and Stake Out, as well as the TV game shows, Jeopardy, Rollergames and Wheel of Fortune, and the Disney animated cartoon, Dragonslayer.

At the time Rick almost exclusively used Deluxe Paint III in conjunction with an Amiga 2000 equipped with the GVP 68030 accelerator board, six megabytes of RAM, and a SuperGen genlock. Typically any titling work would be created via an Amiga, before the baton was passed to a high-end graphics workstation where the resolution would be dramatically up-scaled.

(A) The graphics featured in the family comedy movie, Honey, I Blew Up the Kid, were the brainchild of visual effects maestro and big Amiga fan, Thomas Hollier, and his Anti-Gravity Workshop studio.

(A) CG supervisor, Everett Burrell, was responsible for the character alteration visual effects in Stephen King’s television movie, The Dark Half.

(A) The Post Group used ASDG’s Morph-Plus to execute the monster morphing special effects in Stephen King’s novel to TV adaptation, Tommyknockers.

(A) Mark Stross’s Toaster Marmalade – an LA-based editing studio – were the brains behind the realistic in-flight shots featured in HBO’s TV movie, Afterburn. Take a peek at the team’s ‘effects-ography’ and you’ll note they are also credited with the CGI for the popular sci-fi channel series, Mysteries from Beyond the Other Dominion.

(A) The effects featured in the reality-based TV series, Unsolved Mysteries, were made all the more special thanks to Joe Conti and his crew’s Toasted Amigas.

(A) Disney animator, Kelly Day, tapped the productive ingenuity of Imagine, Sculpt, and Pro Draw in creating the graphics for the animated series, Goof Troop.

(A) The family TV game show, Total Panic, was digitally enhanced by Dean Friedman and his Mandala-equipped Amigas. Derek Grime (of Fight Club fame) used similar techniques in the production of Nickelodeon’s sitcom, Clarissa Explains It All.

(A) Nickelodeon would routinely use Amigas to lend Nick Arcade its critical interactive element.

(A) We have Amiga artist, Rick Finn, to thank for MTV’s numerous transition effects, titles and animations.

(A) The multimedia effects created for The Advertising Club of New York’s annual awards ceremony were designed with Amigas.

(A) The masterly digital artists that comprised Foundation Imaging were responsible for the graphics and special effects evident in Warner Bros’ Emmy award-winning Babylon 5 movie and TV series. Guess which ground-breaking computer and bread-grilling device they brought along for the ride, and put to work generating the spaceship scenes? No prizes for the correct answer I’m afraid.

(A) The underwater craft special effects featured in Universal Studios’ SeaQuest DSV were the handiwork of Amblin Imaging, who wisely chose to arm themselves with Newtek’s Video Toaster and supporting 3D animation software, Lightwave. The team consisted of eight animators and a rendering farm comprised of more than 60 Amigas.

Without a miniature model in sight, all the exterior perspectives of the submarine, shots of various communities, machines, small vessels, and so on, were created using Lightwave.

At the time, SeaQuest was the most expensive TV show ever produced, racking up monstrous bills of $5m per episode! Notably, it features more special effects than The Empire Strikes Back.

(A) The same team (with their Toaster-tooled Amiga 2000s) were also responsible for Jurassic Park’s pre-visualisation presentations, and the early development of the stunning computer-generated dinosaurs.

This entailed using the Toaster to devise 3D wireframe models of the towering, primordial beasts as part of the animated storyboarding process conducted by Stefan Dechant. This helped to accelerate the choreographing prep work before more capable, Silicon Graphics workstations took charge of the intensive data-crunching, rendering operation.

(A) Thanks to The Post Group, extremely slick morphing effects were a mainstay of BBC 2’s sci-fi, time-travelling TV series, Quantum Leap. I don’t need to tell you which ‘friendly’ computer used in tandem with ADPro and MorphPlus made them a reality.

(A) How about the timeless, action sci-fi Schwarzenegger vehicle, Terminator 2? That wasn’t brought to life with the aid of an Amiga. On the contrary, the award-winning special effects were the output of a series of desktop Silicon Graphics workstations. Oh well, you can’t win ’em all.

(A) Following Brandon Lee’s tragic death in the midst of filming The Crow, Amigas were drafted in to ‘matte’ his face onto a body double, thereby allowing the producers to complete any unshot scenes and go on to release the movie as planned.

(A) The graphics design package, Sign Engine, from Parallel Motion Graphics was put to effective use in ABC’s Young Indiana Jones Chronicles TV show. Production director, Jeff

Ginn (and his two much-loved Amiga 2000s), were responsible for producing the period graphics, fonts (by way of Professional Draw or scanning) and the vintage signage seen in shop windows.

The software’s target market is those in the short-run sign cutting business – it’s considered “ideal for creating silk screen stencils or engraving”.

Jeff Ginn and art assistant, Gordon Barnes, used similar techniques to create faux book covers, movie posters, and other stage-setting graphics for John Carpenter’s horror movie, Mouth of Madness.

(A) Filmmaker and senior animator at Digital Fantasy, Tim Molinder, used a copy of Imagine and an Amiga to produce a TV commercial for a water slide known as ‘The Edge’ based in a Southern California amusement park. The first-person perspective short attempted to simulate the thrill of riding the tube.

(A) Amigas were used to generate background displays for the major motion picture and TV series, Max Headroom.

(A) Joe Conti called upon the Video Toaster to generate time-warp displays, and Lightwave to animate Emilio Estevez’s race car in the movie, Freejack.

Joe was also responsible for the Lightwave-generated graphics featured in the Star Trek VI movie, while Allen Hastings took care of modelling the USS Enterprise and USS Excelsior starships.

(A) The Amiga was utilised in pre-production visualisation for the Titanic movie, while the bulk of the graphics were churned out by dedicated rendering farm workstations.

(A) Digital Domain used the trusty Amiga-Toaster duo to model the USS Defiant starship seen in the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and the feature film, Star Trek: First Contact.

(A) The credits that roll at the end of the horror movie, Buried Alive, were hatched by an Amiga.

(A) Adamski’s no. 1 single, Killer, emanated from the Amiga via the magic of blue screen technology and the combined talents of Jason Kingsley and Grant Harrison. The Eurythmics’ ex-producer contacted them about the job and “using a hundred grands’ worth of equipment” they “put together the sequence with the guy dancing on grey slabs with a red sky in the background”. All they “had to do was trace underneath him with the cursor; the Amiga did the rest”.

(A) Visual effects guru, Ira Curtis-Coleman, helped Ted Danson and Joely Richardson convince the audience that the Loch Ness monster is real in their 1996 movie of the same name.

He explains, “We emulated radar screens and footage of the boat moving up and down Loch Ness. I even went out with an underwater camera and directed it at the images that I wanted. These images were then altered to make them look more interesting.”

“Everyone who came to the preview seemed to be quite pleased with the results, including some of the fishermen who’d been out on the trawlers. They said it was life-like to them. If someone says to me ‘Oh, this is all done by people doing graphics’, then my job isn’t done properly. My main task is to make things look as real as possible so you don’t give them a second look. That’s the whole point of filmmaking.”

(A) The Czech musician, composer and record producer, Jan Hammer, used an Amiga to write the theme music for the TV show, Miami Vice.

(A) George Lucas was purported to be an Amiga fan and collaborated with Commodore US on four TV ads.

(A) Stan Haywood, the creator of the whimsical cartoon series, Henry’s Cat, used an Amiga 2000 for his animation work.

(A) Knightmare was brought to life in part thanks to an Amiga 2000. One was used to create the live foreground imagery such as scrolls, minor monsters and quest objects.

(A) Aardman Animation deployed an Amiga equipped with a personal animation recorder card to produce their Oscar-winning Wallace and Gromit movies.

(A) The UK-based graphics production house, The Magic Camera Company, utilised Amiga 4000s and WarpEngine in conjunction with a Raptor Plus rendering engine with 128mb of RAM to create CGI vehicles and cityscapes for the movie, Cyberjack.

The same group – using Lightwave – took care of the special effects in the James Bond movie, GoldenEye.

(A) The Amiga and Video Toaster were used extensively throughout Robocop 2 to create the graphics seen on various monitors e.g. the one used to represent Cain’s digital persona, and the VDUs in the mobile drugs lab.

Also in the second Robocop movie, the tin man injects a virus into a computer which materialises as a digitised animation of himself. This was created with an Amiga, NewTek’s DigiView, Pixmate, Deluxe Paint III, TV*Text Pro, and Elan Performer.

(A) Many of the digitised graphical elements featured in the RoboCop TV series were augmented via an Amiga 4000 packing a Toaster, under the auspices of Lee Wilson, the show’s visual effects supervisor.

These include the Robocruiser’s computer GUI, the monitor displays that appear in the Metro South squad room, and in the laboratories, RoboCop’s in-visor targeting and diagnostics system, and the backgrounds for Diana’s trip through Robocop’s neuro-nets.

Similarly, the helicopter we see flying over Delta City was drawn and animated in Lightwave and rendered with the Toaster.

(A) Not only was the Amiga used to create the Robocop TV series, an A500 with a Philips monitor can be spotted in the show itself. In one scene, a rabble of baddies use the computer with a blacked-out name badge to watch TV.

This is far from the only Amiga sighting in TV and film; the industry was rife with them at one point, especially in Europe and Australia where they had a firm foothold in terms of prolific usage.

(A) One such notable cameo is in the British TV series, The Rachel Papers, starring Dexter Fletcher. In it he plays Charles, a cocky 19-year-old who before flying the nest on route to Oxford University intends to seduce a stunning American girl called Rachel.

Part of his devious plan involves maintaining a report concerning the girl, along with his seduction strategy, which he stores on his Amiga 500 computer. He can also be seen using it to play Battle Chess.

Commodore somehow failed to mention in their ads that the Amiga can help to streamline the stalking process!

(A) As a wee sproglet I recall Neighbour’s Paul Robinson (Ramsay Street’s resident business mogul) using an Amiga 500 to run his sprawling empire. There was one incident where it contracted a virus and we were led to believe this was going to engender some kind of apocalyptic scenario or other.

Other Ramsay Street residents eg. Todd Landers and his family used the same A500 system at home for schoolwork, which always struck me as a tad surreal as I sat in front of my own.

(A) The Amiga was also visible on office desks in some episodes of the absurdist police TV show, The Detectives, starring Jasper Carrot and Robert Powell.

(A) Aussie artist, Rolf Harris, routinely used Amiga 2000s as animation stations on his TV show. When he requested that viewers send in their own animations, over 70% arrived on Amiga floppy disks.

In fact, starry connections to the Amiga and its peripherals are ten a penny; it turns out that way back when, Wil Wheaton was employed as a Video Toaster tester, though at the time he probably had a better way of stating the entry on his CV so people wouldn’t give him baffled looks.

(A) There’s another nod towards the computer with the amaranthine cult following in Wayne’s World 2, where Garth can be seen wearing a Video Toaster t-shirt. This makes perfect sense when you realise that Dana Carvey who plays Garth is the brother of one of the Video Toaster programmers.

Of course, I couldn’t possibly anticipate covering the entire spectrum of CGI alchemy conjured by the mighty Amiga and the luminaries who have held its reigns since the A1000’s inception in 1985. If I failed to mention your favourite movie from the Amiga’s salad days, try Googling it along with ‘Video Toaster’ and ‘Amiga’. The chances are that in some capacity or other, the Amiga played a significant role in bringing it to the silver screen.

For the countless hours of entertainment and inspiration, we owe an immense debt of gratitude to all the graphical and technical sorcerers who supplanted our dreary, mundane reality with their phantasmagoric vision, if only for a fleeting interlude. You made us believe a Toaster can fly!

2 thoughts on “Lights, camera, Amiga Action!

  • June 29, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    Great stuff! It fills me with glee to know that an Amiga was used on Goldeneye, for example. But the big winner, and an obscure show for sure, was Mysteries from Beyond the Other Dominion…that pleases me greatly. I'm a big fan of Dr.Franklin Ruehl!

  • July 1, 2016 at 12:45 pm

    I'd never heard of him until I started researching this. I'll have to check out the show on the Toobs.

    "Ruehl was rejected on an America's Got Talent audition with an act that encompassed sticking straws into a potato".

    What?!? He didn't win!?! My gasts are flabbered!

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