a blast(-off) from the past

When I was a freshman in high school, circa 2000, and thought I wanted to be a computer animator, I spent a long time playing around with POV-Ray. I was also, of course, obsessed with science fiction (this being contemporaneous with the middle school space game I mentioned some time back). This is the movie I made.

It was rendered and assembled on a 667MHz Pentium III with 128MB of RAM running Windows 98SE.

Remember what I said about 128MB of RAM? The final video, compressed using whatever random free codec I had to hand, was 70MB. Hello, swap city! I don’t remember how long it took me to render the whole thing — I’m guessing about eight hours or so, because I remember leaving my computer on overnight a lot to process test runs. For the graphics nerds in the audience, there are no meshes used in this video; everything is constructive solid geometry (CSG). For everybody else, that means that it’s the result of me painstakingly assembling the unions, intersections, and differences of solids in various configurations and conformations. Taught me a lot about set theory, though I didn’t realize it at the time. ๐Ÿ™‚

I believe the only bitmap texture is the lights on the space station — everything else is procedural textures, since my computer wasn’t up to rendering bitmap textures at a resolution high enough I found it acceptable, fast enough for me to iterate the video as much as I needed to. (Inexperienced computer animator == lots of mistakes.) This being POV-Ray, everything was also hand-coded in a text description language — no modeling software to use to compose my objects visually. (I’d played around some with a 30-day LightWave trial, but obviously I couldn’t afford the $400 price tag.)

I was devastated to discover that POV-Ray uses the file creation time as its random seed, so when I copied the file to back it up, this being before I discovered version control, the wonderful planet texture at the beginning changed completely — I literally can’t render this movie any more. (I believe I’ve also lost the files.) This copy was saved off a CD I burned to take into school to show my art teacher. But I had compressed it with whatever codec was available to me, which was not an off-the-shelf codec like MPEG, so it’s been a while since I’ve been able to watch it, much less do anything with it. Thankfully modern Macs appear to ship with whatever it is by default and will happily transcode it to MPEG4 for me.

At the time, the only music I listened to was classical music, and I loved Wagner’s “The Ride of the Valkyries” and had hit on it as something suitably majestic to accompany the video. (I was obviously heavily influenced by the opening titles from the two Star Trek series which were then airing or had just recently aired, Voyager and I think most especially Deep Space Nine.) I must have played the video together with “Ride” at some point the old-fashioned way, by pressing play simultaneously on the video and my Wal-Mart CD player, but I don’t think I really had the capability much to adjust the timings to make everything sync up, so I was surprised and pleased when I sat down today to finally assemble them that they worked together as well as they do.

The state of video-editing software has improved a lot in ten years. Ten years ago I was also constrained by my budget ($0); I spent a long time looking for free video editing software and didn’t find anything that worked. Today I put the above together in an hour in iMovie (free with the purchase of a $1K+ Mac), time mostly spent fiddling with the timings and trying to futz the ending of the Valkyries clip in Audacity so it sounds like it ends “naturally” (in reality there’s a whole ‘nother section to go). I wasn’t entirely successful, but I got close enough and didn’t want to spend too much time on it. It’s just a little SFnal tweak to the music right at the end, right?

Heck, ten years ago I was still listening to “Ride of the Valkyries” on CD. We’ve come a long ways, in a lot of ways.

2 thoughts on “a blast(-off) from the past”

  1. Space Animation

    I’m very impressed,especially given what you had to work with computerwise and the time you had to work on it back then.

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