Monday, October 27, 2008

Mi Amiga, mi amor

Amiga computers changed my life.

Back in 1990, I was an aspiring filmmaker--fresh out of film school and working on a super-low-budget feature film. Then I ran out of money and decided to do freelance work to continue financing the feature. I probably would have continued with that route except that one day, while driving through Aurora, Illinois, I happened to take a wrong turn and pass a sign that said, "Computers for Video!"

The sign was advertising a place (Microtech Computers) that sold Amiga computers with Video Toasters. After stopping in for an impromptu demo of the editing capabilities, I reformulated my plans and wound up starting my own production company. Although the initial plan was just to do live action production, the Toaster came with a 3-D animation program called Lightwave. I'd minored in animation, so I started messing around with the 3-D animation features just because they were there and free. Two years later, more than half of the work my company was doing was computer animation--all of it programmed and rendered on Amigas.

Ah, how I loved my Amigas. They seemed like they were only about 30% scientific machine and the rest was just magic. You couldn't always tell when or how they were going to work, but with the right combination of strange work arounds and mysterious software, you could get them to do almost anything. They were light years ahead of both Macs and PCs in terms of performance, speed and sheer voodoo power. And they were far more financially in reach (and faster to boot) than the Silicon Graphics machines that were the computer animation industry standard at the time. My company started off with one Amiga--with a built in 500 meg drive (the largest money could buy at the time)--and ended with more than a dozen of them. We did 3-D and cell animation, film resolution rendering, music composing and production, off and on-line editing, morphing, accounting, script writing and a hell of a lot of video game playing on those machines.

Amigas built the computer animation reel that eventually landed me a job directing animation at Will Vinton Studios. I started off doing mostly M&M's commercials but then segued into some animated television series work and eventually found my way into character and story consulting. Which is what I do now--and which turns out to be the best job I've ever had. I think it's absolutely safe to say that none of that would have happened if I hadn't taken a wrong turn and run straight into Amigas back in 1990.

Of course, Amiga went out of business back in the mid 1990's and I had to migrate to other platforms (none of which are half as fun or a quarter as dynamic) but I still miss my magic machines.

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