“Connect The Dots”
1986. National Video Center. NYC. Lynda and Ellen Kahn of “Twin Art” asked me to help them put together an animated sequence for the upcoming new show “Pee Wee’s Playhouse.” In the sequence “Connect The Dots,” Pee Wee Herman jumps into his “Magic Screen” and tosses up colored dots that connect and construct a farm tractor for him to play with. Pee Wee had been shot on green screen on 16mm film and transferred to one-inch tape. Twin Art prepared the graphic elements on a Quantel Paintbox, the standard at the time. (Photoshop, After Effects, or anything else for that matter didn’t exist.)
It was my job to combine the green screen footage and all the multi-colored graphic elements in my edit suite.
Hoping to get the 1:20 piece done in 10 hours we decided to book the job starting on Friday night in case we needed more time. That also allowed us have the use of all the Videotape machines and equipment we wanted without anyone knowing. The amount of time we though we needed was a guess because no one had done anything like this before.
In 1986 one-inch videotape was the gold standard for editing. Non-linear editing or digital compositing system had yet to be invented. Although the most widely used editing controller at the time was CMX, we had a system called a “Datatron Vanguard.” (It was nicknamed “Dumbatron by some of the editors.) It controlled tape machines, production switchers and audio decks thru a series of relays. The relays had a “delay time” of up to 6 frames. Not ideal for doing precise single frame animation editing. Doing multilayered compositing on tape prior to the digital revolution was time consuming and each time you made a copy or added a layer the image degraded severely. One had to be careful of “generational loss.” This piece was going to ultimately take upwards of 100 generations. The piece looks simple by today’s standards (and it is) but at the time it was uncharted territory. We had to find a way to reduce “generational loss.
”Slaving 6 one-inch tape machines together and using two switchers- one in a separate edit room down the hall helped. For each edit I would roll all the tape machines containing pre-built sequences in a long 30 second pre-roll and run to the other room hopefully in time to hit a button on the switcher in there (and account for the 6 frame delay). One frame at a time. Doing thousands of single frame edits we built the piece backwards. We started with the end frames and added layer upon layer hoping that everything would match up at the end. Luckily there were a few full frame edits so we could hide any errors. And the childlike style of the animation also helped.When we finished it was Sunday morning around 11Am. We went straight thru Friday and Saturday night in order to make Monday morning delivery.
I went on to do 2 more “Connect the Dots” sequences with Twin Art. On the next 2 we had gotten a “black box” called the Abekas A62 that changed everything but that’s another story.