Streaky movie open!

Sunday, May 3rd, 2020

One of the ads I saw, way back when starting out in doing graphics for television was for a film animation studio called Edstan. I remember looking at their streaky, slit-scan-y animation work with huge admiration and wondering how I could do anything like it with the then-crude tools of video.

It’s kind of hard to explain, but this early stuff was done as long, multiple, gel covered exposures on film, using downward-facing film cameras attached to stepper motors that in some cases were attached to Apple // computers—for computer control!—of the crudest sort.

According to various online searches, Edstan hasn’t been in existence since 1991, and the ‘stan’ part probably refers to Stanley J. Beck, who died in January 2017.

At any rate, the idea of a classic “night at the movies” open for the networks has laid fallow for at least a decade or two, when broadcast networks discovered that getting people together for appointment television to watch a semi-recent movie, laden with commercials, wasn’t a big moneymaker.

But times have changed! Maybe!

Tonight at 8 eastern! On CBS! Raiders of the Lost Ark, under the modified-a-little-while-back title Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark will air on CBS Sunday Night at the Movies. And so, people have reported, they—CBS—brought back the old logo and the old open!

Well, not quite. But I will be tuning in (to the open, at least!) to see if they use something like the original music (click here to hear and see a very wow-y poor-res vhs recording of the open dated 1986—the open aired that way for many years before that.) I was going to hope for something like the original announcer, but I heard Morgan Freeman on the 2020 promos, so that’s a pretty good get—if it’s him, well, you got your quality right there.

The original film animation, circa 1979.

The 2020 HD re-creation.

The old animation pointed up all the limitations of film that modern digital rendering makes disappear. Although “filmed out” on 35mm stock, it has “gate weave”—that slight jumpa-jump that you see most often in film titles of the era. It also has dust specks and (probably) very limited resolution, and the moves aren’t splined—ah, getting too far into the weeds there. If transferred to even the best videotape of the era, you’d have 720 pixels by 486, which, as I’ve discussed, is less than 25% of a modern HD image.

But I’ve watched the promo animation carefully a few times now and they’ve done a good job of redrawing the lettering to be similar but not really the same as the original (compare the two type treatments at right), and the lens-flare-y, bursty, streaky animation is the sort of thing Adobe After Effects does these days without breaking much of a sweat, so as an appreciator of the classics, I am smiling and the (at this point anonymous) animator gets a tip of the virtual hat from me.