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deluxepaint IV box cover art
Once upon a time in Amiga World, or, should I say, AmigaWorld Magazine, "8 bit art" made in DeluxePaint I, the style of obvious large pixels and limited color palettes, was the state of the tech. Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins saw output from an early version of King Tut's mask and he was enraptured. EA execs said "Put that image on all the boxes from now on." The Commodore Amiga was an amazing computer which let you make pictures with a palette of up to 4096 colors in a one bitmap sometimes. The Apple Mac, which came out at the same time, had TWO colors: black and white (no grey) and cost a LOT more to get the same Motorola 68000 CPU and 4094 less colors.  amigaworld magazine coversThe Amiga was essentially the first PC to have a built in graphics chip, fast animation capabilities, true pre-emptive multitasking and an 8 bit PCM stereo sound processor. Originally designed as a game machine it output interlaced, overscanned NTSC video directly which let people videotape their animations with just a consumer VCR. Commodore owned the circuit fabrication factories and designed the custom chips .  They made quality silicon cheaper than anyone else. Unfortunately due to poor marketing, not understanding what it could do, and the graphics "card" being soldered to the mobo the Amiga brand was eventually discontinued due to poor sales.

deluxepaint iv interfaceBut not before the machine and one of its "killer apps" EA's Deluxepaint found widespread use in the video game industry to make 8 bit graphics. This made sense as it was originally developed by EA as an internal Amiga art development tool. Unlike Adobe Photoshop, which was released years later, Dpaint could make full screen animations. Pshop to this day has chosen to be a paint program not an anim program. DPaint was BOTH from the start. There was only one canvas, but because of pre-emptive multitasking you could just run more off them in a stack of what Microsoft would call "windows desktops." There were no layers, limited undo and you could not make 24-bit images at first, but you could grab a piece of animation (called an "animbrush") and stamp it down by hand or move the bitmap numerically. MacPaint could barely flood fill at the time. Dpaint could do color cycling animation, painting of masks/stencils, true color images, onionskin light table, morphing (popular after Terminator 2 came out) and more by the end of its life.

BUT low color palettes are a cruel mistress. Think lean and mean and plan ahead. Most pixels will have to be hand placed similar to a tile mosaic.  You had better decide which sixteen colors you wanted to use and what resolution you wanted before you even started. Also, video friendly non-square pixels made rotation of bitmaps tricky and, if the image was to be broadcast on NTSC, the colors had to be muted. Interlace flicker was a must if you wanted to be videotaped but it made single pixel horizontal lines look awful. This was due to the primitive analog NTSC TV signal the Amiga was forced to adopt, not its own hardware limitations.

Apple founder Steve Jobs thought the Amiga had "too much hardware." But one IBM exec pushing the IBM PC AT said "We have got to get better hardware. I am SICK of being shown up by teenage boys and their Amigas!" The AmigaOS is considered by many to be one of the best operating systems of all time.  Way ahead of the competition. Pre-emptive multitasking: got the RAM? Run Dpaint five times! You could drag down the top of the desktop (called the "workbench") to reveal another program running behind it at a totally different resolution and graphics mode! Thanks to "data types" any program could load any file without having to know about it. No more adding photoshop file format conversion plugins, one translation plugin talked to every application. It featured an interprocess control language called ARexx which let any program with ARexx "hooks" talk to any other program with hooks! This allowed multi-program macros to be written. A database program could send info to a spreadsheet application even though they were from different manufacturers. You could theoretically point a camera at a fish tank and have the Amiga make stereo sounds based on what the camera saw using off the shelf software and custom scripts. Here is a video of the Amiga OS in action.

amiga computer models 500 and 3000
AmigaOS is STILL being developed by the devoted fanboys who just love the machine. Last year I ran a free emulator that let me play some of my favorite games from the period. I owned the models shown above and used them to make my award winning comedy short "Nick Dixon Private Eye." Yet conservation and conversion of the 8 bit images below is difficult. The pixels are sometimes non-square, circles are egg shaped, sometimes the color values have to be TV safe, and scaling must be done on powers of 2 or you will ruin the checkerboard halftone pattern. All enlargements must be done in PShop as "nearest neighbor." But I chose to not even try to convert these images to modern standards (other than doubling the x and y) to avoid artifacting the checkerboard halftone pattern.

orchid deluxepaint
spades 8 bit animation deluxepaint science fiction tv show background screens
The Disney movie "Tron" was made  by typing numbers into a mainframe to animate objects. They also scanned in 3D rendered plates onto transparencies and drew on them like animation cels. That is exactly how I made this animation in Dpaint. I wanted to make art like you see on the "busy monitors" in the background of Star Trek and other sci fi productions. 3D animation was in its infancy, even on the Amiga, so I had no true 3D application. But I downloaded a lathe 3D object maker from a dial up message board. It allowed you to create an outline and then lathe it but it would not allow you to animate it. So I decided to, by hand, type in all the info to make 90 frames of an object that looked like a spade from a deck of cards. To be even more detailed I changed the poly count as it spun. This was done by writing everything down on paper first, typing it in, and then saving the single bitmapped output per frame.

3 bit amiga detailThose Amiga images were loaded into Dpaint and made into an EIGHT COLOR 90 frame animation (3 bits per pixel). There could be only 8 colors because my Amiga 500 probably could only play this 640x200 animation reliably at that color depth. The rainbow that dances across the object horizontally is really a bunch of checkboarded red and blue pixels because the color limitations were so tight.  Then I used drawing tools like flood fill effects and hand animation to create the rest. The image in the center blue box is an animbrush of the main wireframe object flood filled into a blue rectangle with a dotted line grid in it. The geometric blue dots forced the flood fill to compensate and make the cool pattern. The image in the right blue box was output from an Amiga sky constellation renderer which I had donwnloaded over a BBS or copied from a floppy disk in AmigaWorld Magazine. This I reduced and then painted FX on.

The gag is that all this visual hoo ha is about playing a card game. Just like the background screens in Stark Trek TNG are filler BS.  The text in the lower right reads "This animation by DON MYERS is complete nonsense, and therefore, could be used in the background of any Star Trek the Next Generation episode."  I made it to show game makers I could create such background displays. Ironically, eventually a TV show in Canada using Amigas for on-set graphics eventually asked to use it as that and I said "Go for it!"

This 5 megabyte webp format animation is uncompressed, like the 3 bit original)  to preserve the pixel pattern. The Amiga work looped seamlessly but here there is a conversion problem on the loop I need to address. I wish I had modeled the object better and yet I am not quite sure if the program I used even allowed you to save objects!

sony videotape editor umaticUpon playback the Amiga scan doubles the Y axis to make the presentation size 640x400 and avoid interlace flicker of single pixel horizontal lines, a common problem for animations designed to be digitized onto analog videotape formats. The only real way to distribute your art like this was on VHS tapes or Sony UMatic for broadcast or pro editing. There was no universal floppy disk format, no universal graphics format, and certainly no universal animation format. The Amiga was way ahead of all that. But few production houses had them. I had to mail things like VHS tapes, 3.5" floppy disks and expensive color copies just to get my work across to potential employers.

isle of the dead painting study deluxepaintarnold böcklin painting isle of the dead version 5
I was entranced by European artist Arnold Bocklin's mysterious image of a Venice, Italy cemetery island called "Isle of the Dead." He must have been entranced as well since this is the fifth version of that exact same painting he did. A figure in a boat mimics the passage of the Greek dead to the afterlife powered by the oarsman of the underworld Charon. A  figure in white may be going to the afterlife or taking someone in what appears to be a cloth draped coffin for burial.  Is it their own coffin? Are they burying a friend? Note under the cypress trees (another death symbol) are two statues. The boat must pass between a sculpture of a lamb (Jesus/Good) and a goat (Devil/Bad). Which statue will you be judged by upon your death? This work became so popular that, by the Twentieth Century, prints of it could be found in many Berlin homes. H.R. Giger, creator of the monster from "Alien," even made his homage to it

The image is created with something called the Amiga "Halfbrite" mode. They fake an extra 32 colors in the palette by having the chip just darken the existing 32 color palette and give you extra hues. This sounds like a good idea but it was impractical. If I had the luxury of a true 64 color look up table palette I would not have had to chose the colors I did. So, with only 32 to chose from you have to pick carefully. I also used the "Halfbrite" mode to create the reflections. It was mostly just good for that or shadows.  I made this as a demo to show video game companies I could make evocative backgrounds.

union terminal station cincinnati ohio deluxepaint
union terminal station cincinnati in history and art union terminal station cincinnati mosaics
I have seen very little architecture in the world outside of Los Angeles and my hometown Cincinnati, Ohio. I've been to NYC and Chicago too but pretty much my favorite building in the world (other than the nearest pot dispensary) is Cincy's Union Terminal Station (Fellheimer & Wagner 1933).  It was so expensive that, along with the building of several other Art Deco masterpieces in town, its construction prevented the Great Depression from hitting Cincinnati until 1933. Built at the end of the rail passenger era (oops) it is an Art Deco masterpiece in spaces both public and private. The entrance to the women's restroom alone is to die for! It is the queen of Art Deco in the Queen City of the West. Designed as the first big deal structure by the same firm that later built Grand Central Station in NYC, it was made to resemble a giant radio with a five ton clock for a dial.  When you are getting on a train you need to know if you are late. It is one of the largest free standing half domes in the world at 160 feet tall (32.3M). The largest in the western hemisphere. The executive meeting room has a map of the U.S. made of inlaid leather and the rotating ceiling fans are just U shaped neon lights! The station was crucial for moving troops in WW II but fell into disuse and became a white elephant which could not be dismantled but nobody knew what to do with. Now it is home to the Cincinnati Museum Center, a perfect fit.

The building is full of glorious historical mosaics by Winold Reiss and it was not lost on me that the image I made of it was a mosaic of tiles also. This single 16 color bitmap took three weeks because 90% of the pixels were hand laid, just like mosaic tiles! With so few colors it must be done that way.  Fortunately I was able to use the video friendly Amiga computer's overscan mode to burst through the 640x480 pixel barrier and create this in glorious square pixeled work at 704x480. You know, the big screen! This was impossible on Mac or an IBM PC.

I created the image by scanning it in at work on company time. Mere consumers could never afford a scanner! Unfortunately I did not compensate for aspect ratio issues in the scan vs. the Amiga image and the whole thing is too damned short compared to the real thing. Worse, the clock is egg shaped not round! I was mortified when I finally realized what I had done for three weeks was impossibly flawed and uncorrectable. And yet, if I had made the image correctly (taller) it would not have fit the aspect ratio as well and the oval clockface is hidden by the viewer's perspective bias. Nevertheless the entire image should be stretched 10% which would destroy the halftone checkerboard pattern.

I then added movement to the fountain by animating a round ball in Dpaint,, putting it on an arc and offset cloning that "animbrush." Next I used the smear tool to distort the balls to look like water. When animated I also smeared the pixels under the four seashells to make it look like refracting water was coming out of those.  Sadly, those animation frames are lost to time. But they were used as filler on Warner Cable's public access channels between shows circa 1992. The fact that a desktop PC could animate an image like that live on cable TV in real time at NTSC resolution was a mind blower. It has been viewed literally millions of times by people in that area while flipping channels over many years. Sometimes we all feel we are flipping cable channels endlessly, but that is not what I mean. There are hundreds of thousands of viewers over the age of forty in the tri-state area who think they have forgotten about this image but would recognize this animation instantly!

Original mosaics from the building were moved to the Cincinnati/N. KY airport and appeared in the background of a scene in the movie "Rain Man"" when Dustin Hoffman's character has a meltdown about flying. Warner Brothers later stole the station's design for the "Hall of Justice" of their "Justice League" superhero cartoons, which I find so pathetic I refuse to link to them. Many years later I moved to LA to be a professional animator and saw a huge mural on the side of the WB Burbank complex. It was a multi-dimensional ad for WB cartoons and had a giant image of their HQ. Because I am a mature adult and don't watch stupid junk like superhero crap, I said to myself "What the hell is Cincinnati Union Terminal Station doing in a WB multi-dimensional soundstage mural in Burbank CA?" More murals! Cincinnati tried to sue WB saying "they stole our idea" but, obviously, architecture cannot be copyrighted. That is why you see so many tacky Statue of Liberty tourist knockoffs in the Big Apple.

In 1991 train service from Amtrak was restored to the station. The 90+ year history of this building continues.
lord of the rings 8 bit art deluxepaint lord of the rings crossroads statue
In J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" the heroes come across a once noble statue of a king now defaced by bad guy vandals. Like thousands of other artists I was inspired by Tolkien's ability to paint a picture with words. I decided to make a simple version of that in DPaint using a glorious 32 entire colors! There was no way I could render foliage as a tile mosaic so I made the trees look like the "Ava Maria" sequence in Disney's "Fantasia." Look how I naively put my Cincinnati, Ohio land line number in the image! There was no email, just land lines, faxes and snail mail. So this was the only way that I could tell video game companies of my contact info in the event they needed art like this. I would not call that number now if I were you because I have not lived their since the Clinton administration.

video game 8 bit weapons deluxepaint
video game 8 bit weapons deluxepaint
This above image is a perfect example of the difficulty of converting bitmaps with too tall rather desaturated pixels designed for NTSC to the modern age of square pixels and no color saturation limits. Look at the land mine. It is egg shaped not round. Note how the colors, even the fresh red blood, are muted. The company never released the game because they were incompetent (this happens a lot) but it is an interesting example of the period. You can see why DPaint was used for so many video games on various platforms at the time: it was a great 8 bit image editor, it did animation, and it was automatically attuned to the limitations of the NTSC signal because the Amiga platform was originally designed as video game machine and grew from there. Much like the Master Control Program in the Disney movie "Tron" started as a chess game.