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Dig This! Humongous Cartoons with a Little Technology

Animation World Magazine takes a jaunt into the innovative and remarkable: IMAX invents a new technology that allows animators to animate in thin air!

An animator uses the SANDDE wand while reviewing the real-time results on a projection system that simulates the IMAX 3D theater experience. © 1997 Imax Corporation SANDDE Animation.

IMAX, a major player in the world of large-format films and theaters, is now trying to make headway in the animation world with a precedent setting new technology that truly integrates human interaction with technology. The innovative break-through in question is called SANDDE (Stereo Animation Drawing Device) -- a revolutionary new large-format 3D animation system that lets animators draw and animate in space instead of on paper or a computer. The three-dimensional stereoscopic films created with SANDDE allow artists to emphasize size relationships and create actions that move toward and away from the audience creating a grand effect when viewed on IMAX 3D screens that are upwards of three stories tall.

"Animators like to draw. They do not want a keyboard, a mouse and complicated engineering manipulations to interrupt the creative flow; they just want to draw," says IMAX co-founder and developer of the SANDDE system, Roman Kroitor. That's why animation produced with this new 3D process is so unique -- an animator freely manipulates a wand-like device in mid-air inside a localized magnetic field that records and translates the movement of the hand into 3D coordinates. Says Kroitor, "I thought it would be great if artists could have a direct relationship to making an animated 3D image by drawing in space as they have when they draw on a piece of paper." The results are then viewable in real-time on a special networked Windows NT computer workstation designed to match the viewing angles and stereo presentation of an IMAX 3D theater as closely as possible. Furthermore, the films created with this process don't have the sterilized look of modern computer animation, but rather the appearance and feel of "traditional" cel-animation, resulting in both a process and result that is vastly different from anything else out there.

A still from Paint Misbehavin'. © 1997 Imax Corporation SANDDE Animation.

The SANDDE system is complemented by GEPPETTO, a supporting technology that is similar to the inbetweening process in traditional animation. GEPPETTO permits the user to create long and complex animated sequences using only a few key drawings. Not only does this enable a single animator complete control over the entire creative process, but it also allows the artist a chance to animate actions in real-time allowing instant re-takes.

The first film to hatch using the SANDDE system was the IMAX 3D animated film Paint Misbehavin'. The 2-minute 7-second film was initially shown in 1997 with IMAX's The Nutcracker, but is now being added to every new IMAX 3D print. Other films are currently in the works as well, although SANDDE is still in an active development stage.

The possibilities are certainly very intriguing with SANDDE, but with only one film under their belt, it's a little too early to predict the impact this new device will have in the filmmaking world. However, the potential is certainly there. After using SANDDE, Academy Award-nominated animator Sylvain Chomet (director of The Old Lady and the Pigeons) sees the system "as being absolutely revolutionary in the way of thinking about the art of animation," and describes it as if, "walking around in your dreams." And who wouldn't like to do that?

Amid Amidi is associate editor of Animation World Magazine.

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