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Editor's Notebook

The impact of animation in unexpected places...

Most people typically associate animation with Saturday morning cartoons. For this issue, however, we met some people who relate animation immediately to designing cars and buildings, mapping the human brain and remedying society's ills. Can animation be responsible for all this? Yes, indeed. Furthermore, it is being used more extensively and in more unique little niches than you may think.

This issue's concept, "animation in unexpected places," first struck me on a trip to Silicon Graphics, Inc. Representatives took a group of us into a large circular room. In the center was a seat with controls attached to it. We were being introduced to a very special flight simulator, they said, but they wouldn't say any more. A volunteer from the group sat down in the chair and was soon on a mission to dock a U.S. Space Shuttle with the Russian space station, Mir. I had never seen anything like it before! (And with what seemed like a dozen Onyx machines rendering the images in real-time I probably won't see anything like it again for a long time...) It may seem naive, but that had never before occurred to me. Of course, how else does one practice something like that? I hadn't ever thought about Space Shuttle pilots practicing but - it makes sense! How important that is. How many millions of dollars damage and how many lives could be lost if the docking didn't go perfectly the first time? With speedier renderers real-time animation is coming into its own and certainly finding a host of fascinating applications.

On a scale a little closer to home, animated simulations could be saving our lives without us even knowing it. For instance, remember the last time you had a close shave in your car? Chances are you acted instinctively just how the car manufacturer thought you would. Why? Because with the help of a simulation program that utilized animation your car has been designed so that what you need to grasp and manipulate is all right there in an easy reach. Who knows, that slight percentage of a second that was taken off your reaction time might have caused you to avoid that accident. Here's another example: the next time you go to the doctor he might prescribe a new drug that has been proven to relieve symptoms faster due to an animated simulation program that mimics the body's circulatory system.

Another milestone in my fascination with animation ties into this issue as well. In 1994 I went to Orlando, Florida for UNICEF's Second Animation for Development Workshop and Summit . I was amazed that animation was proving to be such a powerful tool for social change. This was also the first time I met Max Howard, who is one of UNICEF's foremost supporters in the industry. He was there discussing a project he was involved in while working at The Walt Disney Company, called Maximo. Maximo is a little toucan who convinces parents in Ecuador to immunize their children and observe other health precautions. I was floored to learn that if a nurse came to the door of a person's home and told them they should immunize their children, they probably wouldn't. However, if a talking, singing toucan told them, well, they probably would. Now, why is that?

The visual language of animation transcends cultural and social differences and has proven to UNICEF and other organizations to be a useful weapon in their arsenal. In this issue we explore two such organizations, Brazil's Núcleo de Cinema de Animação de Campinas and Belgium's Atelier Graphoui, that are using animation to promote social welfare. Their stories of bringing animation to groups of people who have no prior experience with the audiovisual world are amazing. I hope that everyone will read these pieces and that professionals and students out there will consider becoming involved in similar worthwhile causes.

What a technique! It not only helps to create a safe vehicle, but can also convince people to immunize their children. Every month I say it, but it is because every month inspires me: the power and versatility of animation is amazing. On this, our second anniversary, I hope that you will stay with us as we continue to explore this remarkable world.

Until Next Time...Heather