The Making of Pencil Test

With SIGGRAPH 2007 now wrapped up, I thought it might be appropriate to link to the video below about a CG animated short that debuted nearly twenty years ago at SIGGRAPH 88. The film, Pencil Test (watch it here), was created in-house at Apple Computer to display the capabilities of the Apple Macintosh II. The film below is the ‘making of’ that explains how they did it. Interestingly enough, Andrew Stanton (director of Finding Nemo and the upcoming Wall-E) receives a credit on the finished film as illustrator and storyteller, and John Lasseter has a credit as “coach.” And one more cool note: the applications engineer who appears in the short, Nancy Tague, is now Mrs. Nancy Lasseter.

UPDATE: A Brew reader who prefers to remain anonymous writes, “The woman building the character is Galyn Susman, producer of Ratatouille. She’s really awesome, and has been at Pixar since before Toy Story.”

(Thanks, John Karel)

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  • doug holverson

    Just think, they did that back around the System 4 days, with the Inits, CDEvs, and “the little truck thingie”, with like, what?, a 16MHz or so 60020 or 30 chip?

    Think different.

  • red pill junkie

    He He! When Nancy Tague appears in the inerview, behind her you can see a picture of a guy with this crazy hawaiian shirt….

    MMM Now I wonder who THAT might be ;-)

  • David C

    Thanks for the post! I’ve just wasted a good chunk of my morning Googling around about this. One interesting comment can be found here:

    http://mrblake.wordpress.com/2006/04/25/pencil-test/

    The “Making Of” video sort of gives the impression that there were the renderer was the only tool the Mac people had to build in-house.

    That wasn’t quite the case.

    The program being used to preview the scene layout in the video isn’t part of Super3D, but a custom program (Parscene) that created previews from Super3D scene files.

    The animation was done using MacTwixt, a port of a public-domain program called Twixt. There’s no shot of it in the video, probably because it’s a command-line program. It was fairly rudimentary – for example, you could only specify geometric change in terms of absolute positions, not relative positions. Because of a bug in the code, it was sometimes faster to edit the output files than to wait up to 24 hours for the tranformations to be output from MacTwixt.

    Despite what’s implied in the video, MacTwixt also didn’t support preview, so program on the video showing the sort-of-realtime preview of the animation is another custom program (MovieCamera) that captured the drawing commands from MacTwixt.

    To get playback of multiple scenes, they had to create yet another program (MovieTheatre) that converted wireframe animations to bitmaps for playback.

    Not exactly off the shelf stuff! As far as I can tell, none of these custom tools were made available to users once the project was completed. I doubt anyone would want to use that particular toolchain, anyway.