The First Plugin: The Origin Of Motion Design

June 30, 2016

The More You Know

Around 1984 I was sitting in my living room in my footie pajamas and watching Saturday morning cartoons. The commercial breaks and production company openers were FULL of animation. But it wasn’t cell animation or even stop motion. It was often blue and full of grids and starbursts.

“The More You Know” flashed across the screen and DIC and Hanna-Barbera logos swirled around in their blue and rainbow glow.

These animations swirled around my living room and my brain with out of tune Moog synthesizer jingles playing over them. Star-filters and dusk chrome gradients filled my head and every second of TV I could sneak in before my parents woke up.

This was the first “Motion Graphics” that I remember seeing. And those blue swirls have stuck with me throughout my over 10 year career in Motion Design and animation.

Chasing The Light

Thousands of other kids my age grew up seeing all this stuff and some of us made the decision to figure out how this animation stuff is made.

Plugin developers like Peder Norrby from Trapcode gave us ways to emulate these effects with ease. Also, Artists like Harry Frank clearly had the itch to bring these 80s effects to life.

We traded formulas around to get that TV look JUST RIGHT.

Scanlines? Check! CRT Effects? Check! Glows? Check.

So many of us were trying to emulate the look we remember from the early 80s living room. And we were getting pretty dang close!

This excellent Justice Video probably got the closest to really nailing these effects.

But as with most emulations, you can get pretty dang close but it’s never absolutely perfect.

I kept thinking “How in the heck did they make this stuff to begin with? How is it that we have all this new technology, plugins, and computing power and we cant make something look the way it did over 30 years ago?

Scanimate is the answer.

It’s All About Analog

Finally discovering Scanimate was absolutely the missing piece in the pixel puzzle.

Here was a huge analog computer from the 1970s with the ability to make real time animation.

The result was filmed and manipulated on a monochrome CRT screen and then colorized all through analog circuits.

It was then I realized why these effects were so had to emulate. The analog nature of the machine and the filming of actual phosphor made a look that was almost impossible to emulate with digital manipulation.

Just like photographers chasing the “film look” and music lovers chasing the “analog sound”, we too were looking to our past to try and emulate old technology with modern tools.

I obsessed over this machine. And when I found that there was still one in working condition, I knew that I just had to see this thing for myself. I was telling everyone about this thing. I even did my entire presentation at Half Rez 2014 on the Scanimate.

Scanimate Presentation from Half Rez 2014

My passion about the Scanimate came out during an interview with And they loved the idea of making a documentry about it. Months later, I was on a plane to North Carolina to actually see and play with a Scanimate!

I just HAD to see what the actual process was like making an authentic analog animation just like the ones I was chasing for over 30 years.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with original Scanimate Artist, Roy Weinstock and Scanimate Technician and owner Dave Sieg to talk about how the Scanimate got started and how all the magic worked.

I also couldn’t pass up the chance to make an authentic Scanimate animation with the machine. You can my perma-grin in the film when they finally got my logo up on the CRT. It looked just like what I was searching for all these years. In all it’s analog glory.

Greyscalegorilla Logo Animated With An Original Scanimate

Thanks to Roy Weinstock, Dave Sieg, Everyone on the team and the excellent film crew for helping make this kids dream come true.

Extra Link: (This is a Video of me in that exact living room and that same TV).

Tutorial Focus:  ,

  • what an awesome doc!!!

  • Chris Luehning July 3, 2016 at 6:40 am

    you’re so right – something about the quality of scanimate animations is suuuuper emotional. how strange considering that it’s basically just moving logos.

  • Congratulations on finding your holy grail Nick, That Doc was real deep. 🙂

  • Very interesting,it’s nice to know about it,Thank you for posting it!

  • Wow!.. great documentary…
    What about the music?… about minute 14 there´s an awesome song. Can anybody identify it? … Can you Nick help us with the soundtrack of the Documentary?

  • Fantastic job, really inspiring! right after seeing it i had to try something similar
    got a couple of my attempts here, No Plugins used 🙂

    keep up the great work

      • Pretty fun little evening project. Had to shoot it as a timelapse, don’t have video recording on dslr, so a little more tedious than it needed to be. But it might be worth it to pick up an old CRT for cheap and make some cool stuff

  • Great idea to put it in a documentary 😉 Keep the good stuff!
    It was then I realized why these effects were so had to emulate. < hard

  • That was incredible! A great example of creativity driving technology. So cool to see them create effects right in front of you. Very inspirational. Thanks Nick!

  • What is the machine that did it in the 70’s?? what is the name and model

  • Wow, really inspiring to see the origins of this art form. So cool that they keep the machine running!

  • I am glad you are doing a follow-up with this even 2 years later. I remember you talking about this at Half-Rez.

  • Great write up, Nick!

  • Did you ever find out how they did the glints you mentioned last year?

  • This is ridiculously cool.

  • Very cool. It got me thinking about all those things like lens distortions, chromatic aberrations, warping, vignetting and whether you could capture that with the physical rendering on the cameras in Cinema4d. Could you film ‘through’ a material (a glass, plastic or gas) to produce bloom etc? Could the random effector effectively adjust camera focus, filter distribution, scanlines at a minute level.

    When you’re trying to emulate real world analog stuff, it’s almost like creating the Matrix, you’re simulating real life and all the dust motes and lens scratches – there’s so many extra variables you have to add for it to work.

  • very nice report!!

  • Nick,
    Wonderful documentary style interview with a couple of the early pioneers!
    My experience and memory run back decades. It is truly a great trip back to see
    how simple (as it seems) the animations started and how over the years the
    power at your finger tips (and at greatly reduced costs) has exponentially grown.
    Anyone here remember the Bosch FGS 4000? It was to go-to system back in the

  • Nice,
    It reminded me the inspiration We had. Me and my friend Jan made teaser and trailers for music festival “Tauron Nowa Muzyka” (Katowice, Poland). We used video mixer and other video equipment for texture creation and post processing. Basically it’s video feedback. You can see the effect under the links:

  • Motion Graphics and it’s designs are very exciting and develops the interest to learn such kind of animation. Very well written article though

  • Absolutely brilliant piece! What an important part of our industry’s history! Thank so much for sharing!!

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