The Back Story

The story of how I came to be "The Scanimate Guy" is complicated.

This is not only my story but also that of Lee Harrison, whose company Computer Image produced the 8 Scanimate and several other historic animation computers. Its also the story of hundreds of other people whose lives have been shaped by their involvement with Scanimate.

So I will attempt to help you sort through the details of all that information starting with this page. There is also a very detailed writeup I did for SIGGRAPH called Scanimation in the Analog Days

First, the back story, continued from where I started on the Scanimate home page:

By the time I came on board in 1979 Image West was running round the clock, 7 days a week, charging $1,000/hour for their time. They had a great staff of artists, creative directors, and animators who knew how to literally "wire up" the circuitry to make an animation happen. The alternative was film animation, which took weeks to shoot a frame at a time on film. Image West clients could interact with the animators and walk out with a finished videotape they could air immediately, which became quite popular for network sports opens, commercial logos, and many many others as seen on the my first DVD.

I left Image West in 1983 to head up Omnibus Computer Graphics R&D efforts in the new digital CGI world and despite many fond memories, largely forgot about Scanimate. Omnibus eventually crashed and burned in 1987, which is another story for another day, but I ended up leaving California and moving back to my native Kingsport Tennessee in 1990 and started my company ZFx, inc.

Then in 1994 I got a phone call from Roy Weinstock, who had been an animator/wizard at Image West. He was working at a company in Washington, DC that had bought a Scanimate when Computer Image finally went bankrupt. His company had not been successful marketing this old technology and they were preparing to put the Scanimate in the dumpster. So I drove up in a U-Haul and brought it back to my studio in Tennessee.

It was easy to get it working again, but then what? ZFx was producing CGI animation at that point and there was no demand for the kind of analog look Scanimate has become famous for. It was the early years of the Internet, and we had started the first ISP in East Tennessee, so I built an early version of this website. I was astonished at the response I got from people all over the world who had grown up seeing Scanimate work on Sesame Street, or who had worked at Computer Image or Image West, or Dolphin Productions in New York.

In 1997, I was approached by SIGGRAPH, who wanted to know if I'd be willing to pack up the machine and ship it to Orlando for the SIGGRAPH 97 history exhibit. The machine is built like a tank and easily went back together, plugged in, and worked perfectly!

By 2010 I had moved to Asheville, North Carolina but had not yet found a good place to set up my studio there. One day I was contacted by a former Computer Image employee who had ended up with the last Scanimate produced. My friend Wyndham Hannaway helped store the machine in his warehouse in Denver until I got settled in a new studio near Asheville. Then we drove out and packed up the only other Scanimate in existence and had it shipped to Asheville.

For a few years I built up a working production studio with two Scanimates, Grass Valley Switchers, digital disk recorders, and even produced some Scanimate material for clients. The ViceMedia documentary was produced about that time.

I have since been working with the Experimental TV Center, recently relocated to Atlanta, GA. They now have my second Scanimate and all my production equipment, and I still have my original R&D Scanimate in my studio near Asheville, NC.

I have put together a lot of historic demo reel material from Computer Image and Image West on my first DVD available here. I also put together a documentary about all the people an stories behind the development and use of Scanimate over the years in The Dream Machine DVD.

Thank You to all who have donated and given encouragement and moral support that has made keeping these machines alive and functioning all these years! This site is long overdue for an update, and I am attempting to get this done as soon as possible! Keeping this important bit of history alive is not without its expenses, not the least of which is the electric bill and air conditioning to keep the equipment happy. It is also a 50+ year old piece of equpment built with technology that is no longer obtainable, but it is a labor of love!

I also have managed to collect a lot of material, documents, schematics, photographs, and videos, which I plan to make available through the archival project of the Experimental TV Center. If you would like to help support this work, please make a small donation here or at the ETV Center's website. I truly appreciate all the generous support over the years from friends of Scanimate!

BACK to the Scanimate home page.