Introducing Scanimate
May 4, 2011 3:45 PM   Subscribe

Introducing Scanimate. It was an analogue computer that was programmed by turning knobs, directing beams of light and using animation cells as input. It was one of the first computers ever used to make visual graphics on TV. Scanimate excelled at making flying logos. The logos that they created freaked out a generation of kids. So many people developed a phobia of these logos, there's a short movie out that documents the the fear these kids experienced, and relates to the scariest logo of them all: the dreaded Screen Gems bumper. The movie is called The S From Hell.
posted by joelf (123 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
The S From Hell, previously.
posted by hippybear at 3:53 PM on May 4, 2011

This is why WGBH will never get any of my money, no matter how many pledge drives or direct mailings they send out.
posted by infinitewindow at 3:55 PM on May 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

I dunno, infinitewindow. All that does is set my brain up for expecting the Zoom theme song to start.
posted by hippybear at 4:00 PM on May 4, 2011 [16 favorites]


Is there a definition of "scary" I'm missing here?
posted by maxwelton at 4:01 PM on May 4, 2011 [36 favorites]

I just don't get it. I really wanted to find these creepy... which is kind of creepy.

Is, is that it?
posted by OrangeDrink at 4:02 PM on May 4, 2011

What precisely do you mean with this use of the word 'scary'?
posted by TwelveTwo at 4:02 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I fucking LOVED the WGBH logo as a kid. Best thing about Mystery.

I too do not understand the fear.
posted by selfnoise at 4:04 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

God kids are such losers.
posted by The Whelk at 4:04 PM on May 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

Why would anyone find these to be scary? I remember all (but the penultimate one) and thought they looked rather good. I sure didn't think there was anything wrong with them.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:05 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

The only production logo that ever spooked me was the THAMES logo, cause it was like three times as loud as the show.

posted by The Whelk at 4:08 PM on May 4, 2011 [5 favorites]

I had no idea "scary logos" was a YouTube meme.

I remember the Screen Gems one from childhood. I thought it was more macabrely fascinating than scary. And I wasn't exactly the bravest kid in the neighborhood either.

These days, though, the ketchup-on-mustard color scheme just wouldn't fly.
posted by ardgedee at 4:09 PM on May 4, 2011

I found none of these to be scary except the giant DIC outside my window at night
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 4:10 PM on May 4, 2011 [13 favorites]

This is going to be like that head-tingling-orgasm thread, isn't it?
posted by penduluum at 4:10 PM on May 4, 2011 [5 favorites]

that sounds pretty straightforward, penduluum.
posted by OrangeDrink at 4:12 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

For me it was always the music that made the logos so scary.
posted by hellomina at 4:12 PM on May 4, 2011

The "Screen Gems" bumper, which I hadn't seen in years, brought back of flood of ennui and sadness, not fear. That's because throughout my childhood it signaled the end of of the last show on my regular list of Saturday morning cartoons, and I was now faced with what to do with myself for the rest of the day.
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:12 PM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

*A* flood....grumble mutter edit window grump
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:13 PM on May 4, 2011

All this leads inevitably to the recent-and-very-CGI DVNO video and its 30+ logo homages (of which a few were originally done by Scanimate)
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:13 PM on May 4, 2011 [13 favorites]

I think Penduluum may be correct. Besides for DIC, I had always found those and other animations of similar style to be ominous. I wouldn't call it outright scary, but there was always something off about them when I was a kid. Had I been brought up on modern television and movies, and saw these old ones afterwards, I actually might call them scary.
posted by SollosQ at 4:15 PM on May 4, 2011

that sounds pretty straightforward, penduluum.

Sorry, I was talking about this thread. In which a lot of people report a strong sensation that everybody else can't really quite bring themselves to believe is a thing.
posted by penduluum at 4:16 PM on May 4, 2011

On the subject of terrifying flying logos, there's always this classic from Hanna-Barbera. I had a rough salvia trip once that—for reasons I neither know nor care to know—featured a hallucinated rendition of that horrible synthesizer noise, and the memory of it haunted me for months.
posted by dephlogisticated at 4:16 PM on May 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

That V. That fucking Viacom V of Doom.

Combine music with rolling drums that gets louder and louder with a big dark object, rolling like a train towards the screen. It's bigger and bigger, like it's about to bust through the screen... and everything flashes to black.

When you're six years old, turning to your mother and saying "I don't LIKE that V" is a pretty natural reaction.
posted by delfin at 4:16 PM on May 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

That might be the worst grammar I've used in a sentence in my adult life.
posted by penduluum at 4:17 PM on May 4, 2011

I'm surprised this one doesn't figure more prominently, since it seems to have all the same hallmarks as the rest for a scary logo (zooming, spinning, dramatic music), but the only memory these bring back is, "yay, I get to watch television!" We lived on a farm and either it was something special enough to aim the antenna properly, or we were at Grandma's and got to watch cable TV. The only one that I can remember being remotely scary was the Nickelodeon sign-off.
posted by AzraelBrown at 4:17 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't really see what makes these scary, in any of these cases, but I think it's awesome that someone's making a movie about the phenomenon. I for one find the WGBH bumper kind of comforting.

For my part, I wasn't scared of the United Artists logo but I always figured that a horror movie was about to start on account of the slow reveal and ominous piano.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 4:18 PM on May 4, 2011

Previously - also
posted by svenni at 4:25 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yes, the UA logo always seemed freaky and "impending" to me...but I also thought that it was really cool because of that. I'm guessing it wasn't made with a Scanimate, though.
posted by jnrussell at 4:29 PM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Also, just thinking about the old 1980s Incredible Hulk cartoon brings me the sensation of spoiled milk. Not the smell per se, but in fact the actual sensation of spoiled milk. It's very hard to describe and yet undeniable.
posted by jnrussell at 4:33 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Reactions really seem to vary on whether your childhood was affected by these logos. I never saw the Screen Gems S growing up (BTW, I'm not convinced that one was the work of Scanimate -- I think it predates the technology, and was likely done with plain old cel animation), so I'm not bothered it... but I hated the Viacom V. Here are two other examples which get me, mainly because of the music.
posted by evilcolonel at 4:34 PM on May 4, 2011

As a kid growing up in the Eighties, I never found any of these particularly scary -- and I scared pretty easily.

However, the "A Current Affair" sound will forever haunt my dreams. It didn't help that it was invariably part of a 15-second promo for whatever lurid, sensationalist story they had cooked up that week. It sounded like the finality of death. That spinning CGI triangle is gonna get you -- sooner or later.

(Didn't know those whooshy 80s TV logos were all made with the same system. Awesome!)
posted by neckro23 at 4:36 PM on May 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

None of those logos bothered me as a kid-- at least none of the ones that I had actually seen before. Maybe I was just too old. That penultimate one with the death mask (or whatever that was) creeps me out a bit now, and this is the first time I've seen it.

Since American public television has been mentioned above, what did terrify me as a youngster was that black and white animated opening for Mystery. I'm guessing these days it wouldn't bother a generation of kids brought up on Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, but the style and subject matter, not to mention the music, used to frighten me every time it came on. I couldn't turn the channel fast enough.
posted by sardonyx at 4:40 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm mostly impressed at how this machine seems to be much different than animation I've heard of before or after it. In both modern and classic 2D animation, my impression is you typically create some keyframes to define the action, and then either using cheaper artists (classic) or computer algorithms (modern), you fill in the gaps. In both cases, you have a lot of control over what goes in the keyframe, as well as guidelines on what you'd like to go in between. This seems to rely on a lot more improvisation since it happens in realtime.

Is there anything that works like this today, in terms of either computer software or dedicated hardware? Are these machines still in use at all? Or is anyone who wants a retro-animated logo just more likely to put together something in Flash or whatever?
posted by mccarty.tim at 4:41 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

It didn't help that it was invariably part of a 15-second promo for whatever lurid, sensationalist story they had cooked up that week

hey now, Bill O'Reilly won a Pulitzer, a Nobel, and an Olympic silver medal for that show.
posted by Hoopo at 4:42 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I loved that cartoon Mystery! Opening so much I would frantically turn to PBS when it was on and then turn back when the opening was over.

In retrospect it explains a. Lot.
posted by The Whelk at 4:43 PM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

This brings back oddly visceral memories of childhood, I guess because even if I've seen clips of the shows in the past twenty years they change the production cards.

I fucking LOVED the WGBH logo as a kid. Best thing about Mystery.

I believe you will find that the best thing about Mystery was the Edward Gorey opening credits. Now those were deliciously spooky.
posted by Diablevert at 4:44 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

OK, I don't get it either. For those of you for whom these things were scary, when were you born?
posted by kozad at 4:45 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

The only one of those logos that ever affected me was the DIC logo, and that's only because, if I saw it, it mean that I'd wasted a precious half-hour of my life watching their uniformly awful output.
posted by lekvar at 4:47 PM on May 4, 2011

Scary not just because of the music, but because of the plainly dying children and the implication that Mr. Yuk will continue to multiply until he reigns over the entire home.

I think it's high time this abstract, minimalist logo style came back. I'm sick to death of watching the Video Toaster-style flying logos of Universal Media and Sony Pictures Television. I'm also sick of UBU, Mutant Enemy, and other twee logos. Bring back the incongruous music and the bright red-and-black graphics, because sometimes a little style is substance.

And also so kids can be scared of the TV again.
posted by infinitewindow at 4:47 PM on May 4, 2011

Born early 80's, find this stuff horrifying/fascinating. For reference, I also find the Sesame Street Pinball Numbers also the most brain meltingly terrifying thing ever.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 4:48 PM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

There's something about old analog recordings and they way they mush everything together into a sharp whirlwind torrent of fear.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 4:48 PM on May 4, 2011

1975, which is why I guess I was never bothered by the pinball numbers, but found the Jazzy Spies a bit ominous.

Back on topic, part of what gives the 1970s Scanimate product a unique look is that the process output to videotape. Transferring it to film made it more closely resemble traditional animation.
posted by evilcolonel at 4:52 PM on May 4, 2011

I had no idea, no idea that I was not the only one who found the Screen Gems logo terrifying. I suddenly feel vindicated...but queasy. If the next two posts are about the Underwood Deviled Ham devil and the Emergency Broadcast System, I'm going to hide under my bed.
posted by mittens at 4:53 PM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Watching these makes me tense. I remember being creeped out by the Hanna Barbera one and a few others as a kid. It's definitely the sound, not the animation.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 5:00 PM on May 4, 2011

The full impact of the ominous United Artist logo, I think, was most appropriate to children of the 70's and 80's, especially those with say, access to HBO or other cable channels.

List of tame, kid friendly UA movies:
  • Rocky
  • Pink Panther
  • Moonraker
  • Black Stallion
Now mix these with movies that start the same way and then ride that ominous, intro straight to fear and "adult situations":
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers
  • Cruising
  • Foxes
  • Thief
  • The Beast Within
Ah, good times . . .
posted by jeremias at 5:06 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

No Mark VII? Jesus, that is still the image that comes to mind when I imagine a boot stomping on a human face, forever.
posted by malocchio at 5:09 PM on May 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

Having watched all of these, mostly I'm just feeling nostalgic.

Oh, WGBH Boston. We had some good goddamn times.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 5:14 PM on May 4, 2011

Yeah, I'm really just not grokking how anyone could be scared of any of these. To each their own I guess.
posted by dirtylittlecity at 5:15 PM on May 4, 2011

Nightmare fuel as a child: The NBC Sunday Night Mystery
posted by ShutterBun at 5:15 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

It seems like it could be the music that makes these scary. Here's a test: were you ever afraid of this?
posted by infinitewindow at 5:24 PM on May 4, 2011

"The only one of those logos that ever affected me was the DIC logo, and that's only because, if I saw it, it mean that I'd wasted a precious half-hour of my life watching their uniformly awful output."


DiC was awesome. Pure awesome.
posted by lemuring at 5:26 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

That UA logo is one of my al time favorites. The Intro to Mystery on PBS with the Edward Gorey animation used to freak me the hell out.
posted by Liquidwolf at 5:27 PM on May 4, 2011

infinitewindow: I was just about to post that
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 5:28 PM on May 4, 2011

1975, which is why I guess I was never bothered by the pinball numbers, but found the Jazzy Spies a bit ominous.

I loved the creepy speediness of Jazzy Spies. I'm pretty sure that animation was the reason I immediately liked the Ramones the first time I heard them.

Logos I never found creepy, sadly. The theme from Ironside was satisfyingly uncomfortable though, as was the Gumby and Pokey show.

I think if you grow up with a lot of bizarre stop-motion on TV, a little Screen Gems bumper isn't going to push any discomfort buttons.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:29 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I believe you will find that the best thing about Mystery was the Edward Gorey opening credits. Now those were deliciously spooky.

Dang, didn't see that before I posted.
posted by Liquidwolf at 5:30 PM on May 4, 2011

Nightmare fuel as a child: The NBC Sunday Night Mystery

Around the third season of MST3K, there are a good number of jokes you have to have seen that promo to get.
posted by JHarris at 5:31 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

On the subject of terrifying flying logos, there's always this classic from Hanna-Barbera. I had a rough salvia trip once that—for reasons I neither know nor care to know—featured a hallucinated rendition of that horrible synthesizer noise, and the memory of it haunted me for months.

I know what you mean. I've actually had that same sensation with Salvia, and that Hanna Barbera logo sums it up nicely. That feeling of rolling forward over and over, dizzily, forever.
posted by Liquidwolf at 5:34 PM on May 4, 2011

You know, I kind of liked most of these, except UA, which did worry me that it was going to be a horror movie. The Screen Gems logo fear I find entirely mystifying, and I was scared of the effing Disney chipmunks, among other things.

The BBC logos then and now do strike me as oddly minor-key, sad, or even ominous-sounding.
posted by emjaybee at 5:37 PM on May 4, 2011

And the earlier Mystery logo that I recall fondly. Just imagine Vincent Price intoning "Have His Carcass" right after watching that.
posted by infinitewindow at 5:38 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Born 1971. Not creeped out in the slightest by any of these. Or by any logo that I can remember seeing as a kid.

I was always a little bit confounded by the sixties WB shorts opening but that's mostly because the local UHF station would throw one into the mix of their after-school WB shorts maybe two or three times a year.
posted by egypturnash at 5:44 PM on May 4, 2011

I love the Edward Gorey mystery opening; I would like to see an entire short film done in that style.
posted by fings at 5:50 PM on May 4, 2011

My mom tells me I was afraid of the Sherlock Hemlock theme music when I was little. To the point of running out of the room.
posted by azaner at 5:54 PM on May 4, 2011

I always used to wonder: what makes the sound that the WGBH bumper uses? What instrument is that? (Are they?)
posted by andreaazure at 5:57 PM on May 4, 2011

Born 1970, these didn't freak me out.

However, The Tom Baker era DOCTOR WHO credits scared the crap out of me when I was seven and it came on PBS after they aired The Electric Company. I always had to try not to forget to turn the channel real quick or else suddenly there was the creepy music and the lights and then Tom Baker's big enormous head and I'd end up whimpering and running out of the room.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:59 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Tom Baker era DOCTOR WHO credits

You probably hid behind the couch when the Daleks appeared, too. Wimp.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 6:06 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Born: 1980
Remember: all
Scared By: none
posted by brundlefly at 6:10 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

You probably hid behind the couch when the Daleks appeared, too.

The sight of Tom Baker's hair scared me too much to ever watch further.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:10 PM on May 4, 2011

A feeling I got from these "scary" logos, like the '70s WGBH one linked above, or the old PBS logo -- they're like something out of a science fiction scenario where a technology existed to insert images and sounds into your dreams while you sleep. This is what that would look and sound like.
posted by gubo at 6:27 PM on May 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

I was working as a TV computer graphics dude in the... back in the day. We were a small studio, I don't think we had one of these machines, but we had something that I guess was the lite version.

It was weird. Being into computer graphics, in the modern sense, it was obvious that the machine was doing things differently. "faking "it? Doing it with analogue, because it did in realtime what digital computers of the day could not do in anything remotely approaching realtime, and it was limited in ways that digital computers were not.

I understood how to wring effects out of it (various knobs did various movements, distortions, color shifts, etc, and you could do those things in realtime to a still or a live video feed, though more often you would put the collection of settings in a memory, then put different settings in another memory, then set it to transition between them at the punch of a button, at a speed controlled by yet another knob, and there were parallel systems so you could do other things to other feeds at the same time, and other knobs would allow you to combine the outputs of all feeds in myriad ways, into your masterpiece, and if you needed to layer in more stuff, well you you'd combine what you could and record it onto tape, and then those feeds are now one bit of tape and can be fed in as one feed, but you want to avoid that where possible because then you're recording a recording of a recording, and your quality degrades, etc etc.)

I was fairly skilled at using it (it's part understanding, part imagination, and part instinct) but it was always a bit of a black box - clearly it was doing this stuff in realtime by running the video signal through some kind of analogue filters, but the specifics of the electronics - what it was doing and how - was something that never really came up (it was just a tool to people, albiet a strange and mysterious and often frustrating one), so realtime analogue video processing remains a bit of a mystery to me.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:29 PM on May 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

I always used to wonder: what makes the sound that the WGBH bumper uses? What instrument is that? (Are they?)

A moog sythesizer, played by Gershon Kingsley of Popcorn fame (among other things).
posted by oneirodynia at 6:30 PM on May 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

Let me get this straight... while I grew up terrified of sharks, thanks to Jaws, and house fires, thanks to Towering Inferno, and werewolves and vampires, thanks to every movie I ever watched on Saturday afternoons, some of you grew up afraid of animated logos?

Shoulda become a therapist. Coulda retired at age 30, after publishing my bestseller self-help book, The Letters On TV Won't Come After You.
posted by IAmBroom at 6:36 PM on May 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

The only production logo that ever spooked me was the THAMES logo, cause it was like three times as loud as the show.

that's my ringtone...
posted by russm at 6:38 PM on May 4, 2011

Born: 1980
Remember: all
Scared By: none

I'm sorry to hear that.
posted by Liquidwolf at 6:45 PM on May 4, 2011

I remember these many of these keenly, and although I did feel some fear, it wasn't hiding-behind-the-couch fear, but a sense of otherness that I could almost enjoy. The one that really bothered me as a small child was the Warner Bros. 1970s logo, because I couldn't process it as a W and I thought it was some kind of man-bear turning to look out of the screen, but even then I could bear with it for a few seconds.

Wherever this fear comes from, it must be the same place as coulrophobia. Small children have a big red button inside that says NOT RIGHT, and it's much easier to hit than you would think.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:46 PM on May 4, 2011

The only production logo that ever spooked me was the THAMES logo, cause it was like three times as loud as the show.

Nonsense, the Thames logo was AWESOME when I was a kid, because it meant that the next thing I'd see would be The Benny Hill Show.

Hill's Angels wearing dental floss costumes and rampant head slaps? Heaven for a young'un.
posted by delfin at 6:47 PM on May 4, 2011

Nonsense, the Thames logo was AWESOME when I was a kid, because it meant that... were about to be treated to a rare episode of Dangermouse, shown at no set schedule in between stuff on Nickelodeon?
posted by Diablevert at 7:07 PM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Still not quite clear on what a penfold is, btw.

posted by Diablevert at 7:08 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Born 74. While I was never "scared" by these, I do find many of them unnerving.
I suspect it's because of how we saw them:

* probably a latchkey kid, alone every day after school until around 6:30 or 7

* syndication usually plops these at the end of shows around 6 or 6:30 as it's getting dark and you haven't gotten round to turning the lights on in the house

* probably have cable and in it's limited bandwidth seen some things you realm shouldn't have at your age: Clockwork Orange, Fantastic Planet, Death Game, When Ya Comin Back Red Ryder.

* growing up in the 70s, which was the golden age of creepy kids programming (the Kroftts, Letter People, and ...agggghhh Outerscope One <----search that in YouTube if ya wanna see scary

* that damn atonal creepy synth music

All of that added up to an odd brain for media consumption already.
Shit, I remember not being able to read LOTR in 2001 cuz my brain was still carrying around residual squick from half-remembered 70s fantasy creepiness.

Sure, now this stuff all seems quaint, but there was a lot of weird to go around back then.

That's just my very personal take on this.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 7:12 PM on May 4, 2011 [7 favorites]

80 percent of those logos actually make me feel warm and nostalgic, not scared at all. Especially the WGBH and Screen Gems ones.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 7:18 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I knew and worked with guys from Image West, and just about every Los Angeles CG geek in the 80s, so I know a lot of that stuff isn't scanimation. Some of it is pure digital computer graphics. Some of it is pure cell animation.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:22 PM on May 4, 2011

John Carpenter. The problem isn't with the animated logos. The problem is with the dramatic synthesizer tones - John Carpenter insisted on scoring all of his horribly frightening movies with music that sounds just like the jingles from those scanimate logos. You witness Michael Myers moog someone to death even once, and the sudden appearance of a shape to go with a synthesized tone is a sure-fire recipe for pants-wetting terror.

Now! For a phobia you didn't know you had until just after you google this next term: trypophobia.

(And if the absence of trypophobia doesn't settle the "Wikipedia deletionists all suck and must die" debate once and for all for you, try showing your S.O. the GIS results for trypophobia. It's real, bunky.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:30 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Scanimate Central
posted by djb at 7:39 PM on May 4, 2011

Not scary? I just shit my pants.
posted by digsrus at 7:40 PM on May 4, 2011

Oh and no MeFi discussion of childhood media trauma would be complete without me posting. this sumbitch.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 7:47 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Holy fucking shit, Senor Cardgage.
posted by Diablevert at 7:53 PM on May 4, 2011

Born in '81, remember most of these, find none of them scary. I deeply love the Mystery! opening and the Sesame Street numbers song, though.

Here's what's weird, though. Even though I don't find them scary, I find that I can understand why other people find them scary (although I wouldn't be able to explain how). It's almost like I can sense the features that make them frightening or unnerving, but I don't personally feel frightened or unnerved.

I get the same feeling when people talking about triggers for the "uncanny valley" experience. It's like -- for example, I'm not especially afraid of spiders, but I can understand why other people are. I know what makes spiders ooky. I feel it. I'm not claustrophobic, either, but while I can intellectually understand why feeling trapped and enclosed would be frightening, I have no sense for what makes it so. It doesn't feel like anything. I wouldn't be able to recognize which situations would trigger claustrophobia and which wouldn't. But I could tell you which of these logos would upset people who are disposed to being upset by them, and particularly which sounds. It's weird. Something about it makes a kind of sense to me.
posted by penduluum at 8:00 PM on May 4, 2011

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a home where TV was as tightly regulated as Soviet toilet paper. We'd pick out our personal choices in the Baltimore Sun TV guide supplement, and you got about four hours total per week, with the exception of PBS, which was essentially unlimited. As a result, all TV was good TV to us, and while there were spine-tinglingly exciting logos guaranteeing moments of unimaginable joy, and science-fictiony displays anticipating impending smartness, we weren't scared of synthesizers or music in a minor key. Apparently, we were unusual in our failure to be sent crying to our comfort zones, which is why all the wildness has been flattened out of the media, to assuage the fears of the country's best and brightest.

Hell, hearing that people were afraid of the best thing you could possibly see in a movie theater in Columbia, Maryland in 1978, other than the kick-ass movie itself, made me glad I don't have nuclear weapons at my disposal. That crazy harpsichord sounded like your heartbeat, because THE MOVIE IS GETTING READY TO START!!!


Of course, the worst of the flattening of the in-between was when NPR pretty much decided "well, hey, let's just be the official network of upper middle-class white people who like to be thought of as fans of classical music and jazz" and replaced the zingy, futuristic theme to All Things Considered (more here) with a work in studied, soulless "real" instrument deadness. I still listen, but I prefer to hear the old futuristic theme in my head, instead of the deadness, the deadness.
posted by sonascope at 8:00 PM on May 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a home where TV was as tightly regulated as Soviet toilet paper. We'd pick out our personal choices in the Baltimore Sun TV guide supplement, and you got about four hours total per week, with the exception of PBS, which was essentially unlimited.

Oh, holy shit sonascope. That was how I grew up, too. My sister and I would sit down with the TV Guide and pour over the schedule each week, even bargaining with each other to try to maximize our choice viewing hours per week because if we could agree on what to watch, we'd end up sort of doubling our personal alloted viewable hours. (It was one of the few things my sister and I ever collaborated on growing up.) Of course, my father's choices took first priority, with my mother generally not caring but her choices always came before ours too, if she had any. We had a list of shows we were NEVER allowed to watch (The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Dukes Of Hazzard, many many more I'm forgetting at the moment) and a list of shows which were freebies, also like for you largely on PBS.

If we really REALLY had to watch something which was counterprogrammed against something else already chosen, we could opt to not watch what was being shown on the living room console television (of course dressed in wood and made to look like a credenza), and could watch in our parent's bedroom on their teeny tiny black-and-white television which only had rabbit ears rather than being hooked up to the roof-mounted aerial like the big color TV.

Of course we found ways to cheat around these rules all the time. But the rules were in place, and were very strict. I know I lost out on a lot of communal media events with my peers... hard to participate in playground games based on shows you've never seen. But I don't think I grew up any worse for it. Mostly I'm just glad that I never had the habit of having television as wallpaper growing up, so it's easy for me to turn it off now.
posted by hippybear at 8:09 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

(also, I've always called that the "Main Street Electrical Parade" version of the ATC theme.)
posted by hippybear at 8:12 PM on May 4, 2011

Doesn't fit the synthesizer theory, but the Tri Star Pictures logo always disturbed me for some reason as a young child.
posted by bbuda at 8:42 PM on May 4, 2011

Circa 1980. Tales of the Unexpected and before that, Randal and Hopkirk (Deceased)
posted by Plutocratte at 9:02 PM on May 4, 2011

The ITC spinny logo was always kind of disappointing, because it would precede some bad British puppet drama.
posted by adamg at 9:04 PM on May 4, 2011

posted by hippybear at 9:20 PM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

I just remember being high out of my mind and giggling uncontrollably at this.

That and the little kid saying "Deek."
posted by Existential Dread at 9:23 PM on May 4, 2011

Born 1981.

I was never really creeped out by these as a kid, but I can sort of understand it. Any of the slow, ominous ones, sure. The UA one is deadlier than the Screen Gems one.

I think the Paramount Gulf + Western one with the quick zoom is pretty much the most frightening one.
posted by tremspeed at 9:23 PM on May 4, 2011

The Screen Gems logo messed with my head as a kid (born in '66). I wouldn't say "scared" so much as "filled me with a sense of existential dread". And I don't want to hear word one about how ridiculous that is from anyone who admits to having a similar reaction to lotus seed pods in the other thread.
posted by Lazlo at 9:41 PM on May 4, 2011

I think you're on to something with your theories, Senor Carthage. I suspect a lot of it has to do with "circumstances under which these things were viewed at the time." Assuming the viewer is a young-ish child, certain of these logos might have had been viewed in close proximity to rules/consequences/undesirable circumstances.

For example, things like the old S From Hell or the equally creepy Rankin-Bass logo represented the end of a cartoon or special. That might mean it was time for bed. If the cartoon was a particularly scary one (I myself was TERRIFIED of the Chuck Jones version of Rikki Tikki Tavi in the 70's. Chuck Jones!) then it could quite literally be the signal for a scary, sleepless night ahead.

More pragmatically, it also meant THE END of the cartoon/Christmas Special, etc. Watch the crowds leaving Disneyland at closing, and you'll invariably see plenty of crying kids. Yeah, maybe they're just tired, but the point is that The End = crying/sadness. There's a pretty good chance of negative association there.

Another possibility: the threat of being "caught." In the early days of Cable TV, I daresay there wasn't a kid around who hadn't snuck out to the TV room late at night to sneak a peak at Benny Hill on PBS. Being "caught in the act" might have been a genuinely terrifying proposition for a kid, and any repercussions would leave the Thames logo open for negative association. (curiously, this does not apply to Yakkety Sax at all)

Maybe they're creepy by design? Memory experts often recommend using violent/frightening/sexual imagery associations to make things more memorable. Perhaps these logos were tweaked until they struck just the right "icky" chord in the creators.

My own creepitude towards the NBC Sunday Night Mystery is sort of a combo. It came on after Wonderful World of Disney, which meant I was always in bed while my parents watched it. I scarcely saw even a few seconds of it, but what I did see was a spooky flashlight wandering around. And from my bedroom, the upbeat acoustic guitar was inaudible, leaving only the Theramin (or whatever) whistling eerily. So I can associate it negatively with:

1. The end of Wonderful World of Disney (sad)
2. Threat of being caught out of bed watching (real life consequences)
3. Generally spooky music & overall vibe
4. Forbidden fruit (was never allowed to watch)

While I seriously doubt that was anyone's intention, I wouldn't be surprised if others felt the same way about this, or any other similar theme.
posted by ShutterBun at 11:06 PM on May 4, 2011

That damn WGBH logo. I hated it. I'd be sitting there on the floor, with my Muppets and then Mr. Rogers, everything soothing and calming, happy as a clam. Then, three times as loud as everything else, THAT NOISE. It was like they wanted to ruin my educational programming happy fun time by testing my startle reflex. There must have been two shows on either side of that bumper that I liked watching, because I don't remember switching the television off or changing channels. Just waiting for the horrible noise - which was worse than hearing it.

The Emergency Broadcast System noise was similar. They'd always test it when my shows were on. mittens, you are not alone, and I wouldn't have connected that without you mentioning it. Same thing: plenty of warning, time to build up dread, and then a godawful noise.

The WGBH logo doesn't bother me a bit now, but the EBS one is still spooky, in a fond nostalgic way.
posted by cmyk at 12:39 AM on May 5, 2011

CBS's In The News anyone?
posted by ShutterBun at 1:06 AM on May 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

moog someone to death

this phrase is totally cracking me up.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:30 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

So, how were these logos made?

I have never used, nor seen a Scanimate machine, and haven't even looked up the Wikipedia page on it. However, I know how it must have worked, based upon what I know about the workings of that utterly bizarre piece of computer equipment, the Atari 2600 game console.

To review, the 2600 worked in a way that was strongly, to our eyes unusually, tied to the television display. Most computers that display images that will be presented via some kind of scanning hardware monitor do so by manipulating the electron beam. Or more accurately, they determine when the signal is sent that tells the monitor to begin new sweep of the screen and each line, and they determine the color that is displayed. Nothing else. Most later game consoles use hardware features to automate the process somewhat, but the 2600 does little of that. To produce graphics, the game code must actually change the screen colors at the proper time as the electron beam speeds its way across the screen. The horizontal resolution of the system is literally determined by the speed of its microprocessor. There are a few other features, such as player and missile graphics, that can be used in various ways to cheat around this limitation, but inside the chip, these sprites are made visible simply by changing the screen color at the proper time. The chip is just doing automatically what you'd otherwise have to do in code.

I believe ALL television broadcast is accomplished this way. Television cameras work by encoding signals in such a way that a TV decodes them by working in reverse. If you want to display anything else on the screen, you have to "cook" the right visual data to send to the electron beam to create the effect you want.

Notice that the Screen Gems, the Viacom 'V', and other such logos are composed of two major colors. That's fairly easy for even an analogue machine like a Scanimate to switch between; you have a circuit that sends one color signal when it's on, and the other when it's off. Once you have that, displaying arbitrary visuals is a matter of just flipping that switch in a sufficiently nuanced manner.

A shape on screen is merely a sequence of color-changes across multiple scanlines. To display a vertical line, you'd just change the color to that of the line at the same place in each horizontal scan, turning it back where the line ends. Do that across the whole vertical extent of the screen and the line will be of similar length. Only do it for a portion of those scan lines for a shorter line.

If you wanted a diagonal line, then on one end of the line, the one you wanted to lean to the left, you'd trigger the color changes earlier, with them gradually later as the line continued on its course to the right. To make the line thicker, you'd delay sending the color-change-back signal a little longer.

Scaling the image up is a combination of two operations, scaling horizontally and vertically. Horizontally is simply a matter of starting the object color change earlier and earlier, and the background color change later and later. Scaling vertically means spreading the extent of the shape among more scanlines. You'd have to be careful that the changes between the scanlines are smooth; I'd think it'd be best to scale down starting from the full image, by removing evenly-spaced scanlines.

Well anyway, that's how I guess it's done. Complicated effects like the different portions of the Screen Gems S could be done by composting together the separately-rendered parts.
posted by JHarris at 3:23 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

A wizard did it.

A wizard with wasp's nests for eyes.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:54 AM on May 5, 2011

tv really did fuck you all up. wow.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 4:01 AM on May 5, 2011

Growing up, I was alternately mesmerized and unnerved by The NBC Snake.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:39 AM on May 5, 2011

I wasn't creeped out by the logos as a child, but viewing them now -- the nostalgia they induce is so thick, and they all have ominous synthetic fanfares and featureless geometries... yeah, I definitely find them kind of disturbing.
posted by Jonathan Harford at 4:58 AM on May 5, 2011

I agree, Jonathan. While I'm sure there may have been a few kids who were genuinely creeped out at the time (as the stories in "The S From Hell" attest) I'm convinced that 99% of the phenomenon is just "re-discovering stuff from my childhood that suddenly seems very creepy in retrospect."
posted by ShutterBun at 5:10 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I wasn't bugged by logos as a kid, but.....the dragon from Tic Tac Dough?

STILL bugs me to this day. My husband put it as his facebook avatar just because it freaks me out so much.
posted by Lucinda at 5:23 AM on May 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

That's a very thoughtful analysis of...something, JHarris. But in the case of Scanimate, it's really just a case of "shoot some high contrast images with a video camera, and use some waveform tweaky knobs to manipulate it. Repeat."

Scanimation: glowy, bendy, metalic, space-age looking stuff. Think sports logos and psychedelic color patterns. Done entirely in video.

Traditional film animation: most of the logos we've been discussing.
posted by ShutterBun at 5:25 AM on May 5, 2011

Someone needs to start mixing these little logo "fanfares" into Boards of Canada tracks.
posted by anthom at 6:09 AM on May 5, 2011

The only logo that frightens me is Bad Robot, because I know someone in the house has wasted and hour of their life watching a Lost rerun on Netflix.
posted by Mcable at 6:25 AM on May 5, 2011

If you were to do the Screen Gems S animation in analogue, you'd draw the four static elements (The dot in the center, the descender, the ascender, and the "screen gems" text) on sheets of paper, black ink on white, point a video camera at each sheet (or more likely, use one video camera to put each element on tape), then feed each element into the machine and set the transition start and end states so they'll start and finished together or however is desired (eg for the ascender/descender, it looks like they're simultaneously doing a zoom and a wipe and a translation), do that for each elements, use other knobs to make anything vaguely black become flat red and anything vaguely light gray to become transparent, except on your background layer, which you set to flat yellow. Put it all together and you have your animatd logo, and then it's just a matter of finding a way to make some truly horrible music. :-)

The Screen Gems one looks fairly straightforward. The more you combined scanimate techniques with computer graphics techniques with cell animation techniques, the more complex end results you could get.

(And it was standard operating procedure that even for effects that you would consider to be 100% computer generated, to still use the analogue machine, because it wasn't just used for generating effects, it was used for very pedestrian things too. For example, to slightly offset the computer generated animation by half an inch to the left, so that it was exactly centered on video, relative to what was "center" for the machines doing the recording, etc. It might also be used to tweak the colours, and it was very often used to drop out the black, because a computer feed black was a signal and not as black as what you could get if you made it transparent, and let an analogue machine generate the blackest black the tape could take behind that image. I'm guessing that this is why scanimate is being credited with animations that Charlie don't surf knows were pure CG or cell. In the editing room, not much of anything is pure :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 6:30 AM on May 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Again, Scanimate was not an animation tool, per se. It just added things like waveforms and glowy effects. As you can see, the images here have several things in common. They are all on video, they have dark backgrounds, and they have glowy, futuristic imagery.

Any actual animation (i.e. flying logos) apart from the moving waveforms or sparkles would have been done beforehand using traditional methods. Scanimation was basically a "lens flare" tool for video, and any actual relation to CGI ends with their shared use of transistors and integrated circuit technology.

On the other hand, I discovered that exists. In an obvious nod to The S From Hell, each logo is rated for, among other criteria, "scare factor."
posted by ShutterBun at 7:13 AM on May 5, 2011

Shutterbun - you're saying that "traditional methods" of animation includes analogue video effects machines that were not Scanimate[TM] effects machines? I don't remember the brands of the machines I was using, but a lot amount of animation was done in ways like I described for the screen gems animation - not done with CGI, not done with cells (unless you count an initial logo on paper), but animated using analogue machines. And Scanimate was just better known for being able to add punch (glow effects etc)?
posted by -harlequin- at 7:35 AM on May 5, 2011

With regard to the Screen Gems logo in particular, and at the risk of sounding all "I can tell from the pixels..." it's clearly just old-school animation. For one thing, the logo predates the Scanimate by 4 years, and any precursor to the Scanimate (Animac, for instance) would have zero capability for such a logo. The basic concept of those machines was "trick an oscilloscope into drawing stick figures" and while I myself would hesitate to classify it as computer animation, I'd at least allow "animation by other means," for whatever that's worth.

Further clues on the S From Hell being traditional animation are the fact that although it was made specifically for television, it's less than 30 frames per second (highly counterintuitive for an analog video device) and color fluctuations & film scratches are visible in some copies. This simply would not be the case if a video master were used. Also, most of the television programming at that time was still film, so it would be fairly ridiculous to splice a reverse-kinescoped logo onto the end of The Flintstones.

For all its cheesy visuals, I don't wanna hate on Scanimate too much. After all, it pretty much defined how TV looked in the 70's. (an old favorite of mine, Animalympics even went so far as to hand-animate cells to replicate the look) But I just can't in good conscience call it Computer Animation. To me it was Video Toaster meets Flying Logos, before either existed (and took a lot more skill to use)
posted by ShutterBun at 8:30 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

The WGBH one freaked me out when I was about three years old. I actually had a nightmare about it.

My son is freaked out by the "please silence your cell phone" messages in the movie theater
posted by no relation at 8:34 AM on May 5, 2011

Shutterbun - it's a good example because regardless of which techniques were used to animate it, the analogue boxes were quite capable of generating that animation (and probably doing it quicker and easier than cell animation... but that's not saying much). You seemed to be suggesting earlier that the actual animation was necessarily done with traditional techniques and electronics were normally limited to just punched it up. I don't think that's accurate, a lot of the time, animation was done with analogue electronics.

Screen Gems makes a great example in that you indicate that due to the time period it must have been done manually, yet (fast forward a few years) and all that manual animation could also be generated using a basic analogue machine, creating exactly the same final product (but with a better frame rate).

Hence I don't agree with the implication that real animation was not done on the old analogue machines. They were capable of, and used for, generating animations that previously would have required crazy amounts of work.

(They still involved crazy amounts of work, just lower values of crazy. Boy am I glad to be living in the future, with all that crap behind us! :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 9:21 AM on May 5, 2011

Hmm, I seem to have written the same thing twice (in different words), and not deleted the redundancy. Oops :)
posted by -harlequin- at 9:27 AM on May 5, 2011

I do rather wish the documentary film teased at by this FPP were actually available to watch for free online. I think it would be a pretty interesting film and might even have material which clears up some of the questions in this thread.
posted by hippybear at 10:00 AM on May 5, 2011

Harlequin, I'm willing to concede that "making stuff move onscreen = animation" and "using transistors to acheive it= computers." But c'mon. Look at ANY demo reel of Scanimate logos. They're VERY distinctive, and none of them looks anything like the Screen Gems logo.

As far as animating logos/lettering, I think the Flying Logos comparison is apropos. Scanimate could vectorize high contrast images and simulate a 3D environment via distortion, etc. But when it came to things like frame-by-frame "making a drawing come to life" type stuff, I think too much credit is being given. Scanimate was not a raytracer or keyframer, it was (to me) the equivalent of an AfterEffects plugin filter.

Hippybear, the whole doc (9 minutes long) is availabe here

(the previous thread from Jan 2010 was one of my favorites from when I was but a lurker)
posted by ShutterBun at 10:46 AM on May 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I never thought about these things being scary, and I was scared of pretty much everything as a kid. I was born in ’63 and I don’t have any traumatic memories of the "S from hell". The radio hits of Gordon Lightfoot scared the crap out of me though.

ShutterBun >Nightmare fuel as a child: The NBC Sunday Night Mystery<

That’s what I’m saying. I scoff at your "S".
posted by bongo_x at 11:03 AM on May 5, 2011

Hippybear, the whole doc (9 minutes long) is availabe here

Um.... no. That's not at all what I'm talking about. The Dream Machine (first link in the FPP) is a trailer for a 2-hour long documentary about Scanimate machines and the people who invented and used them. It can be purchased in its original DVD form or in an updated version. But I cannot find it to watch online.

What you link I already pointed to in the first comment in this thread as a previously.
posted by hippybear at 11:13 AM on May 5, 2011

(In fact, my searching for this documentary online is what led me to make the FPP I created today about an entirely different kind of Dreammachine.)
posted by hippybear at 11:23 AM on May 5, 2011

Sorry about that, my misunderstanding (and failure to read attributions)
posted by ShutterBun at 11:35 AM on May 5, 2011

Not related to Scanimate but the crying Indian in the "Keep America Beautiful" commercials always spooked me.
posted by republican at 1:21 PM on May 6, 2011

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