Animorphs: How Those Weird Covers Were Made Using Elastic Reality

Animorphs: How Those Weird Covers Were Made Using Elastic Reality

October 21, 2019 97 By Peter Engel


Greetings and welcome to an LGR thing! Anyone remember Animorphs? I’d imagine most people do to some degree,
seeing as over 35 million copies of the books by K.A. Applegate have been printed since 1996. And even if you’ve never read them, chances
are you’ve seen at least one of the iconic Animorphs covers, especially if you grew up
in the 90s. Each of the 54 books in the original print
run of Animorphs features a depiction of a kid transforming into something, usually an
animal or a fictional creature. And I dunno about you, but I’ve always been
captivated by this kinda surreal imagery, so Animorphs covers have stuck in my brain
ever since. Now, thanks to the magic of ill-advised purchases
after a couple drinks, I now have the hardware and the software to make my own morphs! [laughs]
Oh this is awesome. Introducing Elastic Reality, a program that
sold for $995 when it first launched for the Apple Macintosh in 1994. This so-called “Macintosh Special Effects
System” was created by ASDG Incorporated, expanding on their prior program from 1992
called Morph Plus for the Commodore Amiga. But yeah, it was Elastic Reality in particular
that was used in the creation of the classic Animorphs covers and I am absolutely psyched
to show you how it works! Before we do that though, I gotta mention
David B. Mattingly, the artist responsible for the majority of Animorphs illustrations. His career began in the late ‘70s at Walt
Disney Studios, working as a matte painter for movies like The Black Hole, Tron, and
Dick Tracy. By 1996 though, Mattingly was taking illustration gigs for everything from commercials to magazines and books. That’s where publisher Scholastic comes
in. They’d already published the first Animorphs
books that summer but weren’t 100% pleased with the covers. According to Mr. Mattingly, The first three
Animorphs books were done by another artist, but Scholastic wasn’t happy with that artwork. They knew that they wanted someone to do morphing,
so Scholastic art director Dave Tomasino called me up and he said, “We heard that you knew how to do morphing.” I just had bought a copy of this very primitive
morphing program, the only one available at the time called Elastic Reality. After getting the spec on the Animorphs books,
I went home… and came in with some samples. I said, “How about this?” and they were
like, “Yeah, that’s it!” Right, so, let’s get Elastic Reality unboxed
and see if we can accomplish anything even close to Mr. Mattingly’s work. Removing the outer sleeve reveals a beefy
cardboard box which itself holds a pile of beefy contents. First up is a 27-minute VHS tape covering
the software, definitely have to check that out in a bit. Then we’ve got the program on two 3.5”
diskettes with GS-89-120 written on each
of the labels. Hehe, so yeah my copy of Elastic Reality was actually property of the US federal government at one point. I grabbed it along with some other productivity
software in a surplus auction, so if you see any government labels that’s why. I didn’t break into the Pentagon or whatever. Anyway, it also comes with a quick reference
card outlining the most notable menus, commands, and other such info referenced quickly on
a card. And there are two substantial tomes of spiral-bound
documentation: a getting started guide and a full-length manual. Each of which pertain to the Macintosh version
only, even if the basic setup, creation process of morphs, and overall workflow also apply
to the later versions for Windows PCs and SGI workstations. Finally, without further ado, “IT’S MORPHIN’
TIME!” Starting up Elastic Reality doesn’t look
like much, with only a blank timeline and a bunch of dropdown menus that can’t be
utilized yet. There are a handful of demonstration morphs
to check out, pretty handy when referencing how to pull off certain effects, but this
only does so much in regards to teaching you how to make your own. The manual provides several tutorials in text
form, but screw that, let’s take a quick peek at that VHS tape it came with and bask
in that beautiful mid-90s production value. [VHS tape insertion sounds] [VCR begins playing tape] [ASDG logo whooshes in, ‘90s stock music plays] It begins with a lengthy sizzle reel showing off what the
software can do morphing cars and faces and objects and all sorts of neat stuff. Then we’re greeted by a man with a Macintosh
who simply cannot contain his excitement! -The objective of this tutorial is to demonstrate
some of the basics of Elastic Reality. -In it, we’ll perform some warps on a human
face using only two squares. -You’ll be astonished at the variety of
effects that can be created with just -two shapes and a little imagination.
Please follow along step by step. [gloriously ‘90s jingle plays] Yeah all right so I’m not gonna play the whole 27 minute tape obviously, regardless of how… captivating
this tutorial may be. In fact the best part is the intro, which
I can’t play because it got hit with a copyright match on YouTube. So if you wanna see the whole thing check
the video description below for an archive I uploaded elsewhere. Anyway, yeah! The basic process of creating a morph involves
importing two images, with the starting image being placed into the A Roll and the final
image dropping into the B Roll. The images can be of anything you like, so
long as they’re QuickDraw compatible using something like the PICT file format. At this point, you can double click the FX
Roll to open the edit window, presenting you with your A Roll and B Roll images. On the left is a toolbar consisting of 10
tools, with several familiar options if you’ve messed with vector-based image editors. The idea here is to outline and designate
parts of the image you want to morph, accomplished by placing closed and open shapes consisting
of bezier curves. As an example, I’ll just quickly outline
this photo of a Suzuki using the pen tool, outlining the general shape of it and laying
down control points. Then moving onto the B Roll, I’m gonna do
the same with a photo of my Lumix GH5, this time using the freehand tool to outline more
of its angles. Once those are in place, you can use the reshape
tool to grab, move around, and adjust the curvature from each control point as needed. Now when we go back to that A/B comparison,
we can see the outline for each image. All we have to do here is join them together
by selecting both of them and choosing “Join” from the Shape menu. And that’s all you need to do to make a
basic morph! Opening the Morph menu provides options for
rendering, previewing, and output, but we can go straight into the rendering and see
what happens. By default it’ll produce a morph file that
can be played back in QuickTime, with Elastic Reality interpolating the keyframes between
your two images based on the shapes you’ve joined and a crapload of math. And congratulations, it’s a morph! [chuckles] Okay so it’s not quite Animorphs material, but that’s the gist of it. How it turns out really comes down to how
much time you’re willing to invest in each stage of the process. Obviously, you need images that are decently-suited
to morphing into each other, with things like a solid background, clearly-defined edges, and a plan to join specific portions of the images together. It gets ridiculously more involved than my
quick example earlier of course, with control over individual frames, motion paths, vector
correspondence points, and on and on. You’re not limited to placing closed shapes
either, which is useful for ensuring specific shapes morph into one another in the final
render. Like here I made my own face warp into the
IBM PC from the LGR logo, with my glasses morphing into the monitor, my nose warping
into the top of the case, and my mouth turning into the floppy drives. Hehe, the final result is a bit pointier than
it could be, but with enough time it’s quite possible to come up with something better. However, you’ll never get results as well-defined
as David Mattingly’s Animorphs covers, at least not using this software alone. And that’s because he didn’t rely exclusively
on Elastic Reality. Recalling his experiences with the software,
Mattingly said, It could produce problems with the image. So about 50 percent of my images were painted
so I could make up for all the shortcomings of the program. And that makes sense. Even when you nail the shapes and keyframes
and render morph stages as high quality as possible, you still don’t get results worthy
of an Animorphs book. Instead, Elastic Reality was a valuable step
in the overall creative process, performing a lot of the grunt work by figuring out how
to morph two distinct shapes and generating images to use as a basis for the final illustrations. And the uses for Elastic Reality didn’t
stop with Animorphs either! Throughout the ‘90s it was the de facto
standard in image and video morphing, being utilized in hundreds of TV shows and movies
from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, to The Mask, to Batman Forever. Two of the engineers behind Elastic Reality
even won an Oscar at the 69th Academy Awards for their contributions to its development,
with credit going to Avid Technology who bought out Elastic Reality in 1995. Oddly enough though, the program was discontinued
as a standalone product in 1997, despite the Oscars and widespread usage in Hollywood. The tech remained in use regardless, being
rolled into products from Avid and Softimage, and legacy hardware sometimes being kept around
just to run Elastic Reality. So yeah, I’m super impressed by Elastic
Reality’s capabilities and how easy it is to use, even in its earliest iterations. It takes very little time to produce half-decent
results using two unrelated images, and I’m positive that morphs more suited to an Animorphs
cover are attainable with enough time and skill. Neither of which I possess at the moment,
but whatever man, my morphs are still better looking than the new reprint covers, you seen
that crap? The heck kinda slapdash Photoshop job is that? I say bring back Elastic Reality for Animorphs
cover creation, cuz even if the resulting morphs need a talented illustrator finish
the job, it’d still be an improvement on those new covers. Yeesh. Oh hi you’re still here, awesome! I’ve got new videos on all kinds of tech
topics each week here on LGR, so stick around and watch more if you’d like to stick around
and watch more. And as always, thank you very much for watching!