I had written a quick and dirty animation editor for Budokan, and afterwards I decided to do it right. I wrote a new animation editor from scratch, along with a 2D game engine to go with it. When I signed the contract for my next game project in 1992, Animax became the heart of my development effort.

The Animax animation editor

Animax is a companion to Deluxe Paint, once the universal tool for game development. You can draw with Animax, but it lacks the more powerful painting features like gradient fill. Instead, Animax makes art into directly usable game resources like icons, sprites, tilemaps and even user interface components.

Cels from Budokan

Animax uses a traditional animator's model. In the old days, an artist would draw foreground images on transparent overlays called 'cels'. One or more of these cels would be placed on top of a background painting (the 'matte'), then photographed as a single frame in a movie. Then the cels would be moved or replaced and photographed again to create motion.

Cels & Folders

In Animax, a cel is a bitmap, usually with a transparent background, that can be used as a source image for animation. A cel folder is a collection of such cels grouped into a single file.

The selected cel, which has a thicker border, is a painting canvas that can be magnified in place. The painting functions are convenient and sufficient for simple editing. Each cel remembers unlimited undos and redos, and each can have its own color palette or share with others.

A folder of cels A folder of cels from Animax itself. These are buttons for scroll bars.


Aragorn, from the Lord of the Rings

A sequence is a series of sprite style animation frames. You control it with a gadget like a slide projector's remote, stepping through the frames with the '+' and '-' buttons. 'A' adds the selected cel, 'R' removes a cel or frame, and 'P' starts and stops playback.

Jane, from Worlds Away Jane from Worlds Away
and her component cels
Each frame in a sequence is composed of layered cels. A reference to the original actually goes into the sequence, so a particular cel can appear repeatedly within an individual frame and in multiple frames, and can appear reversed horizontally or vertically. Any later change to the original is reflected throughout the sequence.

State tables

Gandalf's state table Gandalf's state table
for frame #1 out of 215

Budokan was one of the first games where fighting characters could perform very complex actions with a simple joystick controller. We created that behavior in Animax using state tables.

Each frame in a sequence can have several kinds of data attached to it. In this case, each frame has many links to other frames according to joystick position, both with and without the button pressed.

Tile Maps

You can also paint on the matte, or background, in Animax. In this mode, the program acts very much like DPaint. However, the early console machines used tiled graphics to reduce memory requirements for backgrounds. There were a limited number tiles available, each 8x8 pixels, and the image was a 2D array of those tiles.

The Park, from Cybernauts Karen Mangum's Park from Cybernauts. A two layer tilemap with awesome compression!

Animax lets you paint on the individual tiles, and also lets you paint on the background with tiles instead of pixels. Previously, tiled images were created in a standard pixel editor and then converted, so Animax was a major advance.

Matte Animation

Animax can also handle full frame animation similar to many other programs. In this case the image stays the same size, but each frame replaces all the pixels. It is similar to normal video, or like drawing on each page of a notebook and turning the pages very quickly. This style uses far more memory than sprite animation.

Full frame animation is implemented as a multi-page matte, and of course the matte can be tiled. The result is a tile animation, like this collapsing bridge for the Sega Genesis. Tile animation can be visually larger than the sprite form, yet also conserve memory.

Tiled animation from The Lord of the Rings Tiled matte animation
from the Lord of the Rings


Target machine dialog

Each of the publishing companies developed custom hardware to interface with the console machines. This let us test and debug our games without burning a ROM cartridge for each revision.

Graphics look very different on the low quality video from the console machines, so Animax can use that custom hardware to download its images directly to a target machine. When turned on, this updates the target display each time the artist paints a stroke.

Formax & ResComp

I wrote some companion programs for Animax. Formax is a command line tool to convert files. It reads and writes several image and animation formats including some proprietary formats for game publishing companies.

ResComp is a resource compiler used in make scripts. It converts Animax's data files into binary and assembly modules to be linked into a game program.

Formax file converter