Monday, 13 June 2016

BARTBLND.ZIP: from architectural blueprints to "The Simpsons"

As part of my efforts from keeping this blog from devolving into the non-stop ANSI art love hour, I'm doing my best to stagger the textmode art blog posts with related but distinct materials. Today's subject is just one such piece of multimedia esoterica from my hazy youth.

I'm guessing that I encountered the file shortly after being given a Sound Blaster Pro by my uncle -- perusing the previously waste-of-time "multimedia" file bases on local BBSes, there it was:

Yeah, it's the mid-'90s, heyday of Spike 'n Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation: sure, I'll spend an hour downloading that:

OK, truth in advertising! Delivers exactly what it promises. Dating to late November / early December 1990, one L. Tipton, presumably of Sick Flick Productions (which I can find no further trace of), made this animated loop of Bart Simpson with his tongue caught in an electric mixer, reproducing an event from some eight-ish months prior aired in The Simpsons episode "Life on the Fast Lane", season 1 episode 9, on March 18, 1990:

The animation is made using a tool from Autodesk, makers of the long-dominant architectural and 3D design software AutoCAD. FLC and FLI animations are products of their "Autodesk Animator" application, occupying an amateur computer animation niche chronologically somewhere intermediary between ANSImation and Flash animation, and this particular one has been beefed up with an additional program that allows a Creative Labs VOC digital audio file for Sound Blaster sound cards to play in the background while the animation unspools. Repeat the feat with a batch file for the credits roll, and you have a proud work of mid-'90s homebrew multimedia.

The animation itself is vestigial at best, boasting maybe a kingly sum of three frames, but between the hypnotic strobing of Bart's throbbing pupils and the increasingly desperate quality to his gargled shrieks of pain, the presentation sustains itself over its long runtime. (Imagining the recording session of the soundtrack always puts a smile on my face.) I'm guessing that the functionality of the programs are such that the visual loop would simply repeat until the audio cues were exhausted.

The file types used here are interesting (well, maybe to some): .VOC lost out to .WAV in the long run, and the .FLI animation format -- dominant enough that I formally learned to use it in my final year of high school (sadly, my "Fire in the Sky"-inspired term project is forever lost to the ages: in a nutshell, a sleeping schlub in bed (represented as a blanket with two ugly feet poking out the end) experiences, in a first person perspective, the approach of a UFO, his house's being bathed in a tractor beam, nearby trees (and then the planet Earth, and then the local star cluster) receding, a long, long drill being deployed for probing, then everything apparently returned to normal. Except that... his four-toed feet have been altered by the abductors and now boast a horrifying, inhuman total of five toes per foot. FIVE TOES!) -- was technically supported by the SAUCE computer art metadata injector application (which admittedly breaks many formats that it is claimed to support)... but I never encountered a single .FLI or .FLC in the wild in all my artpack explorations. A mega query on the Dark Domains DVD could perhaps put to rest once and for all the question of whether any artgroups ever released any animations in that format, but my guess is that the answer is "no".

This bit of memory fluff was stirred up sometime over the past few years by my being reminded of it after reading something on a demoparty results announcement -- suggesting, in my mind, that it was in some way a product of the demoscene -- which would easily make it fair game for this blog! (Given its kludgey and inefficient nature, I know that's hard to believe, but having once won a wild compo myself at Crash '97 by hitting people with foam covered PVP piping, I know that anything is possible.) But now that I have this myth of peculiar provenance in my head, I can't dig up a primary document to support it. Well, this tfile comes close, which lists it, but seems upon closer review to simply be a BBS' file section listing:


It is 1994. European Demos are getting popular. Techno, House, Rave music is getting popular. EMF & KLF are popular. European Demos, you ask? What are they? Let's put it this way....Computer graphic music videos. How bout dat. Well, what this is, is a listing of pretty cool European demos from the best from Europe and a few from our mainland (the few; although we'd like to see more from the U.S.A.)

Without locating L. Tipton, we may never know the full truth behind this curious piece of MS-DOS multimedia (including the single most pressing matter: figuring out why the animation's tongue bends at precisely the opposite angle as Bart's tongue in the original cartoon. Why?!) But on the bright side: there's very little hanging in the balance.