Scanimate Analog Video Synths Produced Oceans Of Motion Graphics

Why doesn’t this kind of stuff ever happen to us? One lucky day back in high school, [Dave Sieg] stumbled upon a room full of new equipment and a guy standing there scratching his head. [Dave]’s curiosity about this fledgling television studio was rewarded when that guy asked [Dave] if he wanted to help set it up. From that point on, [Dave] had the video bug. The rest is analog television history.

Today, [Dave] is the proud owner and maintainer of two Scanimate machines — the first R&D prototype, and the last one of only eight ever produced. The Scanimate is essentially an analog synthesizer for video signals, and they made it possible to move words and pictures around on a screen much more easily than ever before. Any animated logo or graphics seen on TV from the mid-1970s to the mid-80s was likely done with one of these huge machines, and we would jump quite high at the chance to fiddle with one of them.

Analog television signals were continuously variable, and much like an analog music synthesizer, the changes imposed on the signal are immediately discernible. In the first video below, [Dave] introduces the Scanimate and plays around with the Viceland logo a bit.

Stick around for the second and third videos where he superimposes the Scanimate’s output on to the video he’s making, all the while twiddling knobs to add oscillators and thoroughly explaining what’s going on. If you’ve ever played around with Lissajous patterns on an oscilloscope, you’ll really have a feel for what’s happening here. In the fourth video, [Dave] dives deeper and dissects the analog circuits that make up this fantastic piece of equipment.

Here’s another way to play with scan lines: delay the output to some of them and you have a simple scrambler.

Thanks for the tip, [morgan]!

21 thoughts on “Scanimate Analog Video Synths Produced Oceans Of Motion Graphics

    1. That’s not a scanimate effect. That’s a video feedback effect. It could be done by setting the mixer to luma key the source over a video camera pointed at a CRT showing the source (covering slightly less than the screen for a descending away effect), or via a digital effect from something like an Ampex ADO.

  1. I watched the videos on these a few months ago. I suspect that at one point I may have had some of the Scanimate hardware due to an auction I won that got me what would have been well over $400,000 in video hardware back in the day. I know that I had several chromakey systems as well as a few switchers. I ended up selling the whole package plus some U-matic 3/4″ VTRs to a guy out of North Carolina, I think. I should see if I still have the email from that(yeah, I still have my email from the early days).

  2. The graphics “hippie” version of this might have been the Atari Video Music. I had one in the early 70’s. Hooked to your stereo, It generated a surprising number of different variations of a psychedelic blob(s) that matched the music


  3. I remember seeing electronic flames bouncing in an advert “we have hot deals for you on air conditioners” back in the 70’s and realizing this was the next razzle dazzle in video. Now I like to do live analogue TV projection of camera work and anything that I can throw into the path, as well as feedback without a scene camera. The less delay and frame grabbing the better. Oddly enough there is an ad in our local Craigslist that is for some frame grabber of sorts that looks deeper than it’s rack width, a hundred fifty $ or more.

  4. Niiiiice! I really enjoyed this jaunt and am now going to plow thru some open tabs to fill out the evening :) Glad there are stewards like Dave to care for and educate others about machines like this.

  5. I was looking into the analog computing thing a couple years back. I love the look of Scanimate. Analog multipliers at the necessary speeds are still relatively expensive, I believe. Perhaps that is still the limiting factor.

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