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Voyage of Dreams

Last revised 3/14/2014

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Pictured from left to right are the filmmakers of Voyage of Dreams, Haitian-American Raymond Cajuste and Collis Davis in 1982. This project was initially awarded a $19,000 grant by WNET-TV/13’s Television Laboratory. Aside from choosing a timely and important topic, the phenomenon of Haitian boat people landing Florida’s shores, Voyage of Dreams broke new ground in documentary film making by its pioneering use of extensive computer graphics and animation. At the time, there were only two production firms in the US producing computer graphic animation, doing mostly advertising. The New York firm, Digital Effects, founded by Judson Rosebush, had a 250-color paint box which was powered by a mini-mainframe computer. We saved our files on 8” floppy discs, and were able to output only to 35mm film at the time.

Eventually, we knew we would have to output to NTSC video, but Digital Effects had never done this before. After a full-day of trying to convert  high-resolution raster-based images to video using a plethora of video black boxes, we achieved success. Because the conversion was not text-book perfect, we experienced some color shifts, and of course, a reduction in image sharpness. Below left are examples of computer output to 35mm transparencies. Such would not be the case with video resolution frames as shown on the Home page.

Two types of animation techniques were employed: frame-by-frame linked by quick lap-dissolves between them, and the other involved creating the illusion of movement within an individual video frame using a technique called color-cycling. The former technique did not involve the creation of hundreds of images (as in traditional cell animation, e.g., Disney  cell animation), but only a few frames played in succession linked with  dissolves to smooth the illusion of motion.

Color-cycling, a technique specific only to computer graphic ”paint”€¯ systems, allow us to create a grid within which we could fill with a color tint, and then rotate the color palette of the paint box so that color tints moved from one closed object within the grid to another. Present-day software programs like Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw use this same principle where in a closed object can be filled with a color and then this color  can be moved to another closed object by simple rotating the pallette itself. The art work which constitutes the grid remains stationary while only the color tints are moving, much like the children’s game of musical chairs€¯.

a_EnockPlacide001The artist, a Haitian painter trained in oil techniques, Enock Placide, had no prior experience working with what he called electronic lights€¯, but the work that resulted from his mastery of the color paint box eventually earned him the respect of the experts working at Digital Effects. The rain effects that Enock achieved are nothing short of awesome.

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These two images were scanned from 35mm transparencies (2,000+ pixels in resolution) back into computer graphic form for use here on this web  page. The color tints shown in the waves actually move from one area to another. Although this technique can been seen as a poor man’s form of animation, the technique, when used deftly and expertly, can create some special effects accomplished no other way.


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