Animorphs: How Those Weird Covers Were Made Using Elastic Reality


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!

100 thoughts on “Animorphs: How Those Weird Covers Were Made Using Elastic Reality

  1. Does anyone know what they used to do the all face morphing for Michael Jackson's Black or White music video? I always wondered.

  2. I remember being a little girl and loving to look at the weird covers when my dad took me to the book store

  3. The same techniques are used in final visual effects now to do some pretty neat and subtle things! For example, an actor can deliver their lines and then be carefully morphed into a take of a stuntman to make a seamless shot where you'd need an edit before. Or even to avoid jump cuts from being visible.

  4. You know the whole thing about the author being K.A. Applegate rather than her actual name, Katherine Alice Applegate had a lot to do with publishers in the 90s not believing boys would be interested in books written by a woman. So they shortened her name to obscure her gender. Same thing happened with the Harry Potter series. Joanne Rowling doesn't have a middle name but when asked to come up with a middle initial for her book name she chose "K" in honor of her grandmother Kathleen. I really like that two of my most favorite book series were written by women. It just shows that kids don't care about that kind of nonsense, a good story is a good story.

  5. It trips me out just how EXPENSIVE software was when I was a kid. $995 for that program which is basically a rudimentary gif maker! 😂

  6. For some reason, I can't look at those Animorphs covers without laughing uncontrollably. I mean, LOOK at them!

  7. To be fair, these new covers do kind of fit with the actual text of the book where morphing is alway described like this traumatic terryfying nd weird to watch process that just has bodies deforming and limbs spouting in weird and disharmonious ways.

    Program is still impressive tho, espcialy for its time.

  8. I remember the hype back then, when on the Amiga dozens of toosl for morphing images concurred to each other, with Morph Plus seemingly being the winner. Honestly I couldn't understand the hype, mainly because I didn't like the results. No matter how complex the morphing tools grew, after adding relation points and such, the results still looked like like most frames where just the staring frame overlayed with the target image, with changing transparency. And even in later uses of morphing, like in tv, I couldn't get over the fect, that even then most images in a morph animation just looked too much like simple transparent overlays.

  9. The main thing I remember from the series was the origin book with the aliens. They drank through their hooves.

  10. @LGR: Can you archive the mac version of this software and post somewhere where we can download it? Would be super appreciative!

  11. I can't believe there were 54 of these. And the fact that they did a lobster is a little strange – shouldn't that be Crustacemorphs?

  12. “I didn’t break into The Pentagon or whatever.”

    That’s exactly what someone who broke into The Pentagon would say.

    Edit: Oh wait, that joke has been said a million times before.

  13. I absolutely loved Animorphs back in the day and still cherish it. Your designs work and they're hilarious! The new cover designs are a massacre though.

  14. wow and to think today an ai can do this with hundreds of pictures to make its OWN morphed-images… FOR FREE.

    man oh man how far weve come…

  15. Normal people breaking into area 51: Wow this alien is so cool!

    LGR breaking into area 51: grabs Elastic Reality

  16. When's the video about how the government used an earlier version of this software to fake the moon landing?

  17. sadly, if i got the video in the 90's with the software i wouldn't have been interested in watching it………. but now……….i kinda have to watch it.

  18. Hm. Guess since it's outdated AND on mac, I won't ever be downloading it to Windows 10.😂 I'm Still an Animorphs fan. I've got a massive Aximili plush in the works, but it's on a two year+ hiatus because I don't have the tech to print new eyes. (Eyes will be clay based and printed on paper for the iris, pupil.) It's still my childhood dream to make my own morph one day! Thanks for the video. Also, I guess some girl was selling morphs on Deviantart using photoshop. Really cool. No idea if she's still around, but this reminded me of her.

  19. Another underrated aspect of the Animorphs books was the flip image at the bottom of the pages. If you flipped them real fast, it would show an alien transforming or some other image. I LOVED that when I was a kid

  20. I don't care about this video even when I'm sober, but LGR is cool and I don't know what else to do with my life, so I'm going to mute the video and minimize my browser. I'm one of those old obsolete shouldhavediedbynows that still watches youtube on a PC in a browser.

  21. I really love these deep dives into old / odd software. It's given me SO much inspiration and ideas for programs to write (or rather, to attempt to write). I think it'd be fun to write an iOS/Android app that does this! And I bet a lot of the math is behind DeepFake's… If I'm right, then it's funny to think that the roots of that tech isn't really "AI" but a mid 90s image processing system!

  22. Real shit we had this in my technology class in middle school, it was weird it taught us how to make lights work radios work how to animate a cgi reindeer and some stuff with a pressure machine, honestly That class was very boring but your videos make it actually seem interesting ! Even though you’re just covering the morphing lol

  23. They've used an advanced version of this to bring Cats (my paralyzing,terrifying and meowing nightmares) to life!

    -A stupid idiot like me (2019)

  24. Animorphs was a legitimately good series. Looking back on it, those books tackled some surprisingly heavy themes for a kids book.

  25. I hated these books. My mom made me read one (we had to read every night for school) and it was so traumatizing that I hate the books with a passion now.

  26. Not to make you mad but i had a very old pc that i know you do not have but i was selling it but i won't have sold it to you if you fownd out were i live but if you are wanting to know what kind of pc it is it is a IBM i do not know what model but i know you probably do not have it bc i have seen it on your channel bf but i have bin arowd sints the 4irth video on your channel

  27. Those animorphs books were pretty horror in some respects. Multiple people, including the mom of some main character, are possessed by a alien slug which sits in their brain and controls them.

  28. Funny thing is, I bet if you HAD broken into the Pentagon to steal software from them, this is how old that software would be. Government computer systems… amiright,people?

  29. Okay, I grew up with a game called Knowledge Adventure: Aviation Adventure. It was an activity program with lots of stuff to do. One activity was a quiz. I forget exactly what the rules were, but there were five rounds of multiple choice questions based on aviation history. If you successfully completed the quiz you were treated to a special video. The video started with an old plane, then it "morphed" into a slightly newer one using technology very similar to Elastic Reality. Anyway, the video showed one plane morphing into another, and then another, and another, cycling through something like 15 planes, starting as a super primitive plane until it finally morphed into an F-117 Nighthawk.

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