Antics Logo Alan Kitching: A Biography


Alan Kitching

Alan Thomas Kitching is a British graphic designer, animator, photographer and software developer, who is perhaps best known for his pioneering work in computer graphics, creating the Antics 2-D Animation software in 1972.

Early Life

Kitching grew up in the London suburb of Wimbledon, and was educated at King's College School, Wimbledon, where he was equally at home in the art school and the science lab. This was at the time when author C.P Snow's book "The Two Cultures" had highlighted the educational divide between arts and sciences, and sparked widespread debate. In 1963, Kitching was awarded an Open Scholarship to Corpus Christi College, at Cambridge where he chose to read Architecture and Fine Arts, as embodying both artistic and scientific aspects.

At school, Kitching had already produced some experimental animations, using a home-made rostrum camera. In the year's gap between school and Cambridge, he went to work as assistant to animator Trevor Bond at Dart Films, in London's Soho, where he undertook a wide range of projects from commercials for cinema and TV, and educational productions, to feature film titles, including a couple of early James Bond movies.

At Cambridge, Kitching's involvement with animation continued, including working with Richard Arnall to help organise the first-ever British Animation Festival, in 1965, and founding the Cambridge Animation Group. In vacation months, he also went to work in the Mayfair studio of innovative photographer designer Maurice Rickards, where he learnt the techniques of professional graphic design and photography.

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Architecture

After completing architectural studies in 1967, Kitching went to work with architect John Hornby in Wimbledon, undertaking a diverse range of private projects from refurbishing the offices of a firm of parliamentary lawyers, to housing estates in Amersham and Beckenham, the conversion of a medieval barn in Sussex, and restoration of a listed Tudor cottage in Selborne.

In 1969, he went on to work with Frederick MacManus and Partners, in Marylebone, specialising in architectural graphics, photography, and signage, on freelance projects mainly in public housing and healthcare.

Early Animation Career

An important influence at this time was veteran Hungarian-born British animator John Halas, with whom Kitching collaborated on a number of projects, mainly connected with ASIFA -- the International Animated Film Association. Halas also gave Kitching a pre-war 35mm animation rostrum camera, which otherwise would be scrapped. Kitching initially installed this in the premises of publishers Attic Publishing Ltd in Holland Park, for whom he was writing "An Animation Primer" -- an introduction to animation technique, which formed one section of Attic's larger part-work publication "The Craft of Film".

Kitching undertook many freelance animation projects using the ex-Halas rostrum. In 1969, he produced "The Dream of Arthur Sleap", a cinema commercial for the British Film Institute (BFI) to advertise their membership services. He also ran the BFI's rostrum camera unit when occasionally needed.

In 1970, he directed and animated "No Arks" for the BFI Production Board, a 7-minute film based on a story and cartoons by Abu Abraham -- the then political cartoonist of the Observer newspaper -- with narration by Vanessa Redgrave. The film received awards at both London and Berlin film festivals.

In 1970, Kitching moved the rostrum camera to the Covent Garden premises of the London School of Film Technique (now the London Film School), where he gave occasional teaching and support services in animation. Here, for the British Kinematograph, Sound and Television Society (BKSTS) he produced a 5 minute film "Auntie Takes a Trip", a potted history of radio broadcasting in Britain, billed as "an experiment in real-time animation", and made in 8 days on a budget of 70.

At this time, Kitching also began writing a number of articles for the BKSTS Journal, starting with a report on a conference in Vienna hosted by ICOGRADA (International Council of Graphic Design Associations), to which he was invited by John Halas. Other articles followed, including "Computer Animation -- Answer or Problem?" in which he examined the possibilities offered to animators by emerging computer graphics techniques.

The Birth of "Antics"

In 1972, Kitching met artist Colin Emmett, who was already experimenting with computer graphics at the Royal College of Art, using computers at Imperial College, London, and the Atlas Computer Laboratory near Oxford. At this point, Kitching had never thought of personally being involved in developing computer software, but when Emmett invited him to join him, Kitching took up the challenge. Before the year was out, he had the basics of a general-purpose animation system, which he named "Antics", and was completed early the next year.

Drawings traced on a computer drawing board came out on punched paper tape, and data for animation effects ('FX') were typed onto punched cards. Both were then fed into the Antics program, which produced the finished results on magnetic tape. Only at this point could the results be viewed, or recorded on 35mm film with the Atlas Lab's SC-4020 film plotter, which was black-and-white only. To achieve colour results, Antics produced 3 separate black-and-white films, and used the Technicolor 3-film process to combine them as red, green and blue separations. Hence the name "Antics" was originally coined as an acronym for "ANimated Technicolor-Image Computer System".

Kitching first presented the Antics system at the BKSTS "Film 73" conference in London, and later again at the National Film Theatre. The presentation was then published in the BKST Journal of December 73, and in 1974 Kitching was awarded the Society's "Dennis Wratten" award for technical achievement of the year.

The World's First All-digital Synthesiser?

In another direction, Kitching was also inspired by the work of Norman McLaren at the National Film Board of Canada, who was creating sound tracks by drawing directly into the sound-track area of the film. Kitching was familiar with an early sound synthesiser, the VCS3, made by Electronic Music Studios of London. This was essentially an analogue device, but Kitching realised that all its functions could be emulated entirely digitally, and so produced an Antics Sound program. This allowed VCS3 "patches" to be input, defining "instruments", and then combined automatically with a typed-in score. This was first published in "Medical and Biological Illustration" magazine, and, with the possible exception of John Chowning's work at Stanford University, may well constitute the world's first all-digital synthesiser.

This was used to produce the music for Kitching's 1975 film "Finite Elements", a 12-minute Antics documentary explaining the mathematical principles of the Finite Elements method for computing engineering simulations, with examples of how it had been used at the Atlas Lab.

Antics in Swedish Television

Further articles and presentations followed, including one to the Swedish Film Institute in Stockholm, which led to Kitching being invited by Swedish TV (then Sveriges Radio -- 'SR') to make some tests on their mainframe computer in Stockholm.

It was at this time that Kitching founded "Grove Park Studio Animations", named after the street where he lived in Camberwell. Also in 1975, he first met Czech interior designer Eva Gloss, recently emigrated to Britain from (then) Czechoslovakia, who was later to become his partner.

The Swedish TV demo in turn led to a full-scale prototype project that ran from 1977 to 1979. The equipment used in this project was simply the spare capacity of the organisation's mainframe, plus a single monochrome terminal (a black-and-green Tektronix 4014) and a GTCO drawing tablet, with programming in the industry-standard Fortran language. Recording was done frame by frame from this using a 16mm Bolex camera. This technique did not permit the use of the triple-run recording technique as previously used at the Atlas Lab. Consequently, all the results were monochrome, although variously coloured in the film processing.

The broad aims of the project were: (a) to develop a new version of Antics that would be fully interactive, using terminal and drawing tablet; (b) to show that it could be used by complete beginners without technical knowledge; and (c) to show that the cost of doing animation this way could be less than the cost of conventional animation. In all 3 of these aims, the project was notably successful. The project culminated with Kitching's production of a 5-minute cartoon short "The Story of G", from a storyboard written by a group at the local art school.

However, the Antics software included colour data, and some scenes (on magnetic tape) were later recorded at the Computer-Aided Design Centre in Cambridge, using an experimental colour frame-store -- a chunk of computer memory that stored a complete frame image and showed it on a colour screen.

Kitching presented the Swedish Antics system, including the colour results, in a major article for the BKSTS Journal of August 1980, "Antics -- From Stone-Age to Steam Age", which also went on to describe Kitching's vision for the future development of Antics towards full real-time interactivity.

Antics Goes Commercial in Japan

In 1980, Japanese computer maker Nippon Univac Kaisha (NUK) invited Kitching to demonstrate Antics in Tokyo, initially using the same equipment as in Swedish TV. At this time, NUK were also developing a colour frame store, and the American computer maker Digital Equipment Corp (DEC) came out with the VAX 11/750. This was about the size of a small refrigerator, yet had computer power to rival big mainframes. In effect, this was the first machine suitable to run Antics as a dedicated stand-alone system, so NUK agreed to set up the Tokyo Antics project which ran between 1980 and 1982. For this, Kitching developed a new Antics version for the VAX system. This incorporated the previous version, but for the first time, it integrated the various separate modules into a single integrated program, with increased features and improved interactivity. The first user system was installed at Nippon Animation, and more studios followed -- a dozen or so in Japan alone, and later many more throughout the world.(Click to See List)

The first studio in Europe was Antics Studio Amsterdam, opened in 1983, followed by Face Computer Associates in Brussels the following year. Both were based on the VAX 11/750, and Kitching was personally involved in their startup.

Also in 1983, Kitching met again with Eva Gloss, who had been producing hand-made ceramic dolls in Southampton, but was now living in London, and the two became partners. Later in the year, in conjunction with Tokyo graphic designer Yukio Ota, Kitching proposed a storyboard for United Nations University (UNU), a 7-minute film introducing the University and its work to a wider audience, with a commentary by Peter Ustinov. Kitching made the film at NUK, with the assistance of Eva Gloss. Titled "Sharing for Survival", the film completed early 1984, and gained 2nd Place at the Computer FX 84 Animation Film Festival, London.

Antics Comes Home

In 1985, DEC came out with an even smaller VAX version -- the MicroVax II. With all the power of the VAX 11/750, but the size of a small electric radiator, this was the first machine that could plug into a normal domestic power socket, and without needing any special air conditioning. Kitching soon installed one at home, so for the first time had his own Antics system, and was able to continue its development. It also meant he could finally complete "The Story of G" in its original colours, and it was awarded a Diploma at the Annecy Animation Festival in 1987. The MicroVax platform was also the basis for the first studio in USA, Xicon Inc, New York, and then in UK, at Impact Communications, Birmingham.

However, a year later, a faster rival to the MicroVax appeared, from US computer maker Silicon Graphics (SGI) -- the Iris, which ran under the Unix operating system. Kitching accordingly produced a Unix version of Antics for Iris, with appropriate device interfaces. This platform (and later models, such as Indy) then became the platform of choice.

In 1989, Kitching was awarded a Fellowship of BKSTS, and in the same year a further new platform became available -- the Apple Macintosh. Kitching developed an Antics version for this, using Apple's Unix system (known as A/UX) for SRL Data, London, and Second City Systems, Birmingham.

With the SGI and the Apple platforms now available, many new Antics studios sprang up in Europe, USA, and beyond. At this time, hardware costs were gradually coming down, but were still relatively expensive, and required specific devices to be developed for each different make of gadget -- for drawing tablet, for colour screen, for film or video recorders.

From early '90s, Kitching also produced some animation productions for educational charities -- "Our People", an educational film about AIDS, in 1992, and "Looking After Yourself", an educational film on diabetes for the British Diabetic Association, in 1994 -- both films made for Picture Talk Films, London.

Antics Meets the Multimedia PC

By now, Kitching also saw that Microsoft's Windows PC platform would soon reach the performance speeds needed for Antics, and would do so at much lower hardware costs -- affordable to almost any personal user. In addition, the design of systems like Windows and Mac are fundamentally different to older systems like Vax and Unix, which are based on a single "Text Console" that commands and controls everything. Instead, newer systems are "Event Driven", allowing any relevant devices, like mouse and keyboard, to trigger input at any time, in a way much more natural for graphical use. Furthermore -- if not importantly -- new hardwares are also being developed to bring further devices such as sound and video on board as standard devices with the multimedia platform.

In this period, 1994-98, Kitching began concentrating on PC multimedia production, incorporating Antics animation where relevant. Some clients at this time included Longmans Publishing (for CRT Multimedia), a CD-Rom morphing package based on the work of artist M.C Escher (for Thames & Hudson and Eyeware Interactive), Antics animation for an educational CD-Rom game (for British Gas and SkillsWare), and a CD-Rom business info publication "OTS Export Terminal" (for the UK Department of Trade & Industry, with Live & Direct).

Initially, Kitching also implemented the previous Fortran-based Antics under Windows, but it was immediately clear that this was never going to work well for the new "Event Driven" design philosophy, and this version -- the Autumn 98 Edition -- was the last Unix / Fortran edition to be supported, as older platforms gradually became obsolete.

At this point, the only realistic option would be to re-write the entire software from scratch for Windows, using the C language -- a major task that could well take several years, and for which Kitching did not have sufficient resources at the time. Accordingly, Kitching decided to set Antics aside, and turn to another area that also combined graphic arts and science, designing ways of presenting scientific data in the clearest and easily understandable manner.

Scientific Software for Crowd Dynamics

Kitching's first role for this was as Senior Developer for Legion Crowd Dynamics, London, a leader in scientific modelling for the design of large spaces, such as stadiums, airports, rail stations, shopping malls, and the like. Legion software uses advanced science and mathematics to predict how large populations will interact and move through a given space, and is based on the pioneering work of world expert Prof G.Keith Still, an original founder of Legion. Tools designed by Kitching have been used for projects including Sydney Olympics, the Millennium Dome, Historic Royal Palaces, Railtrack, the new Wembley Stadium and other Premier League venues.

In 2001, after 3 years with Legion, Kitching left to join Prof G.Keith Still, who had now also left the company to set up on his own. In the following years, Kitching undertook a variety of crowd dynamics software projects for Prof Still, and later also for Stuart Ancliffe, another emigre from Legion.

Lanzarote and Antics for Windows

In 2004, Kitching and Eva Gloss left Britain to move both to the Czech Republic and to the Canary Isles, exchanging their London home for a tumble-down old cottage in the Czech mountains, and a new villa in Lanzarote. Alternating between the Czech cottage and Lanzarote, the couple completed the renovation of the cottage in 2006, subsequently spending many seasons there before eventually selling the cottage and moving permanently to Lanzarote in 2009.

Meanwhile, Kitching continued crowd dynamics work until 2006, but at this point decided that Antics still had no serious rival on the market, and that also the pair now also had the resources to concentrate fully on developing a new Antics from scratch for Windows and C . This would allow the program to be fully consistent with 21st century Windows interactive standards, yet contain all the essential functionality of previous versions, but greatly enhanced, and Kitching therefore designated this as "Classic ".

The first version of "Antics Classic " for Windows was launched for free-trial download in 2010, and further updates continued to complete it for the Spring 2011 Edition. Kitching subsequently continues developing the concept, with additional new updates issued periodically, taking it to new functionality beyond the original Antics "Classic" concepts.

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Bibliography

1970 "The Craft of Film / Part VIII -- An Animation Primer", by ATK, Attic Publishing Ltd, 1970. A comprehensive introduction to the art and techniques of conventional animation.
1971 "VIS-COM '71 -- Visual Communications and the Learning Industry", article by ATK, "British Kinematography Sound and Television" journal, Sep 71, pp 348-353, report on the international conference organised by ICOGRADA in Vienna, that July.
1971 "VIS-COM '71 -- When is a Revolution Not a Revolution?", article by ATK, "British Kinematography Sound and Television" journal, Oct 71, pp 380-383, reporting on new developments presented at the Vis-Com 71 conference in Vienna, and commenting on possible future implications.
1971 "Computer Animation: Answer or Problem?", article by ATK, "British Kinematography Sound and Television" journal, Dec 71, pp 436-441, examining the emerging field of computer animation, and assessing its possible future potential and implications.
1973 "Computer Animation, Some New Antics", article by ATK, "British Kinematography Sound and Television" journal, Dec 73, pp 372-386, Kitching's original introduction to the creation of Antics.
1974 "Computer Animation -- A Few More Antics", article by ATK, "The BKSTS Journal", Mar 74, pp 58-64, based on questions and answers from his presentations at Film 73 and the NFT John Player Lecture.
1974 "Computer Animation with Antics", article by ATK, "Journal of the Society of Film and Television Arts", Autumn/Winter 74/75. pp 33-39. A further description of the original Antics system at the Atlas Laboratory.
1975 "Cinema et animation d'images", article by ATK [in French], "IBM-Informatique", no 13, p56, IBM France, 1975.
1975 "Antics -- Ny Animationskraft", article by ATK [in Swedish], "TM" magazine of the Swedish Film Institute, July 75, pp 15-21. Essentially, a Swedish translation of ATK's article for the Society of Film and TV Arts Journal, .
1975 "Computer Animation with Antics", article by ATK, "Medical and Biological Illustration" magazine, 1975, 25, pp 223-230, reprint of article of the same name in the Journal of the Society of Film and Television Arts, but additionally including description of the Antics Sound program -- possibly the first all-digital sound synthesiser.
1977 "Antics -- Graphic Animation By Computer", article by ATK, "Computers & Graphics", vol 2, pp 219-223, describes Antics as being implemented in Swedish TV.
1979 "Antics Animation at Swedish Television", article by ATK, "Television" journal of the Royal Television Society, Mar/Apr 79, pp 11-14, describing the interactive version of Antics developed at Swedish TV.
1980 "Antics -- From Stone-Age to Steam Age", article by ATK, "The BKSTS Journal" magazine, Aug 80, pp 394-404, major article outlining future developments towards full real-time interactivity.
1985 "Animation -- The State of The Art", interview with ATK by Fergal Ringrose, "International Broadcasting" magazine, June 1985, pp 16-25, includes interview and extensive description of Antics.
1985 "Alan Kitching and ANTICS Computer Animation", interview with ATK by Ken Clark, "Animator" magazine, no 13, Summer 1985, 3 pp.
1988 "Cartoons, Computers and Antics", article by ATK, "Animator" magazine, no 23, Aug 88, pp 29-31 & cover. General introductory article.
1988 "Cartoons, Computers and Antics -- Part 2", article by ATK, "Animator" magazine, no 24, Winter 88, 5 pp. Detailed account of Antics.
1989 "2-D's Cartoon Antics", interview with ATK by Ian Grant, "Computer Images International" magazine, Sep 89, pp 20-22, interview and feature on Antics.
1989 "Animated Macintosh", article by ATK, "A/UXtra" newsletter, Winter 89/90, pp 16-17, intro to Antics on Mac by ATK.

Filmography

1969 "The Dream of Arthur Sleap" by ATK, a cinema commercial for the British Film Institute.
1970 "No Arks" by ATK, from story and cartoons by Abu Abraham (then The Observers's cartoonist), with narration by Vanessa Redgrave, for the BFI Production Board.
1970 "Auntie Takes a Trip" by ATK, a potted history of radio broadcasting in Britain, for the BKSTS.
1972 "The Burke Special" by ATK & Colin Emmett, title sequence for BBC TV.
1973 "Antics Flying Cube" by ATK, original computer show film, for the Atlas Computing Division.
1974 "Antibiotic Bacteria" by ATK, medical animation for MediCine Ltd.
1974 "The Nature of Chemistry" by ATK, chemical animation inserts for the Open University.
1975 "Finite Elements" by ATK, documentary on computing engineering simulations, for the Atlas Computing Division.
1979 "The Story of G" by ATK, in black-and-white, for Swedish TV.
1982 "Symbols for International Understanding" by ATK with Ota Yukio, pilot for United Nations University.
1983 "The FGS 4000" by ATK, promotional animation for Robert Bosch Inc of Salt Lake City.
1984 "Sharing for Survival" by ATK, documentary with Yukio Ota & Eva Gloss, and commentary by Peter Ustinov, for United Nations University.
1986 "Pythagoras in 60 Seconds" by ATK, short educational film, for Antics Workshop.
1987 "The Story of G" by ATK, re-mastered in full colour, for Swedish TV and Antics Workshop.
1992 "Our People" by ATK & Eva Gloss, animation for an educational film about AIDS, made for Picture Talk Films.
1994 "Looking After Yourself" by ATK & Eva Gloss, animation for an educational film for the British Diabetic Association, made for Picture Talk Films.



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