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Meet the Engineer Preserving The Last Analog Motion Graphics Machine

David Sieg’s Scanimate was used to produce TV animations during the 1970s and 80s.

David Sieg’s Scanimate was used to produce TV animations during the 1970s and 80s.

Louise Matsakis

David Sieg has spent the last twenty years preserving the only working Scanimate machine in the world. The analog motion graphics device developed by Computer Image Corporation was a staple of film and television animation during the 1970s and 1980s.

In this video from VICELAND, we pay a visit to Sieg in Fletcher, North Carolina, where he has a fully functional production studio that uses vintage equipment. There, he shows us how the Scanimate works.

"The primary thing the Scanimate did that nobody could do before was easily move words, so really it was the beginning of motion graphics," he said. For about a decade, from 1975 to 1985, if you witnessed moving animation on television, it was either shot one frame at a time, or made using a Scanimate machine. Only ten of the devices were ever built.

"It's just a very distinct look that can't be replicated," Sieg explained. "It's sort of the visual equivalent of a moog synthesizer."

Using a Scanimate machine is physical, tangible experience. To manipulate the image on the screen, you plug wires in, adjust knobs, press buttons, and move dials. The massive machine takes up practically an entire wall.

When many television and news studios switched over to high-definition, digital systems in the late 1980s, Scanimate machines and other outdated equipment were discarded. "We're in a throwaway society," Sieg said. "But this stuff was made to be fixed."