A Look Back at Pencil Test

A few weeks ago I was talking with a couple Geniuses at my local Apple Store, and the subject of Vintage Macs came up. Apple has been around long enough that it’s not uncommon for some store employees not to have been born when I started using the Mac, but these guys were pretty knowledgeable. After some discussion about SE/30s and Mac LCs, one of them mentioned an old animation called Pencil Test.

This brought back memories, few people know of this video. It was released 1988 during the development of the Mac II, the first color Macintosh. The animation is a cute story about how the Pencil Tool from MacPaint sneaks out of its owner’s Mac, then tries various ways to get back inside. The video was rendered entirely on Mac II computers, to show off the processing power of the system. You couldn’t play the video on the Mac (QuickTime hadn’t even come out yet), but it was created (slowly) on a Mac.

The spot is charming, and even though not widely known it has a familiar feel, with anthropomorphized objects vying for our affection. Sharp eyed viewers might recognize Coach John Lasseter listed in the credits, key member of another fledging venture called Pixar. See any vestiges of Luxo Jr or Tin Toy in this piece?

Some wonderful sound design really makes the piece, always dear to my heart. Also thanked in the credits is Evan Brooks and DigiDesign, a then-small company making a computer editing sytem called Sound Tools. Digidesign is currently a part of Avid and is the developer of Pro Tools, the largest audio workstation in music, film and TV production.

Funny how such a small Pencil Test could have so many repercussions!


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