Digital Film Editing Visionary: Bill Warner, The Man Who Created AVID – Part III

Dorian Whitmore

The Man Who Created Avid Technology – The Bill Warner Interview – Part III

Bill Warner: So, I was doing more and more videos. And then we added Paintbox. And then we added animation. And we kept adding the budget for all this stuff, but we did not increase the budget for the post. So what would happen is, is that the post would be a one-day post with more and more complexity in the time frame, and so I would be in the editing suite trying to make little blips go around. We’d have a blip going this way for the network, and the shine come up, and the this and that. And time was running out and it just; by the time I’d done my tenth one of these, I finally; I got to a point where I said, “I’m done. I am not going to come back into an online suite again.” I didn’t know what I was going to do. I just said I’m not coming back.

So, in 1984 is that video of the; it was a DN580 work station.

In 1985, I got involved with a deal for Apollo with General Motors EDS where they said they wanted to buy $600 million worth of work stations.

Larry Jordan: Wow.

Bill Warner: And I was one of a few people that went to the bidding conference on this. And they said, among other things, that they wanted “video in a window.” They wanted to see full resolution video in a 1280-by-1024 screen. And everybody in the room (there were hundreds of companies in the room) were sitting there like: “Huh?” You know, they’d never heard of that.

Larry Jordan: Right.

Bill Warner: And of course I had been thinking about video and I came back from that and I said to the management of Apollo, I said, “We can win this deal. We can do this video thing.” Because I wanted to do it, you know.

Larry Jordan: Of course.

Bill Warner: And so I convinced a little company that was making boards that did 640-by-480 computer with video; with video integrated, OK? They had always wanted to do a 1280-by-1024 but there was no customers for that. So I went to them and I said, “We’ve got this huge potential deal. Will you do it?” And they basically said yes. And so they built a three-board set for the PC bus that was what Apollo had. It took so much power they had to; the Apollo engineers had to make a new box that had huge power supplies just to do it. And they actually called the project “giraffe” because of how far out they were sticking their neck. And; but we won.

Larry Jordan: You got the contract..

Bill Warner: We got the contract. And that company, which is called Paralex Graphics (I don’t know if they’re still around), they built that board and went on to sell it, and it did video in a window. And it also had a feature called the ability to very fast move video from off screen to on screen. And I started to think, oh, if I can store the video off screen, and I can blit it (It’s called bit block transfer) I can blit it on screen fast enough, and then if I could be refilling that buffer fast enough from the disk, maybe I can get motion video for a lot of longer footage. So, Quantel, you know, Harry was around but for 30 sections of high-quality video. People did not have long form digital video at that time.

Larry Jordan: So you were looking for a way to create a way to capture longer pieces of motion video?

Bill Warner: I was looking for a way to play back motion video and…

Larry Jordan: So play back, not…

Bill Warner: Yeah. Capture was a whole other issue.

And so this project on the Apollo gave me some of the seeds for it. And then I started making the most crude prototypes.

One of the things that I work with entrepreneurs, and I teach them, you know, don’t be; what’s the right word? You know, don’t be proud. You know, make demos that just get the point across with whatever you can do to get the point across.

Larry Jordan: Because refinement is all part of the process.

Bill Warner: Exactly.

Larry Jordan: Just like editing.

Bill Warner: Right. So, I decided: I’m going to take this board and I’m going to show editing. There was no way I could digitize footage. No way. That was a huge software project to do. The board technically could do it. Huge piece of software to make. And I; you know; So I just took six graphics. We had some computer graphics from Apollo: a baseball stadium, the orangutan, which is one of those pictures from computer graphics all the time, a dishwasher, a few other things. And I had a graphics guy put a line on each frame. All right?

So I had sixty frames of the orangutan and sixty frames of the dishwasher, baseball. And I asked my engineer; I said, “Put a line.” All right? On the next frame go 6 degrees. Next frame, 6 degrees, 6 degrees, 6 degrees, so that in sixty frames the line went around. It was just to show some motion, OK?

So I basically ended up with 360 frames off screen, each with a line that would go a little further, and we made a little editing interface that let you and I; we gave a demo where it said, “Let’s start a baseball game.” And it’s baseball and the little lines are going around. And I said, “Cut to a commercial. It’s dishwasher!” And the line goes around. “And then to another commercial.” Orangutan. And then the line’s going around.

Larry Jordan: I’d like to have a copy of that. That sounds fun.

Bill Warner: It might be on some of these tapes, yes.

So; but, this was a demo of a machine that cost, in the end, millions and millions of dollars to create, but we did it in a couple of hours of software using what we had, which was the Parallax board.

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