Resurrecting an Animation from 1991

For the 1991-11-13 inauguration of Autodesk’s European Software Centre in the canton of Neuchâtel, Switzerland, held in the cantonal parliament chamber at the thousand year old Château de Neuchâtel, I used Autodesk 3D Studio, which had been released in October, 1990, to create an animation showing the Swiss, Neuchâtel, and Autodesk flags being raised above the centre. This was my first 3D Studio project, done on my Compaq 386 machine, and output as a 320×200 pixel 256 colour FLI file, compatible with that mode of MCGA and VGA display boards, which we also used with Autodesk Animator and Cellular Automata Lab.

When I added the chapter on the “European Software Centre” to the 1994 Fourth Edition of The Autodesk File, I used a still image from this video at the bottom of the page, as the state of HTML, Web browsers, and dial-up Internet connections were such that including video was essentially impossible.

Well, times change, and now, three decades after I made the video, embedding it in a Web page is a more or less straightforward matter and broadband connections make quick work of transmitting a half megabyte video file. A little bit of spelunking in my dusty archives turned up:

-r--r--r-- 1 redacted wheel 1527523 Oct 31  1991 adrap.fli

This is the animation file I generated two weeks before the grand opening. (I also found the 3D Studio project file, but finding anything that could do something with it is probably hopeless at this remove.)

Amazingly, the mpv video player, which was pre-installed on my Xubuntu 20.04 system, played this file just fine, so the next step was to dig out FFmpeg and try converting it to the modern formats supported by today’s Web browsers. Initial attempts were, as they say, problematic, but I finally found an incantation that worked, converting the original FLI file to a lossless encoded AVI container with:

ffmpeg -i adrap.fli -f avi -c:v libx264 lossless.avi

From this, it was then possible to transcode the video into the three most widely supported Web formats today.

ffmpeg -i lossless.avi adrap.ogg
ffmpeg -i lossless.avi adrap.mp4
ffmpeg -i lossless.avi adrap.webm

You can see the result at the bottom of the “European Software Centre” page or, if you prefer, jump directly to the animation.

Here is the animation, directly embedded in this post. Discourse does not support specification of multiple video formats, so here I have embedded the MP4 version, which is the most widely supported by current browsers. If it doesn’t appear or fails to play in your browser, use one of the links above to view the video in context, where your browser will choose a format it understands.