A Brief History of Electric Crayon Studio


By Patrik Beck

I had always been interested in animation, but it was not until the introduction of the Amiga computer in 1985 that the average person could explore the animation world outside of a university or established animation studio setting. By 1989 I was doing freelance animation work, (work not terribly different then I am still doing today), when one of my clients asked for animations that he could use for his wedding videos. Though he did not have the budget, it inspired me to create a series of animated clip-art I called ‘Animmattes: Wedding Series’ (for animated-mattes).

Animattes open the Door
The first of the series was completed one week after the birth of my first child, Mariah Drew, born Feb 10, 1991. Realizing that I should have a company name, I wanted something that would not tie me down to a specific area, but still have something to do with computers and graphics. I first chose the name O.P. Graphics, named after my grandfather Otto Peter Beck. But after a look in the phone book I found there already was an O.P. Graphics (go figure). Inspired perhaps the imminent arrival of a child, I came up with Electric Crayon Studio. It was a name both whimsical and descriptive. It is also memorable enough to stick in the memory. The Animatte series was far more successful that I had hoped. The desktop video revolution was being driven in a large part by wedding and event videographers. Many of them were using Amigas with Video Toasters, the only computer of its day truly capable of doing desktop video. The Animattes were duplicated one at a time in my basement, my wife and I printed all the labels and heat-sealed the plastic wrapped individually using kitchen wrap with a hot wire and a heat gun. With the help of a few positive write ups in trade magazines we were on our way. (The smartest thing we did, at my wife’s suggestion, was to obtain the ability to accept credit cards.) You must remember that this was the early 90’s. CD ROMs were not even invented yet. We were using floppy disks (kids, ask your parents). I did my best to squeeze ever last byte out of the 1.44 megs (!) of floppy space, going so far as reducing the bit-plane depth of the icons. Even buying in bulk, those floppy disks cost over two bucks apiece, I can get blank DVDs for less then half that. The Animattes series grew to include volumes 2 and 3, as well as a spin off called "Das Book" which was an expanded version of the single most popular animation in the series. The Animatte line was responsible for funding most of the early equipment purchase that put Electric Crayon Studio on it’s feet, as well as making a good number of house payments. A few other products were tried after that, and though everything at least broke even, nothing came close to matching the success of the original Animatte series.

Birth of an Author
I was working full time as a temp office working, mostly doing data entry, and I fell into an assignment had me doing make-work for the large majority of the month. I started writing down notes of things I wanted to try on the computer once I got home, and these evolved into full-length articles written in long hand. At the time the magazine racks were choked with computer magazines, and having recently taken an adult education class on ‘writing for publication’ I typed up the article and submitted it. I had submitted other articles over the years, but rarely received even a rejection notice. It got accepted. This may have been the single biggest thrill of my life. Then I read the article and got a shock. They took out most of my really funny jokes and almost all of my Star Trek references. After the shock wore off, I studied what the editor had done to my precious writing. I learned that you are not so clever on paper as you are in your head. I also learned that once you have been published once, it is far easier to get published again.

Early Days
Things in video production was hopping in the early nineties, creative people were getting their hands of a lot of new technology and were anxious to make use of it. I was lucky in that the playing field was pretty level and that everyone was still working out the details on how everything was supposed to work together. In 1991 a flying logo was still a pretty big deal. My big breaks came from attending meetings of industry professionals, one of the most major being the ITVA (now called the MCA-I). My name got around, and I soon became known as ‘The Animation guy’. I was lucky enough to start doing work for Harley Davidson at their Harley wood studio, a nice combination of industrial animation and flashy title openings. Not only was the work fun, but also working for Harley gave Electric Crayon Studio some respectability. Soon I was doing work for many of the biggest Wisconsin biased companies. Sometimes directly with the in-house staff like Harley wood, but often as a subcontractor through another production company.

Good People
There were a lot of thrills in the early days. The first time I saw my work projected during a business meeting, the first time I saw my work broadcast on a local station, and the first time I saw my work displayed at a trade show. It may not seem like a big deal now, but so much of what is commonplace today we were doing for the first time. A lot of patient and under standing people helped me in those early days. Phil Mockmir got the whole ball rolling by introducing me to the ITVA, and I have no recollection at all what first brought us together. Jim Mazlowski first opened the door to me at Harley Davidson. Jim Logan of Logan productions was a visionary who took me under his wing, as well as James Carrier who showed me the ropes. There are so many more, and the biggest tragedy is that I cannot even remember the name of the wedding videographer that got the whole ball rolling! The Milwaukee production community has always been a close knit supportive group and I fully realize that my success has is due to many good people. I am fortunate to have worked with so much talent and lucky enough that many have become friends.

So it continues
Animation is still my number one thing. Writing about is probably a close second, as I currently have several books in print and am a contributing author to several more. I have a handful of animated shorts, some award winning, and in the midst of completing an indie movie. I got into this business at just the right time. Everything was new and exciting, and you were allowed a few mistakes along the way. Things are even more exciting today, with the idea that high definition will open the doors to creative people in a way we haven’t seen since the first Amiga started the wave of animation on the desktop. Electric Crayon Studio, where reality is a place to start.