Author Archives: Josh Renaud

About Josh Renaud

Josh Renaud works as a journalist and designer at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He's married to Yoli and together they have four beautiful niñitos. Find him on Twitter (@Kirkman) or Google+.

New ANSImation: Star Trek: The Trouble With The Rangifer Tarandus

In December, I created a new ANSI animation for the holidays called “Star Trek: The Trouble With The Rangifer Tarandus”, which was released in Blocktronics’ “Darker Image #2” artpack.

Here’s a video version of the ANSImation:

But (as always), the best way to view this is to use SyncTerm to connect to my BBS, Guardian of Forever, and watch it there.

So far, each of my ANSImations have been a way to try a new technique in ANSI, whether that’s parallax scrolling, perspective transforms, or whatever. This time was no exception. I came up with an idea for a Star Trek “transporter” effect that could work in ANSI. The effect would have three parts: first, a set of “rays” streaming downward (ala Star Trek: The Next Generation); second, the rays coalesce into a sparkly white/yellow outline of a sprite; finally, the white outline crossfades to the actual sprite itself.

For the first and third parts to work, I cooked up a function that calculates the dominant low color of a given ANSI character. For example, if it’s a solid bright green block, then the dominant color is green. But what if it’s a gradient block with red in the foreground and gray in the background? My function will figure it out. With the ability to calculate these dominant colors, I can create the illusion of a gradient moving over a portion of an image; or the illusion of a sprite fading in/out.

Anyway, I had this idea for a while, but never coded it up. As Blocktronics’ pack release neared, I figured I’d take a stab at writing my code to see if I could pull something together. Surprisingly I was able to get the transporter effect mostly working in just a few days. I managed to draw a background of the Enterprise’s transporter room, then started thinking about who I wanted to “beam up” in this animation. Since the pack was coming out so close to Christmas, I figured I’d do a Star Trek / Santa Claus mashup. The idea was silly, unexpected, and I could keep it very simple. The only thing really happening is two objects beaming in, with a bunch of dialogue bubbles. I drew ANSI sprites of Santa and his bag, using various pixel art pieces I found online for inspiration.

Once I pulled it all together, I showed my kids without explaining ahead of time what it was. They each reacted by laughing in surprise when Santa was revealed. That was NOT who they were expecting to show up. Since they liked it so much, I figured it was good to contribute to the pack.

I’m pretty happy with how it turned out, although one thing I learned is that it is very difficult to translate this transporter effect from the terminal to a GIF. In a terminal, it’s simply thousands of individual characters changing. But in a GIF, to do the same thing would requires thousands of frames! I worked around this and kept the GIF version to about 240 frames, but even when I set the GIF with the smallest possible delay between frames, it back way too slow. But maybe that makes it perfect to include here, since it will allow you examine the transporter effect a little more closely:

An animated GIF that shows the transporter effect from my recent ANSImation.

Web browsing on the Atari ST with a CosmosEx

This screenshot shows CAB rendering my personal website. This instance of CAB is running on an Atari Mega STe.

Probably the best retrocomputing purchase I’ve made in recent years is the CosmosEx, a cool peripheral for Atari ST, STe, TT, and Falcon computers.

Soon after I bought it, creator Jookie added “screencasting”, a feature which lets you control your Atari remotely through a web browser. Amazing!

Around that time, Jookie was also working on a replacement STiNG-compatible internet driver. The idea was to provide TCP-IP to the Atari through the CosmosEx. Internet apps which support STiNG, such as CAB, the Crystal Atari Browser, would “just work.”

Fast-forward to this week. I decided to see if Jookie ever got the drivers were working. Turns out he did!

Keep reading to see how I set everything up.

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I rescued “Mom and Me” for the Atari ST

Title screen from Yaakov Kirschen’s 1985 program “Mom and Me” for the Atari ST

I rescued “Mom and Me” for the Atari ST! (though I guess I’m about a month late for Mother’s Day)

You may recall that two years ago I blogged about two old Atari ST programs I remembered from my youth – “Mom and Me” and “Murray and Me” by the cartoonist Yaakov Kirschen.

The programs were published by Antic Magazine, and billed as the first “biotoons,” a sort of artificial intelligence cartoon. They were even reviewed in both the New York Times and and the Los Angeles Times in 1985.

Anyway, two years ago I assumed someone out there had archived disk images of these programs. But I was completely unable to find any.

I had copies on old floppies myself, but those floppies stopped working reliably in the 1990s on my Atari 1040 STe. I assumed they were still no good.

Tonight I pulled them out, dusted them off, and gave them a try in my Mega STe. I had mixed success!

I was able to load “Mom and Me” and play the simulation. Even better, afterwards I successfully duplicated the disk and transferred a copy to my Mac.

Screen capture of Mom talking in Yaakov Kirschen’s 1985 program “Mom and Me” for the Atari ST

Want to try it yourself? Download “Mom and Me” as a ZIP file.

As for “Murray”, I got the title screen to load, but couldn’t get him to actually play.

Title screen from Yaakov Kirschen’s 1985 program “Murray and Me” for the Atari ST

I tried copying the disk, but at least one file (“CSFACE.RAS”) failed. After a few more minutes, the Atari wouldn’t read the disk at all anymore. Oh well. I’ll have to try again later.

New ANSImation: Star Wars opening crawl

Screen shot of the later version of the opening crawl for “Star Wars.”

When Star Wars debuted in 1977, the first sequence audiences took in was the iconic opening crawl: a wall of yellow text rolling up the screen, shrinking toward a vanish point in the distance.

Screen capture of an opening crawl from a Flash Gordon serial.

This crawl was George Lucas’ homage to the old Flash Gordon serials of the 1930s (which inspired many other parts of Star Wars visual style). Since then, the crawl has become a common trope cribbed by TV shows, computer games, and others.

When I was thinking of ideas I might contribute to Blocktronics’ “Detention Block AA-23” Star Wars artpack, making an ANSI version of the crawl was one of my first thoughts.

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New parallax ANSImation: Millennium Falcon dodging asteroids

I want to push boundaries.

That’s what the original Star Wars films did. Industrial Light & Magic revolutionized special effects with novel new techniques for motion control and amazing model work.

When I work on ANSI projects now, I try to think about ways to do things in ANSI that weren’t possible in the 1990s because of low bandwidth or limited processing power.

How about parallax ANSImation? Well, I cooked up a new one for Blocktronics’ new artpack “Detention Block AA-23”. It features the Millennium Falcon dodging asteroids. Check it out:

Want to know how it came to be? Keep reading.

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Detention Block AA-23

Is today the 40th anniversary of the original release of “Star Wars”? Blocktronics is all over it.

The ANSI supergroup’s new artpack “Detention Block AA-23” landed today, and amazingly I contributed a few pieces!

The first is a new parallax ANSImation of the Millennium Falcon dodging asteroids, inspired by the scene from “The Empire Strikes Back.”

The second is an ANSI adaptation of Star Wars’ iconic opening crawl.

Finally I snuck in two 80×23 images from “Empire Strikes Back”: Luke and Vader’s saber battle, and Han Solo frozen in carbonite.

Anyway, this is the most ANSI I’ve ever contributed to an artpack. I hope you’ll check out the pack, because there is so much other can’t-miss, awesome work from Blocktronics’ rock stars.

Who needs SVG when you’ve got ANSI?

Presidential election years are great times to work at a news organization. As a designer at a newspaper, I love to explore the cool election maps developed by folks at places like the New York Times or the Guardian.

FiveThirtyEight's Election Forecast map

My favorite is probably the 2016 Election Forecast from, which is full of cool visualizations, and great analysis.

The explosion of great apps like this is made possible by modern libraries like D3.js, and formats like SVG. But what if you took away all the visual horsepower?

What would a retro BBS version of such an app look like, with all the inherent limitations of an ancient terminal: few colors (16, with caveats), low resolution (80×24), etc ?

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My first ANSI portrait

This animated GIF shows some of the steps along the way to making an ANSI portrait of my daughter.

This animated GIF shows some of the steps along the way to making an ANSI portrait of my daughter.

This summer, my daughter Ludi finally learned to ride her bike. She was the first of my four kids to do it.

This dad milestone impacted me enough that I felt moved to try drawing my first ANSI portrait. I have dabbled with drawing ANSI in the past, but mostly lettering or simple icons.

I drew the whole thing by hand (though I traced the initial outlines from a photo), and honestly it came out better than I imagined. Thanks to the guys in Blocktronics for encouragement. I’m sure my updates on this portrait seemed out of place in their FB group among all other stuff they’re working on.

Anyway, here’s an animated GIF showing some of the major steps along the way to the finished ANSI image.

Converting movie clips to ANSImation

ANSIfied clip from 'The Force Awakens'

Recently I’ve been captivated by the idea of taking video clips and converting them into ANSImations, then making them playable on my BBS.

There are other, better converters, but I wrote my own in Python. It’s called Ansify.

If you’d like to see the results, telnet to my BBS, Guardian of Forever right now! telnet://

In the Externals section, you’ll see an entry called “ANSI Movies.” The ANSI Movie Player will allow you to watch clips I’ve converted from films like “Star Wars”, “The Matrix”, and “The Hobbit”.

There are two versions of each clip. One is designed to be played at standard 80×24 mode. But if you connect at 132×60 mode, you’ll be able to see more detailed, higher resolution versions.

I recommend using SyncTerm as your telnet client. It supports 132×60, and also has the correct colors. If you try this from a stock Windows or Linux command line, the colors (particularly brown) will not look right.