I'm hoping to hear from any Phish fans or other readers who have a
connection to the Esther video they'd like to share. Any reminiscences I
receive will be posted on this page (with the writer's permission).
Here are some follow-up notes on the technical history of the video
from its final editor and technical producer, John Greene:
Cobwebs, cobwebs... OK, the major part of the editing was definitely one
of the PACos. I don't recall doing much at all in Director once the
final graphics were completed. The biggest problem was syncing up the
parts where there were LUT-fades combined with dissolves, e.g., during
the fading that went on between "it would have been a blunder to succumb
to a hoodlum on the prowl" and"when the morning came..." We had to
tweak things like the fade speed (in PACo) so that the next image would
load before the sound buffer emptied. If we didn't do it right, there
would be audio burps. I think the final version even has one slight
"click" during the part I described above. When I started working on it,
I believe there were a few dozen of these clicks/dropout that had to be
re-synced/slightly edited, etc. And I believe this work involved stuff
with the PACo interface as well as tweaking the markers in the SoundEdit
Another problem was that there was no preview of any kind. You had to
build the entire movie to see if "that edit we made at 6 minutes in"
worked correctly. The build process took a long time... then we'd play
it back and hold our breath 'til we got to "that edit." Also, there were
varied results depending on which drive we played it back from as well
as which video card.
I think we ultimately had to play it back directly from the MacIIfx
internal disk using an Apple 8*24 GC card. Any deviation from this
combination caused problems.
>> The whole process took most of the spring of 1991 to complete, and when I
left CoSA in May of that year there were still a lot of editing tweaks to be
done, as well as preparation of the final, multi-megabyte file to be played
through PACo. After I departed, the video was handed over to the newly-hired
John Greene, who is credited on the final video as Editor/Technical
Producer. Truth to tell, my memory of how much I left for him to do is a bit
hazy, but I'm sure it was pretty substantial. So here's a belated thank-you
for doing a great job, John - hopefully you'll get a chance to read this now
after all these years!
Scott, no thanks necessary... Summer '91 was one of the best summers of
my life. Working at CoSA (with all the Daves), working on all the Phish
stuff, seeing all those shows... it was a blast. I think you did all the
hard parts. I just tweaked, edited, and built... tweaked, edited, and
built. To this day, I know every word of that song and will probably
know it forever.
I'm sure I'm forgetting some major things, but this is all I can
remember. I wish I had kept some sort of a journal back then.
Me too! That is, I wish I had kept some sort of journal - and that you
had as well!
After this site went live, several of CoSA's original staffers sent
in their reminiscences, including these from Sarah Allen (formerly
Sarah Lindsley). Sarah posted a very nice recollection on her blog here:
I have fond memories of Scott's development of the video. The song Esther was an almost constant background music during many of the early days at CoSA. In 1990 and 91, the office was part art studio and part software lab. It was a fine thing to have space (physically and psychically) to be creative. I had a little open studio at the back of the office where I worked in charcoal in my spare time, across the room from where I worked in HyperCard, Macromind Director, and C code.
PACo was most well known when it was published with a reduced feature set as Quick PICS by Paracomp. But in the early days, you could specify palette transitions (aka 'LUT-fades' in the reminiscences of John Greene) and sound sync points using labels in SoundEdit. I wrote most of the transitions in PACo, although that might have been after Esther was created. All I remember are the fades and color cycling. I wish the whole video was on-line, but I'm sure that would be a bit of work. When I was first developing Shockwave, I calculated that the bandwidth of modems at the time was comparable to the throughput of CD-ROMs when we developed PACo. I always thought that Adobe should have resurrected the old code and turned it into a web player... it would have been blazingly fast. The player was small enough that a sample movie and the code to play it would it fit on a floppy (I think they were 400K then). I'm still hanging on to my old Mac that has a SCSI connector and the Syquest drive and cartridges in the garage. Some day soon I'll have to publish my CoSA archive to the web before it succumbs to bit rot.
CoSA co-founder Dave Foster (one of the original three Daves) also recalled those pioneer days in an e-mail:
You will not be surprised to hear that I have been in obscure places where phishheads have told of the mysterious Ester video.
I remember your tireless scanning back in 1991 and lots of hacking in the Director timeline. How cyclic that you are now scanning the same images again. Hey there is another war in the gulf too. Coincidence, I think not! Those boards are an Iraq war talisman. Whoever buys them better be sure to keep them out of the digital domain or this business in Baghdad is never going to end.
It is unbelievable how much we put up with such crude technology to make a motion graphic musical storyboard with some transitions. Your artwork and the sequencing was able to stand out in front of the technology in a way that pros now agonize over in attempts to create something fresh in 3d Studio Max. There is a Viewmaster quality to the arrangement that allowed the viewer to participate in the narrative.
What the kids may not realize is that in those days it was a very new thing to be able to make your own music video like this. Sure you could hack together a camcorder or Fisher Price video, but there was no tool for the masses to reliably create desktop motion graphics accurately synced to sound. Quicktime sucked at this. Hence PACo. So the glossy promise of being able to seize control of the means of media production fueled our Sisyphean pixel monkeying. Well the soundtrack to Les Miserables fueled us as well.
I also remember working with Nicholas Papadakis on some Richard Boulanger film sample animations, too. For those pieces we projected pilfered and found film and sampled it via video capture.