A Pencil Test for the Macintosh II

Filed under: Hardware,People,Software

Introduced in March 1987, the Macintoh II was the ultimate Mac for professionals. Based on the new 68020 processor, it was the first 32-bit Mac (although it was not “32-bit clean), it had six Nubus expansion slots and was the first Mac with color capabilities, capable of handling up to 16.7 million colors. It was the perfect machine to professionally create, manage and edit audio, photos and moving images.

Pencil TestApple was eager to show off the graphics prowess of their Macintosh II line of computers.
To do this they put together a short, three minute, computer-animated film, titled “Pencil Test”, which was premiered at the SIGGRAPH 88 international trade show, and was widely distributed on the QuickTime 1.0 CD.

The plot sees a pencil tool escaping from a Mac screen to (comically) explore the richness and three dimensionality of “real” objects only to desperately try and return to its pixellated world.

“Pencil Test” was entirely created on a Mac II (some say actually a Mac IIx, but the dates don’t match), by a group of talented artists (more on this later) working with Apple’s Advanced Technology Graphics Group.

The main software used was called Super3D, from Silicon Beach Software (then Aldus) and the 3D models were animated using MacTwixt, a Mac version of the public-domain animation package Twixt.
The digital movie was output to an imagesetter frame by frame, with each frame taking an average of 30 minutes to render. For this task, a distributed rendering program worked in parallel in a period of four days of elapsed time, on a network of 25 Mac II computers over an EtherTalk network.

The finished frames occupied 1.4 gigabytes of a 2.5-gigabyte SCSI disk drive. They were then decompressed and transferred to an Abekas A60 digital sequence store and finally put on film to a Sony D-1 digital component video recorder.
The soundtrack for the video was created using (of course) Macs with Digital Performer, connected to music synthesizers through the Apple MIDI interface.

These and other technical tidbits are still available in not one but two juicy Apple knowledge base entries.
There’s also a “Behind the scenes” movie, which I’m embedding here.

But Pencil Test wasn’t only a hardware and software labor. Behind the short were some young creatives which in the Nineties would propel digital animation forward.
In the ending titles you can spot names such as Larry Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Galyn Susman from Pixar, which later distinguished themselves with CGI gems such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Ratatouille and Wall-E, itself a love letter towards Apple products.

Wednesday 07 May 2014, 4:07 pm



  1. Brilliant.

    Just. Brilliant.

    Thanks for sharing this post with us, we haven’t seen this before. What a fantastic demonstration of the company that seems to have lost it’s ‘Pro’ way a little, some pure creative genius from those who once Thought Different…

    Comment by Iain and Tom — November 30, 2016 @ 1:22 am

  2. […] en Siggraph sería un escaparate fantástico para este nuevo modelo. Esta es la historia del “Pencil Test“. Los orígenes del Macintosh II no son tan interesantes como los del Macintosh original […]

    Pingback by “Pencil Test”, la historia de la animación 3D de Apple para presentar el Macintosh II que se convirtió en todo un clásico – Seguridad PY — June 30, 2018 @ 11:06 am

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