9 Fingers – the infamous Amiga demo

When it comes to demos, Commodore probably had the most vivid and certainly the most interesting scene of all. The stuff the coders could do on platforms like the C64 and the Amiga was simply put, amazing.
It is on the Amiga, and more specifically the A500, that perhaps the most talked about demo was made: “9 Fingers“.
This demo, made in 1993 by the Norwegian coders “Spaceballs” (named after the Mel Brooks movie of the same title, apparently because the founder of the group wanted to call himself “Dark Helmet”, and founded back in 1989), was a sequel to the demo “State of the Art” which provided them a first place spot at “The Party II” event in ’92.


Sure enough, many demos have been released for the Amiga, but what made this particular demo stand out of the crowd?
I believe many factors contributed to its infamous status. First of all, the whole demo just breathes “MTV Generation”, as it looks and sounds like a video clip that could have been aired on TV back in those days.
Next to that, it was not just a demo with computer graphics like bouncing balls or clever rendered images. It contains something like full-motion video, with two young girls performing the latest dance moves (and sporting early 90s fashion). The graphics looked too good to be just computer drawn or generated, no there was some magic at work here.

Another thing that makes it an amazing demo is that is runs fast and smooth on a mere 7 MHz CPU (the speed of the A500) with 1 Mb of memory. Even given the fact that the Amiga was a fantastic powerhouse when it came to graphics processing, it still seems out of this world that a video clip style demo like this one could run on this hardware.
To top it off, and the real clincher I guess, was that this amazing technical feat could be stored on just 2 floppy disks… no more, no less.


I’ve never found a real complete description of the technique Spaceballs used to convert the actual real footage of the dancing girls (*) to the vector dancers in the demo. It’s even rumored that they sold their technology (which is no surprise as it is the forerunner of what Macromedia would do a couple of years later with its Flash technology).

A couple of years ago, a sort of “the making of” was put on YouTube, showing how the Spaceballs team recorded the footage that would go on to become a part of the Amiga demoscene history, but it didn’t go into the details of the actual rendering process.

Nonetheless, from what I’ve been able to piece together and from what is known from their earlier demo “State of the Art” (as was disclosed on Spaceballs RAW Diskmag #5) which utilized a similar albeit more rudimentary technique, is this:

At the core, the demo consists of an animplayer (which is an image sequence playback program) that takes its data and calculates the graphics data at runtime, resulting in a line drawer to create the polygons and blitter to fill them.
To do this, they took their footage, and had it displayed fame per frame as a bitmap. Now they would not store these bitmaps but rather have a coder outline the image and store this basic data to disk. The lines could then be created at runtime as mentioned above, requiring very little disk space. This was of course a lot of hard work, so for the “9 Fingers” demo, one of the Spaceballs coders Paul Endresen aka Lone Starr (who was the boyfriend of one of the dancers in the clip) wrote a bitmap to vector routine to automate this process.
Sounds pretty straightforward now, but one must not forget that this was done 20 years ago, right at the beginning of real computer animation.

Further proof that the techniques in this demo were groundbreaking is the fact that Paul Endresen went on to Funcom and contributed to the SNES game Winter Gold which utilizes this same technique to convert actual footage in computer graphics (the dancers on the selection screen do look remarkably the same as those from the “State of the Art” demo).



(*) On the RAW diskmag issue #5, there’s an interview with Jannicke Selmer-Olsen, one of the dancers in 9 Fingers / State of the Art. Not only was she Paul’s girlfriend at that time, she was also an accomplished dancer, having won the Norwegian disco dancing championship.


You can download the diskmag here and view it with an Amiga emulator like WinUAE, WinFellow or Amiga Forever.

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3 Responses to 9 Fingers – the infamous Amiga demo

  1. “You can download the diskmag here and view it with an Amiga emulator like WinUAE, WinFellow or Amiga Forever”….. some of us actually still do own a real Amiga you know ;-)

  2. ah, i remember this demo, nice seeing it again.

    also good work with the site, i guess you just opened it since didnt know about until i saw a link on the Codex today, which is kinda strange since i am frequent on several Commodore forums for many years now.

    nice collection too, as a fellow C= collector since the late 90’s i am kinda envious on the SX64 and some of the other stuff you got in your hoard. =)

  3. Robby "The C= guy"

    Well, the sites been running now for a couple of years (just browse throught the archive and let it take you back in time). Thanks for the compliments. Yes the SX64 is one of my favorites. In Summertime, I usually have it out on the terrace to enjoy some Commodore goodness with a nice cold beer in the sun :)
    @Simon, noooo, a working Amiga??? :) Hehe, true, it’s a blast to see it running on the original hardware.

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