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Welcome to a DVD unlike any other that has been reviewed on this site before. Originally released on DVD in 2001, Animusic Video Album is a collection of seven computer-animated musical pieces. Let me share my personal introduction to this absolutely stunning, often mesmerizing work that Wayne Lytle and his crew have created.

Animusic Video Album Main Menu
I purchased a new computer in November of 2003 with an ATI All-In-Wonder video card. Packaged in with this video card was a CD with several demos of effects it was capable of. Interested, I installed the demos including a piece called Pipe Dream. Not having any clue what to expect, I launched the demo.

The screen fades in from black and on the screen is some odd-looking contraption constructed from PVC piping. Worked into the piping are several sets of what appear to be guitar strings and small drums. Then, out of the end of a piece of piping, a ball bearing comes soaring. It strikes one of the strings, makes a sound, bounces off hitting a second string, making another sound and then hits a drum at the base. The ball bearing then falls down another strategically placed piece of piping and out of sight. More ball bearings are soon released hitting different strings creating a catchy tune. The camera then pans over to a similar-looking setup but the ball bearings it fires play at a different pitch. Continuing to pan, the camera stops on a set of drums, at which more ball bearings are being fired at, connecting precisely with each piece. Moving on to a circular vibraphone-like setup (all other instruments are still playing by the way, creating a song of evolving complexity), ball bearings begin firing out at rapid succession. Finally, a xylophone-type device, this one on a conveyor, begins. I sat staring at my computer screen for four minutes absolutely awestruck with what I was seeing.  

Stick Figures
I had seen demos similar to this on PBS before and have always been intrigued by them. The way that this piece was done had (and still has) me in complete amazement. The people responsible for Animusic are creative geniuses; there is no other way to put it. The main 33-minute program contains seven completely different musically animated pieces, including Pipe Dream, and each is equally as creative. The musical styles vary from the mellow Aqua Harp to the more intense Future Retro. I once tried to sort the seven pieces into the order I preferred them from the most to the least and when I had finished, the animated piece at the bottom of the list was still one that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Drum Machine
Each animated piece was originally done in 4x3. From viewing the re-rendered Pipe Dream, 16x9 offers more visible area to the sides and I look forward to Animusic 2 being done exclusively this way instead. Sets are colourful and wonderfully detailed; although I'd suspect that a fair amount of the detail was culled out of the source material to meet the current format's specification. I'd be willing to wager that Mr. Lytle is looking forward to the next generation High Definition format. The thought of viewing these pieces in HD excites me. Could another release be in his mind? Of course, being an entirely computer-generated feature, there are no physical blemishes at all, nor has there been any edge enhancement added artificially—great to see! It is stated in the commentary that this material proved to be very difficult to compress using MPEG-2 compression and many companies passed on the opportunity. By the look of things, compression artefacts were kept to a minimum with an extraordinarily highly bitrate (practically maxed out). There are still a few fleeting seconds of blocking here and there, but they rarely distract. Overall, I am very pleased with how things turned out.

Available exclusively on this Special Edition is a Dolby Digital 5.1 re-mix for each of the seven pieces. Expanding on the original's 2.0 stereo mix (also included on this disc), the 5.1 mix opens up the soundstage far more than a standard stereo track is capable of doing. Many of the instrument sounds have a degree of reverb added that echo resoundingly into the surround channels. In additional, there are also certain sounds that emanate predominately into either of the surround channels. An example of this is during Acoustic Curves, where a particular cymbal crash is heard mainly from the left surround channel. The overall effect is one of excellent envelopment that puts the listener in the centre of the action. Although the original stereo mix is crystal-clear and a delight to listen to, the 5.1 remix enhances the experience even more.

Aqua Harp
The Special Edition of this work (released in early 2004) was released due to consumer and distributor demand (hey, we need our 5.1 mixes!). Besides working on improving sound quality, Mr. Lytle and his team took the time to add a large amount of bonus material to the disc such as solo-cam angles of various individual instruments in each piece, production stills, sketches, and set construction videos. Also, ported over from the previous release is Mr. Lytle's informative commentary track.  If you want to know more about how this stuff was created, look no further, because this disc has got you covered!  For this release, Pipe Dream has been re-rendered for 16x9 (accessible in the bonus materials section).  Also included is Animusic's first animation (dated 1996) called Beyond The Walls. Finally, included is a ninety-eight second preview of Animusic 2.  This preview (also 16x9-enhanced) starts right into a very complex animation, done to the first movement of Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. Originally done with just a piano, Animusic has added a few touches! All this is stored on a single dual-layered DVD and is housed in a standard keep-case. Also included inside is a nice foldout containing a menu structure and an explanation of all bonus features.

Animusic 2 Sneak Peek
I urge you to check out Animusic Video Album right away. It is truly one of the freshest, incredible and downright cool things I have ever seen. This DVD (both the content and the disc itself) earns a very resounding recommendation from me. I hope these guys are around for a long, long time. Bring on Animusic 2!