Today, I learned The Verge has never written a single post that so much as mentions Animorphs. This is a travesty that will now end.
Because today is also the day I am sharing this delightful video from YouTube’s retro computing and gaming enthusiast LGR (via Kotaku), which vividly shows how an exceptionally specialized piece of early ‘90s editing software — Elastic Reality — was used to morph kids into animals, creating the eye-popping cover art for those kid thrillers back in the day.
To be sure, you could have learned that one David Mattingly was the artist behind those covers if you ever stumbled upon this excellent Vice interview from 2015, where he describes the software, his technique, and how he lucked into the job. But it’s another thing entirely to see LGR actually fire up the vintage program on an equally vintage Mac and morph things right in front of your eyes.
The software wasn’t responsible for everything, mind you. Mattingly, a matte painter who also worked on movies like the original Tron, told Vice that he had to paint about half his images to make up for limitations of the software. Elastic Reality also helped VFX artists heal Hugh Jackman’s wounds as Wolverine in the 2003 film X2: X-Men United, according to this old Computer Gaming World article.
I have never personally gone back to read any of my extensive collection of Animorphs books since the series ended, and I plan to keep it that way given my sneaking suspicion that maybe, just maybe, they aren’t the pinnacle of literature I thought? But there’s no question they captivated me at an important time in my life — and I’m pretty sure spotting those crazy covers at the library is what got me started.