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March 2014 Retro Gaming Article

March 16, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Chief Science Officer Kiki Stockhammer: the original geek girl for NewTek's Amiga-based Video Toaster

NewTek's Video Toaster logo In the early 1990s I attended the MacWorld Expos as part of my job. At one event I saw a large crowd gathered around a woman who appeared to be sitting in a lifeguard chair - raised high above the ground. She was giving a presentation on an enormous video screen.

This screen's content didn't look like your typical Mac application. There were controls all over the screen and she was switching to screens with still more controls. Out of curiosity I went closer to listen in. I should also admit she was gorgeous and had bright red hair.

In today's world of political-correctness, we're not supposed to mention a woman's physical attributes, but a staple of nearly all trade shows was the "Booth Babe". This dubious title went to the cache of pretty girls who wold hang out at vendor booths and smile and hand out informational flyers and packets. They were often scantily clad and rarely knew much more than the name of the product being showcased.

NewTek's Video Toaster board & software This red-haired woman (Kiki Stockhammer) was clearly not a booth babe. She was commanding the presentation, fielding questions from the crowd and expounding on the virtues of video editing on NewTek's Video Toaster. At the time I was getting my head around desktop publishing and here she was likening the same ease-of-use to video editing.

I immediately discovered Video Toaster User magazine and began fantasizing about buying an Amiga. I often wondered why an Amiga product was at MacWorld. I believe I heard rumors of a Video Toaster NuBus Card, but I don't think it ever came to market. In any event, Macworld Expo was always a good place to showcase innovation.

NewTek's Video Toaster board & software Desktop video today is obviously light years ahead of the 1990 Video Toaster. But the presentation I saw, all those years ago, made me see the possibilities even though I knew little about video technology - especially where computers were involved. I bought the book, Mastering Toaster Technology by Brent Malnack and Phil Kurz. That book gave me enough info to delve deeper and see if I could afford all the needed equipment.

Even priced around $5,000, the Video Toaster offered many of the features available only via $!00,000 rigs. Just as programs like Pagemaker and innovations in the home printer market brought desktop publishing to the masses, the Video Toaster did the same for video. It was used in professional broadcasting studios as well as by filmmakers and hobbyists. People began to see "Toaster" effects on TV and in movies. as some of it's video switches and transitions were easily recognizable. A staple of Kiki's presentations included a demo of the "Kiki Kick". Female legs would sweep the screen, transitioning from one feed to another.

Professional skateboarder turned filmmaker, Stacy Peralta used the Video Toaster for some of his infamous Bones Brigade videos for Powell Peralta. Pro Skater Tony Haw also followed suit and began using the Video Toaster to make skateboard videos. It was also used on The Tonight Show for special effects.

Video Toaster Evolution

Times have changed... Buy any Mac today and it has everything you need to capture, edit and distribute video. That's quite a feat from the early days when you needed time base correctors for each deck/feed attached to the Amiga's Video Toaster. It was initially an elaborate and sophisticated video switch box. Part of the Video Toaster's glory was it's software, LightWave 3D. It became so successful, NewTek began selling it as a standalone product.

Reading up on NewTek fascinated me. To me, they seemed to have a bit of the "Apple" spirit. They were cutting edge and having a lot of fun with it. Using Ms. Stockhammer as a spokeswoman was very clever in an age where that was relatively unheard of. One of their engineers was the brother of actor/comedian Dana Carvey which accounts for him wearing a Video Toaster t-shirt in Wayne's World 2.

After Star Trek, Wil Wheaton briefly worked for NewTek as a Tester on the Video Toaster 4000.
The first Video Toaster model came to market in December 1990 as a board compatible with the Amiga 2000. Requiring the main video slot negated compatibility with other Amiga models where bus slots were typically used for such expansion. The Video Toaster needed the bus slots for time Base Correctors (TBC) to sync video signals.

It wasn't long before the Video Toaster was being sold as a package with an Amiga. Amiga owners were among the first to dive into this amazing technology. The Amiga's system clock was exactly twice the frequency of NTSC, making it easy to sync the two.

Wil Wheaton as a Video Toaster punk One of the major upgrades to the Video Toaster was employing an Amiga 4000 - again making use of it's video slot. With built-in Paint and Character Generation (CG), the Toaster 4000 delivered the power of broadcast studios in a small affordable package.

In another Hollywood connection, Wil Wheaton moved to Topeka, Kansas, after leaving Star Trek, to work at NewTek where he worked as a product tester doing quality control for the Video Toaster 4000. The next entry was the Video Toaster Flyer which enabled non-linear video editing and used hard drives to store video and audio. 2 SCSI buses were used to stor video and a third was for audio. This was a large step from needing 3 VTRs with previous systems.

As video editing became more prominent outside of TV production studios, the style exploded with dynamic edits and creativity beyond what anyone had seen. This technology was in the hands of artists who took a much different approach to video than TV studio executives. What arrived on video tapes didn't look like TV - it was insanely amazing! When you though desktop publishing was a revolution, desktop video delivered tenfold the revolution.

Technology eventually outpaced these products from NewTek. By 2009, the Video Toaster entered a phase-out by NewTek as they transitioned to HD systems. In December 2010, the discontinuation of VT was announced, marking the end of the Video Toaster as a stand alone product. TriCaster systems based on the VT platform were still produced until August 2012, when the TriCaster STUDIO was replaced by the TriCaster 40. This officially marked the end of the Video Toaster.

Warp 11 - Borgasm with Kiki Stockhammer Suck My Spock by Warp 11

Full Circle via Warp 11

Kiki Stockhammer left NewTek in 94 with one of their co-founders to start up a company called Play. She became the iconic first image of Play's product, Snappy. Her skills at trade show presentations was put to good use for Play's next foray into a video, being marketed as a TV station in a box. She took on another role when a few employees started a band that focused entirely on Star Trek, called Warp 11. As their Chief Science Officer, Kiki Stockhammer was on keyboards and vocals. The material ranged from satire to profane and punk rock to blues. They released at least six albums and gained a bit of notoriety via a roast of William Shatner.

Play met it's demise and Kiki went back to NewTek promoting their TV station in a box concept - the TriCaster. Next time you see a really well-made YouTube video, remember that such a creation would not have been possible without the path forged by NewTek's Video Toaster brining video editing to the desktops of those with the creative passion to make something amazing!

See what the Video Toaster could do...

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