This week we're taking a look at another image that made the rounds in the BBS days, DRAGON6.GIF. In it, we see two digitally illustrated Chinese dragons who appear to be springing forth from a magical stone. Iridescent waves crash around them, and smoke curls throughout an ethereal void. The color palette is rich and bold, underscoring the image's Eastern art influence.
At the moment, the artist behind this amazing work of digital art remains unknown. Still, we can narrow down when the image was made and how by taking a look at its resolution, color depth, and file date.
The earliest file date I can find for this image, August 6, 1992, comes from a Profit Press Mega Demo CD file index hosted on cd.textfiles.com. If you look at the other GIF file dates on that CD, you'll notice that they all carry the same date. That means that DRAGON6.GIF wasn't created on that date; instead, that is most likely the date the GIF files were copied from one machine to another in preparation for CD authoring. File dates tend to get changed when files are transferred over modems, serial ports, and networks, so that may be what happened.
While the image has a "6″ in its file name, it doesn't appear to be part of a series by the same artist. Instead, it was most likely an arbitrary numbering scheme of someone who put multiple pictures of dragons into the same directory for download through a BBS system. (Bear with my nerdery here; sometimes numbers like that can help determine authorship.)
So we know it was made before August 1992 and that it is a 640×480 resolution image with 8 bits (256 colors) per pixel and an obviously rich color resolution (perhaps 262,414 or 16 million colors) whose size I can't pin down at the moment. (The color resolution information, which describes the ultimate number of colors the image can draw from, isn't set accurately in the GIF file, which may actually be a clue as to what program created the GIF. But that's for another day.)
Those stats rule out vanilla VGA machines and common 16-bit multimedia systems like the Atari ST series and the Amiga. The Macintosh II series, however, could easily create images of that resolution and color depth in 1992 when equipped with the correct video card.
An IBM PC could make an image like this in 1992 if equipped with a very expensive graphics card, but as I've discussed on earlier Retro GIFs, graphics cards of that capability were comparatively rare in the IBM PC world circa 1992. Macs were commonly used by artists for graphical tasks at that time, so I'm going to call it for a Mac, but I can't be 100% sure unless I think of a new way to dissect this image.
[ Update - 02/04/2013: After further research and analysis, I've decided that this image was likely created on an IBM PC compatible system, not a Mac. I will explain in a further update, but a key factor is that the colors in this image were drawn from an 18-bit palette, a characteristic of VGA-derived displays, whereas color Macs offered 24-bit palettes. ]
To make GIF analysis like this easier in the future, I'm working on an automated way to identify the provenance of various images based on historical data and comparative analysis. I'll keep you posted.
|Retro GIF of the Week Fact Box|
|Source File Name:||DRAGON6.GIF|
|Oldest Known File Date:||August 6, 1992
|Source File Format:||GIF - 87a (non-interlaced)|
|Dimensions:||640 x 480 pixels|
|Color Depth:||8-bit (256 color)|
|18-bit (262,144 colors)|
|Origin Platform:||Likely IBM PC|
|Creation Date:||Circa 1987 - 1992|
|If you know more about the origin of this image, please leave a comment.|