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Animating the Saddledome scoreboard of the 1980s

It was a full-time job to make the animations of clapping hands and other graphics on the Calgary NHL arena's $1.3-million scoreboard in 1984.

Kathy Cody designed and programmed the pixellated cartoons that roused Flames fans

A Calgary woman creates all the animations for the pixels on the Saddledome scoreboard at centre ice. 3:07

When the word GOAL! came up in bubble letters, Calgary Flames fans knew it was time to cheer.

"The crowd's enthusiasm is enhanced by the animation on this $1.3-million scoreboard — one of only a half-dozen in North America," reporter Marion Coomey told viewers of The National in February 1984.

The Globe and Mail described the feature of the Flames' new building as "a Star Wars-style scoreboard that flashes full-colour animation on four sides." 

Far from the action, Kathy Cody orchestrated the crowd response with the help of a headset tuned to the arena's organ and the game announcers.

Artist, animator, computer operator

The scoreboard at the newly opened Saddledome kept fans engaged in the game. (The National/CBC Archives)

Not only did Cody control the cartoons, slogans and calls to action that fans saw on the scoreboard during a game, she created them.

As an image of a coach with a bullhorn moved on the board with the word CHARGE during a break in play, Coomey said Cody's work had a potential audience of millions.

"It's really challenging for me, just trying to get the movement and the colours down to where it looks nice," explained Cody.

Another animation showed a cartoon referee followed by the word "Penalty!"

Cody's process involved hand-drawing an image — her ideas came from the Flames management, fan suggestions, and her own imagination — then scanning it into the scoreboard's computer.

A drawn-out process 

Kathy Cody made the animations and operated the $1.3-million scoreboard at the Saddledome in Calgary in 1984. (The National/CBC Archives)

Once it was in the computer, she cleaned it up pixel by pixel and added colour.

"But to make the picture move, she has to repeat the process frame by frame," explained Coomey.

Cody said the procedure wasn't hard, but it was time-consuming. 

"A 15-second animation with any detail at all would take about 30 hours," she said.

But the fan response showed that it was worth it. As a pair of gloved cartoon hands clapped on the screen, fans in the stands clapped right along with them.

Kathy Cody used this keyboard to finesse her animations and control what viewers saw on the scoreboard. (The National/CBC Archives)

People in the crowd said the scoreboard was "very entertaining" and "helps everyone get into the game." 

With a laugh, Cody said she thought some people regarded the scoreboard as "too much of a toy for their serious hockey game."

She told Coomey she wasn't sure where the job would lead, but that she liked it because it was "unique."

"It draws a lot of attention, and it's fun. A lot of fun."

Cody drew the pictures for the animations, then painstakingly assembled them frame by frame. (The National/CBC Archives)