image from 3D Movie Maker

Software and game preservation is an increasingly important topic, and the best way to keep software accessible for future generations is by releasing the original source code. That’s exactly what just happened for Microsoft 3D Movie Maker, originally released in 1995.

Microsoft has open-sourced a few older applications in the past few years, including MS-DOS 1.0/2.0 and the original Windows File Manager, but now the company has published the code for Microsoft 3D Movie Maker. This isn’t the Windows Movie Maker most people are probably familiar with from the Windows ME/XP days — it’s a 3D animation program for children. The application allows anyone to create movies by placing 3D characters and objects into pre-rendered environments, paired with actions, music, text, and other effects.

3D Movie Maker image

Microsoft 3D Movie Maker is similar to many later 3D-based rendering tools aimed at children, like Kid Pix 3D (a staple on my family’s iMac when I was growing up) and Toontastic. Microsoft also sold a modified version in partnership with Nickelodeon, which included models, backgrounds, and effects from shows like Ren and Stimpy, Rocko’s Modern Life, and Aaaahh!! Real Monsters.

Even though 3D Movie Maker is almost 30 years old, there’s still an active community using it to create new animations. The low resolution lends itself to surreal or ironic videos quite well, and there are plenty of examples on sites like YouTube and

So, why did Microsoft wait this long to release the source code? Foone Turing, a self-described “hardware/software necromancer,” got the ball rolling in April when they asked Microsoft publicly on Twitter to release the code. The job required coordination from Microsoft’s legal department and developer relations teams, but in the end, we got a happy ending.

Microsoft 3D Movie Maker has a cultural importance in its own right, but it also uses BRender, a graphics engine developed by Argonaut Software that was also used in games like FX Fighter and Carmageddon. Foone brought up that if BRender code was included, it could lead to other games and applications becoming open-source too (or at least easier to port to newer platforms). Argonaut Software is probably best known as the developer behind Star Fox on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, as well as the Super FX graphics acceleration chip that was used in nearly every 3D SNES game.

Microsoft released the source code as-is, in its mostly-original form — some developers’ information was removed to respect their privacy, and some content from “alternate builds or products” (presumably including the Nickelodeon version) is not included. However, BRender is included in the code, making that framework publicly available for the first time. The code also doesn’t compile on modern hardware and software, unsurprisingly. GitHub reports that 77% of the code is written in SWIG, with the rest being a mix of C++, C, and Assembly language code.

Following the source code release, Foone said on Twitter, “there’s also other games that used the BRender engine, some of which could never be open sourced because they depended on BRender. Well, it’s open source now! So that opens them up to the possibility of open sourcing then as well. I’m asking various people and companies. Because it’d be sweet to have BRender’s open sourcing lead to other games using it open sourced too, much like how the BUILD engine going open source lead to Duke Nukem 3D getting open sourced.”

Foone also said they are planning at least two projects base don the 3D Movie Maker code — a version that works on modern hardware and software with the original look and feel, and a ‘Movie Maker Plus’ with new features. The developer is accepting donations on Patreon and Ko-Fi, so if you just can’t wait to relive mid-90s animation software, consider tossing them a few bucks.

Via: Ars Technica

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Corbin Davenport is the News Editor at How-To Geek, an independent software developer, and a podcaster. He previously worked at Android Police, PC Gamer, and XDA Developers.
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