Colossus Display Simulator

In the 1970 movie "Colossus: The Forbin Project", before the world dominating supercomputer acquires a mechanical voice it communicates using a ceiling-mounted monitor.

Here is a program to simulate the look of the computer display.

Simulating the Look

I've tried to mimic the font accurately including its character spacing. Curiously I could not find an existing 7x9 dot matrix font that matched the one used in the movie. It seems to have been created "custom". I carefully observed the characters to match their exact appearance.

Not all letters of the alphabet occurred in the movie. The letters "J", "Q", "Z" never appeared. I guessed at their configuration in order to complete the program.

It is unclear whether the display blanks out between scrolling one character position to the left each time or whether that's an artifact of the film's frame rate or compression of video files.

Top half of the image is a still from the movie. Bottom half is the Colossus Simulator.

Interesting liberties taken with the display prop in the movie

In one scene the display lists "COPENHAGEN", "FRANCE", "LONDON", "SSCN 30", "LIVERPOOL". It's unclear what "SSCN 30" stands for. Perhaps Fleet Command Submarines, abbreviated as SSCN). Or it was an oversight - a placeholder for a city name that was not entered in by a prop person.

What's interesting is that the numeral zero is shown with a diagonal line. While this is common practice in fonts in the context of computer displays, it is inconsistent with the display when it reads "IMPACT 6O7 SECONDS", or "1OO PERCENT". In these cases they used the letter "O" instead of the numeral zero. I speculate that this was done for readability and to avoid audience confusion. Remember that in 1970 very few people had access to computer printouts and the majority of movie-goers would not have been familiar with the diagonal-lined zero.

The displayed phrases would sometimes appear instantaneously instead of scrolling in from the right edge. This was due to movie editing for brevity. Sometimes the clattering sound is heard off-screen. Then when the display is shown the text is steady.

In once scene the text starts off scrolling in as usual but then suddenly appears fully formed with a corresponding sudden halt to the clattering sound that's accompanying. To simulate this behaviour, even though it was caused by film editing, the Colossus Display program parameter "Scroll" can be turned off so that text appears instantaneously instead of scrolling in and out.

In one scene the display showed the phrase "THERE IS ANOTHER SYSTEM". This phrase has 23 letters. The display is however limited to 20. There wasn't the mechanism to deal with longer text lengths and being readable while scrolling. Instead the film uses a quick succession of edits showing the phrase moving across the display one character at a time bringing in the the overflowed letters. The Colossus Display program does not simulate this slow crawl. In a later scene - out-of-focus, behind principle actors, the display scrolls slowly.

Revised 17 May 2020