Friday, June 11th, 1993
Remarks to the NBC Advertising and Promotion Conference / June 11, 1993 (presented in slightly edited form to PBS Conference attendees in late June 1993)
I do remember my first Macintosh, purchased a little over nine years ago. A small machine with one 400k floppy disk drive and a small black and white screen, and yet there on my dining room table was the first personal computer I had encountered that worked with graphics. You could even paint–in black-and-white–on those early Macs, and in 1984 that was pretty amazing.
My old company bought its Quantel Paintbox in 1985–a couple of years after the box was first introduced at the NAB. It was–and still is–the benchmark for television paint systems. We–and the bank–paid something over $160,000 for the Quantel, and that didn’t include the monitor, hard disks, and the extra cost of beefed-up air conditioning and the construction of a sound-isolated equipment rack room to handle the thing.
A few years after the Quantel became the established standard for video paint systems, they came up with a version that would handle the high resolutions of a print picture–for just a few hundred thousand dollars more.
I told the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, meeting here in Orlando in January of 1990–that the worlds of print and video were indeed coming together, and that the Macintosh was the common denominator–the point where computing power could be used to create graphics at either print or video resolutions. And I made the semi-bold prediction then that there would soon be software for the Mac that would create images as clean and as attractive as those created on the Paintbox.
Well, four months later, Adobe released Photoshop. And since then, things for me and for many designers have not been the same. There sits now on my desk in my home office a machine that will do everything the Paintbox can do. And it doesn’t come with a hefty bank loan attached.
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A Macintosh, running Photoshop software, can draw a background of graduated colors.
It can place smooth antialiased type on the screen.
It can paint, with an pressure-sensitive airbrush…or with brushes of all sizes, from a palette of millions of colors.
It can assemble an image on deadline from component cutouts.
It can capture, retouch and color-correct a video image.
It can resize, rotate, and distort a cutout.
It can create an electronic mask which controls where paint goes on the picture.
And the Mac, with Photoshop, can perform tasks well beyond the reach of the Paintbox. Designed to be comfortable working with huge print resolution images as well as the 72 dots per inch that video requires, Photoshop has a host of controls that allow you to precisely examine and color-correct the image…and a unique set of plug-in filters–both their own and those created by third-party vendors–that allow you to alter all or part of the image…blur it…sharpen it…distort it…invert it…crystallize it…or do this, this, this, and…well, you get the idea.
And when you’re done with the image, it can be saved to disk–or other images can be brought in–using a ridiculous number of formats that pretty much run the gamut of the ways you can keep a digital image–on any kind of computer. This makes Photoshop a kind of Grand Central Station for digital images. If it’s a picture, chances are Photoshop will open it.
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Photoshop was released at a time–the spring of 1990–when the Macintosh had evolved into a machine capable of handling large amounts of memory and disk storage, and again, the Macintosh operating system gave the Photoshop programmers a head start in working with large color images. Only in the past couple of months has a Windows version of Photoshop been released–and one of the Photoshop programmers told me that although the performance is comparable, the Mac interface makes file management, configuring input and output devices, and dealing with typefaces much, much easier.
But…I can hear you all asking…does it do it as fast as a Quantel Paintbox? As fast as the Aurora?
On a fast Macintosh, like the top-of-the-line Quadra 950 or an accelerated older model, with enough memory and disk storage, I’d put the Mac and Photoshop up against the AVA, the Aurora, and the Classic Paintbox. Is it as fast as the Quantel V-Series? Nope. Does it cost anywhere near as much? Nope. Is the image quality as good? As good or better then most dedicated broadcast paint systems–and don’t forget, this system works for print as well.
Actually, the idea of using the Mac for video is just part of a overall trend towards increasing generalization in the computer and television industries. A Quantel Paintbox or a Chyron Infinit is at its core, a computer–a device with a microprocessor, disk drives, screen, and input and output connections. So’s the Macintosh. What you get for the extra tens of thousands of dollars you pay for broadcast equipment is often specialized add-on hardware that accelerates certain graphic functions and provides for output that is synchronous with the rest of a television station, as well as software that is, for the most part, built-in and dedicated to one function. The Quantel is a computer which runs one program all the time–a well-refined, terrific paint program. It doesn’t, however, do spreadsheets.
It’s getting easier these days to buy a general purpose computer and add the specific hardware for video input and output that you need, plus accelerators, a bitpad perhaps, and, of course, paint software, in order to end up with a system that does what the dedicated systems did, at much lower cost. And because it’s not a dedicated machine, you have a device that is a Paintbox in the morning and a print typesetting and layout system in the afternoon. And because a Mac installation is cheaper by as much as a factor of ten, facilities with multiple artists can use multiple Macs as workstations–the waiting line of designers who all want to use the Paintbox at the same time.
But before we go too far with this, let’s be clear about where the Macintosh stands in the world of, for want of a better term, general-purpose computers. It stands somewhat apart, a different microprocessor and operating system than the IBM standard that many corporate buyers of PCs are accustomed to. There are indeed many more IBM-standard PCs than Macintoshes. And throw into this mix the third standard of Unix–the operating system used by those high-end, high-pricetag machines that render 3D graphics and animation fast, fast, fast. So what distinguishes the Mac in this field?
Well, I would contend that the unique advantage of the Macintosh is one its had for almost ten years now–a consistent user interface from program to program, and an operating system that allows you to use these programs together in unique and productive ways. Sure, PCs have Windows and Unix systems have their graphic interfaces, but any objective evaluation still has to give the Mac the edge in this category. The result is, I believe, superior ease-of-use, and less of a learning curve for designers suddenly thrust into a digital world.
I don’t want to subject you to too much technojargon, but let me just say that the Mac’s graphic interface–unlike the others–is an integral part of the operating system. With Windows on a PC, it’s more like a facade, imposed on top of the ugly world of DOS.
As more and more people are using the Mac to process graphics as large as video images are, another key advantage comes into play. The Mac’s operating system has special support built in–it’s called Quicktime–that makes dealing with these big ol’ pictures as easy and fast as possible.
The Macintosh is a machine that is the unquestioned favorite of graphic designers, mostly because of its ease of use–but also because most graphic design software that you’ll find on these other systems began life on the Mac, and the service bureaus–the places you take your files for high resolution paper or film output for print production are, for the most part, Mac based–although sure, they can handle the PC stuff these days as well.
Look. This whole IBM versus Mac thing is a big bone of contention across the spectrum of computing, and people who know a lot more than we do about these machines can’t agree about it either. All I’m saying here–for what its worth–is that the Macintosh is where most of the technology that makes this possible started. It’s the environment in which most creative people–especially artists and designers–choose to work.
Think about how designers use a Paintbox for television graphics–for news graphics, for example. It might be better to think of a Paintbox as more of a Cut and Paste
"Quick, give me a graphic of Clinton and a state department seal, with a headline `Investigation’ in our standard box format!"
The artist doesn’t start with a blank screen and begin to draw the President from memory–are you kidding? We’re on deadline! So the designer works in layers, just like building a sandwich. First, call up the standard news graphic background–it too is not painted from scratch. Add the state department seal. Then, capture a video image of Clinton…trace around the edges to define what part of the video you want to use, and then place the finished cutout on top of all of this…and then type up the word `Investigation’ in the text portion of the paintbox–and place that with a dropshadow on top of the whole mess. It’s done, and it’s a miracle of cut and paste.
Oh, and one thing about the sandwich we just made–once it’s done, you can’t expect to pick the President up from finished image–without causing some damage. All the components are smushed together into a finished bitmap image. They’re no longer individual objects.
Whether you’re working with a Quantel, a Chyron, a Mac, or a Silicon Graphics box, the end result, a single frame of television, is a lot of data–just about a megabyte–about one million bytes–of raw uncompressed binary numbers–just for one frame of video–one 30th of a second. Considering the average word processing document is maybe one-twelfth that size, you can see that it helps to have a computer that can process all of those bits as quickly as possible. It also helps if you have a way of dealing with all that information in a more compact, flexible, portable form…and that’s what PostScript is all about.
PostScript was designed as a `page description language`–a compact way of representing what would end up on the printed page while it’s still inside the computer. Some clever folks at Adobe Systems came up with PostScript when 300 dot per inch Laserprinters were first introduced. A printed page full of tiny black and white dots contains even more information than a color television image–so sending those dots from place to place —and storing them inside your machine–was, early on, deemed impractical. It made more sense to store the information as a series of points which mathmatically describe curves.
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To describe, for example, the letter `A’, you’d only have to use about 19 points–and–we’re getting just a bit technical here–because these are just points and curves plotted relative to each other, they can represent a letter `A’ either as small as this…or a beautiful Times Bold `A’ as large as a full printed page. Just in case you’re curious, here’s the PostScript code for that letter `A’. Just a peek. Think of this as computer shorthand that describes the shape of that letter `A.’ At the final step in the process, the `A’ is rasterized–translated from those 19 points to hundreds of thousands of filled pixels–dots, if you will–inside the laserprinter, or, in the case of our area of concern, they’re translated to smooth, clean looking letters on the screen.
Why am I telling you about this? I think it’s important. You see, the ability to work with PostScript images–typefaces as well as drawings of any kind– is a key advantage of using the Mac as a paint system for television.
With PostScript images you can…
Work with objects that can be scaled, recolored, or reshaped while they`re still objects. Take a look. Here’s that state department seal again as a Quantel Paintbox cutout. Want to make it smaller? No problem. The Quantel, or any paint system smoothly discards the pixels that aren’t needed any more when the seal shrinks. Want to make it larger? Big problem. Enlarging a bitmapped cutout results in a blurry, mushy finished product, because the system must create new pixels–interpolating them from a best guess.
But over on a Macintosh, take a look at that same seal. It’s a PostScript image–that same kind of collection of points and curves that made up the letter `A`–but in this case, much more complex. So if we want to create an image that’s just the eye of the eagle in the middle of the seal, the computer rescales the points in just a moment–and then rasterizes the seal–turns it into the finished bitmap. Big difference in quality. Big advantage in flexibility.
Because it’s so much easier to work with graphics in their component, object form at the design stage–when you want to move things around a lot, re-color them, change and shuffle layers…I do all my initial design–especially the logos and logotypes that form the foundation for a station package, on the Mac, using one or both of the two principal PostScript object-oriented drawing packages–Aldus Freehand or Adobe Illustrator.
I can manipulate the size and shape of the type elements and blocks of color, making fine adjustments to the spacing of the type, tweaking even the shape of the letters or numbers themselves–and then once a logo is done, a designer can take the shapes and render them in black and white or color in video, again, using Photoshop–or take them to a service bureau for even higher-resolution output in print. The important point: The same shape description forms the logo in every step of the process. It’s consistent, flexible, and easy to work with.
Every station logo design I do now starts in PostScript–making it easier for that station to distribute their logo whether they have a Mac or not. And I’m pleased to see that some syndicated shows–like Designing Women–supply a disk with their promo kits that gives you their intricate logo in video or print in all its detail. That’s the wave of the future.
Of course, the most complicated elements–like this one, are no easy task to create–even with the flexibility of a drawing program like Freehand or Illustrator. Did I spend a lot of time creating this PostScript image of the State Department seal? Did I labor over this Mexican flag?
Nope. I bought them. There are indeed companies who sell libraries of PostScript images, which you can, of course, resize, color, manipulate, and split apart–over and over again. Some of them are the kind of, well, goofy `clip art’ images which have shown up in bad newsletters for years–but some of them are collections of world flags, state seals, maps, corporate logos, and road signs that represent a lot of precise work that someone had to sit down to do–so why reinvent the wheel? The State Department seal and these others were created by a company called One Mile Up– they have several packages of what they call `Federal Clip Art’–from governmental seals to flags to incredibly detailed military hardware–just perfect for parking over an anchor’s shoulder.
Here’s another way to use PostScript to your advantage on a frequently requested graphic item–maps. By starting work in Illustrator or Freehand, you can draw roads quickly and precisely, repositioning them as necessary, and then assembling a map can be more of that sandwich-making–layering the PostScript elements in Photoshop. Start with a background…import the roads…and at this point, you can zoom in to any part of the highways with, again, no loss of resolution…adding freeway signs and route markers, each their own PostScript file–I’ve got a folder with all the major roads in Atlanta. This makes assembling a custom map a much speedier process.
But if you really want to talk about maps, there’s a dedicated application that creates PostScript maps detailed on a global scale. It’s called Azimuth…and it enables you to create detailed maps from already pre-digitized data, from any angle or perspective, even from the ever-popular `point on a globe’ view. It’s software used by everybody from CBS News to The Washington Post to make maps a-plenty.
Again, an advantage of working with a non-dedicated machine–you can use other programs–running at the same time as Photoshop–to create data that can be–thanks to the Mac–handed off from one program to the next. You can create a graph by typing numbers in Illustrator…transform it into 3D with Adobe Dimensions…and finish it up in Photoshop.
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Hey, but with all this talk about `multimedia’, you’re probably thinking beyond using a Mac system for just the 2D paint functions like the Quantel or the Aurora. What about 3D animation? What about digitizing whole promos and cutting them together offline? Well, I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is that it can be done. The bad news is, we’re still at the point where it’s darn slow. The calculations involved in creating 3D images can be done on any computer–and on the fastest Macs, they zip right along, but not nearly as fast as on a Unix workstation with dedicated graphics processing cards. Most Mac 3D software gives you rendering times of 20 to 30 minutes per frame–or more, and unless you can set it up to render a piece overnight or over the weekend, that’s too slow for my deadlines. I’ve seen work done in StrataVision 3D for stations that was of excellent quality–but they had to wait for it. There’s one high end package for Mac 3D animation called Electric Image–it does a lot of things well–it did the DateLine NBC animation, I’ve been told–but at almost $8000, it’s as or more expensive as the hardware itself, so I still use go elsewhere to use high-end systems for 3D. And the good news there is that there are programs available to convert, for example, PostScript outlines to Wavefront 3D objects–so you can bring in elaborate logos, type, and shapes pre-digitized to a Wavefront session. it’s a great timesaver.
And I’ve just begun to experiment with a new program that brings many of the functions of the Harry to the Macintosh–or at least the Harriet. It’s called `COSA After Effects’, and it will allow you to create layered, moving pictures, type, and other graphic elements. It’s especially impressive because it renders the finished frames at field resolution–which means that the finished moves are as smooth as any you’d get from a Kaleidoscope or ADO. It’s impressive too because you can work with the painted frames, type, and other items as repositionable objects. At this point it`s no speed demon, but the COSA folks say just wait, they plan to upgrade the software so it will use graphics accelerator boards to speed things up. So as of now it’s impressive to me for its potential more than for what it can do today.
Earlier, I said that a Mac system in a television design department could be a paint system one moment and a desktop publishing system the next. It’s true. In fact, as you probably know, the Macintosh was the pioneer in what folks insist on calling "desktop publishing". And now with the price of 600 dot per inch printers coming down to very respectable levels, the idea of having a system that would output completely camera-ready materials for most purposes–at four times the resolution of standard 300 dot per inch laserprinters–is attractive indeed. And, yes, the synergy that comes from using the same PostScript illustration programs like Freehand or Illustrator…the same typefaces
On the print side, the Grand Central Station of all the bits and pieces that make up a brochure, or one-sheet, or poster is called Quark Xpress. It could also be called Aldus PageMaker, because just as Freehand and Illustrator are locked in heated battles for feature supremacy, so too are Xpress and Pagemaker. My money’s on Xpress. It, again, seems to be the choice of `real designers’…it’s flexible, precise, and fast, and whether you’re doing a newsletter or a compact disk cover, Xpress gets the job done.
Even with a fancy 600 dpi laser printer as your typesetting machine, there are still times you’ll want to send out work to be imaged at higher resolution for quality color separations, Canon color copies of incredible quality, or slides at up to 4000 dots per inch. You can still use Xpress, Illustrator, Freehand, even Photoshop, thanks again to the universality of PostScript as a page description language. I’ve sent out PostScript files to signmakers for client stations…to the folks who make mike flags…to companies who can image PostScript on huge 5 foot by 3 foot sheets of paper, in full color…for a price.
The side benefit for stations, of course, lies in a more consistent application of your corporate identity. No longer does your on-air look like one thing, and your print look like something completely different.
Well, assuming what I’ve been saying sounds good to you, what should you consider when planning to purchase a Mac system?
1) Buy as powerful a Macintosh as you can. This seems obvious, perhaps, but the speed of the microprocessor
If you get a more basic system, consider an accelerator board, which basically bypasses the microprocessor, replacing it with a faster, newer one. Sometimes
2) Go out and buy tons of additional memory. Most larger Macs can hold 32 or even 64 megabytes of memory–that’s RAM, not hard disk space. The more you have, the more programs you can run concurrently, and the more you can do in each one. For Photoshop, the absolute minimum is 8 megabytes of RAM, and memory, from mail order dealers is dirt cheap–as low as $30 for 1 megabyte SIMMs to $110 for 4 meg SIMMs.
3) Buy as much storage as you can afford. Oh, it’s amazing how fast even the biggest hard disk can fill up with programs, fonts, and these images you’ll be creating.