Paperless Publishing-Colin Haynes - Chapter 12

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ELECTRONIC communications are evolving rapidly from being almost exclusively letters and numbers to having strong visual and audio elements. Consequently, the opportunities for photographers, artists, and musicians in the new media are at least as attractive as they are for writers.

Visual artists face even more difficulties than poets in getting their work published in print, because the cost of reproducing color is enormous unless amortized over very long runs. It is not unusual for even a black-and-white photographic book with very little text to cost over $10,000 in print preproduction work, often a lot more. Even after such an up-front investment, there is still a lot of work to be done and expense incurred before the project gets as far as ink being pressed onto paper.

Consequently, the self-publishing option has not been a viable one for all but the more affluent artists. Now that situation has changed with the ease that paintings and other forms of expression can be converted into high-quality digital images. Musicians can even use music-reading software to publish electronically, as in Fig. 12-1.

 

Of course, the format for playing back those images is physically very limited by the small size of the monitor screen. Thousands of artists are finding, however, that the new work-for-hire and self-publishing opportunities that attracted them to experimenting with digital imagery has led to significant creative satisfaction despite the screen limitations. Software paint and drawing programs such as Fauve Matisse help by creating working environments in which artists used to traditional materials can feel more comfortable.

HSC Software's InterActive typifies how creative people in any of the arts can sit down at a quite modest PC running Windows and build on whatever existing skills they have to become multimedia artists and publishers. Writers can work with photographic, line, and paint images; painters can add words and movement to their pictures;

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musicians can create their own imaginative e-book equivalents of music videos. InterActive offers royalty-free runtime distribution, although as with any other authoring program, you still need to check whether it has the flexibility and licensing requirements to meet your particular publishing needs.

In the next few years, a wide selection of the computerized equivalents of livre de peintre limited-edition books will appear, in which poets, artists, and perhaps art dealers cooperate as they did when the genre first appeared in Paris in the 19th century. These new versions of the livre de peintre will have an important function as catalogs to promote original canvases and prints.

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As an artist, try to preserve your skills in natural media when you move to the computer, rather than being swept away by the new technology. Much early computer-generated art is obviously a product of the plastic age, lacking spontaneity, form, and life. That is changing now, but a lot of published work continues to reflect more the computer's skills than the artist's.

The scope for artistic talent in these new media is enormous, particularly for those who carry through and develop the skills they have acquired in traditional media. Consequently, selecting the software in which you work really is important. As you experiment with different programs, you might find that you work more creatively and efficiently in a program that is simple or effectively mimics traditional watercolors or oils than in the most popular or expensive drawing program.

A particularly comprehensive resource for artists moving to digital media is the book Digital Imaging for Visual Artists by Sally Wiener Grotta and Daniel Grotta, published by Windcrest/McGraw-Hill.

 

In their book, the Grottas point out that, for artists and photographers shopping for hardware to move to the digital media, "separating the hype and hyperbole from the truth is a time-consuming, trial-and-error process best left to disinterested experts who are not trying to sell anything to you." Their book caters for professionals, so they fix their upper price limit for individual hardware components at $20,000. If you want to make nowhere near that kind of investment to get started, both photographers and visual artists can achieve excellent results on complete hardware systems

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under $2,000, and software costing only a few hundred dollars at most.

One reason that you can great results so economically is that the Eastman Kodak Company is spending many millions to try to establish its Photo CD system as a worldwide standard that eventually will replace, to a significant degree, the traditional photographic materials on which the company has built its success. If this doesn't work, Kodak and other companies who have formed alliances with it are in big trouble. Consequently, there are tremendous commercial forces pushing Photo CD forward to make it as safe and universal an electronic publishing format as possible.

To use this system, you can take your pictures with existing photographic equipment. Then, send your films to any one of a growing international network of licensed laboratories that will quickly and economically process them into digital images on a CD disk. If you have a library of existing images that you want in digital form, they will process those also from color slides and prints for as little as under $1 an image.

You can import and manipulate Photo CD images in many authoring programs. In 1994, Kodak's own Photo CD Portfolio Authoring software arrived, enabling the desktop computer user to combine images with text, graphics, sound, and interactive features to create Photo CDs that can be played back on computers or television sets.

Photo CD gives authors the reassurance that they will be able to use competing photo finishers to duplicate their CD titles. They will not be limited to one or two services with little incentive to compete on price, or be forced to buy their own expensive hardware, which can soon be devalued and outdated by the speed with which this technology is moving forward. This is changing the economics of CD publishing, making it far more cost-effective for small enterprises and individuals.

Of particular interest to authors and art directors needing stock photographs, or agencies and professional photographers wanting to market their work, is the Kodak Picture Exchange (800-579-8737).

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The Exchange is essentially an on-line database of photographs, an enormous resource to bring together those with pictures to sell and those seeking to purchase the rights to use a particular type of image. It could transform the marketing of freelance photographs and eliminates much of the cost and risk inherent in shipping expensive slides and prints.

 

The Photo CD formats

There are four main Photo CD formats. The original Master Disc is aimed at amateurs and professionals working in 35mm. It holds about 100 images with resolution about 16 times greater than that achieved on current NTSC broadcast television receivers. The images can be played through any Photo CD-compatible drive directly to a television or computer, and they can act also as negatives to generate prints up to poster size. The Pro Photo CD Master Disc is aimed at professional photographers and stores high-resolution images in larger film formats as well as in 35mm.

The other two formats are the media that have such strong potential for publishing. Portfolio Discs are appropriate for publishing any kind of picture stories with text and other multimedia features, including stereo sound. Authors have considerable flexibility in making use of the space on the disk. They can preserve high-resolution standards or save space by reducing resolution to make room for graphics and audio. The cost is attractive enough for small-scale publishing, right down to e-books of family events such as weddings.

The Kodak Photo CD Catalog disc format can be used to get as many as 4,400 images onto a disk at lower resolutions still acceptable for many purposes when viewed on monitors or television sets. These disks contain image search and retrieval software, but the images are not suitable for making photographic quality prints.

Kodak and its associates also support the smaller 80mm disk format which is becoming a standard for portable computers and personal

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digital assistants. These small disks become an even more attractive publishing medium when you know that they are backwards-compatible with drives for the standard 120mm format.

 

Digital still and video cameras

If you want to capture your own photographic still images electronically, make sure that the camera you choose can download the images to a computer. You can get conversion kits that will enable the early electronic still cameras, notably the Canon Xap-Shot, to generate suitable digital images. Analog to digital converters, popularly known as frame grabbers, also allow single video frames to be incorporated easily into electronic or print documents. Quality is very much dependent on the performance of the digitizer board. It might be low, but still acceptable when the images are used small, as might be the case in a catalog or as a window to supplement a screen of text. In 1994, the Apple QuickTake digital camera launched a new era of affordable, high-quality blending of photography with electronic publishing.

You can use a camcorder to capture images, feeding directly into your video capture card or storing the images on tape for later transfer. This is often not as easy as it sounds, however, but there is now a very interesting alternative for the electronic publisher. VideoLabs' FlexCam is a miniature desktop color camera mounted on a flexible gooseneck arm, which can have a microphone incorporated in it. You can scan documents or capture moving or still images of pictures or three-dimensional objects, focusing down to as close as a quarter-inch to achieve a 50 magnification. Prices for the various models start at around $600, with PAL, NTSC, and S-video versions available.

This could become a very important tool for the publishers of electronic technical documents and scientific papers. Its applications are really only limited by your imagination. It's like having an electronic eye sitting on the desk beside you, always ready to import any image that you want to incorporate into an e-document.

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When you first start to include visual images into electronic publications, you might become frustrated with the difficulties of trying to achieve the standards you have come to expect from print media. The loss of quality will be greatly influenced by the capabilities of your hardware and software, as well as by the characteristics of the original image.

Often, quality will perceive to be improved by using the image smaller--it will also take up less disk space. Or you can turn a problem into extra production values by creatively processing appropriate photographs into impressionist renderings, which can be particularly effective for use as backgrounds. Such illustrations work well for poetry and fiction.

This process can be carried out entirely in the computer using image-editing software. You can also experiment with modifying your original by projecting the slide onto shower-curtain glass or semi-opaque plastic sheeting, and then photographing the image from the other side using a videocamera, still electronic camera, or a conventional camera with the film processed as a Photo CD.

If your original is a print, shoot a copy through textured glass placed over the print. (This is more difficult than working with slides.) Various lenses and filters can also turn a mundane photograph into an artistic impressionist image, which can be imported into the computer for incorporation in an electronic publication without needing to be of high resolution.

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