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Graphics More User-Friendly

Dec 20, 2004  •  Post A Comment

As newsrooms have become more tech-fluent and digital, news graphics have similarly grown more accessible and user-friendly. The incredible improvements in processing power of personal computers, coupled with efforts by station groups to centralize the production of graphics, has made the creation and use of art for newscasts faster and easier.

As such, some local and national broadcasters have moved away from Quantel, once a graphic mainstay but also a proprietary technology with its own “box,” to either PC-based versions of Quantel, Discreet’s software tools or the more ubiquitous PC-based Adobe products-including Photoshop, Illustrator and After Effects. Many stations use a combination of products.

Christa Garubo, the art director for ABC’s “20/20,” said she switched from Quantel equipment to Discreet because of greater ease in calling up, replacing and editing graphics and sharing them with other designers. Discreet offers a range of graphics software, from its combustion product, priced under $1,000, to inferno, a high-end solution costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, said Maurice Patel, head of product marketing for the Montreal-based company.

Access and ease of use in graphics has afforded stations more versatility and flexibility at a far lower cost, said Abel Sanchez, director of design at Viacom-owned CBS station WBBM-TV in Chicago. That evens the playing field for smaller stations, allowing small and large markets often to have the same equipment, he said.

On the design side, the recent advances in graphics capability means more motion, more interesting animation, brighter colors and crisper, smoother text, he said.

Adobe After Effects, for instance, allows for 3-D animation and lighting effects, which used to be more expensive and tougher to produce, said Adrianne Anderson, VP of creative services for Fox-owned KTTV and UPN station KCOP-TV in Los Angeles. “You can turn around much more complex graphics much faster than you could years ago, because processors are faster, [and with] the [increased] storage capacity you can handle much larger files much more quickly,” she said.

ABC redesigned the look of”20/20″ following the departure of Barbara Walters this fall. The network worked with Big Machine Design to go against the trends toward “big, hunky, silvery 3-D-type of over-the-top logos,” Ms. Garubo said, and instead opted for a simple, flatter blue logo.

“Everyone is trying to outdo somebody else,” she said. That’s partly because graphics technology is so advanced now, making it possible to render complicated 3-D images in real time, she said.

While stations can do more, they don’t always choose to do so, said Dianne Streyer, VP and general manager for VDO, a broadcast design studio in Clearwater, Fla. “What we see now is a trend towards cleaner, more direct graphics,” she said. A simpler look also can maintain the flow of the show by moving viewers in and out of segments without the interruption of a big flying graphic with lots of sound effects, she said.

Graphics have also become more accessible through centralization. The NBC station group has pioneered this strategy with its ArtHouse, a design shop in Dallas that serves as a hub for graphics production for the group’s 14 stations. The ArtHouse creates templates for many regularly used graphic elements. Producers can then access those templates and assemble them for their shows, said David Steel, creative director for the NBC ArtHouse.

“Not only can they choose the image, but they have 24/7 access. You aren’t waiting for someone to make the graphics for you,” he said.

Hearst-Argyle is also implementing a centralized graphics system for its 26 stations.

The innovations in graphics at TV stations is not surprising given that digital effects in all forms of entertainment have become more robust, richer and extravagant, Discreet’s Mr. Patel said. The proliferation of news outlets has also heightened the need for a distinct brand image, he said.

A musical signature is another method to define a station, said Stephen Arnold, president of Stephen Arnold Music in McKinney, Texas, which creates music for TV stations.

“I think stations are now looking to be less brassy, a little less orchestrated with their music,” he said. He recently created a “sonic brand” for Gannett-owned CBS station WTSP-TV in Tampa, Fla., that does not include any brass instruments and contains a bit of a U2-style flavor, he said.

A distinct musical signature can create an awareness for the newscast and catch a viewer’s attention if he or she is in another room, for instance, said Mary Jo Mennella, senior VP and general manager for Fox Music Publishing, which handles licensing for the Fox station group and other Fox entities.