How do you know when it is finally time to trade in one set of tools and weapons, even of attitudes, for another? Perhaps, as at Agincourt, the knowledge falls on you with the pointed clarity of a hail of longbow arrows. Or perhaps it creeps up on you slowly, dawning like that first faint glow of incandescence along Edison's taut thread, a frail but stubborn light to change the world by.
In any case, that time for change does inevitably come. And so it has arrived here, in the agency we built from the beginning on Macintosh and its myriad bloodlines. Admittedly, the "how" of change is simpler for us than it will prove to be for larger, more hierarchical and, frankly, more hidebound organizations. Such is one blessing of being an agency that's both technologically aware and of economical size.
But the "why" of the change is more complicated, turning as it does on the nature of today's media revolution itself. In our view, there will be little point in all the combinant and recombinant infocom industry mergers and buyouts, in the government's promised efforts at information highway construction, and even in the very notion of interactivity, if all we as marketers are prepared to send into this brave new world is reruns of "The Cosby Show" and "NYPD Blue" and a few hundred beer commercials. The nature of the available media has always dictated the nature of the material that agencies have created, often pioneered, to take advantage of those media, and that law of symbiosis isn't likely to be suddenly suspended now.
Yet the tools we have today, advanced as they seem, are nevertheless being used to produce-albeit efficiently and cost-effectively-creative products whose basic structural and artistic parameters haven't changed in decades. Part of the reason for this is that the tools that might help make it otherwise have either not existed before or simply not existed at an affordable level. And that is precisely what is no longer true.
Enter Silicon Graphics (SGI), not the best-known company in the field, but arguably the smartest and the best-positioned for all that is coming. Five years ago it seemed everyone else (and Apple most of all) was plowing their full creative energies into the desktop, which is to say, into two-dimensional desktop publishing. And there they are-and they're stuck.
But five years ago, SGI saw a niche ignored by the Apples and Hewlett Packards, the DECs and IBMs and Suns: the far more difficult, far more dazzling world of 3-D graphics. And into that niche they drove a truckload of talent and several truckloads of R&D money. They said, "This turf can be ours," then single-mindedly grabbed it.
As everyone in the visual effects industry knows, the dinosaurs in "Jurassic Park" were created largely on SGI machines, as was the malevolent metal morph in "Terminator 2." In fact, SGI's imaging equipment today functions as the central nervous system for several top Hollywood effects houses, among them Industrial Light & Magic.
The company's edge stems from having figured out, via a proprietary type of microprocessor it calls a "geometry engine," how to repaint each pixel on a color monitor at least 30 times a second. This allows creation of 3-D visualizations that are suitably real (and real-time) to perform complex molecular modeling in scientific settings, as well as high-end CAD/CAM engineering work. By putting CPUs into one box, SGI machines offer true parallel processing, which allows for such neo-wonders as interactive video conferencing, high-speed RIP (raster image processing) functions, and 3-D design work to go on, on one machine, simultaneously.
Then there are SGI's allies. The company recently agreed to provide much of the operating guts of Time-Warner's experimental interactive TV system soon to be launched in Orlando. Similarly, it has joined forces with Nintendo to help create the latter's 64-bit 3-D game system, due next year. Finally, and for our purposes perhaps most telling, Adobe Systems has recently released its Illustrator product and will soon introduce PhotoShop 2.5 to run on SGI workstations. And as Adobe goes, so eventually goes the thundering herd.
All this would be academic to an ad agency if SGI's only product offerings were its huge Spielberg-class processors, but recently SGI has moved its high technology far downstream into a series of smaller workstations running from about $5,000 to around $35,000 in price. Equally critical is the fact that SGI's machines use a UNIX-based language, which makes for faster image processing because it allows true multitasking on very fast-rise processors. And critically, SGI offers Macintosh and DOS emulation, meaning that it can be integrated into an existing Mac- or DOS-based environment.
But if that's so, why not just hang an isolated SGI whizbang box off our current Mac system and let that be that? Because we feel certain that computerized creativity is heading for levels of functionality at which Macintoshes simply can't compete.
Complex 3-D images take enormous computing power to create, but that's only part of the problem. In order to do something with those images-like turn them into color film for engraving or output them onto videotape-you also need tremendous processing horsepower and network bandwidth capacity. These are industrial-strength needs, and neither the Mac architecture available today nor that promised for a year or two down the road is going to be up to the task (see the Power PC note on page 9).
Oh, we'll still have some Macs in the office, doing page layout functions, kerning type, and so on, but they will be in essence what the old IBM Selectrics were for so many years: sufficiently pervasive and mundane as to have become pretty much invisible.
My young son tells me that his friends think DOS stands for Dad's Operating System. Clearly, it is time to move on.
Creative Development Systems Hardware: Indigo 2 Extreme 256 MFlops 3-D Software: Alias PowerAnimator, Alias Studio 2-D Software: Alias Eclipse, InPerson desktop conferencing
These are what you need to make dinosaurs move and clients' jaws drop. They're fast, powerful and they provide a level of resolution suitable for finished film or print production. We provide access to these systems on a reservation basis; they are the central core of our creative suite.
Creative Support SystemsHardware: SGI Indy SC 16 MFlops Software: PhotoShop, Illustrator, InPerson desktop conferencing
In many cases, these replace our Quadras. They are faster, cheaper and have built-in full-motion video. Migration is seamless because they run the same core software we have all grown up with. They are today what the Power PC will deliver in 18 months or so.
Video CompingHardware: SGI Indy SC 16 MFlopsSoftware: Looking for Avid Media Suite Pro, Adobe Premier
Our original Avid sits on a shelf in the storage area, simply because it's too much of a professional editor's tool. Here we need to empower ADs with more casual video engineering skills and our choice will be Adobe's Premier video editing software, with its elegantly simple interface, to produce rip-o-matics or rough cuts and ship edit decision lists to our editorial houses.
Image Server Hardware: SGI Indigo 2 Server Software: TorqueWare 2.0, Jaws Level-2 RIP
With so many devices requiring Postscript output, and color management demanding so much space and processing power, a single RIP/Server device is very attractive. Here, all our high-resolution and color imaging devices-3M and Shinko Dye Subs, Agfa Select Set and 9600s and Canon CLC 500-are driven and monitored by a single device.
EngravingHardware: Agfa 9600, Select Set
B&w newspaper is simple: Send a Quark page to a Postscript device and ship film. Color is messy and will be the subject of a future article. For now, we recommend you trust the folks at Agfa to help you integrate their pin-registered film printers and spend some time reading up on trapping software and UNIX-based RIP servers and software solutions from Torque.
BullpenHardware: MacII, Quadra, SonySoftware: Quark 3.3, PhotoShop 2.5, Illustrator 5.0
Finally, art schools are graduating enough bright young kids that finding talented computer artists in sufficient quantities is no longer a problem. Because the talent base will continue to be schooled in PhotoShop and Quark, we will keep our assembly and print production systems on Mac and migrate to Power PC in the third quarter of 1995.
E-mail System Hardware: Old Mac IIs, Supra 14.4 V.42 Modems Software: Microsoft Mail Server 3.01, ARA 2.0
Connecting to your clients' e-mail networks these days is a necessity. We provide all clients with hardware and software to create a link to us. I personally hate wasted paper, and nothing wastes paper like a clumsy pile of contact reports. Gateways from third-party vendor StarNine link us to the Internet and other important mail networks.
Customer Support Network Hardware: Old Mac IIs, Supra 14.4 V.42 Modems Software: First Class Communications Server 2.4
Day or night, clients should have access to their files. At Farago, all relevant creative files are kept online and made available discreetly to each client on a secure dial-up information service that can handle Mac, DOS, OS/2 or VT-100 terminals. Dial-in is effortless and the interface looks like any professional online service.
Post Houses Hardware: Mixed UNIX and Mac Music Software: Studio Vision Video Edit Software: Avid, Adobe Premier
The key here is interoperability. We choose our day-to-day suppliers based on performance and compatibility. Music houses must read our MIDI files; post houses must read our edit decision lists. Because we share file formats, they can build on our work and we can add to theirs.
External Information ProvidersHardware: Supra 14.4 Networked ModemsSoftware: Dow Jones, Compuserve, Dialog
Connecting to the right information provider is essential. Here we generally point and click our way through very powerful databases to gain competitive information for our clients. We don't directly use services like Lexis/Nexis-they are the province of highly trained information librarians with whom we contract.
On the Power PC
We are very excited about the recent Apple announcements regarding the future of Macintosh publishing systems. From our perspective, the Mac will be around as a key player in the publishing arena, and in 18 to 24 months could be a contender to such powerhouse platforms as SGI. However, 24 months plus software development time is too long for us to wait for color and 3-D solutions. We are not platform-centric here; we need to make great art and can afford SGI now.
The Creative Suite Concept
As we and other advertising agencies invest in more-expensive hardware, the logic of providing creative suites around the campus makes more and more sense. In this model, creative access is determined by precisely what facilities a team