DIGITAL DELIGHTS

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Ground Zero art director Gavin Milner and copywriter Alec Beckett roamed around the country last year, directing a campaign shot on Hi-8. But this was no ordinary shoot. Milner and Beckett hung out in movie theaters, mausoleums, barber shops and boutique dressing rooms, directing their co-workers as they interviewed people while secretly shooting them with a "lipstick" spy camera hidden in the bill of a baseball cap. "We had to develop sign language and hand signals," jokes Milner of how he directed the film crew.

This incognito-style footage was the basis for "Views from the Inside," a verite TV campaign for CitySearch, an Internet city guide that emphasizes its grassroots listings for everything from hair salons to restaurants and arcades. Once people gave the OK to be interviewed, Milner said they'd film them without their knowing, and then tell them afterward. "We wanted people to know the campaign wasn't staged in any way," he says.

The "lipstick" camera, in this case the ElmoCam made by Elmo Co., is just one of many new high-tech tools that make creatives' jobs easier, faster and frequently more creative. These gadgets range from equipment found at the local spy store, to new scanners, software and color copiers sold at the local office supply emporium.

Some tools, like sophisticated imaging equipment, make selling work to clients easier. For Randy Hughes, a senior AD at Martin/Williams, Minneapolis, advances in digital retouching have changed the way he works. "It starts to affect how you concept," says Hughes. "You start to rearrange the world."

Though Martin/Williams outsources most retouching jobs, Hughes says LinoColor's Saphir scanner and the new Opal scanner (www.linocolor.com), which can scan images up to 11-by-17-inches, make it easier for him to visualize abstract ideas. For an ad for the Motorcycle Safety Center, (see Creativity, June 1997), he laid a cheese grater on the scanner for the look of metal-stubbled concrete to illustrate the headline, "There's nothing quite like the feel of the open road."

"It was enough to show the client to get him excited about it," says Hughes.

Similarly, Marc Ruggiero, a computer artist at Mullen, Wenham, Mass., grabs his Agfa ePhoto 1280 power zoom digital camera (www.agfa.com) when an art director asks for a comp illustration in a hurry. It's faster and cheaper than hiring an illustrator, he says, and besides, "the ads are easier to sell when there's actual photography in them."

Equipment that speeds up the creative process also gives creatives more time for their most beloved activity: procrastination. At least, that's part of why Derek Soussner, senior designer at Initio, Minneapolis, says the new Tektronix Phaser 380 color printer (www.tektronix.com) is his favorite addition to the agency. "It saved my ass a few times," he confesses. "It's been very reliable; we've done tons of mockups."

The printer, which the agency is leasing (the list price is about $8,000), is already saving money because Initio doesn't have to send out for final proofs anymore. Soussner says this gives them a cushion in which to redo something at the last minute. When a job returns from a vendor "wrong or bad, you usually don't have time to send it back."

Software is also bringing ever more sophisticated special effects to the desktop. For instance, Ruggiero says one of his favorite new Photoshop plug-ins is Eye Candy 3.0, from Alien Skin Software (www.alienskin.com), Raleigh, N.C. Eye Candy adds hallucinogenic visual puns, with options that offer fire, fur, beveled ripples and a host of other weird effects to an image. Because the software works in layers, Ruggiero says he also likes the control it offers for subtle touches like shading, light direction and intensity of shadow. He recently used it on a campaign for the Sci-Fi Channel to cast the type in shadow and light the logo in a white glow.

New software is also bringing Web design under the control of the average art director. Ground Zero used to have to send out many of its Web pages to be HTML coded, says art director Pat Harris. But with Macromedia's new Dreamweaver software, he's able to do basic Web design and is currently designing his page on Ground Zero's site. "You can scale the boxes, without having one ounce of HTML language," he says. "I can tinker around and have fun and create something on the spot."

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