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CONSIDERING THAT ART DIRECtors spend most of their day glued to a computer, Bonnie Smetts decided her new self-promotion should live in that same digital realm. So last year her eponymous Berkeley, Calif., design firm created an interactive portfolio that interweaves photos, illustration and text with fluid animated segues and a jazz score. Simply boot up her Mac disc and click on the Package Design icon and watch a butterfly flutter off an alluring Nature Co. box pattern and onto the next menu option.

Beyond sowing the ground for future interactive projects, the promotion, which was followed up with a holiday disc, surpassed all her expectations, bringing in 10 new clients. "I got three times as many interviews simply as a result of this," Smetts says.

With a blizzard of CD-ROM projects in the works, artists are using interactive portfolios, either on CD-ROM or the more accessible Mac and PC discs or Syquest discs, to plow into an uncharted medium. While nothing can beat an original work or a personal presentation, discs are generally inexpensive and easy to reproduce and ship. And in an age when fewer art directors are throwing their doors open to reps, a good disc can begin to fill that void.

Stock photography houses and awards show annuals are all hawking their latest versions of disc-based portfolios. Working with American Showcase, One World Interactives in Eugene, Ore., released its second Virtual Portfolio this year, a CD-ROM disc with up to 75 entries from music houses, illustrators and multimedia artists. In the last two years, most of the major stock agencies, along with the Black Book, have also digitized their photographers' work for catalog and promotion purposes, either on laserdisc or CD-ROM. Stock film libraries are paralleling this trend (see Creativity, November '93), indexing their collections and releasing them either on laserdiscs or CD-ROMs.

Digital portfolios still have their shortcomings, though. Many tend to resemble slide shows, and while CD-ROMs produce crisper imagery, access to the players is still limited, prompting designers to resort to Mac and PC discs, which have varying degrees of playback speed and resolution.

While interactive presentations available on the Virtual Portfolio represented a digital vanguard, says San Francisco designer Erik Adigard, whose studio, MAD, bought space on it, he says their production costs just covered the business that the CD-ROM generated. Adigard blames the project's poor returns on the rudimentary interfaces that made it difficult to navigate through the disc, explaining that art directors had a difficult time wending through the catacomb of listings "when they canjust pick up the Black Book and cruise through it."

But that's not stopping the tide. Fabrizio LaRoca, creative director at Fodor's Travel Publications says that while they're starting to arrive by the dozen, generally these portfolios "end up boring you and turning you off." A few entertaining ones have piqued his interest though, including a Mac disc by New York-based Rico Lins,

an animator and illustrator whose work appears regularly in The New York Times, Lins, along with partner Mauricio Nacif, released a portfolio late last year that reflects not only their design work but a sense of humor too, fusing an original Latin score by Nacif, colorful animation, video and text. Lins doesn't just show his work, he reinvents it by slicing and rearranging it. Driven by a rollicking drum beat, the piece opens on a Manhattan skyline and a smokestack that burps letters that form into words of different menu options. "It was well-paced and fun to play with," LaRoca says, "and it had good ideas about where the medium can go." Other artists have achieved similar success with their portfolios. Glenn Mitsui from Studio MD in Seattle offers a quirky example of what can be done with limited resources using text and simple animation. While the piece was created for the latest Virtual Portfolio, the few Mitsui sent out early on Mac discs have already prompted interest from places like Microsoft, Xaos and Clement Mok Designs. In one section, photocopies of a runner from an Eadweard Muybridge-inspired series are animated like a flip book. Later Mitsui pokes fun at himself by placing a blinking, donut-sized button on screen as a chorus of voices tempt, "Go ahead, push it, push it." Finally Mitsui chimes apologetically, "Sorry for the fake button, I'm not very good at this stuff yet." He can't seem to figure out all the music copyright restrictions either, as he demonstrates by humming "background music" as images parade past.

Peter Morada at Gage Design in Seattle, who designs his own interactive discs, as well as portfolios for illustrators and photographers, places a similar emphasis on entertainment. "It's just enough to make them curious to call," says Morada, who invents idiosyncratic command icons, like a rapper to reflect his record label designs, and laugh tracks to back his imagery.

With the cost of traditional portfolios continuing to climb, and the market moving into more computer-driven promotions, the digital portfolio could soon supplant the leather bound book, or at least carve a permanent niche next to it. For the few discs Mitsui has mailed, he says he's happy with the results. Last report, he heard the folks at Xaos were singing his "background music" ditty in

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