Fontastics

Helping television networks grab the spotlight with HD/SD graphics.

Each year billions of dollars in advertising are booked based on upfront presentations, the yearly week-long promotional events held by television networks that give advertisers a peek at the upcoming TV season and a chance to reserve primetime advertising slots. These elaborate events typically use celebrity appearances, inside jokes, and clips from pilot episodes to add spice to otherwise sedate PowerPoint presentations that dominate the proceedings.

But four years ago the UPN looked to change that equation. It reached out to Allan Wells, executive producer of Los Angeles-based graphics house Fontastics/Mighty Dots. The facility specializes in graphics and opening sequences for live, premier telecasts such as the Oscar, Grammy, and Daytime Emmy award shows.

Wells and his team turned to their arsenal of Avid Deko 3000 Hybrid HD/SD graphics systems to build attention-grabbing graphics. Deko allows us to take the upfront presentation to places it hasn't gone before, says Wells, who recently helped the new CW network (the network that resulted from the UPN/WB Network marriage) shine for its first upfront event in May 2006. We brought a broadcast graphics sensibility to the upfront instead of relying on PC-based PowerPoint presentations.

The advantage, says Wells, is that the presenter can deliver the same information found in a PowerPoint but enhance it visually, making it more memorable and more effective. The presentation was conveniently played out directly from a Deko system at the event.

'Now the upfront presentation can have fully rendered 3D backgrounds, animations, and even video clips thanks to Deko, says Wells about the broadcast graphics system, which is designed for mission-critical, live-to-air environments, including news, cable programming, sports, awards telecasts, and game shows in addition to non-televised, graphics-heavy events. For the upfront event, Fontastics/Mighty Dots took advantage of system capabilities including real-time 3D motions, DVE-style transitions, and true 3D model import to bring a blockbuster-like appeal to its presentation.

Now the upfront presentation can have fully rendered 3D backgrounds, animations, and even video clips thanks to Deko.

-Allan Wells, Executive Producer, Fontastics/Mighty Dots

Upfront in HD

Any doubts as to whether UPN and the CW were taking the right approach were put to rest earlier this year when NBC decided to hire Fontastics to improve its 2006 upfront presentation as well. For this year’s event, four Deko 3000 units were used: two for the NBC presentations and two for CW. We built continuous sequences with full-screen graphics, fun animations, and transitions, says Wells.

The CW upfront, like the previous UPN upfronts, was in SD while NBC's was done in HD, allowing the graphics to shine and sparkle with depth and clarity. Graphics are the first and foremost place to show off HD or exploit HD resolution, says Wells of an industry that still, overwhelmingly, relies on upconverting SD graphics to HD. Graphics are the most controllable element in the show, and if you can produce opens and live graphics in HD there's an instant improvement in the look of the show. There is no comparison between native HD graphics and upconverted graphics. There’s a dull lifelessness to upconverted graphics.

Freelancer graphic designer Hugh Grew has worked for Fontastics, implementing a standard-definition look for the CW graphics and consulting on the 1080i HD graphics for NBC’s upfront presentation. Deko can get a graphics look up and running - from concept to implementation to live broadcast - faster than any other CG on the market, says Grew. It is highly intuitive, has the smartest keyboard out there, and rarely experiences any downtime.

For example, the interface displays both the SD and HD canvas side by side, making it easier for graphic artists to compare projects and ensure the same text and consistent look in both formats. The interface also allows for preset font styles, and the speed and direction of motion can be dynamically changed.

The technology exists now to deliver HD with the recall speed producers and directors have come to expect from their SD predecessors.

- Hugh Grew, Graphic Designer

A Creative Canvas

The advantages of using a Deko system over a PowerPoint presentation extend beyond more complex, eye-catching productions. The Deko system also makes it easier to incorporate last-second changes thanks to live, editable text and image layouts. When you update information the whole sequence is updated, says Wells. In PowerPoint, if you change something, you need to make a number of changes and rebuild the animation.

With more upfront presentations relying on the Deko system, Wells says the chance to work on non-televised video graphics projects is a breath of fresh air. We're used to building five-second graphics that are confined to the lower-third of the screen, says Wells. But for this we had the complete screen as our canvas.

Making that process even more enjoyable were the new features found in the latest Deko 3000 system, such as Motion Behaviors that add dynamic effect properties to graphics, including bounce, brighten, wave, and dim, and QuickTime support for greater effects compatibility with other devices. From an engineering standpoint it's much more stable than the Deko 2, and that's important in a rental market where the unit is constantly going into and out of cases, says Wells. It's also more reliable than any of the competing systems.

Among the top functions is the ability to flip a switch and work in either SD or HD. We used to need to keep an HD 3000 unit around and it would sit in the corner, says Wells. But now that isn’t necessary.

When Grew builds projects in native HD, Deko does the rest via software. It simultaneously provides two SD channels, both with fill and key, and two HD channels with fill and key, he says. A big reason for the move from SD to HD graphic creation is the processing power. I've used the HD Deko the past couple of years on both the Oscar and Grammy shows with amazing success, says Grew. And, yes, it has been a matter of processing power to get 'lift off' on HD.

Fontastics/Mighty Dots also relies on an Avid Symphony Nitris system for production work. Wells says its high-quality features make it the equivalent of the Deko system in the editing world, providing both HD and SD editing capabilities and, like Deko, an industry-standard interface that everyone knows. We were able to take it out of the box and put it to work on the Daytime Emmy Awards, says Wells. The Fontastics team used the system for all of the editing and graphics compositing for the live show. On projects such as these, the Deko system's easy interoperability with the Symphony Nitris system, using features such as Make DekoMovie for sharing rendered Deko effects with the Avid DS Nitris system, provides a convenient and streamlined workflow for creating the company's graphics-intensive pieces.

For Grew the Deko advantage is simple: The technology exists now to deliver HD with the recall speed producers and directors have come to expect from their SD predecessors.

*CREDIT: Courtesy of Fontastics/Mighty Dots