Pat's View: Harry and me
By Patrick Robinson
What do I have in common with Prince Harry?
Actually almost nothing but that being said I do have an interesting story to tell that involves his name.
In 1982 the newspapers were looking for new horizons and we began an exploration of technology. We were among the first to use Modems..(modulator demodulator) devices that would allow people to call a number and press a button to vote in a poll.
Then from there we partnered with a wonderful artist named Gus Gosanko and tried to develop an actual TV Listings Channel with advertising and yes even a timer and a way to skip the ads just as you see now on YouTube. That potential service reached the point of a demo tape we built, based on what was called Telidon from Vancouver BC. It was a text and graphics system that scrolled information and we based our concept on it.
But at the time the cable company had no channel space (imagine that) and we were forced to abandon the project.
Along the way however we encountered something on a video tape that was called the Quantel Digital Paint Box, made by a very innovative British company.
At $150,000 this was no toy.
But it was an incredible breakthrough device that allowed the creation of genuine paint style graphics for video. It used what was called a Summagraphics tablet and a pen. We did a survey of Seattle advertising agencies and got a very enthusiastic response. It looked extremely promising. So we struck an agreement with the photography studio of Dudley, Hardin and Yang and rented out the front of their building, later building out two editing suites on the second floor.
Artronix Northwest was born.
These were beautiful rooms, painted deep forest green and with nice couches, steps with bee lights, and good speakers for ambience. Almost immediately we got national attention. We had also purchased a device called the Dunn Image Scanner that would let us take still frames from video and copy them to slides for use in print. It caused us to do business with every TV network, hundreds of ad agencies, and channels like MTV, Showtime HBO and others. It also got us attention with those people and we were growing fast, doing about $50,000 a month in 1985.
We had found out that the name we were using had been copyrighted, seriously, one day before we launched. So we had to rename the company and came up with Digital Post & Graphics. With a new name, and more employees we hoped to expand.
That meant looking at the next step and Quantel, was on a roll. They had invented a device called the Mirage which took the video signal and could make it follow any geometry in real time. If you wanted your video to appear in a rotating ball and bounce around, it could do it. But that specialized tool was too much for our needs, so we looked at buying something a bit less called the Encore that would permit flying screens, graphics and other effects. Just as we were considering that device we got a special invitation from Quantel.
They asked us to attend a Technology Preview, limited to a very few people in their hotel suite at the Las Vegas Hilton during the National Association of Broadcasters show.
They told us almost nothing about it but promised we would be “beyond impressed.”
We made our way to the show and saw the early Pixar editing system, the Bosch FGS-4000 that had been used to create the “Money for Nothing” video by Dire Straits and something called HDTV (high definition television), only on two screens but it was all cutting edge, amazing stuff.
Then the word came. We were to get wristbands, and be at the hotel suite at 1:30 pm. Walking over I was filled with excitement. This is going to sound pretty prosaic based on what we can do now, but we walked in and on a simple table was a large TV monitor in front of a set of mauve curtains. They greeted us and after a brief preamble they said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, meet the Quantel Harry”
Yes, it was named after the new born Prince Harry, daughter of Charles and Diana Windsor.
On the screen were what appeared to be three vertical film strips. Then the artist running the system did something amazing. He “cut” the video on screen and “pasted” it into another clip. People gasped. This was the beginning of what is called non-linear video editing. Up until then video was editing, I kid you not, with punch tapes that told machines when to switch tape sources and just before that, by literally cutting the video tape and then splicing it back together. Editors would work with directors to make rough edit decision lists, then a rough edit would be done before the final edit was performed from the master video tapes. It was slow, arduous and very costly.
Harry offered amazing speed, and better yet, was digital so no quality was lost. It was limited to 90 seconds total and had to be kept in a refrigerated room but it was incredible. The system used four, 440 megabyte multi headed Winchester hard drives to accomplish its digital wizardry.
We bought the Encore and the Harry and installed them in 1986. They cost $450,000 together.
Incredibly we had been talking with an audio production company at the time too. They elected to move in downstairs with a device called they Synclavier which was among the first digital sampling devices and offered a huge range of capability.
By late 1986 we had installed all the gear and became the very first all digital production facility on the planet. Today of course, literally all this and much more can be done on a device you carry in your pocket. Knowing that, should give you some sense of how things can change. We sold the company in 1988.
In the process though I went on to win two Emmy Awards, we did work for MTV, NBC Sports plus many others and more importantly to me, learned what it meant to live on the very cutting edge.