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Multimedia: Preparing for Take Off

From the QuickTimeForum, March/April, 1993

In Tay Vaughan's book Multimedia:Making it Work, every word rings with years of experience. The excerpts and preflight checklist on these pages, sampled with publisher permission from Vaughan's thorough plan for successful multimedia projects, are but a tiny fraction of what this book offers on the topic.

Consider Leonardo Da Vinci, the Renaissance man who was scientist, architect, builder, creative designer, craftsman, and poet folded into one. Similarly multimedia developers need a diverse range of skills to produce good multimedia.

If you intend to do it all yourself, you will need detailed knowledge of computers, text, graphic arts, sound, and video. But producing multimedia requires more than creativity and high technology. To be done right, a multimedia project needs organizing and business talent as well. Issues of ownership and copyright will be attached to some elements that you wish to use: text from books, scanned images from magazines, audio and video clips. These require permission and often payment of a fee to the owner. Indeed, the management and production infrastructure of a multimedia project may be as intense and complicated as the technology and creative skills required to render it.

To produce complex multimedia projects, artists and computer craftspeople are often assembled in teams with experienced managers and tasks are delegated to those most skilled and competent in their particular discipline.

Stages of a Project

Most multimedia projects must be undertaken in stages. Some stages must be completed before other stages begin, and some stages may be skipped or combined. Here are the five basic stages in a multimedia project:

1. Idea Processing: Begin with an idea or a need that you refine by outlining its messages and objectives. Identify how you will make each message and objective work within your authoring system. Plan what writing skills, graphic art, music, video, and other multi-media expertise will be required. Develop a creative graphic look and feel, as well as a structure and navigation system that will let the viewer visit the messages and content.

2. Planning: Estimate the time needed to do all elements, and prepare a budget. Work up a short prototype or proof-of-concept.

3. Production: Perform each the swampy edges of the planned tasks to create a finished product. available elements are not enough, then you need to examine the cost of enhancing the delivery platform, and balance those results against your purpose and resources. You should also list the skills and software capabilities available to you. This list will not be as limiting as the hardware list, because you can budget for new software and

4. Testing: Always test your multimedia programs. of your own

5. Delivering: Package and deliver the project to the end user. expertise.

Ideas with Balance

The important thing to keep in mind during the idea-processing stage is balance. Your plan will be in balance if you have considered and weighed all the proper elements as you processed your ideas. Keep in mind the following:

• What is the essence of what you want to accomplish? What is your purpose and message?

• What multimedia elements (text, sounds, and visuals) will best deliver your message?

• Do you have existing material that can be included in your presentation, such as videotape, music, documents, photographs, logos, advertisements, marketing packages, and other artwork?

• Is your idea derived from an existing theme that will be enhanced with multimedia, or are you creating something totally new?

• What hardware is available for development of your project? Is it enough?

• How much and what kind of data storage media will you have for your presentation? How much do you need?

• What hardware will be available to your clients and the viewers of the project?

• What multimedia authoring software is available to you.

• What are your capabilities and skills with both the software and the hardware? Can you do it alone? Who can help you?

• How much time do you have?

• How much money do you have?

Treat your multimedia idea as a business venture. As you visualize in your mind's eye what you want to accomplish, balance the project's profit potential against the investment of effort and resources required to make it happen.

The hardware available to you is the most common limiting factor for realizing a multimedia idea. Begin by listing the hardware capabilities of the end user's computer platform (not necessarily the platform on which you will develop the project). If the available elements are not enough, then you need to examine the cost of enhancing the delivery platform, and balance those results against your purpose and resources.

You should also list the skills and software capabilities available to you. This list will not be as limiting as the hardware list, because you can budget for new software and for the learning curve (or consultant fees) required to make use of it. Indeed, software requirements are usually related only to development of the project, not its delivery, and should not be a cost or learning burden passed on to end users or clients.


Your idea processing should result in a detailed and balanced plan of action, usually in the form of a production schedule or timetable. From this timetable, you can estimate costs, and can segue naturally into the production stage later as you partition your idea into component parts.

Planning for multimedia projects is like cellular fission: the big picture of your idea is divided into production phases and then divided again into smaller and more manageable tasks and items spread over a given amount of time. These are the building blocks of project management. It is, of course, easiest to plan a project using the experience you have accumulated in similar past projects. Over time, you can maintain and improve your multimedia planning format like a batch of sourdough starter. Just keep adding a little rye and water every time you do a project, and the starter for your next job gets a bit more potent as your estimates become tempered by experience.

Software such as Claris's MacProject and Microsoft's Project can be useful tools for arranging the many tasks, work items, employee resources, and costs required of your multimedia project. These tools provide the added benefit of built-in analysis to help you stay within your schedule and budget during the rendering of the project itself. In the long term these products more than pay for themselves, but, be forewarned, they may be difficult to learn and to use effectively.

CPM (Critical Path Method) scheduling functions calculate the total duration of a project based upon each identified task, earmarking tasks that are critical and that, if lengthened, will result in a delay in project completion. Program Evaluation Review Technique (PERT) charts provide graphic representations of task relationships, showing what tasks must be completed before others can commence. Gantt charts depict all the tasks along a time line.

Pilot Projects

In some cases it may be advisable to incorporate a proof-of-concept or pilot project phase. During this phase you can test ideas, mock up interfaces, exercise the hardware platform, and develop a sense about where the alligators live. These alligators are typically found in the swampy edges of your own expertise, in the dark recesses of software platforms that almost-but-not-quite perform as advertised, and in your misjudgment of the effort required for various tasks. The alligators will appear unexpectedly behind you and nip at your ankles, unless you explore the terrain a little before you start out.

As part of your delivery at the end of the pilot phase, reassess your estimate of the tasks required and the cost. Prepare a written report and analysis. This is also the proper time to develop a revised and detailed project plan for the client. It allows the client some flexibility and provides a reality check for you. At this point you can also finalize your budget and payment schedule for the continuation of the project.

Scheduling Tasks and Personnel

Scheduling of multimedia projects can be very difficult, even for the experienced, because so much of the multimedia creation process is artistic trial and error. When you have worked out a plan that encompasses the phases, tasks, and work items required to complete your project, you need to layout these elements along a time line. To do this, estimate the total time required for each task and then allocate this time among the number of persons who will be collectively working on the project. And remember that the client will need to approve or sign off on your work at various stages. This approval process takes its own slice of time, and may result in revisions to your submitted work.

Again, the notion of balance is important: If you can distribute the required hours and tasks among several good people, completion should take proportionally less time.

What to Charge for Multimedia

Making multimedia is not a repetitive manufacturing process. Rather, it is by its very nature a continuous research and development effort characterized by creative trial and error. Each new project is somewhat different from the last, and each may require application of many different tools and solutions.

In the area of professional services, let's consider some typical costs in the advertising community. Production of a storyboard for a 30-second commercial spot costs about $50,000. Postproduction editing time in a professional video studio runs upwards of $500 per hour. An hour of professional acting talent costs $350 or more at union scale. The emerging multimedia industry, on the other hand, does not have a track record long enough to have produced "going rates" for its services.

A self-guided tour distributed with a software product, for example, may cost $15,000 for one client and $150,000 for another, depending upon the tour's length and polish. A short original musical clip may cost $50 or $500, based on the talent used and the nature of the music. A graphical menu screen might take two or 20 hours to develop, depending on its complexity and the graphic art talent applied. Without available going ra tes for segments of work or entire projects, you must estimate the costs of your multimedia project by analyzing the tasks that it comprises and the people who build it.

Typical billing rates for multimedia production companies range from $55 to $170 an hour, depending upon the work being done and the person doing it. If consultants or Specialists are employed on a project the billing rate can go much higher.

Be sure you include the hidden costs of administration and management. It takes time to speak with clients on the telephone, to write progress reports, and to mail invoices. In addition, there may be many people in your work force who represent specialized skills, for example, a graphic artist, musician, instructional designer, and writer. In this case, you'll need to include a little extra buffer of time and expense in your estimate, to pay for these artists' participation in project meetings and creative sessions.

Tay's Preflight Checklist

Before you take off on your multimedia project, it's important to do a preflight check of your development hardware and software, and review your organizational and administrative setup. This is a serious last-minute task. It will reduce the likelihood that you will find yourself half way through a project with graphics files and digitized movies but a shortage of disk space. It will help you make sure you aren't stuck with an incompatible version of a critical software tool, or with a network that bogs down and quits every two days. Such incidents can take many days or weeks to resolve, so try to head off as many potential problems as you can before you begin.

▢ Baggage: SECURED
Desk and mind clear of obstructions?

▢ Weight & Center of Gravity: COMPUTED
Fastest CPU and RAM you can afford?

▢ Aircraft Papers: IN ORDER
Time accounting and management system in place?

▢ Maps and Charts: CHECKED
Biggest (or most) monitors you can afford?

▢ Cabin Door: LOCKED
Sufficient disk storage space for all work files?

▢ Seat Belts: SECURED
System for regular backup of critical files?

▢ Crew Seats: ADJUSTED
System for naming your working files and managing source documents?

▢ Parking Brake: SET
Latest version of your primary authoring software?

▢ Altimeter: SET
Latest versions of software tools and accessories?

▢ Controls: RESPONSE
Communication pathways open with client?

▢ Oxygen Pressure: CHECKED
Breathing room for administrative tasks?

▢ Fuel Valves: ON
Financial arrangements secure (retainer in the bank)?

▢ Circuit Breakers: CHECKED
Expertise lined up for all stages of the project?

▢ Switches: OFF
Kick-off meeting completed?