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Making Multimedia from an Idea

Presentation by Tay Vaughan
13th Multimedia and CBT Conferences and Exhibition
Palais des Congrès
Porte Maillot, Paris 17, FRANCE
12 January, 1994


Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to Paris and to the third day of the 13th Multimedia and CBT Conferences and Exhibition. It is always a challenge to be the first speaker of a long day. In the coming minutes, I shall compete for your attention -- against your slow-running body clock, last night's Pernod, and the lasting effects of jet-lag or, perhaps even more destructive, against the toxic residue of your commute into the City this morning from Boulogne.


This morning I wish to talk about how to make multimedia out of an idea. About how you can apply this New Art Form and this New Literature to the real world. I will talk about the steps required to develop a multimedia project, from concept to delivery.


There is an unstoppable revolution underway, made possible by technology: the way humans access and learn information (and the nature of the information itself) is evolving as a synthesis far more complex and powerful than the liberation of the printed word that occured 500 years ago. That last revolution in the way humans access information, led by Gutenberg, Aldus, and others, yielded powerful and long-lasting changes, many of which certainly exceeded the imaginations of that day. Twenty years from now, we will be amazed by the tangible results of our own multimedia revolution. Who can predict the social, economic, and cultural ricochet? What, indeed, will the results of our work yield in a hundred years, or four hundred? Someone among us, here in this room, may become multimedia's Gutenberg, a creative and engineering talent who will truly alter the human condition!

What is Multimedia? Multimedia is an eerie wail as two cat's eyes appear on a dark screen. It's the red rose that dissolves into a little girl's face when you press "Valentine's Day."


Multimedia is a catalog of fancy gift items, and a guide to help you buy one. Multimedia is a real-time video conference with three colleagues in Paris, London, and Hong Kong on your office computer. At home, multimedia is an algebra or geography lesson for a young student. At the arcade, it's goggle-faced kids flying fighter planes in sweaty virtual reality.


Multimedia is any combination of text, graphic art, sound, animation, and video delivered to you by computer or other electronic means. It is richly-presented sensation. When you weave together the sensual elements of multimedia - dazzling pictures and animations, engaging sounds, compelling video clips, and raw textual information searched and retrieved - you can electrify the thought and action centers of people's minds. When you give them interactive control of the process, they can be enchanted. Multimedia excites eyes, ears, fingertips, and, most importantly, your head.


You need hardware, software, and good ideas to make multimedia. To make GOOD multimedia, you need talent and skill.

What skills are required to make multimedia?

A recent study in the United States reported that physicians, dentists, and computer scientists share highest honors for the most respected professions. Are multimedia developers computer scientists? Or are they programmers, graphic artists, musicians, animators, storyboard craftspeople, instructional designers, and/or Renaissance authors?


Video producers become expert with computer-generated animations and MIDI controls for their edit suites. Architects become bored with two-dimensional drafting and create three-space animated walk-throughs. Classical painters learn the electronic elements of red, green, and blue and create fantastic computer-based artwork. A multimedia developer might be any or all of these and typically fits no traditional management information systems mold; many have never seen a line of COBOL code or booted up an IBM 3090 mainframe.


Leonardo DaVinci, the Renaissance man, was scientist, architect, builder, creative designer, craftsman, and poet folded into one. To produce good multimedia, you will need a similar diverse range of skills -- detailed knowledge of computers, text, graphic arts, sound, and video.


These skills, the multimedia skillset, may be available in a single individual, but more likely from a composite of a few or many individuals working as a team. Complex multimedia projects are, indeed, often assembled by teams of artists and computer craftspeople. Many job titles and collaborative team roles for multimedia development are being adapted from a mix of motion picture industry and computer software industry experiences.

A multimedia team usually consists of:

• Project Managers • Multimedia Information Designers, including Graphic designers Illustrators Animators Image processing specialists Instructional designers & Interface designers • Writers • Video Specialists • Audio Specialists • Multimedia Programmers


If you are new to multimedia and are facing a major investment in hardware and software, and the investment of time to learn each new tool, take a gradual approach. Begin by studying each element of multimedia and learning one or more tools for creating and editing that element. Get to know how to use text and fonts, how to make and edit colorful graphic images and animate them into movies, and how to record and edit digital sound. Read the books and computer trade periodicals that contain the most up-to-date information. Your skills will be most valuable if you develop a broad foundation of knowledge about each of the basic elements.


Producing a multimedia project requires more than creative skill and high technology. You need 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 - your team may also need professional legal advice. Indeed, the management and production infrastructure of a multimedia project may be as intense and complicated as the technology and creative skills you bring to bear in rendering it.

How do you make multimedia?


The five basic stages in building a multimedia project are idea processing, planning, production, testing, and delivering. Some developers claim these stages should be called calm, chop, storm, chaos, and deliverance.

---- Idea Processing ----

Let's talk about Idea Processing.


A multimedia project always begins with an idea or a need that you refine by outlining your desired messages and objectives. Identify how you will make each message and objective work within your authoring system. Before you begin developing, plan what writing skills, graphic art, music, video, and other multimedia 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. The most precious asset you can bring to the multimedia workshop is your creativity. It's what separates run-of-the-mill and "underwhelming" multimedia from compelling, engaging, and award-winning product, whether for a short sales presentation viewed solely by colleagues within your firm or for a full-blown CD-ROM title.


Choosing your subject matter, then determining how a user will interact with and navigate through the content requires great attention to the message, the scripting or storyboarding, the artwork, and the programming. You can break an entire project with a badly designed interface. You can also break a project with inadequate or inaccurate content.

In making multimedia today, there is a lot of room for creative risk-taking because the rules for what works and what doesn't work are still being empirically discovered; there are few known formulas for the success of multimedia. Indeed, companies that produce a terrific multimedia title are usually rewarded in the marketplace. Then competitors quickly reverse engineer the product, and six months later "knock-offs" using similar successful approaches and techniques appear on the market.


Even the best-selling Just Grandma and Me from Brøderbund is an extension of techniques used in an earlier successful HyperCard children's game, Cosmic Osmo...


which in turn was based on experiments with interactive virtual desktops in HyperCard.


An excellent multimedia title recently developed here in Paris by Arboresence, Peter's Numbers Adventure, goes beyond Grandma and Me.


While many developers are searching for the "VisiCalc of Multimedia," or the holy grail, it may well be that no single multimedia project or trick will be the breakthrough INVENTION that VisiCalc's spreadsheets provided during the early days of the PC: users bought computer systems just so they could use that software! It is likely that multimedia will be gradually improved and made more powerful in incremental steps, by INNOVATION, where developers build upon existing technologies, ideas, and approaches. This is the basic nature of change.

To successfully reduce your ideas to practice, you must be familiar with what is possible and not possible in the realm of multimedia; familiar with what is limited and unlimited by both hardware and software. Indeed, you will find it is difficult to stay informed and keep up with the frothy leading edge of the multimedia wave.

-------- Planning --------


Once you have your ideas formulated, you need to be sure you have enough money, time, and talent to pull it off.

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.

Estimate the time needed to do all elements, and prepare a budget. Work up a short prototype or proof-of-concept to give you a reality-check.

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 manageable tasks are the building blocks of project management.


One of the problems you face is that making multimedia is not a repetitive manufacturing process, like making cookies or auto parts, where you can stamp out piece after piece. Rather, multimedia 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. The first time you accomplish a multimedia task, it will demand great effort as you learn the software and hardware tools and the techniques required. The second time you do a similar task, you will already know where the tools are and how they work, and the task will require less effort. You should be profitable by the third time you perform a task.

-------- Production --------


Once you have your idea fleshed out and have budgeted and planned how you will get it done, you can begin the production stage.

Production is the phase when your multimedia project is actually rendered. During this phase you will contend with important and continuing organizing tasks. There will be times in a complex project when graphics files seem to disappear from the server, when you forget to send or cannot produce milestone progress reports, when your voice talent gets lost on the way to the recording studio, or when your hard disk crashes.


Multimedia elements are typically sewn together into a project using authoring tools. These software tools are designed to manage individual multimedia elements and provide user interaction. Images, sounds and movies are usually created with editing tools dedicated to these media, and then the elements are imported into the authoring system for playback.


The sum of what gets played back is the human interface, and this interface is just as much the rules for what happens to the user's input as it is the actual graphics on the screen. The hardware and software that govern the limits of what can happen here are the multimedia platform or environment.

For many multimedia developers, following the plan and actually doing the construction work--being down in the trenches of hands-on creation and production--is the fun part of any project.


HyperCard, SuperCard, Macromedia Director, ToolBook, and other commonly used authoring platforms may allow access to the software programming code or script that drives your particular project. In such an open-code environment, are you prepared to let others see your programming work? Is your code neat and commented? Perhaps your mother cautioned you to wear clean underwear in case you were suddenly among strangers in a hospital emergency room--well, apply this rule to your code. You can insert a copyright statement in your project that clearly (and legally) designates the code as your intellectual property, but the code, tricks, and programming techniques remain accessible for study, learning, and tweaking by others.

-------- Testing --------


Always test your multimedia programs. If they lock up or glitch out, user's will condemn your project before it gets off the ground.

Test it, then test it again; that's the unavoidable rule. Do this before the work is finalized and released for public or client consumption. A bad reputation earned by premature product release can destroy an otherwise excellent piece of work representing thousands of hours of effort. If you need to, delay the release of the work to be sure that it is as good as possible. It's critical that you take the time to thoroughly exercise your project and fix both big and little problems; in the end, you will save yourself a great deal of agony!


One of the major difficulties you face in testing the operation of your multimedia project is that its performance depends on specific hardware and system configurations. If you cannot control the end user's platform, or if the project is designed to be shown in many different environments, you must fully test your project on as many platforms as possible. Remember to budget for obtaining the hardware test platforms, as well as for the many hours of effort the testing will require!

-------- Delivering --------


As you move through the testing process toward a final release, you may want to use terms that indicate the current version status of your project: bronze when you are close to being finished, gold when you have determined there is nothing left to change or correct and are ready to reproduce copies from your golden master. Some software developers also use the term release candidate (with a version number) as they continue to refine the product and approach a golden master. Going gold, or announcing that the job is finished and then shipping, can be a scary thing. Indeed, if you examine the file creation time and date for many software programs, you will discover that many went gold at two o'clock in the morning!


In the multimedia world today, delivering to the consumer channel is the least understood stage of the multimedia process. In fact, for PUBLISHING multimedia, a different team of people with different skillsets is usually employed.

Yesterday, Hal Josephson talked about "Establishing a Consumer Multimedia Marketplace," Rod Baptie spoke about "Marketing Multimedia Across International Boundaries," and Doug Millison led a roundtable to discuss "The Major Players' Strategy and Market Evolution." Our next speaker, Bud Colligan, will provide some insight into "Technologies for Multimedia Publishing."

Clearly, the marketplace will drive the success of high-visibility multimedia projects. Consumers will pay real money for good works, whether on CD-ROM, from a centrally-served 500-channel television system, or from an international data highway. With real money in hand, developers will then create even more and improved material... and the leading edge of the multimedia wave will move forward. This is the nature of the multimedia revolution.

Thank you.