Monday, July 6, 2009

Digital Diesels - Volume 1

Port Townsend, today. So who are these people and what are they smiling about? Well, that is my late wife Patti, and yours truly.

We are smiling about the unveiling of a couple of new screen savers at a train show in Puyallup Washington.

Following the shuttering of my video production company in Vancouver in the late ‘80’s, I floundered around trying to redefine myself, while the attorneys fed off my savings. I needed something immediate, low start up cost, and within my ability to produce, including graphic art, layout, advertising, and direct mail.

All factors considered, I decided to start a new company, Electric Book, Inc., and produce computer screen savers!

The plan was flawless. Gather all my locomotive slides and photographs into groups of 20 or 30 slides; make screen savers, which were the rage in those days, and launch a new business with a fantastic margin, huge audience and new career!

Once the plan was developed and a computer screen saver authoring program selected, the next step was to select the pictures. They of course had to be shot by me to avoid any potential copyright litigation. They had to be properly exposed, well composed, and require minimal manipulation. And, I had to have enough information about each photo to provide a decent description, so that the end user could really enjoy the presentation.

While I am not in the same league as O. Winston Link, or Richard Steinheimer, or Alfred Eisenstadt, I have never considered myself a hack photographer.

But after a few hours pouring over the light table, scrutinizing each photo with a magnifying glass, a sort of panic began to set it. The reject pile grew higher and higher; the acceptance pile was minimal! For the first time in my life, I was beginning to come to grips with the frightening realization that I may indeed be hack photographer!

[Ed Note: Somewhere along this timeline, my sister, knowing that I was not a hack photographer, asked me to shoot her wedding photos. She introduced me to the wedding party as her brother who was a photographer at Freightliner; a great photographer.

No problemento!

Well I was deeply concerned when I got the prints back, some two or three rolls. All the frames were ½ photos – perfectly exposed left hand side with the right half of the print pure black!

On the verge of hyperventilating, I hurried back to the processor, and demanded they reprint my film. Obviously the dunderheads had screwed up my shoot. Finally, a technician came over to me with a hand full of the dreadful prints, and asked me a mind-numbing but very profound question: “So, Mr. McDonald, what synchronization setting were you using on the flash?”

Weeks later, my sister and Mom began calling asking for the prints, while I began exploring how much a one-way ticket to Thailand would cost.]

I finally managed to find a couple of dozen photos and slides for what would become "Digital Diesels – Volume 1." (Think this is funny? I challenge you to sit down one afternoon and go through your photo collection, and come up with one or two dozen photos that really stand up to honest scrutiny! It can be a sobering experience!)

Rounding out the project, I created all the required graphics, ad copy, disk labels, purchased a high speed floppy disk copy machine, Visa credit card processing package, and did a massive mailing to every darned hobby shop in the country, announcing "Digital Diesels - Volume 1."

“Digital Diesels – Volume 1” was launched at the Great American Train Show, October 28 and 29th 1995, at the Western Washington Fairgrounds, in Puyallup, Washington. Featuring full color photos with documentation, adjustable transitions and timing between slides and an offer to create a personalized screen saver using your photographs for an amazingly low price!

It shipped on two 3 1/4" floppies (I presented 800 x 600 pixel x 300 dpi photos) required Windows 3.1 and above, at least a 386 processor, and 256 color VGA. Sorry! Available for IBM Windows only!

We advertised in both “Trains” and “Model Railroader” magazines late 1995 – early 1996. That in itself was a thrill, to see an advertisement that I had created, featuring a product I had created, in a magazine I had been subscribing to for a hundred years!

It is an immutable truth that it takes money to make money. Before we got really rolling with the product, a series of life altering experiences hit 1-2-3, which ended the project forever. And I moved into the major league, that of learning the programming required to produce an Interactive Computer Based Training program.

But that's another story, another time.

There never was a “Digital Diesels – Volume II.”

1 Comments - Click here:

Eric said...

Thanks for the 80's flashback Robert. Reminds me of a Brad Paisley song about that decade.

Your challenge about putting one's photos up to honest scrutiny is so true. That's where blogging is great. An editor of a magazine has many hundreds of photos to choose from, whereas on my blog, I am the editor. Combining a narrative with the photos in blog format is empowering, and visitors to our blogs seem to agree. The photos may not (or may) be publication-quality, but they are of interest to more people than we may think.

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