Why do editors insist on writing so much? If they'd simply cut their stories down to a few pithy captions, the magazine could look a lot better. There'd be more room for big colorful pictures and clever headline treatments. Then we wouldn't have to read so much either. Isn't that what everyone really wants?
Even as art director, I can't escape hearing about how great the writing is in ED. For example, Mary Ellen Mingst, a devoted ED reader and member of the community theatre BC Players in New Jersey, regularly rings up to let me know how amused she was by David Johnson's latest editorial, or how she agrees that the Tony Awards "should recognize achievement in sound; - how can they ignore it? - and isn't the oversight shocking." Well Mom, I mean Mrs. Mingst, what did you think about that feature layout, or the cover design?
"A bit dark, wasn't it?"
The fact is, it was a bit dark. There are a number of challenges we face in trying to present a visually appealing magazine that still serves to illustrate and support the stories our editors write:
Source materials: We cover the most extraordinary achievements in entertainment design - Hollywood epics, amazing Broadway shows, spectacular themed environments - and yet, it's not unusual for us to receive a stack of snapshots that would've been disappointing if they were meant to record your kid's birthday party, let alone a multimillion-dollar entertainment extravaganza. When we cover a film project, for example, it's not Mel Gibson's mug that we want to see, but more likely the set he's running around on. However, capturing the process of creating sets, designing and building costumes, and other behind-the-scenes activities tend to be recorded with less urgency than the captivating stars.
Computer Images: We'll often receive images to accompany a story via email, usually "jpegs." These computer images are appropriate to post on a website, and might look fine on your home page. But if you try to print them, what you'll end up with is muck. In spite of this, when nothing else is available we might hope that a bit of trickery in Photoshop will make everything all right. Still, there's only so much retouching you can do before that picture becomes a painting.
Photographing theatre is a huge challenge as well. A performer lighted for a performance is dramatically different than a performer as he or she would be lighted for a portrait. In photographs of theatre productions, you may have noticed the players are often "blown out," their features almost impossible to read. Again, you'll certainly find glorious photos of the stars in ad campaigns, but the budget allotted for advertising doesn't generally include shots of costumes, sets, and the actual production - exactly the things we want to explore in our pages.
Fortunately, ED publishes work by some of the best photographers in the business, and their work is truly extraordinary. However, reproducing these photos in our magazine is another challenge.
The printing process can effect reproduction quality. The porous, matte finish of the paper stock we currently use has benefits, yet dark theatre and concert shots often suffer as a result. The heavy ink coverage required ends up looking muddy or we get a lot of "show-through," which means it bleeds to the other side of the page.
In an effort to address some of these issues, we've initiated some changes. We've switched to a new printing process that better maintains midtones. We've also been testing alternative paper stock options. This will have a big impact on the quality of the reproduction as well.
And, there are some things the designers and technicians we cover in our pages can do to help us look our best:
I call upon you to record your work. Having a portfolio that's easy to view and communicates what you do is always an asset. Unfortunately, it's easy not to do this. Meeting deadline, caught up in the project, simply getting the job done, doesn't leave much time to consider recording your work. But it's worth it, especially if you're going to be a hit in your Entertainment Design profile.
For us, slides remain the best way to view and reproduce work. Images professionally recorded onto CD are excellent as well. The professional CD burning process duplicates your images at various resolution sizes, and will include a miniature visual catalog of the work. Large prints with crisp images are the next best option.
Problems generally result from emailed images, "jpegs," and other digital files that don't include a range of resolution sizes. But beyond that, the real problem is I too read the stories in Entertainment Design; I can't help it. As a result, I know what I'd like to see accompany the articles, and sometimes that means that the grizzly little snapshot of the foamcore scale model of a set really is more compelling than good ol' Mr. Gibson flying through the air propelled by a pyrotechnic explosion, snazzy as that might look.
If magazine art directors had their way, most publications would be about as text-heavy as Dick and Jane books, and for some that might be an improvement. But I'm afraid I have to agree with ED subscribers: I want to keep on reading. So, I'll continue doing whatever I can to frame those words as best I can.