Hanna-Barbera, the noted animation studio that gave the world the Flintstones and Scooby-Doo, based in Hollywood, California and part of Turner Home Entertainment (THE) recently ran into a quality control/cost problem requiring a technology-based solution.
The problem was that every time an animation studio such as Hanna-Barbera develops a new cartoon character or series, it licenses the property to toy companies, apparel makers and other merchandisers. These licensees receive a style guide, a book featuring all the artwork associated with the cartoon series that can be used to create imagery for products. The artwork in the guides meets Hanna-Barbera's standards of how the character(s) can be depicted.
Though the style guides as currently produced serve their purpose, they have drawbacks. Because of four-color reproduction and a limited press run of only 1,000 copies, the guides are very expensive to print, averaging $150,000 per press run or $150 per copy. The cost of updating and reprinting the style guides, which average 200 to 300 pages, also is prohibitive. Quality control issues also arise in order to use the images in the style guide because licensees first have to electronically scan the printed images. Imagery could be compromised and sometimes didn't meet with Hanna-Barbera's final approval, resulting in delays in product development cycles. Also, licensees were demanding earlier delivery of the style guides. Toy companies, for example, needed about one year's lead time to meet production schedules.
For these reasons, Hanna-Barbera began looking for a new style guide format. Mike Schelske, Director of Business Operations for Orbit City Art Company, the consumer products support division for Hanna-Barbera, spearheaded the project to come up with a new style guide format for the Jonny Quest television series.
Since the majority of licensees Hanna-Barbera worked with were using Macintosh computers with built-in CD-ROM drives, and Hanna Barbera itself relied on Apple technology in its art departments, the idea of pursuing a CD-ROM approach created with Macintosh technology seemed most appropriate.
In order to get ideas for creating an easy-to-develop and easy-to-update CD-ROM-based style guide, Schelske and his MIS staff approached Apple Computer, Inc. for help. They learned about Apple Media Tool software, which makes development of multimedia titles easy. The visual authoring environment allows users to assemble graphics, text, sound files, QuickTime and QuickTime VR movies into multimedia programs without writing scripts or code.
Hanna-Barbera was also put in touch with Christopher Deppe of TSE International, a software development company. Deppe used his own proprietary technology, which involves a database engine and template system setup to create structure applications, and to ultimately create the CD-ROM master for the studio. The Digital StyleGuide (DSG), as it is called, was created in both a Macintosh and Windows format to suit the varying needs of the studio's licensees and is the first for the licensing industry.
Graphic designers at Hanna-Barbera used a Power Macintosh and Apple Media Tool software to lay out basic screens (the equivalent of pages) which displayed different types of content for Jonny Quest. >From there, designers were able to:
- Take the content which contained a variety of multimedia elements such as video clips, audio elements, 3-D images, black-and-white line art and situational art, icons, borders, and trademark information - Create the structure and databases behind it (comparable to a prototype) - Put it directly into the production system - Communicate to Deppe what was needed
Using Apple Media Tools and TSE's proprietary technology to create a CD-ROM format for style guides has saved the studio two-thirds of the printing costs of hard-copy guides. The cost of creating 1,000 Jonny Quest DSGs came to $50,000 compared to $150,000 for printing the book version. Because the TSE technology allows the basic structure of a Digital StyleGuide to be created and then reused again without incurring additional programming costs, Mike Schelske projects the cost of creating future DSGs to drop an additional 20 percent.
The rapid production time associated with developing a Digital StyleGuide gets it into the hands of a licensee up to eight weeks faster than the hard-copy guides. This pleases licensees eager to receive style guides as early as possible and enables Hanna-Barbera to take advantage of more licensing and promotional opportunities.
The digital approach to a style guide gives Hanna-Barbera greater quality control over how the material is used, and insures a quicker, smoother product development cycle for licensees. Images contained in the digital files are in a pre-scanned format, thus eliminating the need to resolve any scanning issues.
Based on the Digital StyleGuide's acceptance by licensees, Mike Schelske has future plans for the product. Taking his cue from the cyberspace adventures of Jonny Quest, Schelske would like the Digital StyleGuide to implement a "virtual style guide," using a network-based application on a server, allowing the studio to enter elements and make constant updates to images real-time. Licensees could even access the style guide from the Internet.
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