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Monday, January 2, 2012

Image Retouching

I have done my share of image retouching and adjustment, but, being in the industry, I have seen other people do the same, often to great effect. I will now tell a few stories of what I have actually seen. I just wish I still had the images!

Tom's Chipped Tooth

The earliest case of image retouching I can remember was in 1987, when Tom Hedges and I (who made up the partnership Fractal Software) were working on ImageStudio. Tom was working on scanner drivers and I was working on the main user interface, brushes, and things like floating selections, which were influenced by Bill Atkinson's MacPaint. Since Tom was working on scanners, he was the source of images we worked with. So some of the first images he worked with were of himself and his family back home in Kansas City. One was a nice smiling portrait of himself and another was of his mother Georgeanne, his brother Chris, and himself. His father had died some years earlier of ALS. Our marketing partner in those days was Letraset, and our product manager was Marla Milne. Marla had a bit of a prankster streak in her, and we thought that was good, because it went well with our senses of humor. Now, Tom had a chipped front tooth in those days and it was his visual signature when he smiled. So Marla, once she got ahold of Tom's images, took his chipped tooth and applied it to both his mother and his brother in the family portrait.
It was hilarious, diabolical, and irreverent, like something out of Mad Magazine!

She brought it to our tiny 660-square-foot office behind Piggy market (which its now the Palm Deli) in Aptos. OMG was Tom pissed when he saw it! I could barely contain myself and prevent myself from laughing when she showed me the picture. I wish I still had the picture, but I suspect Marla was clever enough to delete it once she saw Tom's response.

And I'll be damned if Tom didn't have that tooth fixed a week later.

Electric Paint

At Fractal Software, in 1989, once we got into the design and implementation of ColorStudio, we made some friends in Hollywood. One of those was a really smart Australian guy named Tony Redhead, who ran Electric Paint. Electric Paint was a Hollywood service bureau that did image retouching with Quantel Paintbox XL and it also had some video bays. Each room was set up with a specific design for the artist (on a lower level with a full-sized workstation and a humongous CRT, running the Quantel Paintbox XL) and the client (on a higher level and with a comfortable couch). The art director usually traveled between the two levels and managed the relationship. This was my first exposure to the artist/art director/client relationship. And Electric Paint played it perfectly.

Officially, I was working on a software connection from Quantel to ColorStudio, so files could be moved in and out and the advantages of both platforms could be used. Tony was big on that concept.

Once, I was ushered into the artist studio, and introduced to Marlo Bailey, who was a professional retoucher using the big Quantel box. On the screen was a picture of Paula Abdul that was to grace the front of a TV Guide. I was suitably impressed at the subtle and not-so-subtle work that was being done on the image. In particular, with a flick of keys, I could see Miss Abdul's rear end change from big to small. I found it to be hilarious: so this is what the Hollywood clients wanted.

I could just imagine a client in the couch above calmly asking, "could we make that ass smaller?". OMG!

The were telling me that it was even more interesting when one model was used for the body and the star's head was placed on top. They called it a head swap. Apparently this was done quite often.

Portrait Mix and Match at Fractal Design

John Derry was telling me one day in 1994 how funny it was to to head swaps and we got the idea of using a soft mask to move someone's face onto someone else's head. Of course Painter was up to the task and I got the idea of snapping a portrait of all the personnel at Fractal Design with an Apple QuickTake camera. We were careful to use the same lighting and face orientation for each person. We had a wonderful time swapping faces from person to person.

We also found that making the face 5-10% smaller or larger and recompositing it back onto the same face had the effect of creating an outrageous caricature. Good times!

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