I’m flying 35,000 feet above the mid-Atlantic, in a TWA 747 en route from London to San Francisco. My watch tells me it’s 4 AM and my body tells me I have eaten one too many airline dinners. This article I’m trying to write is a week late, I haven’t been home in three weeks and I look a mess, comes of living out of a suitcase… but, I LOVE IT! The reason for all this is very simple, in fact, it can be summed up in three words … Quantel Paint Box!

I bumped into this collection of computer chips, 1’s and 0’s, cables, and software on a sunny Australian morning, and literally nothing has been quite the same since. This is not to say that there was not life before the Paint Box, far from it. The start of it all was a scholarship to the South Australian School of Art, and a vague desire to be a great painter. One and a half years later I left, disillusioned by their institutionalism, but with a new found enthusiasm for the art of design.

What followed then was a crazy adventure, travelling through Australia and New Zealand, making leather sandals in Kings Cross and managing a ballet company in the outback of Western Australia; designing for plays in Christchurch, and chemist store windows in Melbourne; cooking chicken for the “Colonel,” and working backstage with London Festival Ballet. In fact, six months after the ballet had departed Australian shores, I was on my way to London, where they had a job waiting for me. It was, I thought, the catalyst I needed. However, two years later and heading for New York to pursue recognition as a photographer, I once again left a scattering of careers behind me. In New York, photography gave way to graphic design, graphic design gave way to survival. Two years and again on the move, this time heading home; my direction, a career in the blossoming film industry, or so I hoped.

Instead, to my surprise, I found myself working in television. It became clear to me it was the medium I had been looking for. In the highly competitive area of Network News I felt my imagination take wing, ideas flowed freely and I could see directions more clearly. At the earliest opportunity, I came back to America for a working holiday, met Gil Cowley at KCBS, and through him, the BDA, The experiences during this time cemented my desire to return and work in the United States.

Shortly after arriving back in Australia, I was offered a position as Art Director with a Network that was establishing a permanent News Graphics Department. It was during this period that I was a nominee in the Penguin Awards, and received an award for my News Graphic Design. My lot was one with many other designers until I ran headlong into the Paint Box.

What can I say?! It was the answer to every designer’s prayer. It looked good, it was fun to run, it even had Text Fonts and an unbelievable airbrush. I literally shoved my way through the crowd, watched for an hour, then sat down and proceeded to learn the Paint Box. They couldn’t keep me off it I brought my General Manager to see it, my News Director, my Head Engineer, anyone I could. I explained how the Paint Box would improve the quality and quantity of our graphics and Ralph Famligetta from NBC even sent telex’s about their application in New York. Their answer … a resounding “No” from management, a “Maybe” from news, and a “We’ll wait and see what comes out next year” from engineering.

I was fuming, I screamed, I pleaded, I begged, day in and day out for months to no avail. Our sister station in Brisbane took delivery of the first Paint Box in Australia, they sent me off to train them. I demonstrated to the Australian Broadcasting Commission, and they ordered the second one, but still, our management said NO.

Through all of this, I had been contacting various designers around the country to let them know of the Paint Box’s existence and had been in contact with Martin Holbrook, Quantel’s Art Director, to request demo tapes. He was aware of the frustration I was going through with my station’s management and early one morning, just before Christmas 1983, he called me from London and in his inimitable English accent, he said,

“We’ve got a bit of a job in the States with a Paint Box, are you interested? …”

A little over a year and a half have passed since that day, and in that time, I have seen the Paint Box go from “a nice toy,” as some have called it, to wnat is commonly accepted as the industry standard. The reason for its world wide acceptance is due, in part, to Quantel’s approach to the end user of its product, the “Designer.” By employing several designers on staff the research and development team have a better understanding of what we require from the Paint Box. A good example of this is “V4.”

V4 is the latest upgrade software and its success is crucial to the continuing popularity of the Paint Box. The machine is about to go through metamorphis, and its change must be a natural evolutionary one. The menu’s functions and tricks that made it work must carry through; the new options should change and greatly expand the capabilities of the Paint Box without destroying its character. To achieve this, Martin Holbrook, Pepper Howard, Richard Baine and myself met in the Art Department at Newbury, England with Robert and Paul, the software writers responsible for the Paint Box. Over the course of several days, we explained to them tricks we had found and wanted to keep, new ideas that we wanted incorporated and presented “wish lists” that designers from all over the world had given to us over the past year.

The experience was truly amazing – to be able to mould and shape the Paint Box was such a creative feeling. The menus, which to my mind were something fixed and unchangeable, suddenly became fluid. The little things that were more annoyances than obstacles were suddenly gone. “Wash” could be used with any of the graphic functions, “tack,” the ability to move unlimited numbers of cutouts at one time, became a reality. Grids that you could automatically see – instant overlays, and the list went on. What emerged was truly metamorphic, obviously different yet reassuringly familiar, echoing the involvement of artists and designers that has been the Paint Box’s trademark since its conception. Satisfied that things were heading in the right direction it was off to the Hair and Hounds for a pint of English bitter, or maybe two…

Suddenly the 747 dips its wing and the lights of the peninsula twinkle up at me through the fog ahead. And for me, a much needed week at home to look forward to.

Tony Redhead, MCI Quantel

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