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Bob LeVitus

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

In the early 1980s, I was putting in 70-hour weeks at a Los Angeles advertising agency, producing print, radio, and television commercials for a wide variety of clients. I'm a born perfectionist, and I wanted every ad I worked on to be just right. But that wasn't how advertising worked back then: because everything cost so much, a lot of what we created was, at best, mediocre.

And even mediocrity wasn't cheap. For print ads and brochures, we first had to specify and purchase camera-ready type, which cost hundreds (or thousands) of dollars per page. A graphic artist would then cut this type into smaller pieces and glue those pieces onto a piece of board -- a mechanical. If the piece included graphics, another specialist had to resize and screen the pictures for printing -- at significant cost, of course. Finally, the finished board would be photographed and processed.

Then, in 1984, the Mac came along and changed everything. It wasn't long before anyone could create typeset pages with nothing more than a Mac, a LaserWriter, and a copy of Aldus PageMaker. Making changes took minutes (or seconds), rather than hours (or days), and cost nothing.

Even more exciting to me is the similar revolution now occurring in video production. In the 1970s and 1980s, when I was producing television commercials full-time, a broadcast-quality video camera cost $100,000 or more, and operating that camera required at least one skilled technician. Building a state-of-the-art video-editing facility (a postproduction suite) could set you back seven figures. Even if you rented everything, you were looking at hundreds of dollars an hour, with a one-minute television commercial needing 10, 20, 30, or more hours of postproduction.

Obviously, average people twenty years ago couldn't dream of editing video, because they couldn't afford the highly specialized equipment and skilled technicians.

Things have sure changed. These days, every Mac includes a copy of iMovie, which lets you do more with your video -- titles, transitions, special effects, and audio -- than a million-dollar postproduction suite allowed in the old days.

Meanwhile, DV camcorders that can record video suitable for broadcasting have dropped in price and can now be had for less than $500. With one of those and your Mac, you've got a video studio that can do most of what used to take a room full of equipment and engineers.

In its first 20 years, the Mac has totally democratized print and video production; Mac users can turn out high-quality pages and broadcast-quality movies without leaving their desks. I can't even imagine what I'll be able to produce on my Mac 20 years from now, but whatever it may be, I can't wait.

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