Network: High-tech angels over Edinburgh

How I took the opportunity to display the power of digital images. By Hannah Gal
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DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY has transformed not only the way art is produced, but also the way it is viewed and exhibited. The old rules of print, original and copy are gone and, thanks to the Internet's global powers, we are no longer bound by gallery wall space and layout. A digital image can be displayed on a computer or video screen with no restrictions on time, size or place.

That was precisely the thinking behind Adobe Systems' involvement with the Edinburgh Festival. In association with the Premiere Digital Film Festival 1.0, it is showing a series of digitally produced work by a variety of leading creative groups and artists at this year's inaugural Festival Revue.

This multimedia showcase for the performing arts, visual arts, music, film and video is presented on two large (15m-wide) video screens placed at the heart of the festival in the Ross Open Air Amphitheatre, in Princes Street Gardens. Using cable and Internet transmission, it also takes the Edinburgh Festival imagery to the rest of the world.

For Adobe, this was an opportunity to share the fruits of art packages such as Photoshop, After Effects and Premiere with the world, in what its marketing director, Ricky Liversidge, calls "the most innovative work currently being produced by up-and-coming young digital designers and film producers". The Edinburgh public benefits from a free event that projects artistic works in the open air, away from the contrived environment of a gallery.

For a participating digital artist such as myself, this was a chance to exhibit on a massive scale and reach unsuspecting festival viewers. It was also a unique opportunity to spread the word of digital art, and educate people whose perception of modern creativity is somewhat detached from real life and computer technology. I saw the huge screen as the perfect instrument to convey the previously unimaginable fusion of painting, photography, animation and film that is now a working reality. This is where my three Edinburgh minutes come in.

Concentrating on the creative process itself, Adobe asked me to produce "an image with a difference". The idea was to create a step-by-step guide to the creation of the image, recording as many stages as possible; I ended up with more than 600 steps. This great number of steps later allowed the creation of a full animation film chronicling the uninterrupted evolutionary journey of the image. Although only three minutes long, the film needed to be "eventful", and even surprising in parts, to keep the Edinburgh festival crowds occupied. The huge screen meant that attention to detail was the key.

Working on a Mac using Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects and MetaCreations' Painter, I saved each and every effect, filter or scan applied. Every brush stroke needed to be stopped a half, third or tenth of the way, and saved as a new step. To my system's relief, the required file size was a tiny 768 by 568 pixels, abiding by the video screen format.

My personal theme for the image was angels, and it was important to take advantage of any methods and materials I saw fit - analogue or digital. Drawing, oil paints, traditional and digital photography were all thrown into the melting-pot that is Photoshop. I started off with a scan of a black-and-white print and ended up with a colourful scene showing angels guarding a newborn baby.

For the creation of the angels, I opted for a fair-haired girl as the inspiration and photographed her in colour. Using normal negative film, and with the angelic flight pose in mind, I chose a dancer who was photographed in many "heavenly" positions. The resulting prints were scanned into Photoshop, and angel wings drawn and painted.

The angels were further manipulated in the same application, the file saved and opened in Painter. There, I used the Image Hose (a Painter feature that lets you spray an image endless times) for the rocky base, using the stone nozzle. The same tool was used for the clouds, using the cloud nozzle. For a richer, more colourful canvas, flowers were added from yet another digital source, a royalty-free disk.

The collage I ended up with consisted of a staggering 58 Photoshop layers, keeping each and every flower, angel, pair of wings, cloud and black-and- white figures separate. Looking at the final image, I felt that the angels should be watching over the most precious and needy of protection. I scanned in an original B&W print of a baby and, in Photoshop, placed it in the protecting motherly arms of the main angel.

The many hundreds of JPEG files were put together into an animation film detailing the creative process from start to finish. Adobe After Effects and Premiere added motion and moving effects to the film. To complete the picture, and enhance the digital experience further, an original music score was commissioned to accompany the imagery. Further illustrating "digital power", the music too was produced on a Mac using Cubase VST without a recording studio in sight. Instruments and voices were recorded directly on to the computer. Footage of the artist at work was shot with a digital video-camera and the Fast video-editing software put documentary, creative footage and music together.

The final film is part of Adobe's half-hour showcase, projecting films daily for the duration of the festival. It presents the computer as a great conductor, with the power to fuse not only past and present art, but also different practices altogether. It brings together a massive orchestra of painting, design, illustration and photography, playing in harmony with music, animation and film.

The Festival Revue website is at http:/www.festivalrevue.com

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