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Harry Marks is considered by many to be the godfather of broadcast design. More than any other individual, he changed television by doing things with graphics that had never been attempted before. Not only did he pioneer the use of emerging imaging technologies, but he did so with style and reason. His pioneering work in the field of CGI brought him into collaboration with many other industry pioneers, including Douglas Trumbull, Robert Abel, Carl Rosendahl (whose company evolved into DreamWorks Animation), and Dale Herigstad. In the early '80s, Harry had the idea of bringing together people who work in the disparate fields of technology, entertainment, and design, so he partnered with Richard Saul Wurman and the TED Conference was born. This installment of Creative Inspirations takes viewers on a historic journey through the extraordinary career of Harry Marks.
Harry Marks: My parents took me to the movies twice a week, but that meant four movies a week because they were always double features. And a stage show. I mean, this was from the age of five, and I really grew to love movies, and I loved all the peripherals things around the movies. I loved the trailers, loved the trailers. It was my favorite part really. I loved movie titles, even when I was a little kid and I used to make my own movies.
My dad made me an opaque projector and I used to get under the dinning room table with a tablecloth and have little movie shows of my own. I think that loving films and loving music and loving-- coming to love typography really fixed me up for the television job. It was perfect. The reason I got the call from ABC was that when I was married, my wife worked at an art studio, and there was an Art Director there, Randy Grohowski, and we became very good friends and then he got an offer to go to ABC, he got an offer.
His job was Vice President of On- Air Promotion, so he was the ad guy, the on-air ad guy for ABC. He was appalled. At the quality of writing. At the way they looked on the air. I mean, they weren't even color yet. They were partially colored. He called me about the way they looked on the air and he said, you know, I know your work. It's not that exciting, but it's informationally very organized and I think you could do a lot to help us look better on the air.
I wanted to show you how broadcast graphics were when I came into this. Well, not exactly. I mean this is a little before I came into it, but it wasn't much better. We have to realize that we're looking at a major television network. I mean this is -- I think it's NBC and the Republican National Convention, and if you think of how they posted the results a few months ago, take a look at this. I mean, this is really stunning.
(Male Speaker: There are other ways of expressing visually of just what is happening a few moments ago.) (Male Speaker: All of them in line say, yes we agree, we fall in line with the decision.) (Male Speaker: Vandenberg, Mac Arthur, Stassen, Warren, Baldwin and Taft.) (Male Speaker: Fairly, simply, completely, and wholly, it's Tom Dewey of New York, Governor of New York,) (Male Speaker: the nominee for President of the United States of the Republican Party...) Now, I slowed this down a little bit, because I really felt that maybe you'd be better off if you learn to do this, better than going into broadcast graphics, you could work in Vegas.
Little slight of hand. So I went there and what I found was there was this group of writers, a group of film editors, and Randy, the Vice President. I don't know what Randy told them about who was coming in, but I think he probably said something about cleaning up the way we look on the air. The reception was incredibly hostile. They didn't want me there. They didn't like me. They didn't want me there. They didn't understand what I was trying to do.
It was as much of a disappointment to me as it was to Randy, I think. Then, after about four months of this, he just up and quit. He said "I can't do this anymore. I'm going back to YNR in San Francisco." I felt totally stranded. I didn't know what to do, because now I had this whole staff turning on me. So I had dinner one night with one of the talent agents that represented one of the announcers that we used and he just gave me a lecture. I mean, he gave me this. "Just go in and ask for his job," he said. Go and ask for it. I said, "I don't know anything about his job." And he said, "Well, neither do they. So just go in and ask." So I asked and they said okay. That was kind of the beginning of taking on things that I really didn't know how to do, but figured out how to do them my way.
And that was-- that's what I did. I did what I thought I would like to see. I was much more graphically oriented than word oriented. I was much more interested in film editing than just chopping shots together that were meaningless. I was much more interested in music. So what had fallen in my lap was a convergence of all the things I loved. I mean music, film, and graphics.
I was in heaven. I hired all of the hot young writers and designers I could find. We had an incredible group and we started making some waves.
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