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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.
Lynda Weinman: Hello, I'm Lynda Weinman of Lynda.com, very honored to be here today with my dear friend, Harry Marks. Harry, thank you so much for joining us. Harry Marks: I'm honored to be here. Thank you. Lynda Weinman: Well, we're honored to have you as well. You've had such an illustrious career and we're so grateful that you're sharing a lot of it with us. I was curious, what you think about design today, and if you think anything has evolved or changed in terms of the trends that you see on television today or on the Internet today or just wherever you see broadcast graphics? Harry Marks: Well, we're in the age of the very short cut. It seems to move terribly quickly to me. Too fast to read sometimes. It's just a different way of approaching entertainment. Very loud, and very cubby and swoopy and whatever.
Lynda Weinman: Information overload. Harry Marks: Definitely, absolutely. Lynda Weinman: What I'm curious about is how do you see design? Where do you think that broadcast design started when you got in the business, and what sorts of changes did you observe as you got involved in, and what do you think? I know you pioneered a lot of techniques, but can you describe what it was that changed in those days? Harry Marks: There were only three of us doing it when I got into it. There were three networks and three people that had departments that did this.
I think that the biggest change was giving the screen depth. Opening up the screen so that you weren't really looking at a 13, 15-inch tube, but you were looking through a porthole, and there was a much bigger world out there. I think that was the big change and I think it just touched off a whole new way of delivering information in a much more entertaining way, besides opening up that porthole.
I think maybe one of the problems today is the equipment, broadcast equipment, computer equipment, is so sophisticated and the software is so sophisticated that people really want to sweep by core design values. They really feel that they can walk right in, start using the tools, and really not know why they're using them and how. I think I said before at one time that you really have to know some rules before you break them.
Lynda Weinman: What do you think the core rules are? Can you encapsulate them? Harry Marks: Well, I mean I would go back to my first job, which was as an apprentice book designer, where I learned about typography and I learned how to do everything that we did. With 17 fonts. That's all we had. You make whatever your vision is work as best you can with what you have available.
I think it also helps to have a very good mentor. The man I worked for was a very good designer. I mean he probably could have been 16th century designer, he was so organized. I think that I brought that with me to television, because I continued to be a book designer right up to 1966. It was half my career.
And fortunately somebody spotted it, I'm not sure how, and said, could you bring that-- could you put that on the air? So I came in with a whole set of teachings and rules and the things that you don't do, things that you -- letters that have to be kerned and line spaced and God knows what. Then if you get into a place where you say, well, I want to kern this a little differently, at least you know you're doing it. You're not doing it just to be trendy because you saw someone else do it, and I think we've got so much copycat stuff going on.
Lynda Weinman: Do you have any resources today that someone can turn to, in that, there probably aren't any mentors left like your mentor, but have you found any resources where designers today could learn about good typography? Harry Marks: Yeah, I mean, there are still schools. There are still -- you could go to Switzerland and really learn the hard way. But there are schools. There's RISD and Parsons School of Visual Arts. They all deal with typography.
Typography very recently seems to have become a lot more fashionable and there's a lot better typography, especially in movies. Some very, very interesting title work. So I think it's almost kind of a renaissance of good type, but I just wish they all weren't using the same type. Lynda Weinman: Where do you go for inspiration? Harry Marks: For inspiration, I like to kind of immerse myself in great design books.
I love to go to, there is a Japanese bookstore in San Francisco, in Japan Center, and they have unbelievable books in there. You can't read them, but the illustrations are fabulous. I'm very intrigued with Japanese art, Japanese design. I think it's funny and hip.
I find it pretty inspirational. In fact, I used to go to Tokyo just to get a charge, just walking around, because it's so different. But generally, I like to bathe myself in books and get in the mood. I think probably in essence we all draw on things that we've seen. In essence we're using some inspiration that we've learned somewhere, we don't know where, and then when we apply it to what we're doing, it gets to become an original piece.
It's not a copy anymore. It's just really an inspiration to get started. Lynda Weinman: Well, thank you, Harry, so much for coming and sharing your perspective and sharing this history with us. We're very grateful to you. Harry Marks: Well, it was very enjoyable, and thank you very much.
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