Tuesday, November 5, 2002

Online animation at its finest

To some, the Internet is known as a great gathering of information for everyone to use and share. Of course, the rest of the world knows it's a way to kill an otherwise boring day. Well, I have found a new website to help us carry the fight: Homestarrunner.com is the newest weapon in the battle to stave off boredom.

When I first went there, I was amazed by the sheer amount of imagination and creativity inside. Behind the neat, but slightly annoying, Flash intro there seemed to be no end to the variety of entertaining material...from short movies and interactive cartoons to games and an animated home page with over a dozen themed variations. The site features a rich cast of hilarious characters – including the site's namesake, an armless simpleton named Homestarrunner – put in seemingly normal situations that, of course, go horribly awry.

I was surprised by how much the site had to offer. The cartoons vary across an amazing number of topics: holiday cartoons, an “old” silent movie, and an answering machine. There is a Halloween cartoon where the characters dress up in costumes from my childhood – the laughter caused internal bleeding. One series of cartoons, updated every Monday, is devoted to Strong Bad, one of the more sinister characters on the site, checking and replying to his email from fans. There's even a Halloween movie where you give the characters the worst possible treats and then listen to their commentary.

When thinking of what to write about this site, I jotted down a series of phrases to help me organize my thoughts. The only one I havn't used yet, and the one applies most, is “ingenious waste of time.” I have seen a lot of websites attempt to do what Homestarrunner.com does, but they pale in comparison. From design to story and execution, this site has so much going for it. I look forward to see what they do with it in the future. fb

Critical Issues in Print Series, 1: Digital vs. Offset Printing

Fight.Boredom recently sat down with local print guru Jeff Herndon, president and founder of the print brokerage firm Aurora Print Services. Jeff has over 20 years experience in the print industry and often works Cloudjammer on print projects.

Fight.Boredom: So let's get started with the big one...what is the big difference between an offset printer and your local copy shop?

Jeff Herndon: Digital printing is the difference. Copy shops, like Kinkos, use laser printers, large format inkjets, and color copiers (some of them high end, like the Docutext or the Indigo) and print straight from the computer. The print quality is good, but not great, and they are very limited on the selection of papers and weights. They're great for short run prints, but high-volume jobs are very expensive.

Offset printing is a whole other animal – and has come a long way in the last several years. Most offset printers now use direct to plate technology, instead of making and burning negative film and then processing the plate. The printing process uses a separate impression cylinder for each plate, or color, where the digital printers only use one. The quality so much surpasses digital printing I can’t imagine why anyone running a sufficient quantity uses anything else.

FB: The difference is really quite huge, then?

JH: It's like the difference between regular TV and HDTV – If you look at offset and digital prints separately the untrained eye probably won't see much of a difference, but if you look at them right next to each other than the difference is obvious. People don’t know and don’t see it until it's pointed out to them. They need to see it side by side…the difference is subtle, but enormous in quality. Digital can't touch that.

FB: I like where this is going. Down with Kinkos! Are there any other big differences between most offset and digital printers?

JH: The people running the equipment. Anyone can run a Xerox machine. The people who work in offset printing, though, apprentice for 3-4 years before they can become journeymen. There are special printing colleges and paper science schools, like the one at Georgia Tech. They learn how paper and printing works together and can tell you what problems will likely arise before you even get on press. Kinkos can't give you that. Their people are just trained to know a little bit about everything ...quality and fulfillment are not a big deal at most copy shops.

FB: So why would anyone take their project to a copy shop?

Cost, for one. Consider what goes into a 4-color brochure – full color. On a digital press, the first sheet through the press is just as good as the last sheet. And the color isn't terrible.

On an offset press, however, it's not as simple. Files need to be positioned on plates to print in a larger press format. it can take you up to an hour to pull good proofs for 4-color matching. Then you have to burn four separate color plates through the imagesetter and get them on press. You then use 14-15 feet of paper to make ready on press and another 300 sheets to set register, one color at a time. Colors have to be adjusted. You'll use a minimum of 500-600 sheets of paper to get a 100 copies of your brochure. The technology has come a long way, but you still need to have realistic expectations.

FB: Oh. I guess I have to take back my "Down with Kinkos." Is there anything a digital printer can't do that an offset printer can?

JH: They can't match PMS colors, for one, and they can't print metallic inks. No aqueous or varnish coatings to protect your paper. They normally can't print on coated sheets, either. And don't go to them for pocket folders. They'll tell you they can do them. Instead of die-cutting and folding a single sheet to create the pocket folder, though, they just tape prefab pockets to the inside of a 9" by 12" color copy. The biggest laser printers they have are just too small to run pocket folders as they should be done.

Offset printers can do all of these things. Foil-stamping, engraving, embossing, thermography. They can use aqueous to speed up the offset process by removing the drying time between runs. You can run varnishes as spot colors.

FB: Can the digital presses do anything an offset can't?

JH: Copy shops have their unique benefits, sure. They can run individual pieces, like a mailing, through an indigo or docutext with a database supplying unique information to each print. You can change your piece with each impress, with no additional setup. They can also run large format banners and electrostatic prints that can be ironed on or laminated for outdoor use.

FB: But you did say that digital printers were limited by their paper choices, right?

JH: They don't have nearly the variety to choose from that an offset printer has. Most digital printers can't run anything heavier than 65 pound stock – a very moderate card weight. Offset can run much heavier stuff. Your business cards, for instance, are 135 pound double ply. Some paper mills are now supplying 180 pound stock! And digital presses are limited in their bindery techniques on these papers, too – usually just saddle-stitch and tape binds in a lightly equipped finishing department. Offset jobs and conventional binderies can do a wide variety of binds. You can even make elaborate pieces that use many kinds of binding.

FB: Wow. That's a lot to digest. Any closing thoughts, Jeff?

JH: Digital and offset – they each have their advantages and disadvantages. For small run projects, digital can do great work, but if you're going to run anything over 100-200 copies, you probably need to go offset. And don't take pocket folders or presentation brochures to Kinkos. The quality just isn't there. It's the difference between going to Quik Trip and the grocery store. You have to weigh speed against quality and selection.

FB: Like those analogies, don't ya?

JH: Sorry about that….one of those things I inherited. fb

A Brand Battle Smack Down

I'll be honest...I don't really like wrestling. Gladiator combat, I could enjoy, but professional wrestling isn't my thing. But I do appreciate design, drama, and irony. For once, wrestling has served up all three.

It's the story of a wrestling organization called Titan Sports, Inc. They slowly made a name for themselves, and some of their superstar leotard-clad warriors, as the Worldwide Wrestling Federation, better known to you and me as the WWF.

And while Hulk Hogan and the Undertaker were promoting an increasingly popular WWF to legions of followers, another WWF was watching from ringside – The World Wildlife Fund.

The stage was set for a classic grudge-match.

The two organizations began fighting over the name "WWF" in 1989, ten years after the wrestlers adopted the moniker, almost thirty years after the environmentalists had. By 1993 the wildlife fund sued the wrestlers in Swiss court. A year later the parties came to a mutually amicable agreement: The wrestlers would cancel pending WWF trademark applications – they already controlled the US trademark – and restrict the use of the "WWF" mark in broadcast and print materials outside the United States.

For eight years the two groups settled. Then, like so often, the Internet came along and screwed up everything.

In 2001 the wildlife fund renewed the fray, claiming that the wrestlers had violated the 1994 agreement by continuing to use the "WWF" mark outside the United States and that their WWF.com website internationally dominated the fund website, PANDA.org.

This time there could be no compromise agreement – it was going to be an all-out trademark smack-down.

Tried in British courts, the wrestlers were found guilty of violating the existing agreement – the abbreviated logo violated the wildlife fund's trademark rights. Despite a temporary stay granted by the United Kingdom’s Court of Appeal, the High Court of Justice Chancery Division upheld the original decision.

Now the wrestlers faced a dilemma. "WWF" had enormous brand equity and recognition. How could they change their name, conforming with the court-ruling, and still hold on to their hard-built identity?

First, they set up WWE.com with a redirect from WWF.com (a little Web development company, World Wide Express, made a killing selling off their URL to the wrestlers). Second, they changed their name to World Wrestling Entertainment Inc, debuting the new logo on the May 6, 2002 episode of "Raw".

They then set about a five month plan to change their name. The WWE supplied new logo art to business partners, licensees and vendors. They also gradually changed the logo on broadcast media. Over two months their signature "scratch" logo – the contested letters "WWF" – metamorphosized. The "W's" nestled closer and closer together, the "F" becoming less and less prominent. Their slogan during the transition: "Get The 'F' Out." Classy.

Like good wrestlers, though, they've taken the fall and have turned it around to their advantage. The new WWE applauds its new name, bragging that it "provides us with a global identity that is distinct and unencumbered, which is critical to our U.S. and international growth plans."

It seems likely that the change would have been inevitable. With WWE stars like the Rock appearing more and more frequently in print and film media (as in the WWE-produced "The Scorpion King" and related History Channel programming) and with the company's foreign markets growing aggressively, it seems likely that a face-off with the WWF would have occured sooner-or-later. fb