A British Force in Digital Imaging

by John Henshall

Jeff Meadows of Quantel with John Henshall of EPIcentre chat about old times at the BBC

Jeff Meadows of Quantel with John Henshall of EPIcentre

It is late one evening in 1963. The final strains of the national anthem have died away and the black and white screen has faded to black. The BBC's only television service has closed down for another night.

Time to turn off the television and head for dreamland? Maybe, though not for a small band of pioneers in Studio H at Lime Grove in Shepherd's Bush. For them the dream of television in full colour is already a reality and they are standing by to transmit in colour to a favoured few who have test receivers at home. Anyone can receive the transmissions, testing the contending colour systems, though few can see them in colour.

Among the pioneers working in Studio H at that time was a bright young engineer and a keen young cameraman. You see them at the top of this page as they are today: Jeff Meadows and yours truly.

After a long spell working in the USA, Jeff Meadows returned to the United Kingdom to be Managing Director of Sony Broadcast, later moving on to become MD of Quantel.

Below: Digitising motion picture frames -
a view into the Domino scanner.

A view into the Domino scanner.Quantised television - digital television images - are the two words from which Quantel is derived. Founded in the early 1970s, the first products enabled television pictures to be flown around the screen. Next came the famous Quantel Paintbox®, the digital graphic design studio which soon became a household name, changing for ever the design of television graphics. Later, the Graphic Paintbox brought the same facilities to photographers and designers who require extremely high resolution retouching and manipulation for large-format images used on the printed page and billboard. Alongside Barco Creator, Crosfield Mamba and Kodak Premier, Graphic Paintbox is a high-end product for high-end images. This month's cover photograph, by Paul Wenham Clarke, is one of many to use Quantel Paintbox and was supplied to The Photographer sampled down from the original 400Mb file, which was suitable for writing back to 8 x 10 inch transparency.

The Graphic Paintbox brought Quantel squarely into the world of photography and printing, a presence broadened by the introduction of Printbox in 1993. Printbox adds Quantel's expertise in speed and workflow to the field of PostScript pre-press. It is a true multi-tasking page makeup environment, where any operation -  scanning, manipulation, text, pictures and layout - can be carried on simultaneously, without bottleneck.

Quantel modular PaintboxThe Domino Lab

Left: Quantel Paintbox Options - a modular Paintbox which enables users to build their sytem part by part. Compared with desktop computers, this equipment works at the speed of light. Equipment such as this is used to give that special look to programme titles, adverts, station idents and graphics such as the weather on your television every day.
Right: The Domino Lab, with film scanner on left and film writer on right.

The launch of Domino in 1993 took Quantel into Digital Opticals for Movies. Frames are digitised using a Quantel scanner, using Oxberry mechanics, to be worked on in the digital environment before being written back to motion picture film, or directly output to high definition or conventional television. 'UK LA' is a recent project which combined, restored and colour matched 270 clips from a century of British movies using Domino.

Damaged frame from 'Taxi'

A frame from a sequence in 'Taxi' - with a tear through Danny de Vito.

Frame repaired using Domino from Quantel

The same frame after repair using Quantel Domino.

Showing the wire used to pull the truck over

Shot after some Digital Magic

A special effects shot from the new movie 'Blown Away'. As shot, (top) we can see the wire used to pull the vehicle over in the explosion. After a little Digital Magic using Domino, (below) the wire has vanished from the frame.

Quantel is ideally placed at the important strategic crossroads of film, graphics, photography, printing and television. Among many awards are eight Queen's Awards and five Emmies. One of the few major British photographic manufacturers, there is no doubt that Quantel will feature prominently as still photography merges with other imaging crafts. No other company has Quantel's breadth of experience in digital image manipulation.

Death on the Nile

Frames from 'UK LA' restored using Quantel Domino. Top: Peter Ustinov in 'Death on the Nile'. Below: 'Scott of the Antarctic'

Scott of the Antarctic

Quantel's research and development laboratory is full of bright young pioneers. Like their boss, Jeff Meadows, at the BBC in the early 'sixties, they are working to bring the most creative and cost-effective digital colour to our images in real time - whether they be in the form of print, transparency, motion picture film, television or on the printed page.

This report first appeared as "John Henshall's Chip Shop" in "The Photographer" magazine October 1994.
This document is Copyright © 1996 John Henshall. All rights reserved.
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