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Advanced Graphics for PowerPoint

See Also: Office FX

Author: Mike Wilson

Date Created: August 23rd 2006
Last Updated: June 14th 2012

Mike WilsonMike Wilson is a founder and VP of Business Development at Instant Effects, Inc. in Santa Barbara, CA. He has been involved with the design, development, marketing, and support of interactive 3D graphics software for over 20 years, serving customers in film, broadcast, and video game markets. At Instant Effects, he and his partners bring their expertise in advanced graphics to a new base of users. They are working to make the extraordinary progress that has recently occurred in computer graphics technology accessible and valuable to business media professionals.

Mike’s primary role at Instant Effects is as customer liaison. He provides support on both use and customization of the company’s products and injects user input into their development direction and priorities.

Customer requirements
The Evolution of Advanced Computer Graphics
Software Solutions
What can be accomplished

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If you have been backstage at just about any corporate event these days, you will have noticed the impressive array of audio visual (AV) technology and personnel that’s assembled. It’s all there to assure that the speakers are able to drive their points using a variety of media types in a manner that makes the audience say, “Wow!”  Anyone in the presentation business will be familiar with the setup. While there can be much more complexity, at a minimum it will be something like this:

  • Rear projection display systems (means the projectors are behind the screen and project their content in reverse so that it reads properly from the front) deliver a variety of media to screens that increasingly are run at high resolution and wide aspect formats.  
  • Multiple AV specialists assemble and operate computers, video decks, switchers, and even special purpose event compositing systems.  
  • An event director may be used to “call the show”, determining what media source is going to the screen at any one time.

A typical backstage setup for a large scale event might look something like this (below). In the foreground are computer monitors for speaker support (PowerPoint) content.  The background shows racks of video monitors, decks, and switchers.

Advance Graphics - Introduction
Picture -- Geetesh Bajaj

So how simple does that seem?  And no surprise – it’s also not cheap.

This article will discuss how advances in computer graphics can be used to reduce the complexity and expense of producing these kinds of integrated media presentations, making them accessible to just about anyone who knows PowerPoint and has a modern PC. It will also introduce ways for injecting a more professional look to your PowerPoint content.


Customer requirements

Event production customers are always demanding but these days they see the way information is presented on TV and want the same dynamic and integrated look. Here are the kinds of requests we hear that challenge standard business graphics and event production solutions.  Customers are asking for:

  • A sophisticated and branded look that includes subtle motion backgrounds. Often the specific request is, “make it NOT look like PowerPoint”.
  • Inclusion of their corporate video in more interesting ways, with some of it as high quality full screen cut away content, and some of it as “windowed” material that’s combined with other speaker support content – like what you commonly see now on broadcast news shows.
  • Access to new wide screen formats like 720p (1280x720) or even 1080i (1920x1080).

Of course they want you to deliver all of this on a tight budget that really precludes hiring a platoon of AV operators, and naturally they reserve the right to make changes right up until show time.

How do advances in computer graphics technologies enable this seemingly impossible set of requests?  In short – by putting the entire solution onto one standard PC running the latest graphics display hardware; authoring and editing it with the familiar workflow of PowerPoint®; and delivering it with a PowerPoint plug-in called OfficeFX® Professional.  More on that in a moment, first some background on what’s changed in computer graphics hardware that enables this consolidation.


The Evolution of Advanced Computer Graphics

Over the past 5 years a genuine revolution has occurred in the display capabilities of 3D computer graphics hardware. Those advances have been largely driven by your kids and their video games, but don’t let that fool you. The industry they’ve spawned is huge - now pushing $10 billion per year, and the scale of R&D investment associated with feeding it has been unprecedented. Literally billions of dollars have gone into creating commodity priced graphics hardware that is capable of displaying movie quality 3D content and video effects in real time, at very high resolution, and at super high frame rates. But that’s only half the story...


Software Solutions

IIn order to make this new display horsepower relevant to the presentation market, what’s required is software that business graphics professionals can use. In that regard there is a list of criteria that should be met for any product that hopes to fundamentally change the way event graphics are created and delivered. Some of those criteria will be familiar to all presentation professionals. Others anticipate the presentation technology of the future. Here’s a list. See if you agree that such products should:

  • Work with the software and tools that business graphics professionals use today. This will assure a smoother transition and leverage media production skills you already have.
  • Provide highly efficient editing workflow to enable development of complex presentations while simultaneously facilitating last minute changes. In a real production environment changes are made “fast and furious”. Long wait states for simple edits are just not tolerable.
  • Integrate the various types of content that are commonly used in corporate events into a single display and delivery system. In the new world of convergent media, this should include interactive and animated 3D scenes as well as video, audio, images, charts, graphs, and text.
  • Supply a wide variety of dynamic looks and options, but also provide an open platform which allows for customization by users so that company brands, marks, and colors can be incorporated.
  • Allow for sharing the resulting presentations with others – some who may not yet have access to the latest advanced graphics hardware.
  • Adapt easily to new widescreen projection formats like 720p and even 1080i.
  • Take full advantage of current graphics hardware but also be architected for pending advances in core system capability.
  • Be reliable and have a track record of success with very large presentations and high profile events.


What can be accomplished

Assume for the moment that a software solution with the above attributes exists. What could you accomplish with it? Why would a presentation professional or creative services company want to adopt such technology? To answer these questions simply look back to what event customers are asking for, with particular focus on budget. What does it cost to create and deliver a dynamic look that drives brand impact for your customers in events that includes their corporate video material? What do you pay to set up and operate the video gear and switchers? And finally, how much time is spent managing the logistics of all that? 

Now consider a solution where everything is delivered from a single computer – perhaps even a notebook. There is no setup expense for extra AV equipment and personnel. Just plug into the projector and audio system and go. What would you save on every event you produced in that more streamlined fashion?

What if the same solution allowed you to add full motion backgrounds that picked up your customer’s corporate colors and marks and deliver a broadcast television look, but do so from within PowerPoint in a manner that allowed you to change your content, layout, animation, slide masters, etc. in seconds.

How about video integration? Of course you’ll need to include high quality full screen playback, but what if you could transition to it in innovative new ways that tied it more closely into the flow of the overall presentation, or annotate it with PowerPoint content over the top? Or for visual interest and impact perhaps include it as streaming texture onto the screen of an animating 3D object like a cell phone, a laptop computer, or perhaps with just a subtle picture in picture (PIP) view with a soft edged matte.

With this sort of system, what can be accomplished is a dramatic step forward in the integration of media, coherence of design, and visual richness of what you produce, all at a fraction of the cost that’s required to deliver a standard corporate event today.

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