Infographics and Creative Problem Solving
Ten years ago, shortly after the attacks on 9-11, the U.S. military was poised to go into Afghanistan. Newsweek, where I worked as Graphics Director, decided to do a story on new, cutting-edge technologies the Department of Defense had developed to kill human beings and destroy their war machines and we would produce a graphic to accompany it. At a minimum, the graphic might have been a simple list, but we were asked to fill up an entire spread (two pages). Initially, I started doing a fairly simple two-page, gridded layout consisting of boxed in images provided by the Department of Defense with captions under them, something I could easily do in a day, so our five-day week was mapping out to seem pretty easy!
But Newsweek 3D artist Kevin Hand would have none of that. Looking over my shoulder as I worked, he said, “Karl, we have to put all this stuff on a battlefield!” and I knew he was right. A top editor had recently begun asking more and more about graphics, “Karl, you’re going give us video games this time, right?” meaning three-dimensional, you-are-there realism, a look he strongly felt the readers wanted and something Time magazine was doing regularly.
Below are a series of images that illustrate the sequence of how this complex graphic came together in a matter of days:
Armed with a list that our department’s national and international news reporter, Karen Yourish, had provided (content first, always) I sketched out Kevin’s battlefield using Google images I had pulled up on my screen for reference and leaving space to add text blocks.
All of the weapons and the battle scene itself would have to be created in 3D and Adobe Photoshop. But humans generally look like stiff mannequins when generated on computers, so I decided to photograph a real person in the photo studio based on my drawing. We purchased a military uniform from an Army surplus store and rented an M-16, which someone, I don’t recall who, carried from downtown to midtown Manhattan in a duffle bag on the subway. It’s barrel had been clogged with cement, but still, just image what it might be like carrying that thing hoping no one discovered it!
I decided it would be fun to wear the uniform around Newsweek while showing AME for Design, Lynn Staley, the graphic. Who knew whether she liked it. I don’t think she even notice the drawing for some reason ;)
Ditto Jon Meacham, the Managing Editor, and National News Editor, Tom Watson, who seemed to appreciate the laugh. With tight deadlines and stress, it’s important to keep the serious level down a bit once in awhile.
My friend Peter O’Brien showed up for a lunch date, which I had forgotten about, so I talked him into wearing the uniform for the shoot in Newsweek’s photo studio.
I posed Peter as close to the positions in my sketches as possible. The shoot went quickly because the digital camera was connected directly to a Mac which showed the image on its monitor almost instantly. In the old days of photo shoots, negatives had to be developed and contact sheets made before you saw what you got. Here, I’d tell Peter, “Turn just a little bit to your right.” Shoot. “A little more…”
This image shows the progression from sketch, to studio pose with a mail tube to the final image. Kevin Hand drew the bazooka in a 3D drawing program called Lightwave, imported it and the photo of Peter into Photoshop, cut out the mail tube and then slide in the bazooka.
While I was in the photo studio Kevin Hand started drawing the jet plane and other 3D weaponry. Love the Apple monitor!
Tonia Cowan drew all the bombs as well as other elements. Drawing in 3D is extremely time consuming.
One of Tonia’s bombs, the JDAM, which Wikipedia describes: “The JDAM is not a stand alone weapon, rather it is a “bolt-on” guidance package that converts unguided gravity bombs into Precision-Guided Munitions, or PGMs.”
After the photo shoot I scanned my drawing and popped it into Quark Xpress (like InDesign) and began setting in text blocks and popping in bombs, planes and other elements as Kevin and Tonia finished them. While waiting, I spent hours carefully silhouetting the photos of Peter (cutting him out of the background) in Photoshop and popping him into the Quark layout to make sure they would work.
As soon as I was satisfied with the text placement I passed the layout over to Karen Yourish who began writing the graphic. Karen made us all sound really smart :)
While all this was all going on, artist Stanford Kay was using Adobe Illustrator to draw how each bomb worked based on research Karen had provided.
Once I had all of the elements placed properly in the rough Quark layout Kevin, an amazing artist, took a screenshot of it, pulled it into Photoshop and used it as a template to build the final image. He built the landscape (grasses, dirt, etc.) from pieces of images he found on the web.
Tonia getting in the spirit. Such a talented department. I was lucky to work with them.
The final Photoshop image.
The final image with text and Stan’s Illustrator bomb drawings. The editors were very pleased with this, but it trivializes war, making it look fun, like a video game. In the old days before computers could do this sort of thing, I would have just watercolored and inked my original drawing and added labels, which would have been less sensational. Still, I love how this looks.
—Karl Gude, 2012