In the late 1960s, General Electric Co. introduced a computerized graphic system that could simulate the tricky docking maneuvers that astronauts would have to perform in space. They called it Genigraphics.
It was a revolutionary system that could create a multitude of three-dimensional images on a screen. But as NASA began cutting back on manned space missions, the future of such a system was doubtful.
Enter Roy Fell, a communications and advertising man from Detroit. Fell convinced GE that its system could be adapted for commercial use -- specifically to design and manufacture slides. In 1974, Fell purchased a General Electric Genigraphics system and proceeded to build a $4-million-a-year company around it.
The company, Creative Technologies Inc., is now the largest producer of computer-created 35mm slides. Using the Genigraphics technology, the company produces high-quality color slides in a fraction of the time it would take using conventional methods and at a lower cost.
Creative Technologies is at the forefront of a $2-billion-a-year industry, and Fell intends to keep it there.
The firm has 80 employes at its new corporate headquarters in Annandale. In addition, there are offices in Morristown, N.J., and Troy, Mich., as well as a "Slide Terminal," a 24-hour, walk-in outlet for quick, overnight service located on Vermont Avenue NW. Two similar facilities are scheduled to open soon in Dallas and Philadelphia. Fell expects these operations to top $15 million in sales by 1983.
"The need in industry for slides is getting bigger," Fell said. "The Washington area has a crying need for low-cost, high-quality slides."
The history of the mass slide business began in 1962 when Kodak introduced its Carousel slide projector. More and more companies came to rely on the impact of slides for sales meetings, shareholders meetings, promotional campaigns and other presentations.
But while the means for projection became more and more sophisticated the method of producing slides remained slow and costly.
With Genigraphics, a technician can take a storyboard for a slide and turn out a finished product in 15 minutes or less.
CTI has two Genigraphics systems. Stored in each are 3,000 symbols that can be retrieved with the push of a button. The symbols, everything from maps to company logos, make it possible to spice up otherwise dull statistical data. Once the symbol and accompanying text or numbers appear on the color monitor, an operator moves a cursor -- rearranging, enlarging or reducing images, selecting and changing colors, changing type size -- until the desired effect is achieved.
Special effects that would involve the layering of several images in conventional slide production are easily accomplished with the computer. Words can be made to appear as if they were sweeping out the sky. Brilliant sunsets can be created in seconds from the 8 million colors available in the system.
Once the slide has been electronically composed, the information is transformed via a film recorder into scan lines which are then photographed.
Another time-saving feature of the system is that slides can be stored on computer discs and called up quickly for updating or revision.
Because many companies need slides at a moments notice, CTI's offices are open seven days a week, 24 hours a day. On a busy weekend, the company will turn out 2,000 slides, Fell said.
CTI's list of corporate clients has grown from 30 to 800 and includes the likes of IBM. Texaco, AT&T, Comsat, Marriott and Boeing. The orders range from one to 5,000 slides, and the price of a slide can be anywhere from $12 to $250, depending on how sophisticated a design is required.
For a meeting of its managers, Chevrolet wanted a slide show with a football theme. So CTI used photographs of various football players and inserted the faces of the Chevrolet managers. "They loved it," Fell said.
The company also does work for a number of nonprofit groups. It recently completed production of a slide presentation for the Wolf Trap Farm Park Foundation, which needed a lively, colorful show for a fund raising campaign.
Now CTI is moving into different areas of this nascent industry. In June, the company will begin delivery of a new, low-cost computer-slide production system called Artis that was developed by a subsidiary. Colored Terminal International of Detroit. Fifteen firms already have ordered the system, whose $12,500 price tag is more affordable than the $350,000 to $400,000 that General Electric wants for the Genigraphics system.
Ironically, CTI is now in competition with General Electric, which is into the slide-production business itself.
CTI is also poised to enter the international market. The company is negotiating a joint venture with a Swiss firm, which will represent Artis in Europe.
While computer-generated slides are at the heart of CTI's business, the Annandale facility also employs 15 conventional artists to produce annual report covers, brochures and advertisements. "Computer slides aren't always the answer," Fell said.
Another facet of CTI is the production of short, sophisticated 16mm animated films. Using a computer controlled 16mm motion picture camera, scanning a transparency, a static image is made to appear in motion.
"We want to get ahead of the market and stay ahead," Fell said. "The company is not standing still.We took Genigraphics and pushed it to its limit."