Photoshop

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Julia Roberts and Christy Turlington retouched cosmetic ads have been banned in Britain.

Julia Roberts and Christy Turlington retouched cosmetic ads have been banned in Britain.

After a full week of the debt ceiling sideshow, I had an epiphany of what represents too much government and it comes from Europe, specifically the UK.  Here is where we don’t want the US to go, but it may be where we are headed if we keep ceding more power and responsibility to DC.

The Los Angeles Times reports this stupefying story from the world of advertising oversight — a bureaucracy called the British Advertising Standards Authority has just banned Lancome and Maybelline print ads featuring Julia Roberts and Christy Turlington because they are too heavily retouched. Where’s the evidence? Well, technically the ASA didn’t have any because Ms. Roberts’ contract with L’Oreal does not permit release of non-airbrushed photos (L’Oreal did not supply “before” photos of Ms. Turlington either). So, the government jury upheld the complaint. The article did not say who complained. A L’Oreal competitor? An ex of Ms. Roberts or Ms. Turlington? A bored ASA employee?

I find it incredible that a customer might have complained that Teint Miracle did not instantly convert her into a Julia Roberts lookalike circa Pretty Woman days. On the surface, this is all very amusing, but it is actually also incredibly insulting to Ms. Roberts and Ms. Turlington, as well as to the art director whose job it is improve upon raw photography through the digital tools of Photoshop, as well as to the British taxpayers who are funding the salaries and benefits of ASA employees.

Is there any way to quantify how much retouching is acceptable to the general public? Print or screen resolution, it still comes down to reproduction and presentation and what is appealing to the naked eye. Supposedly, Hollywood once smeared Vaseline on camera filters to achieve a softer hazy look when shooting older stars. Does anyone in government adequately understand Photoshop and its features (our earlier post on the President’s birth certificate should definitively answer that). And why stop with Photoshop? CGI capabilities in film/video/software create entire new worlds. Is the skin tone in Avatar too blue? Slippery slope here, folks.

What bothers me most about this is the myriad of instances where businesses and customers alike are being harmed and the government should be marshaling resources instead against these larger issues affecting the common good. Brand counterfeiting is a huge problem. Last week, it was a phony Apple Store in China (and Chinese consumers were outraged that they had been taken by pirates in their midst). Recently, a packaging client shared this 60 Minutes clip about counterfeit pharmaceuticals and packaging that is literally stealing people’s health, not to mention the economic damage it is inflicting on the global economy.

Is Julia Roberts’ skin flawless or merely perfect after using Teint Miracle foundation? Before this level of bureaucratic oversight idiocy ever reaches our shores, I humbly submit that it be included in any of the shell game budget cuts being bandied about in backrooms of the Capitol this week.

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Osama bin Laden out of Time

Osama bin Laden out of Time

By now, you have heard the terrific news that Osama bin Laden is no more, unless of course you’ve been living in a cave. Late Sunday evening, not only did we learn that the Al Qaeda leader had himself been living in comfort in a fortified compound in Abbottobad, Pakistan, but that he had been dispatched in dramatic fashion by an elite team of Navy SEALs and CIA officers. Bravo to all who made this possible, including President Obama for making some difficult decisions about this raid, and President Bush for laying a solid foundation for our war on the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11.

If anyone needs a moral clarity reminder of why this is a moment of great triumph for America and Western Civilization, I suggest they watch or rewatch Paul Greengrass’s excellent  film, United 93, which chronicles the events of September 11, 2001 as a real time dramatization.

Not easy viewing, but an amazing account of arguably the worst day in our nation’s history (and how it brought out the best in so many — from the brave passengers on Flight 93 to NYC’s exceptional first responders) 9/11 was a day that changed our world and although it took a decade to eradicate the mastermind of evil behind this terror plot, it was critical to do so. Evidently from data recovered in the raid, he has been involved in other terror plots since, including one involving our railways planned but not executed  this past September 11 on the 10th anniversary of the attacks.  As long as bin Laden lived, he remained a national security threat.

But this is a marketing/communications arts blog, and the events of this week serve as an excellent punctuation point to last week’s post about the limits of digital proofing. You can read all about the questions raised by layers in the PDF of President Obama’s birth certificate — its release spawned another round of conspiracy theories, but it really underscored the ease with which files can be manipulated.

So, when the President decided it would not be appropriate or necessary to release photos confirming the death of Osama bin Laden, we would have to agree purely on the latter point.  Photoshop makes it possible to manipulate the hell out of imagery, so how does a digital photo file in any way allay the doubts of those who will continue to believe bin Laden is alive?

As if on cue, even before the President announced his decision to withhold release of these photos, grisly Photoshop fakes purporting to be the real McCoys overran the Internet and social media sites. I saw one of these in a forwarded e-mail. Convincing digital imaging of head wounds. Some, maybe all, of these fakes were reported to contain viruses or worms to collect and transmit people’s personal data files. Great, so bin Laden remains a security threat, even beyond the grave.

Here is a reassuring headline. If Al Qaeda believes bin Laden is dead, for once, their word is good enough for me.

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PNG Screenshot of President Obama's Long Form Birth Certificate

PNG Screenshot of President Obama's Long Form Birth Certificate

Last week’s look at two humorous political videos triggered an appreciative response from Philadelphia Republican mayoral candidate, John Featherman, whose campaign produced one of the videos (we can’t wait for the next). This week’s post is about President Obama’s birth certificate, but I don’t expect him to weigh in since his release of the long-form was intended to put the matter to rest. It did. For one day. And that is why we are wandering from a marketing opinion this week, but staying within the fields of graphic arts and public relations.

The afternoon after national relief that the matter of the President’s official birth place had been settled once and for all, my business partner and our art director, Gerry Giambattista, heard a caller to Michael Medved’s radio program, who identified himself as being a graphic artist and was expressing amazement that the long sought document, digitally delivered from the White House web site in PDF file format, when opened in Adobe Illustrator is actually a layered file. A many layered file. Michael Medved quickly dismissed the caller with a combination of skepticism and the realization that none of this translates well to radio.

It most definitely piqued our curiosity, however. Gerry opened the digital version of the President’s birth certificate on his computer in Adobe Illustrator and sure enough saw a multitude of layers. What does this mean? With all the glitches and weird results in the digital world, that is hard to answer with complete certainty. However, when a print document is scanned, with OCR (Optical Character Recognition) active, it should, to the best of our professional knowledge and experience, create a PDF file with just two layers, one for text and one for background. I am immediately reminded of the oft-quoted Marx Brothers line from Duck Soup, “Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”

In trying to get our heads around this, and realizing that the Medved caller was maybe not the first person to explore this, we Googled the terms “Obama birth certificate” and “layered file.” If you do the same, you will see a long list of sites that have already created tutorial videos and detailed technical examinations of this.

When an artist does digital imaging work on a photograph in Adobe Photoshop, or builds a complex illustration in Adobe Illustrator, he or she adds a variety of layers to the image. The existence of more than one layer here raises question whether this document was created or changed in one of these programs vs. merely being scanned from a print document. For instance, saving the scanned document as a jpeg format file might have avoided this issue (more on that at the end of this post).

Here are some examples of what Gerry and I saw and found perplexing about the President’s multi-layered birth certificate file:

What is going on with left margin and upper left corner of the certificate?

What is going on with left margin and upper left corner of the certificate?

Box in upper right shows all the different layers; this layer has a few things missing.

Box in upper right shows all the different layers; this layer has a few things missing.

In each layer, you can select individual items (like this date) and move them elsewhere.

In each layer, you can select individual items (like this date) and move them elsewhere.

This post isn’t about conspiracy theories or political motivations, but it is worth noting one other strange thing about this file. If it were doctored, it was done so in a pretty visibly obvious manner by an Adobe amateur. Anyone who wanted to cover his or her tracks could flatten the layers and the file would be left with one layer.

With so many dead ends to intriguing questions, it was time for me to phone a friend, so I posed this digital weirdness to my chums, Pete, Glenn, and Steve, whose professional credentials for this matter are that they cover the political, technical, and pop culture spectrum so completely that our team would every week win the weekly trivia contest on our college’s radio station. Now equipped with Google, they came back with a wide range of articles that provided credible answers on scanning, software, the President’s maternity hospital name, and Hoover’s hat size (a tip of the trivia hat to anyone who remembers the sitcom that reference comes from). For me, the most convincing ones are these from National Review and FoxNews, because they come from sources not usually considered friendly to President Obama’s agenda.

Nearly satisfied myself that the multi-layered mystery could be put to rest, I was troubled by one additional thing. The expert in the Fox article is a leading software trainer and Adobe-certified expert. So, what does Adobe, the company and the creator of the Creative Suite of all the software involved here (Illustrator, Acrobat, Photoshop), have to say on this subject. With so many graphic artists weighing in, surely the company would be all over this story on its software, because if ever there is a “teachable moment,” with a huge global audience, this is it. A visit to Adobe’s home page revealed silence on the subject. So did the News Center. But then, I found a link to Adobe Featured Blogs with nearly 20 separate Corporate and Product blogs. Amazingly, the term Obama birth certificate yielded zero results.

Adobe's silence on this subject makes them look like A dope.

Adobe's silence on this subject makes them look like A dope.

This is what I would call an epic fail by an otherwise highly reputable, creative product rich, digitally savvy company. I don’t know whether this was a busy week in San Jose. Or whether legal and PR concluded this is too hot of a hot potato, but silence is really not an answer. The reputation of the leader of the free world was being questioned because of nuances in your software, and you as a company have nothing official to say on the subject? Wow. Not a good week to be bogged down in debugging the latest version of Dreamweaver.

A last word (and image) on this fascinating subject came to me this morning in a viral e-mail forwarded from my cousin Donna.

Einstein = Monroe = Sanity Check

Einstein = Monroe = Sanity Check

It is visual non-holographic trickery, which works on a PC but not mobile devices and hopefully is not an indicator of middle age eyesight. Anyway, keep looking at this picture of Albert Einstein as you step back 15 feet or more and you will see him transform into Marilyn Monroe (how’s that for a new theory of relativity?). Don’t know how some graphic artist did this, but I guarantee it began life as a multi-layered Photoshop file and it’s now a jpeg. “Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”

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