Analogue Wayback, Ep. 7

Clickety, clackety, click.

Prior to the advent of Microsoft Powerpoint, large-scale corporate presentations often involved elaborate multimedia productions. Support for keynote addresses, trade shows, and board of directors meetings took the form of audio-visual productions using multiple, synchronized 35mm slide projectors as the playback system. In the 1970s and even 1980s, if you wanted to wow an audience with high-res images spread across an entire stage, that’s how it was done. There were numerous production companies and even an NAB-style trade show dedicated specifically to this art and technology. If you said that you produced corporate presentations or multimedia, everyone knew that this was what you were talking about.

All visuals had to end up on a 35mm slide. This included photographic images, graphics, and text. Proper alignment of the projectors at the time of the presentation was paramount to get the correct seamless effect. The projected light could be controlled, which enabled dissolves and composites. Any large image that was a composite of several slides spread horizontally across the stage had to be correctly divided and masked. This feathered mask let the light additively blend across slides for a seamless image.

Typical presentations played from a bank of six to 21 stacked projectors. Picture was accompanied by a powerful soundtrack. The common audio playback device was a 4-track recorder (often a Teac). This allowed for a stereo track, a guard band, and a timecode track to trigger the projectors. Audio timecode, pulses, or even punch tape were methods used for synchronization. A central controller was the brain and the AVL Eagle was the king in that field, if memory serves me right. AVL was the multimedia world’s equivalent to CMX for video editors.

At the height of multi-image technology, some systems even integrated lip-sync soundbites. Obviously you could integrate a film projector for playback. However, a second more ingenious way was demoed at one of the shows. The on-camera speaker was filmed and those frames copied to individual 35mm slides. The system was able to work at about 20fps and could maintain lip-sync when filmed at this rate. The clip was played by cycling through the consecutive slides that made up the soundbite!

During my time in Jacksonville, our company had a separate department devoted to creating multimedia productions. One of their clients was an oil company with a presence in Alaska. In order to optimize portability for traveling, the show director developed a package using the 110 slide format. Up to nine 110 slide projectors, complete with playback system, fit neatly into a road case!

Since that time, I’ve worked numerous corporate shows as an on-site editor. The keynote presentation is often supported by three or four Powerpoint designers who are handling all of the graphics and speaker support images from their laptops. That’s a huge advancement. Nevertheless, it’s sad to have witnessed the demise of a rather ingenious presentation form.

©2022 Oliver Peters