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Paintbox and Sci-tex info

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  • Paintbox and Sci-tex info

    I'm fairly new to the retouching world but I'm just researching up on its past, pre-photoshop. Earlier today I was trying to find info on the first digital retouching systems, quantel paintbox and scitex.

    There doesn't seem to be much info out there, is there anyone on this forum who had experience using these? What was possible? what were the limits? Im really curious to see some sample photographs retouched using old gear.

    I've heard of absurdly high hourly rates for paintbox operators, but then retoucher were are rarer breed back then, I wonder how long an average beauty retouch would have taken?

  • #2
    Re: Paintbox and Sci-tex info

    I worked on the paintbox for about 20 years. For balls out creative retouching it was probably the best system of a bunch that included Scitex, Crosfield (Mamba) and Hell (Chromacom). You could include Shimusaki, a japanese rip-off of the paintbox but I believe sales (after litigation) were prohibited in europe. Paintbox's user friendly interface enabled clients to sit in on retouching sessions and direct the artist/operator; 'what if' options could be explored and for this clients paid £300/400 per hour. These costs seem high but so was the entry level to get in the game. Drum scanners (£100k plus), output plotters (seps or trans - a 10x8 would cost about £500 in the early days), retouching system (£100k plus) air conditioned environment etc were costs that had to be absorbed and kept away the dilittantes. Each of the manufacturers had different problems to overcome. Crosfield and Hell, big players in the traditional repro world offered bespoke input/ouput solutions with the UI geared toward conventional print know-how. Handling 'black' in real time was originally problematic for RGB operating systems and some had to work in real-time at low rez and post update the high rez. Screw ups were costly when the presses were waiting. Paintbox was developed from broadcast graphics and was far more intuitive for artists to use; indeed without art school training or traditional tranny retouching skills it could be daunting. The brushes were particularly good and enabled seamless retouching and illustration work. The question often arises on here 'how do you get better at retouching?' Well, retouching pix at night with a couple of twitchy art directors sitting behind you will hone your skills! The best work from these systems has been equalled but not bettered IMO - it's 3d which is taking it to the next level!

    NB there is a book called Paintboxed which you can find on Amazon.


    • #3
      Re: Paintbox and Sci-tex info

      First time I saw a Hell Chromacom system in 1981, I was working for a dye transfer house, and right there I realized that I better get on that train before it leaves the station, of I'll be out of a job. Sure enough, within five years the dye transfer business in NYC was practically dead, it was that fast and dramatic. I went on to work for a major publisher who used the Crosfield system, and then they transitioned to Scitex in the late eighties, and finally Macs when they became powerful and cheap enough. Never worked on a Paintbox, but, I'm guessing that even it can't compare to the power and ease of a hot rodded modern Mac with Photoshop for beauty retouching, and, well, most retouching. The next step is to make 3D more accessible and easier to use for most of the public. When that finally happens, today's retouching will look quaint.


      • #4
        Re: Paintbox and Sci-tex info

        Thanks for the info guys. I realised that I must have been searching with a typo as I've just found quite a few video bits on YouTube. You're right brushes are a lot more fluid and precise than I imagined. I must say I do admire the basics of these systems, I have a continuos nag that I don't know enough of photoshop ins and outs, but really I could make do with a fraction of the functionality of it, and probably actually make better work for it. The screen quality seems to have been the biggest hindrance, but then at the time there was no comparison.

        As for 3D, I'm learning the basics through Blender (latest versions are improving hugely) as no way can I afford 3ds maxx, cinema 4d, lightwave etc just to learn the ropes. I'm not sure of the affect this will have on retouching though, image manipulation maybe but straight photo retouching?

        Out of curiosity are you two starting to work with 3D in anticipation of its impending explosion?


        • #5
          Re: Paintbox and Sci-tex info

          In the same way that a computer keyboard won't improve your writing skills PS won't make you a retoucher; there is plenty of junk produced to prove the point! Paintbox relied on the operator having core artistic skills who would, de facto, be a key employee. With few automatic functions, the artists stamp was all over the end result. This is not a good thing for repro houses producing catalogues - they want consistent results across all their operators irrespective of the operator. If you can make a decent mask, use a curve and have an eye for composition you can retouch. Most of the other tools are there to make life easy! (yes, I exaggerate to make a point).

          I used the Barco 28 inch calibrator monitor which was superb - somewhat industrial looking but had all the tools to stay fine tuned. At £17k they weren't cheap and at 70 kilos not the easiest to move! I had to have a table made to support mine and a safe made to hold the paintbox (insurance requirement).

          Anyone starting out now would be well advised to get to grips with 3d. Although not essential right now, I haven't yet met a 3d artist who wasn't proficient with it. They need to be to - it's quicker to use PS to correct errors than re-render. You'll increase your employment opportunities greatly if you know both skills.

          Time to head to the PS coalface. PM if you have specific questions.


          • #6
            Re: Paintbox and Sci-tex info

            Very interesting stuff Repairman. I remember seeing the Quantel system briefly but never got the opportunity to play.

            In fact it is quite likely that I would not have possesed the required 'core artistic skills' needed to use such a beast - thank goodness for Photoshop

            I believe there was a furore in the industry in the 80's when Quantel launched a lawsuit against Adobe to protect what it saw as patented aspects of its system which was lost due to proof of some programs having particular features before Quantel.

            There is some historical data


            • #7
              Re: Paintbox and Sci-tex info

              Good memory Tony and thanks for the link which I will devour later. I worked at Quantel when most of the court cases were going on and recall a few battles with Adobe. I had the unfortunate task of slinging my paintbox on the skip a few years back which was sad but as Benny mentioned, PS and Mac performance just made everything else irrelevant. My heroes are still the guy's who could retouch a transparency with a few dyes and a one hair brush. Photoshop is great but, personally, a little bit of soul left the industry when we all started using the same software. Did you start out as a photographer Tony?


              • #8
                Re: Paintbox and Sci-tex info

                Yes, I started work in pro photography GP, Industrial commercial and Advertising prior to digital imaging being a reality. With a two year break (to sell insurance and make some money!) which I found soul destroying so I returned to photography and since then have been involved with what could be classed as Imaging and Information to include both analogue and digital systems all my working life.

                Everything was done in house from the capture to the finished presentation, to keep full control over the process. Including my start in retouching i.e. spotting and scraping prints and negatives colour and B&W - I am guessing that you have probably done the same at some time . Sometimes though the work was just too difficult to achieve a perfect result so this is when work was handed over to a really nice old lady that could perform magic with negative retouching using I believe nothing more than some spray to give a 'tooth' and some pencils!

                Also even though good colour printing was around some portrait clients preferred B&W and also the look of the hand coloured versions as a special. We employed a magician with an airbrush to produce these images and the closest I can relate to the look of these would be a good smudge painting in PS. Must say however good they were I never really liked them preference being either a proper colour capture or the b&w version. Tried with the airbrush with disastorous results that could probably be shown today as abstract art, so did not pursue that for long .

                I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with some of the old school retouchers and as you say those that could work their magic with transparancies left me in awe as do those that can actually draw and paint photo realistic images in PS.

                Last transparancey retoucher I met though may have been a 'kidder' as he showed a sample of the work including an original 5x4 of a red ice cream filled lolly that had been retouched to show that someone had taken a bite out of it. Call me cynical but after he left the big boss wanted to know my opinion, so picking on the ice lolly image I suggested that it just looked too good to be true so I told him that I would just shoot the lolly as is then take a bite out and shoot again then finish the lolly . Perhaps I was a little harsh!

                Sorry for the long reply but your question just jogged a few memories


                • #9
                  Re: Paintbox and Sci-tex info

                  Don't apologise; it's good to hear other experiences, especially amusing ones. You and Benny have brought back a few memories. I have worked with loads of photographers over the years without a smidge of their talent rubbing off on me! - it remains a dark art to this day. My first job after art school was in an agency artwork dept where you had to 'do time' before becoming a visualiser. As you mentioned this involved cleaning line negs with a brown fluid (?), the name of which escapes me. The old fellas used to airbrush photos beautifully and many were good artists in their own right. I particularly remember that phase when every studio shot of an industrial widget or valve was flooded with green, blue or red lighting for creative mood. LOL I bet that increased their sales. I'd be interested to hear what you think of the photography based questions that crop up on this forum!


                  • #10
                    Re: Paintbox and Sci-tex info

                    Cannot think of a brown fluid for cleaning negatives but did use Photopaque (brown/reddish) which was a very dense water soluble paint that you would use to spot line/lith negs and also useful on continuos tone for blocking out backgrounds completely e.g. large industrial machines shot in situ but requiring a pure white cutout. This required a degree of control using a graphic pen and a ruler to get the straight lines.#

                    EDIT: As I am waiting for windows update to complete just remembered this: Used to clean old negs with Carbon Tetrachloride for a number of years . This was until it was discovered that the substance was harmful and possibly carconogenic!! What also put me off was an article saying something along the lines of if you drink alcohol the substance is potentially even more harmful to health - I thought I am in deep S now

                    I try to answer the photo related ones as accurately as I can. Seems to me that there are many that seem to think the answer is always post processing in PS with some magic formula and those that do present images to mimic anothers effect quite often submit inappropriately shot (either content, lighting, or other) and are disappointed with the answers proferred. So to take another forum members saying we end up trying to help polish turds - acceptable with restorations though
                    Last edited by Tony W; 08-20-2013, 10:44 AM.


                    • #11
                      Re: Paintbox and Sci-tex info

                      Photopaque! that was it. Load it into a ruling pen and away you go. Had that on my sleeves a few times along with letraset and cow gum. Polishing turds; I like that. I'm not qualified to answer photo based questions but I am surprised at the number of questions relating to copying other peoples style. Often as not they are just bloody good photos, well composed and lit and beyond the ken of the o.p! Not really something you can teach in a forum thread.


                      • #12
                        Re: Paintbox and Sci-tex info

                        Ruling pen that was what I was looking for and could only come up with graphic pen!

                        Photopaque only on your sleeve, you were lucky can you imagine being unlucky enough to actually sit in a pool of it without any knowledge and then waiting for and getting on the bus home and wondering why the nudges and smirks . Cow gum and letraset the good ole days!

                        Although hearing the saying before 'polishing turds' credit should be given to Andrew Rodney who first brought it to my notice in a photographic context.

                        Often as not they are just bloody good photos, well composed and lit and beyond the ken of the o.p! Not really something you can teach in a forum thread.
                        +1 and anyway I would have to charge for teaching


                        • #13
                          Re: Paintbox and Sci-tex info

                          Originally posted by rl-retouch View Post

                          As for 3D, I'm learning the basics through Blender (latest versions are improving hugely) as no way can I afford 3ds maxx, cinema 4d, lightwave etc just to learn the ropes. I'm not sure of the affect this will have on retouching though, image manipulation maybe but straight photo retouching?

                          Out of curiosity are you two starting to work with 3D in anticipation of its impending explosion?
                          I'm not. I've pretty much given up on the thought of it at this point, because I'm near the end of my career, and 3D takes time. I'll stick with beauty and some product as a speciality. There will always be beauty.

                          3D is best learned on a company's dime and time, which means you'll have to get lucky and find an employer who likes you and will pay for your training and be patient, because, from what I've heard, it's hard. It's also best learned in a collaborative environment between the engineers who design on CAD and the 3D artist, effectively eliminating the photographer. That means a good manager handling everything, and they're as rare as flamingos in Maine. I'm so close to a situation where it could all come together, but, I watch from the sidelines as it is so poorly mishandled. Sigh. Ten years ago I was shown a synthetic Lexus in a real time ad, and my bosses can't figure out simple appliances, and we're the manufacturer.
                          As usual, there's probably some Chinese kid who is pretty good at it, and will have my bosses job in ten years. And, of course, somebody will be whining that they didn't see that one coming.


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