SagaBoy Productions Outfits Set of HBO's The Newsroom

Martin Charles prints digital graphics for numerous movies, TV shows

The vast majority of commercial TV is a wasteland. There, I said it. Why anyone with a modicum of education and common sense would want to waste time, energy or brain cells watching Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, Wife Swap, Bridezillas and most other– sorry, there aren’t enough synonyms for stupid to convey my opinion of them, and we try not to use any damn expletives – reality shows is, frankly, beyond me.
Come on, folks, you’re better than that. The Greatest Generation didn’t forge arguably the most prosperous era in U.S. history by wasting themselves on such tripe. Granted, watching Bowling for Dollars and What’s My Line? weren’t the noblest uses of one’s mind, but at least they weren’t unabashed celebrations of meanness or idiocy. Do you want your children to adopt the values and mindsets portrayed on such shows?
OK, the soapbox is now stowed away.
That said, with so few bright lights dotting the small-screen landscape, HBO’s show The Newsroom, which debuted in June, was a brilliant revelation. Aaron Sorkin, who created NBC’s long-running, iconic series, The West Wing, and wrote screenplays for such hit movies as A Few Good Menand Moneyball, also developed this show. Jeff Daniels stars as Will McAvoy, the irreverent anchor on the nightly news show on the fictitious Atlantis Cable News (ACN) network, and an ensemble cast masterfully portrays earnest, but neurotic, characters who alt-
ernately endear, confound and infuriate McAvoy. Google “The Newsroom opening scene”, and watch the YouTube clip. In less than 10 minutes, McAvoy elucidates the deterioration of America’s fabric and its many consequences.
Signage plays a key role in creating the hyper-competitive, frenetic atmosphere within the universe of the 24-hour news cycle. Because distracted viewers often enjoy more than 500 TV-channel choices (and infinitely more in the virtual world), every visual component must propel the viewer into a sense of urgency to put down the remote and take an interest in how the news is presented.
For The Newsroom, Martin T. Charles simulates an actual newsroom’s environmental graphics. A graduate of The Pratt Institute, a prestigious NYC art school, Charles said typography was one of his earliest passions and, following the advice of mentor Leo Carty, a well-known painter, he pursued a commercial-art career. After graduation, he began work for a NYC publishing firm.
However, he couldn’t resist the allure of designing sets for TV and movies. He painstakingly studied films and shows, and finally made his move to Los Angeles in 1990 and founded his own company, SagaBoy Productions. In his early, set-design years, he painted everything by hand and thought little of digital-printing technology. However, he noted the technology’s rapid improvement.
His first digitally printed graphics appeared in 1995’s Devil in a Blue Dress, a mystery that starred Denzel Washington. That Thing You Do!, a movie released the following year that features Tom Hanks, represented his first movie-set design produced entirely with digital graphics.
“Just about every surface in the movie was covered with some sort of graphic,” Charles said. “We contracted with a billboard company in Utah.”
Three years later, Charles decided to bring his set’s productions in-house, and purchased his own printer. He said, “I was creating the set for the movie S1m0ne, and so many pieces were required, it was vital to have complete control over color, image quality and production speed. From then on, I was hooked.”
The Newsroom’s production designer, Richard Hoover, met with Martin to develop the set’s graphics. Martin said, “At the outset, the sketches and models were a little vague, but, over a period of several weeks, we developed a cohesive graphics package.”
After having synthesized their ideas using Adobe®’s Photoshop® and Illustrator®, he made recom-
mendations for the set’s approximately 2,500 sq. ft. of graphics.
A prominent element of the set entailed creating a two-story-tall wall graphic that serves as a backdrop for ACN’s off-camera workspace. It features the ACN logo, which features a heavy emphasis on aquatic hues (a natural given “Atlantis” is the company name), against the backdrop of an urban skyline. Martin printed the graphics on SagaBoy’s 64-in.-wide Roland DGA VersaCAMM VS-640 printer/cutter with EcoSol Max inks on a wallpaper material.
“In today’s media-production environment, where everything is being broadcast in high definition, it’s more important than ever to make sure installation conditions are perfect,” Martin said. “Every surface must be completely free of dust, and any type of material lifting is an absolute no-no.”
Vinyl graphics also play an integral part in creating the on-set display that serves as the backdrop for McAvoy’s rapier-wit news delivery. Translucent-vinyl prints, also printed on the VersaCamm and bedecked with themed elements – such are star-spangled, flag-laden graphics that create the theme for ACN’s election-night coverage – adorn backlit DuraTrans™ rigid-media panels. Etched-glass serves as a light diffuser that projects illumination evenly. Banners, photo-paper printouts and window graphics produced on clear film provide other, complementary set graphics.
Charles extolled recent printer and ink developments for simplifying his job: “The development of metallic and white inks have been crucial. With metallic inks, I can create very fine details, such as a punctuation mark on a nameplate. And, the ability to print with white ink before applying color helps me create subtle, deeper tones that add texture to graphics.”
He continued, “When creating constantly changing graphics for a weekly show, deadlines are tight, and I often print in fast, production mode to meet deadlines. Printing hardware and RIP technology have evolved such that even the fastest mode provides very high-quality prints. We typically print at 72 dpi, although, if a graphic will be prominently featured, we can certainly print with greater resolution if necessary.”
Martin received high praise from The Newsroom’s director, Greg Mottola, who said his graphics accurately replicated a newsroom’s complex graphics. He said, “It’s a challenge to tell a story without saying a word, but hard work – and the right technology – provide the solution.”

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