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A Hall of Fame Homer

(January 2007) posted on Wed Jan 03, 2007

Digital Lab Imaging teams with other graphics companies.


By Kacey King

click an image below to view slideshow


As you read this, it's the beginning of winter and the professional baseball season seems very far away, at least to most fans. But this off-season "down time" is exactly what the Cincinnati Reds wanted to address when it set out to create its Reds Hall of Fame and Museum. They wanted to ensure that the fans would be engaged by Reds baseball during off days in-season, as well as during the winter months.


To find a solution to this problem, it worked with a quartet of Cincinnati-based graphics companies that would bring to life the history of the Cincinnati Reds. The resultant museum, which occupies a building adjacent to Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park on the Ohio River, features more than 15,000 sq ft of exhibit space on two floors--all of which is designed to convey both the history of baseball's oldest professional team as well as the excitement of America's favorite pastime. It does so through an array of displays, photographs, and multimedia exhibits.


Cincinnati-based print provider Digital Lab Imaging teamed up with three other Queen City-based graphics firms??"??"?Jack Rouse Associates, Graff Designs, and GeoGraph Industries??"??"?to get the project turned around within an accelerated 5-month deadline.


A photo-driven project
Careful planning and organization went into the museum's overall design. "In written form we tried to come up with a story for the museum," says Brian Donahue of Jack Rouse Associates (JRA, www.jackrouse.com). The lead design firm on the project??"??"? you could say they were "batting lead off"??"??"?JRA has been "creating engaging experiences" for stadiums, museums, theme parks, corporations, and zoos for more than 25 years. This would be JRA's second collaboration with a major sports franchise on a project to turn a stadium into a year-round attraction; the previous summer, it had worked with the Green Bay Packers on the Packers Hall of Fame at the redeveloped Lambeau Field.


"How were we going to tell the story of this great team? We tried to decide if we were going to go [about it] simply, like chronologically, or by great players," says Donahue. "In the end, we decided to divide the museum into the different aspects of the game: great pitchers, great fielders, great hitters, the business, great managers, etc."


Design concepts were routed for approval to Greg Rhodes, the Reds' museum curator and director. "Say we were designing a concept for a wall. We
might scan some things out of books, magazines, do a Google search, etc. We would put these images in as a placeholder to give the general idea of what the wall would look like. The Reds provided the final images from their database," says Donahue.


Once Rhodes signed off on the concept designs, they were handed over to the number two batter, Cincinnati-based graphic design team Daniel and Mikki Graff of Graff Designs (www.graffdesigns.com), which took on the detailed design work. Graff Designs and JRA have had a working relationship for the past 10 years.


"The photo selection was a really important part of the process. The museum highlights hundreds of players and all the important teams over the years, and it is very photo driven," says Mikki Graff. "We would select all the photos with Greg Rhodes and JRA, and from them, Greg would develop copy and the look and feel. As a result, each gallery developed its own mood, and we would talk about that during the photo-selection process and try to decide what the best photos were."


As it turned out, the photos used in the project were old photos from the Reds archives??"??"?black-and-white prints from the early years as well as color photography from the '70s and later. Most of the images from the last 10 years had been captured using digital photography, but it was these that caused the most problems.


"The digital photos were actually the most limiting because of their size," says Graff. "Many of the digital photos didn??"??"??t have a whole lot of resolution to work with." To get these into shape, Graff used its Genuine Fractals interpolation Photoshop plug-in from onOne Software to add resolution while blowing up an image without getting a lot of pixelization.


In composing the designs, Graff used Adobe Illustrator and used Adobe Photoshop for those that had more layering. "Everything we did was FPO, except for the text panels??"??"?those we went ahead and built full-size and handed them off to GeoGraph ready to go," says Graff. "But anything that had photos, we did those at a scale that made sense, and then we'd print them out as proofs here on our Epson Stylus Pro 4000."


One decision Graff and the others made early on: Anything with text would be in a separate panel and placed on top of the photo murals. This way, the text could be more easily updated in the future??"??"?"instead of burying the copy into the big wall printout," says Graff.


During the proofing and approval process, Graff Designs would do a presentation with the gallery printouts for Rhodes. In turn, Rhodes would then mark any corrections directly on the Epson prints with a red pen, passing them back to Graff for revision.


"As we finished a gallery, we would release it to GeoGraph so they could go ahead and get started on the production while we were continuing the work on the other galleries," explains Graff.


GeoGraph Industries (www.geograph-ind.com), based in Cincinnati, was the fabricator on the project, working on contract 37 for the Nassal Company, an exhibit company out of Orlando, FL. Batting in the three hole, GeoGraph took detailed measurements of all walls and every other part of the galleries as each was built, then passed these measurements on to Graff Designs to design the final files. After Graff Designs had finished designing a file, GeoGraph would take over and execute the final retouching and color correction in Photoshop. GeoGraph also completed all high-resolution scanning for final photographs on its Epson 1600 series scanner, utilizing Silverfast Ai software.


"We had to work with the exhibit contractor. And because timing was very, very tight, we had to make sure when they had a wall finished, that 2 or 3 days later we were coming back in and putting up a mural on it," says GeoGraph's Mark Freudiger. "We tried to stay anywhere from 3 to 5 working days behind the project's construction manager."


Producing the output
Digital Lab Imaging (DLI, www.photolabinc.com), a longtime printing partner of GeoGraph, came on board to execute the final output of all the files and "hit clean-up."


Begun as a full-service photo lab back in 1976, DLI has grown from a modest 2800-sq ft facility to a 30,000-sq ft location just north of Cincinnati proper. It also has steadily transitioned its business from a walk-in photo lab to a digital-technologies provider. Today, a large portion of its work is from commercial display firms as well as companies and organizations across the Midwest and Southeast. Its clients have ranged from the Cincinnati Zoo and Cincinnati Historical Society to General Electric, Proctor & Gamble, Lenscrafters, and many others.


The graphics work the company did for the Reds Hall of Fame consisted mainly of three different types of substrate applica??"?tions: digital wallpaper, photographic prints, and canvas.


The digital wallpaper work comprised 8000 to 10,000 sq ft of 22-oz UL-listed wall vinyl, printed using DLI's EFI Vutek 3360. The vinyl was printed in 48-in. wide panels, liquid laminated to protect from scratches and UV rays using a Seal liquid laminator, and installed by two DLI digital wallpaper installers.


DLI also used its EFI Vutek 3360 for the canvas applications, output in 10 x 10-ft pieces and hand clearcoated because of their size. "The clearcoat will help deter any scratching that might occur if somebody might bump up against it or if, for some rea??"?son, someone might want to take a key or a pen and run it across there," says Mark Stinson of DLI.


For the photographic prints, DLI turned to its Durst Lambda, imaging these onto Duraflex and Duratrans materials. Then, depending on how it was going to be displayed in the museum, the Duraflex material??"??"?such as that for cut-outs of people??"??"?was routed on its MultiCam SF Series router. GeoGraph, which executed most of the finish??"?ing fabrication, then mounted this material to 1/2-in. PVC or Phenolic.


"At the time of printing, we didn't know exactly what it would be mounted onto," says Stinson, "We would just give GeoGraph the prints oversized with crop marks on the top and bottom, and they would take them, run them through their laminators, mount them, trim them out, and have a finished product."



Addressing the off-season
"More and more we are seeing sports organizations looking to engage fans beyond what??"??"??s happening on the court or the playing field," says Amy Merrell, JRA's chief operating officer. "Museums, halls of fame, fan interactives??"??"?these are great ways to tell a franchise's story, and they bring added value to a stadium that otherwise would sit idle during the off-season."


Beyond the printed graphics, the museum features a replica of the Reds' old "Palace of the Fans" stadium entrance, the team's World Series trophies, an installation of baseballs marking each of Pete Rose's major league record hits, and an interactive area that lets fans face a 95-mile-an-hour fastball, pitch from a regulation mound, and reach up over an outfield wall to take a home run away from an unlucky batter.


It's only 2 months until baseball begins its annual rite of spring training, and visions of base hits and fielding gems are already dancing in many a Cincinnati baseball fan's heads. The Reds Hall of Fame and Museum??"??"?and the graphics within??"??"?bring the season that much closer to reality.



Kacey King is associate editor of The Big Picture magazine.




Field of Seams
In addition to the Duraflex, Duratrans, and canvas media that Digital Lab Imaging (DLI) used for the project, the shop also used a mesh vinyl, albeit for just a single piece in the museum??"??"?a mesh banner that was printed with a stock cloud image and designed to mimic a sunny day on the baseball field. The graphic was output using the shop's EFI Vutek 3360, and the banner was seamed together into one large piece using a Miller Weldmaster Model 112 Cross Seamer.



The piece was then delivered to GeoGraph, which inserted grommets across the top for hanging. It took four GeoGraph installers 3??"? days to erect the banner in the museum's "Palace of Fans" theater. Situated high on the wall, the banner circles wooden grandstand seating that faces a replica of a scoreboard from vintage Crosley Field (a former Reds ballpark); the scoreboard doubles as a video screen and loops a 9-minute video of Reds "firsts." Mesh was used in this
part of the project so that speakers could be hidden around the room behind the print, but do so without muffling the sound.


The room is actually built square, but GeoGraph modified it, explains Mark Freudiger: "First we built a pair of curved corners, then we mounted the banner
to each of the two corners to give it the round feel [like a stadium]. We then put blocking up at the top and bottom and stretched the mesh down."



Easy Updating
All museum text comprises separate graphics panels that were output onto a substrate and then mounted to the photo murals for easy updating in the future.



Cincinnati Canvas
These three 10 x 10-ft black-and-white Reds logos with images of running, pitching , and hitting were designed by Graff Designs, printed by DLI (ink on canvas with a liquid laminate), and installed in the museum's hallway by GeoGraph. Canvas was chosen as the print medium because it came in wider rolls: "They wanted to use wall vinyl on these, too, but it wasn??"??"??t wide enough. The canvas allows you to print up to 10 ft in width, so we could print these all in one piece, versus having a seam run through the middle that everybody could see," says DLI's Mark Stinson.



Listening in on 'Firsts'

Visitors can hear how the Cincinnati Reds were the first professional baseball team to pay its players a salary, to have its opening days at home every year since 1935, and to have lights on the field for night games. Backlit graphics were printed using DLI's EFI Vutek 3360 onto Duratrans material.



Reds on the Radio
This gallery features an interactive display with a re-created broadcast booth for visitors to take their place behind a microphone to call play-by-play of a Reds game. A tape of Reds' broadcasters Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall provides introductory commentary and sets the stage for visitors' play-by-play
(viewers are then able to hear how Marty and Joe called the same play). The gallery features backlit graphics that show a view of the Reds ballpark from the actual broadcast booth. Output via a Durst Lambda onto Duratrans film, the graphics were second-surface mounted to Plexiglas.

Glory Days

This circular gallery features graphics of the Big Red Machine??"??"?the team that all but dominated baseball from 1972 to 1976??"??"?and houses the team's World Series trophies. The room features a layered mural, cut-out figures, as well as cast figures commemorating the last play of the 1972 National League pennant championship game.




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