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Book Review: ‘Magic and Miracles: 100 Years of Moving Imaging Science and Technology’ Edited by Philip J. Cianci

This great hard cover reference book is full of visual technology history. Magic and Miracles: 100 Years of Moving Imaging Science and Technology comes from the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) who are an international professional membership association including over 7,000 motion imaging executives, creatives, technologists, researches and students. Film and television are predictably well represented here, but Magic and Miracles also summarizes and explains visual communication as an overall field.

Magic and Miracles has seven sections with a total of 392 quality, 9-inch by 11-inch pages in full color with a cover sleeve that’s optional thanks to a nice imprinted bound cover. The section titles are printed in the upper left of the left page with subsection titles appear in the upper right of the right page. This book also includes a short errata as well as an index and acronym and technical abbreviations that is very helpful since almost every page is filled with acronyms, dates and numbers.

Some organization charts and other elements specific to the SMPTE culminate to an effective picture of this organizations work and the scope of their field. Several other fields are well represented here (reflected in the index), so writers/editors kept audiences in mind for the engaging content filled with interesting processes, storytelling and personal narratives.

Authors make the reasoning behind standards interesting while progressing through the history and name dropping key players in the process. Familiar yet complicated terms like high frame rate, system design and projectors were more easily understandable after reading. Readers will definitely learn a lot from this book, but it helps if you have existing visual communication knowledge.

This content begins with the silent film era and end with latest high-definition technology breakthroughs as well as a look into the future. The first six sections (A Century of Service, Motion Picture Magic, The Miracle of Television, Digital Dawns, Evolving Content Creation Technology and A Media Multiverse) average about 45 pages each while the last section, The Next Century, is 24 pages long and includes a fun “Roadmap and Crystal Ball.”

Each section title is self-explanatory plus authors beginning each section with a helpful, establishing quote or useful blurb. Each content page is packed with useful information, interesting instances, historical timelines, invaluable illustrations and helpful diagrams, but still have enough white space for a nicely balanced aesthetic. For example, the “Graphics and Character Generation” segment in “Evolving Content Creation Technology” gives readers a mini-history lesson through the use of graphics and text intertwined with visuals that evolved into the “rolls,” “crawls,” and “tickers” that are some familiar today plus a future look into 3D subtitles.

This content has exemplary science writing, which is time consuming and hard to achieve. The amount of time and effort from this quality, volunteer organization cannot be understated here in this book. Information and facts are plentiful, but the insight and examples really push the material into a deeper level. It’s not just an encyclopedia to occasionally use, but a great page turner where readers need a bookmark.

The endless historical lessons provide the foundation for forward-thinking processes and technology that many people/users take for granted. The hard work, experimentation and creative brilliance behind these advances really come to life in the aptly titled Magic and Miracles.

Magic and Miracles is an interesting, balanced reference book blending art, science and technology on a high level that is highly recommended (**** out of four stars).

Buy directly from the SMPTE to receive a full color, 100-page limited-edition companion book titled The Honor Roll and Honorary Members of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers.

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