Sunday, April 14, 2013

RIP Efi Arazi, the "Father of Israeli Hi-Tech".

Efi Arazi died today. The "Father of Israeli Hi-Tech", Efi had a great influence on a generation of print innovators.  I'd like to remember him in this post for two industries that heavily influenced my career; commercial photofinishing and stock photography.

In the pre-digital age, photo-finishers were nearly 100% silver halide-based.  "Photographic quality" was the standard and other color solutions were far inferior.  But in the late 80's an improving color laser technology represented by the Canon CLC 500 offered professionals the first "good enough" color quality in a much faster turn time and lower price than photographic prints.  But the CLC 500 was still just a color copier in many ways, with accessories like slide carousel changers the only real hat tip to production speeds.  Enter EFI.  Efi Arazi's company created print controllers for digital devices like the CLC 500, allowing for printing from multiple "workstations", which were just very basic PCs or Macs.  Suddenly commercial photo-finishers had a new production tool from which they could turn around color prints in minutes rather than hours as well as creating a pre-RIPped queue for upcoming jobs.  It was truly a major breakthrough for the photo industry and proved that digital technologies were really the wave of the future and drove the growth of high-volume scanning via technologies like Kodak PhotoCD.

But before Efi disrupted the color copy business, he was key in developing the first CCD scanner.  Taking learnings from his work at MIT and with NASA, his company Scitex, the first Israeli high-tech firm, created many innovations for the commercial printing industry.  But the CCD scanner is what changed the stock photography industry forever.

Before the Scitex SmartScanners arrived, getting photographic imagery to print required a tedious and expensive process using drum scanners and oils.  The cost for dropping photos into your printed piece often ran over $250.  Using CCD technology to capture slices of the image via a two-dimensional array, flatbed and transparency scanners were born.

Once it was possible to remove much of the labor costs from the scanning process, Scitex continued to innovate in speeding up the workflow while continuing to improve the quality of the resulting files.  Today this technology is the backbone of any digital scanning device.

For my old company Corbis, this allowed for our grand scheme of building a multi-million image digital library that was the gateway for today's stock photography business.  The cost-per-scan could be reduced greatly, and with a significant improvement in quality over the floundering PhotoCD. Over much wailing and gnashing of teeth from commercial printers who used scanning as a profit center, digital stock photography became the norm.  

While Efi is gone, his legacy lives on for me in the many, many friends I have made that were directly touched by his genius.  To my colleagues who were so influenced by him who are now spread out around the print business, and those that have moved on to other industries, he lives on through you.  We truly have lived through a golden age of innovation, driven in a very big part by a small country in the Middle East.