An Interview with Richard Schrand
I met Richard Schrand at Siggraph first at the e-on software booth and, then, through Syyd Raven. We talked in bits and pieces about writing and about the book on Vue d'Esprit that he was writing, and I asked would he mind if I did an e-mail interview with him for my Renderosity column. When I first met him his name was familiar to me because I own and have use extensively the Poser 4 Pro Pack f/x and Design book that he wrote. It gives me a lot of pleasure to be able to present this interview.
Q1 - How did you first get interested in writing books on graphic software programs?
I have always enjoyed writing. In fact, in my former career (broadcasting), I became senior writer for a television station in Cincinnati while I was still a teenager. So, I have written in one form or another for a lot of years. I also had always taught in one form or another. Because of the positions I held in that industry, I was asked to lecture and make appearances to talk with students in high school and college, plus I headed different career groups that showed students what the broadcast industry was like from the inside.
When I left broadcasting and turned to graphic/web design as a profession, I thought I could continue this multi-decade-long tradition. Thanks to an author friend of mine, and contact with a 3D software company (Pixels:3d) who passed my name along to him, I wrote some tutorials for the author's books. He then introduced me to an agent who, subsequently, obtained my first book deal. From there, I was off and running.
Bottom line: I was able to start a business, a portion of which gives me the opportunity to indulge in one of the things I love to do--write.
Q2 - What is your background?
30 years in the broadcast industry in both local and national television, as well as international radio syndication. Of those 30 years, I spent almost 20 in upper management positions, overseeing everything from the graphical look of a station and the design/presentation of print and on-air advertisements, to creating entire television and radio venues from scratch. I would say that, prior to turning full-time to graphic/web/3D design and animation, that I had over 10 years overseeing and approving the work other designers produced.
I have won some extremely prestigious awards for my writing and producing, as well as helped create a soap opera for a national broadcast outlet, and an award-winning radio program that is syndicated world-wide.
I have owned my production company in the Nashville area for going on six years now.
Q3 -What parts of your background do you feel contribute the most to this type of writing?
Two things: having been a reporter/anchor and a News Director, I am not shy in asking questions or asking for things that I feel are important in order to reach my goal--namely the publishing of my books and the completion of my clients' projects. The other is my natural love of people watching and psychology. I enjoy dissecting what people are doing and why. I watch people and study the minutia of movement and body language. It's fascinating to me.
Between the two, I think I am both able to convey something different in my books. I try to decipher the technical terminology and put it into words that are clearer to the majority of people. If I don't understand something, then I know there are lots of others who don't as well.
Q4 - What made you interested in writing a book specifically about Vue d'Esprit 4 aside from the fact that there isn't one?
I was contracted to co-write the update to 3D Creature Workshop for Charles River Media. Wanting to expand on the original, we looked at programs that augmented the big packages we focused on--LightWave, 3D Studio Max--and Vue d'Esprit was one of them. Up until then, I had only used Bryce. But when I started to work with Vue (version 2) I thought to myself that, if it ever was ported over to the Mac, I would switch programs. (Yes! I'm a Mac person, although I do use a PC as well for my work.)
Having kept in touch with eon Software, and finding out that a Mac version was imminent, I began researching the viability of a book. Without another one on the market (or planned) and seeing the questions being asked on discussion boards such as the one at Renderosity.com, it seemed a natural fit. The program is so deep and so powerful (yet so inexpensive) that a book to augment the User Manual seemed a good idea. Peachpit Press thought so as well, and now I'm hot and heavy into the writing of The Vue d'Esprit Book.
Q5 - How do you go about writing a book that will be "antiquated" almost before it is released?
Ahhhh…but does it become antiquated? Most of the time, a new version has a few more bells and whistles, yet the basic controls remain the same. Sometimes a new version comes out that totally revamps a program, but, in all reality, these are rare. A few new tools might be added or a new rendering engine. In all reality, if you aren't more than one generation behind an update (book-wise), the book can still be extremely viable.
What needs to be remembered: A new software package comes out and there's an influx of people updating to that new release. Many of these are, in actuality, the vocal minority. Read the Vue list and you will see there are still people deciding whether or not to update from version 2 or 3 to version 4. There is a vocal minority that, often, can make the casual observer feel as if everyone has upgraded. They can make that casual user feel they are behind the times. But, even at a fairly low cost, most people have to save up before purchasing an upgrade. Or they have to discuss it and justify the expense to themselves because of family commitments.
But, yes, you do want to keep the books as up to date as possible. But, if you focus on some of the basics (in the case of Vue, detailed discussions on texture editing, object placement, etc.), the book's viability remains strong because the information will still be pertinent to the updated software.
Q6 - When you initially start a book, what type of reference material do you use?
As mentioned earlier, I turn to discussion boards and e-mail groups and pay attention to what people are wanting to know. I use that as one of my starting points. I also turn inward and look at the areas that I want to know more about as well. Then I get into my reporter/anchor mode and ask the owners and programmers of the software companies what they think is important to convey. I then build my tables of content based on those three things.
Q7- Do you have any suggestions for people who want to write computer books?
That's a tough one. I have a real pet peeve about the internet: it has made many people extremely sloppy writers. The Associated Press and United Press International did a lot to lessen the rules of proper grammar. So, I see a lot of people who have become lazy, substituting numbers for words because it's the 'cool thing to do', or butchering their native tongues because they don't have to write correctly in order to be understood. So, while indulging my own steadfast beliefs here, my biggest suggestion is to study your language and learn how to use and write it properly. Don't go with the convention d'jour, but really learn to speak and write correctly.
Q8 - Can you give us a few highlights from the new book on Vue d'Esprit?
The Vue d'Esprit Book is going to feature in-depth descriptions on how to create original textures (the chapter for that is slated to be almost 70 pages by itself), one of the most asked about areas of the program. I'm also discussing how to utilize cameras as actors, and discussing tricks of the trade to help the reader not only work faster but more efficiently. I'm also going to go into the new Mover4, which allows users to import complete Poser animations into Vue.
Q9 - When can we expect it to be released?
It was originally scheduled for release in September, but due to some personal issues, it looks more like October before it will be available.
Q10 - Which versions will it apply to and what if another version of Vue d'Esprit comes out soon after it is published?
While the screen shots and tools are from the latest version (4.1), the way the information is disseminated, it is pertinent to users of version 3 as well. When Vue 4.5, 4.675, 4.97826, or 5.0 is released (which we know will be eventually), this book will still be extremely useful. That's why we didn't put a version number in the title. This is an all-around book that, while it shows and discusses the latest version of Vue, the information is multi-generational.
Q- 11 What are some of your other books?
My other books are: Macromedia Web Design Handbook and 3D Creature Workshop 2nd Edition (Charles River Media), LiveMotion Visual Jumpstart and Photoshop 6 Visual Jumpstart (Sybex), and Final Cut Pro 3: The Complete Reference (Osborne). I also have written Canoma Visual Insight, GoLive 5 f/x & Design, and Poser 4 Pro Pack f/x & Design, all of which are currently out of print since Coriolis went out of business. The Poser book, however, should be in stock again because it is being distributed by a new company.
As always, I invite you to visit my web site, Perpetual Visions
The Paula Sanders Report
is a regular Renderosity Front Page featured column,
where Paula investigates and comments on
graphic software, techniques, and other relevant material
through her reviews, tutorials, and general articles.