Opazity: Conversation with Steve Hards

Created: Sunday, October 21, 2007, posted by Geetesh Bajaj at 6:02 am

Steve Hards (pictured to the right) plays with PowerPoint all the time, and creates add-ins. His newest project is Opazity, about which he discusses in this conversation. Steve is also involved with Perspector, a 3D add-in for PowerPoint.

Geetesh: Tell us more about Opazity, and how it can help PowerPoint users hold the attention of the audience.

Steve: Thanks for the opportunity to expand on this. I only hinted at these things on the Opazity website. There are a couple of aspects to the way I see it helping to hold audiences’ attention.

First, and rather superficially, you can use Opazity to create some interesting effects. These range from shapes with mysterious, soft fills, as in the second demonstration video on the website, to a sense of depth in the visuals where you can make the foreground stand out because the background is ‘out of focus’.

It irritated me for years that PowerPoint is so ‘hard edge’ everywhere. My first attempt to produce these effects started when I was taking photos to use in presentations. I used to try and take pairs of them, one sharp, and one out of focus. That was a bit hit-and-miss, but then I realised that I could take any photo and create a blur on it using facilities in photo-manipulation software. That was better, but going backwards and forwards between the programs until I got the effects I wanted was very time consuming. Also, you couldn’t do it with shapes and text generated in PowerPoint unless you converted them to a picture first. It was all very tedious and frustrating, so I eventually came to the idea of getting an add-in made.

So a more subtle approach to visual effects is one thing that Opazity has going for it and, once you start noticing it on TV and in movies, you see the effect in use everywhere, particularly in transitions.

This is where the second of my points about audience attention comes in. Curiosity is a very fundamental human instinct and we are particularly curious about, and therefore pay attention to, things which we believe are being hidden from us. It’s my personal theory that, of our ancient ancestors, only those who were intensely curious survived to breed, so this trait is probably ‘hardwired’ into us. We can imagine them around the fire at the entrance to a cave, peering into the shadows… and you can see it in us from childhood — parents universally play ‘peek-a-boo’ with a baby, for example. Also, revealing the hidden is always used to great effect in story telling, in literature, in theatre and other entertainment (and a presentation is a performance, after all). I hesitate to mention striptease, but that is the ultimate attention-getter, at least for most men!

So, to bring it back to PowerPoint, without Opazity, I think it is actually quite hard to arrange things visually so that people in the audience are attending to the screen before something is shown to them. Images are either there or they are not. Using fades and other animations means that it is only fractions of a second before it is obvious what they are.

Geetesh: Can you share some usability scenarios for Opazity?

Steve: There are some obvious ones, but I’m hoping – and expecting – Opazity users to discover others!

The first (although it wasn’t obvious to me until someone pointed it out) is that Opazity can be used to construct visual quizzes very easily. You have a picture, such as a familiar object or a famous person, overlay it with a blurred image and ask a question. People will search for clues in the blurred image, which you remove to reveal the clear image underneath when they have answered. You can arrange two blurred images, with different degrees of blur if you want to be able to give them a clue after an incorrect answer. I can see uses for this in certain kinds of teaching, especially with young children or in language teaching, but other people can use quizzes to good effect. Some presenters might want to have a fun quiz up their sleeves to show if they have to wait for more audience members to arrive before starting their serious presentation. The point is that with Opazity it is so easy to set up a quiz like this, whereas with anything else it is too time consuming to be worth it.

Then I think it will be used in situations where someone’s identity has to be protected. Possibly in courtrooms, but more likely in medical presentations where patients’ faces need to be obscured for confidentiality reasons.

I am hoping too that artistically inclined presentation makers will use it to make interesting effects, and if any Indezine readers do that, I’d love to see some!

Finally for now, I’ll point out a use which is particular to Perspector 3D add-in users. Perspector creates fantastic looking lists as an alternative to PowerPoint’s bullets but it is not possible to animate the list items to bring them in one after the other on command. The current workaround involves creating a series of images with different list items added, and then aligning and animating those. With Opazity, it is much quicker and easier to overlay the list items with their blurred images and to remove those items one-by-one. That way, the audience can see something is still to come, but can not read ahead – which brings us back to the point about increasing attention because of the power of curiosity.

Geetesh: You mentioned Perspector, which you are also involved with. Why didn’t you produce Opazity under that brand?

Steve: Yes, I’m still the Sales and Operations Director for Visual Exemplars, which produces Perspector. To be brief, when I saw that PowerPoint 2007 did not have the effect you produce with Opazity, I wanted to get on and produce the add-in. However, the rest of the Perspector team were totally focused on some new Perspector developments and so I branched out on this one. And, no, before you ask, I can’t tell you about those new developments now, but you will not have long to wait!

Categories: add-in, interviews, powerpoint

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