If you have watched TV coverage of the current American primaries and caucuses, you’ve seen a telestrator used. It’s the computerized device that permits electronic illustrations to be drawn OVER video images, either live or taped, in motion or freeze-framed. The cream of current telestration technology is often voted by TV crews to be the Fingerworks Studio Version.
Sportscaster John Madden made the telestrator famous for diagramming and analyzing plays during football broadcasts in the late 1980s and 1990s. For example, a still picture of a football play, captured by instant replay recording, is fed from a frame store into a special TV monitor equipped as a pixel-sensitive touch screen or graphics pad, and software, nowadays using layering programs, permits the operator to draw a freehand sketch with a stylus over an existing still shot or a live-action moving shot. This composite picture is then fed back to the switching panel and inserted into the program as called for by the host or the director.
Canadian hockey fans will remember “Squeaky Meeker.” For years Howie Meeker, National Hockey League player and then intermission TV analyst, used a telestrator on CBC TV’s “Hockey Night in Canada”
A telestrator device and software for a TV weathercast cost from approximately 15,000 dollars up to 75,000 dollars or more, depending on the complexity of the system and the kind of animated superimposed weather information required.
Inventor of Telestrator
Leonard Reiffel, an American physicist doing an early science-report television show on PBS in the late 1960s, invented the Telestrator. In his first system the operator drew on a television screen adapted to work with a light pen. Nowadays a weatherperson or sports analyst can work with a tablet PC or a touch screen pre-programmed for a specific broadcast and located just off camera.
Here's a corrective November 2013 email from the inventor himself, Leonard Reiffel:
After many many years, I just now I happened on your site -- Nice job. Two corrections if I may--
1)Telestrators, including the first, NEVER used a "light pen". Light pens couldn't work in dark image areas, in sunshine etc. The original Telestrators used a transparent conductive sheet contacted by a pencil-like probe in which there was a wire and on the end of which was a metal point that picked off voltages representing the X and Y location of the touch point when it touched the sheet. Later, the probe was replaced by a capacitive antenna-like pickup used even now.
2) More important (and a very sentimental matter to me even now) is the fact that my mother, Sophie M. Reiffel, NOT ME, who first thought of and suggested the word "Telestrator" that is now in global use. Thanks much!
CNN’s chief national correspondent John King, shown above, has been dubbed by one fan “the Toscanini of the Telestrator.” Actually King’s electronic board is far more complex than a mere telestrator.
Telestration has advanced quickly in the last decade and is being used during elections in ever more productive and complex modes. The elaborate gizmo depicted above includes “Jeff Han’s Perceptive Pixel Touch Screen.”
Other election news broadcasts employ a barrage of even showier electronic toys like giant Montage processors, professional video processors used for multi-image displays to create LED walls and multiplex screens texted by Screenwriter® software — equipment so cool it would make a techie drool.
I am reminded of the newspaper report about Orson Welles’ debut day at RKO, the first day on the set of his first movie, a little item entitled “Citizen Kane.” A reporter asked Orson what it was like to come from New York radio and theater to a movie set. Said Welles, “It’s the biggest toy a boy ever had to play with.” From that same day there is a photo of Welles, slim, handsome, 25 years old, beaming with delight.
Etymology of the Word Telestrator
Doctor Reiffel's mother Sophie invented the word telestrator. She made up the compound from tele (Greek ‘far away’) and illustrator. Telephone, Telex, telegraph, television: all contain as their initial element the Greek adverb tele used adjectivally in words naming inventions of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
In the sixteenth century, the verb to illustrate entered English from Medieval Latin illustrare ‘to light up, to clear up, to make famous.’ The ultimate root is lux lucis Latin ‘light.’ The best known phrase containing the word is from the Vulgate, Saint Jerome's Latin version of the Bible, where in Genesis, God says “Fiat lux,” ‘let there be light.’ So is Fiat, the Italian automobile brand, the same word? No. Founded in 1899 the company name FIAT is an acronym for Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino ‘Italian Automobile Factory of Turin.’ Naturalmente in a Roman Catholic country, it didn't hurt that the car name pleasingly echoed the very words of God.
The Evolution of illustrate’s Meanings in English
1526 – to make clear in the mind (first English usage)
1538 – “Thou shalt see that one translation declareth, openeth, and illustrateth another.” Prologue to the Coverdale Bible
1603 – to show in a good light, to make illustrious
1625 – to light up an object
1638 – to make something clear by drawing a picture of it (the most frequent modern meaning of the verb to illustrate)
It is interesting how almost all of the current meanings of the verb to illustrate arose so early in the word’s English life. Often verbs with a long history in English take centuries to evolve new meanings.
© 2013 William Gordon Casselman
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