Bringing a publishing blockbuster to life

July 2003

Tim Lafferty ’86 and his fellow employees at Digicon Imaging, including five other UB graduates, had to metaphorically don “invisibility cloaks” while working on production of the latest Harry Potter book.

Digicon, a Buffalo-based visual communications company, is responsible for all pre-press digital production in the Western Hemisphere for the blockbuster series that has charmed both children and adults alike.

Scholastic Inc., North American publisher of the Harry Potter series and Digicon’s largest pre-press partner for approximately nine years, awarded the work to the printing company for its ability to handle large-volume, high-quality imaging. The company was a logical choice because its roots are in the pre-press business, which includes all preparation that must occur before an item is printed. “A page must be ‘built’ properly before it can be printed,” Lafferty says. “Everything from the color, font and sizing to scanning and re-touching half-tones (artwork and photographs) and color image manipulation must be perfect for the image to be reproduced properly.”

For Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix, Digicon was responsible for preparing the entire book, including the covers, the sketched images placed at the beginning of each chapter, and the text pages. Digicon also has a hand in producing the marketing materials for the book, such as large-size posters for retail outlets.

Not surprisingly, given the media frenzy and marketing machine surrounding the Harry Potter books, this was a project of great secrecy. Digicon was given three months lead time, and released the electronic files to the 11 different print houses only one week prior to its arrival in stores. And, the code name “Owl King” had to be used exclusively in reference to the project during those three months.

Digicon recently made a nearly $3 million investment in new state-of-the-art production equipment, and is one of the largest Macintosh-based shops in Western New York, according to Lafferty. With enhanced technology, the Order of the Phoenix was done completely digitally, bypassing film altogether, versus the pre-press requirements for the previous Harry Potter book, for which Digicon produced both film and digital files. “At this point, the industry is 100 percent digital, so we didn’t need to create film for this book. This type of sophistication means quicker production turns with less of a chance of making any mistakes,” Lafferty said.

Digicon supports other well-known publishing and retail organizations such as Disney Publishing Worldwide, Houghton Mifflin, General Nutrition Centers (GNC), and Trans World Entertainment (fye Music and Video stores). Digicon’s services also include digital photography, design and sophisticated website development.

In addition to Lafferty, Digicon employs five other UB graduates, including Jim Barnes, BA’ 83, MBA ’86, Digicon president; and Doug Rose, BA ’82, Digicon’s account executive for the Scholastic account.

Lafferty came to UB after his freshman year at the College of Wooster in Ohio, and was a member of the UB Bulls “comeback” football teams in the 1977-78 seasons, when the sport was reinstated at the university. He married and started a job that took him and his wife to New Jersey for two years, and consequently he put his schoolwork on hold. He returned to UB and earned his business degree in 1986. With his position as vice president of strategic development at Digicon, Lafferty has cut down significantly on traveling, and he is enjoying becoming reacquainted with the Western New York business community. He has kept in touch with many UB friends over the years, and he is active in the community, serving as the high-tech division chairman of the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County.

Written by Barbara A. Byers, APR