February 28, 2016

Every year for the Academy Awards, the Los Angeles Times’ Michael Whitley and Paul Gonzales spend hours talking over plans for the annual Oscar preview issue.

“Many of them are not even good, or so incomplete they are not very useful,” said Whitley, assistant managing editor for design, in an email.

Still, he makes note of them and comes back to them as the Oscars get closer. Whitley, who is “borderline obsessed with trying to create motion and interactivity in printed pages,” wanted to capture the way you can change what you see on a phone with a swipe or click. He knew they couldn’t do that exactly on paper, but could they create something that could change?

“It was an idea we kept coming back to, but never could quite get right in our minds,” said Whitley, who was joined on the project by illustrator Jonathan Bartlett. “This year we just decided it was no time to play it safe, and we would never figure it out unless we committed to it.”

The result: When light hits the page that shows three rows of Oscar statues, they all change. They’re decked out in clothes that represent each of the Best Picture nominees.

Here’s how Sunday’s Calendar front looks:

How is this possible?

“It is actually very low-tech,” Whitley said. “The second image is printed on page 2. It lines up perfectly with the cover and when light is behind it, it shows through. It also keeps page 2 intact. We designed it to stand on its own, knowing not everyone will hold the page up to a light. That might be my favorite thing about it — it works if you hold it up to the light, but if you don’t, page 2 still reads like a regular page.”

To get to the final product, they built models and mock-ups and tested them against windows and light tables, he said, but not everyone thought it would work.

“I wasn’t even sure,” he said. “The ultimate question we faced was is the paper thick enough to hold the ink and thin enough to show the image really clearly. The only way to find out for sure was try it for real.”

The final key, Whitley said, was for the images to line up exactly during the printing process.

“It was a huge relief to see it come off the press,” he said. “Our pressmen really rise to the challenges we create, and we all ate some doughnuts and shook hands at 3:00 in the morning at the printing facility over how cool the final result was.”

Whitley has never created or seen a front like this before, and he probably won’t be making another one anytime soon.

“The key is the use has to make sense or pay off in some way,” he said. “This use made sense to me because we do like to create something with a real ‘wow’ to it for the Oscars preview.”

Unless they can push this idea further, doing it again would be a letdown, Whitley said.

“And I hate to repeat myself.”

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Kristen Hare covers the people and business of local news and is the editor of Locally at Poynter. She previously worked as a staff writer…
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