If you don’t recognise the name Peter Rowsell instantly you no doubt would recognise him in person, from the famous ‘Pink Coconut’ parties during IBC (Brighton) in the 80s or the name ‘Polar Video or Polar Graphics’ both companies which he’s built up over the years.
Entering his 43rd NAB (yes 43rd, that is NOT a typo!) who better to catch up with to give us some insight into the past and future of Polar, NAB and the industry in general. I caught up with him at the newly rebuilt offices of Polar Headquarters in Pinner, Middlesex.
How did you start in the industry?
I was working for the Bank of New South Wales in London, I’d been there 5yrs and was fed up with the boring routine of international banking. My brother-in-law asked me to join him in a company called Éclair Debrie, in 1975. I was interested in cameras and the job was to sell 16 and 35mm film cameras. I won’t bore you with the long history of my days since then. In brief, I later joined Rank Film Equipment selling Film / TV lighting and assisting with Ariflex sales. Later I joined Keyline Productions who were the European distributors for Convergence Corporation (they designed the first joystick editor before non-linear).
In 1979 I set up my own company ‘Polar Video’ (with Fred Smith). Polar Video closed its doors in 1990 and Fred and I went our own ways. 4yrs later I set up Polar Graphics, in a nut shell that’s it.
How have you seen the industry change and what do you think have been the biggest changes
in the industry?
There have been huge changes since I started. People coming into the industry accept everything for what it is. You pick up a computer with a software programme and start working. Many don’t know about gen lock, chroma phase or anything like that because it’s sorted out within the computer.
The Film industry taught me about professional camera lenses, what to look out for, how to light sets and deal generally with problems on set. If you can resolve the initial problems on the shoot the work in post is made easier. I even worked as an assistant camera man for a while in 1970 on the original ‘Bouquet of Barbed Wire’ TV production.
The move to Keyline Productions in the late 70’s was my first step into the Video business where electronic editing was just starting. At this time we were still using black and white monitors for preview and tape for recording. Most of the tape machines at that time (U-Matic) had no way of shuttling tape across the heads so we were pioneering in using servos to control and shuttle tape with an accuracy in the edit of plus or minus 4 frames. It was a great experimental time and I even had the opportunity to work on a very small bit of ‘The Shining’ where they experimented with Off Lining. The move later into proper computer technology for non-linear and graphics packages was a major step forward.
You used to manufacture your own products at Polar Video, is that correct?
Yes. We got somewhat fed up with our suppliers not producing the products we kept asking for so decided to design and build them ourselves. We built the first dual channel timebase corrector called ‘Roger’. A chromakey, a safearea generator, a vision mixer and many ancillary products and sold them all over the world. They were a very successful range of products.
How did you decide on the name Polar Graphics?
I think choosing a company name is very difficult. The original name Polar Video was chosen so we had a memorable logo in the form of a Polar Bear and when I set
up Polar Graphics it was really a follow on from there, as most people already knew the name.
Polar Graphics distributed a lot of computer packages like Boris Effects and Digieffects etc. so Polar Graphics seemed a good name at the time. Today though we are mainly hardware and storage orientated.