Split image Featured

6:33am EDT May 30, 2003
Seeing double is nothing new for Chris Skeeles, CEO of Canton-based Magic Picture.

The firm makes lenticular images, photos that have multiple images within them that gives the illusion of movement or passing time. These images are common in modern baseball cards, in which a card may show Cleveland Indian Omar Vizquel at the plate when tipped one way, but tipping it the other changes the image to show him swinging the bat.

Skeeles decided to turn the technology into a business when he became fascinated with aerial photographs while doing public-sector research.

"I was looking at aerial photographs from as far back as 1934 and comparing them to now," says Skeeles, who also has two other businesses that he runs from one location with 10 employees. "I needed to go from 1934 to now, and the obvious choice was the computer."

Skeeles started producing screensavers that showed a particular location as a farm field, then changed to show what's there today.

"The test cases really went crazy for it, but we needed to come up with a way to do it without sitting in front of a computer," he says.

After some research, Skeeles settled on lenticular imaging, a WWII-era technology that has been used for trading cards, cereal box promotions and trade shows.

"I was highly attracted to the idea of having an image where I could look back and see what roads and buildings were there from a long time ago," says Skeeles. "I recognized that it was not only something I was interested in, but others, too."

The possibilities started to flood in.

"I pulled out a couple of pictures of my daughter at 8 months and one at 7 years and put them together in a lenticular 8x10 image," he says. "It knocked everyone's socks off as she magically grows to her current self."

Then came the picture of his grandparents, one from their wedding day and one from their 50th anniversary. This was followed by a "before" and a projected "after" picture for his parents' kitchen remodeling business.

Prospects not only wanted the work done, they wanted the picture, too. People loved the idea.

Forget about seeing Barry Bonds, Peyton Manning or some cartoon character you can't even identify, Skeeles wants to make pictures of your kids, your parents or your fully restored 1966 MG Midget that transform before your eyes.

"They are perfect for tradeshows, but that's probably already been done," says Skeeles. "To my knowledge, never before could you order just one image. They take time to make, and most sign companies that have this technology would rather focus on items made in bulk that contain generic messages that anyone can use."

The equipment Magic Picture uses produces images that are of a higher quality than those on a baseball card. Up to 10 individual images can be combined into a lenticular image that shows motion as smoothly as a cartoon.

"The possibilities are endless, but I've learned from experience, focus is important," says Skeeles. "We have found that customized family-oriented images are what people are most receptive to of the things we've tried."

For now, Skeeles is developing a sales model based on consignment orders from gift shops. Magic Picture would handle the production process, with merchants getting a commission for the sale of the $99 8x10s. He's also working on custom displays for corporations.

"There is so much uncovered ground," says Skeeles. "There is a lot of this stuff around, but no one is taking the time to apply it." How to reach: www.skeeles.com/magic or (330) 455-7088