20th June 2022
The Fusion Between Art and Engineering
Kara Zona – the Design Team Lead, Micro-Optics
The chance to develop and explore technology attracted Kara Zona, who has been at Crane Currency for five years. She is the Design Team Lead for a small, but growing team of experts creating micro-optic designs using Crane’s award-winning, micro-lens-based security technology with products known throughout the industry as MOTION®, RAPID® HD, MOTION SURFACE® and BREEZE™.
Kara has a formal background in animation and an ever-expanding portfolio of digital work. Seeing micro-optic samples for the first time was an eye-opener for her. Her earliest interactions with Crane’s micro-optics rewarded the slightest tilt with images that shot across the feature, elements that morphed into different forms and 3D visual cues so strong that she had to pass a finger over their surface to reassure her that what she was seeing was in fact an illusion.
“It’s really a unique visual experience, so much of our micro-optic effects are mirages – you’re left wondering how the magic is happening.”
3D Animation Expert
Kara Zona attended Savannah College of Art and Design where she explored 3D animation techniques. Animation is still a relatively new art form, but a fast growing communication medium. As a student, Kara took great interest in exploring the use of scanned imagery to tell stories through looped animations and GIFs, an interest that would prove exceptionally useful in designing micro-optic features required to convey authenticity quickly and decisively.
A lot of her friends went west to the entertainment industry in California, but Kara wanted to continue with developing her craft and stayed in Georgia.
After a short period developing 3D models for mobile games, she came across an open position at Crane Currency’s micro-optics design center located in Alpharetta, Georgia not far from Atlanta and Georgia Tech University. Starting as an Optical Designer, it took Kara four years to become the center’s Design Team Lead.
Creating Banknote Security in a “Gaming Studio”
Apart from the center’s security, the Alpharetta team is set up much like a gaming studio. Its members are experts in software development and optical design. The team continues to grow and recently hired a motion graphic artist skilled in 3D animation, kinetics, and engineering.
The Alpharetta team has developed a proprietary software tool, the Micro-Optic Design platform, or “MOD” to simulate and create advanced 3D animations. As a R&D facility, the Alpharetta team is constantly creating better processes and more advanced design software resetting the boundaries of what’s possible with micro-optics.
The first micro-optic simulation engine created in Alpharetta was one of these tools that helped central banks to explore how to use micro-optic security features on their banknotes. Today, simulation tools that are even more advanced are being used to test new micro-optic effects that remain for the time being behind a curtain of secrecy.
“The first Topo 3D effect was astonishing and was made possible with the help of our early software. Ingenious at the time, the design software used today have progressed much farther, and the creation time for rendering even more complex effects has come down considerably. Mathematics is a big part of that creation process and our software has automated a lot of those processes,” Kara explains.
DaSean Clark and Caitlin Byham sketching the security features of the future.
Micro-Optics Keeps Banknotes Relevant for the Public
Technology like Crane’s micro-optics is at its best and most secure when integrated well into a finished banknote design. Realizing the huge security opportunities of these features always comes back to simple, but important questions: Is the 3D effect simple but bold enough? Is its integration sensible? Have we as designers placed it so as to maximize public engagement and use?
“How our global team works together has an impact on the quality of how micro-optics is perceived. We must keep banknotes even more interesting and relevant for the public – and the synergies between banknote and micro-optic design places Crane Currency in a unique position to do that,” says Kara.
More Game-Like Effects on Banknotes
According to Kara, the team is still understanding the full scope of the micro-optic technology. Crane wants to make the visual effects even more challenging and game-like so that an array of advanced visual effects is delivered simply by tilting the banknote in our hands.
“Our stretch goal is to develop and integrate banknote micro-optics that reset how the public engages with its currency. At a glance or with diligent scrutiny, our micro-optics can deliver a super-fast validation of authenticity, or a memorable sensory experience. There’s a flurry of things that we can do”, Kara says with a smile.
Not your parents’ banknotes: Micro-optic Designers Kara Zona and Kalani Strange add security and “Wow!” to modern banknotes.