Creative in association withGear Seven

Penny Verbe, CEO, Smoke & Mirrors

Production Agency
London, UK

LBB: Tell us a little about what you offer now as a company, where your offices are, and why?  PV: Smoke & Mirrors is a highly creative, world renowned VFX company. We provide content for whatever platform is required and deliver to wherever is needed. We produce creative solutions as a whole rather than just individual services, our clients know we can handle anything they can throw at us be it print, post, asset management, digital content and all other known media.

We have offices in London, New York and Shanghai. These 3 advertising centres give us a huge advantage. We can truly create, manage and deliver to a global market. We are the first post production company to successfully open in Shanghai. This is a truly exciting time as the Asian market is exploding and looking to the experience of western companies to help them realise their creative potential.

LBB: Are you offering any particularly cool services that people may not be aware of? If so here is your chance!

PV: What is cool is that we are working on projects as diverse as fashion shows, art installations, web content, digital signage, in-store platforms, stereoscopic films, print campaigns, music videos and, of course, commercials, all of which repurpose assets across all media saving time and money. Our new 15,000 sq ft building in London is pretty cool, our gorgeous new Shanghai premises are in the hippest location in town and our roof terrace BBQs are pretty damn popular. 

LBB: It must be tough always being the last company to handle creative on an ad. Obviously the amount of talent in top post houses is unbelievable. Do you feel that the folks back at the agency and the end client are aware of your input?

PV: To be honest I think we are one of the agencies' first port of call. Clients are more aware than ever before of what we do and what we can bring to a project creatively given the dual constraints of time and money. We are often involved right at the very beginning, as we can advise on a variety of approaches. Our involvement can be from inception right through to delivery on multiple platforms and markets or it can be as simple as a title and a clock (although doing just that is pretty rare these days).

LBB: We presume you are working directly with some advertisers now, which makes perfect sense to us. However, we gather sometimes the agency doesn't like this. Is it an issue?

PV: There's no real sea change here, advertisers have always looked for value for money. The difference now is that it is much easier to achieve financial transparency and we have developed bespoke asset management systems that produce detailed information that is of real value to the advertisers. When you have such a plethora of platforms and devices combined with a multitude of markets this is a real cost benefit to clients.  Over the last 15 years of Smoke and Mirrors' existence, we have constantly adapted our workflow to our clients needs and are incredibly responsive and will continue to do so.

LBB: New companies are appearing to offer global adaptation work, a job traditionally done in a post house. Are these companies offering a different approach or can you offer the same cost effective service?

PV: Adaptation is not as simple as it seems. You have cultural nuances as a well as language differences that can change the very essence of the commercial; it's rarely as simple as just a translation. Part of our remit is to consider every scenario and provide cultural solutions from a visual and aural perspective. There will always be someone who can do it cheaper but whether they are successful and proficient is a different question. You cannot risk getting the wrong interpretation which is why we have a global adaptations service which uses talent from all over the world and covers every dialect imaginable. Companies can come and go but we find that our clients want to work with established companies with proven track records who can provide the whole integrated service.
LBB: Has the business of post production changed a lot over the last 10 years? And what do you think it will look like in 10 more years?

PV: Yes is the short answer. When Smoke & Mirrors first set up in 1995 we purposely didn't adopt the accepted hardware driven solutions that all other post companies had in place. Instead we pioneered a new untried piece of software called Flame. The difference today is that you don't have to spend 5 hours in the pub around the corner waiting for a shot to render. 

It would be foolish to predict the next 10 years given current world events and the propensity for change but certainly 3D will play an increasing pivotal role as the technology is getting better and better. We continue the philosophy of researching new workflow methods for the benefit of our clients. Post production constantly evolves from a technological and creative standpoint as the kit gets faster and cheaper, expectations get higher but you still need experienced people who can bring that extra something to the party. Only the very best will thrive and adapt to the changing environment and listening to your clients is crucial to planning for the future. You need a solid base to have a solid future.

LBB: Tell us about your favourite job that your company has worked on. Can you tell us why you have selected this from so many?

PV: All of them!  In every job there is always something you can pinpoint where we added real value to the end result.

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