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The VFX Factor: Satisfying OCD Tendencies with Tim Mellem
Post Production
London, UK
CHEAT senior flame artist on starting out small, preserving your sanity and the excitement of stepping back into the Cheat HQ

Tim Mellem is a senior flame artist at Cheat. Having worked in post production for over 20 years, and in highly respected companies including Sky, MPC, Untold and Youngster, he has helmed a vast range of projects for major brands such as Apple, Jaguar, Coca Cola, Hugo Boss, Adidas, Huawei and many more.

A big fan of creative collaboration, Tim enjoys the intricacies of delivering premium projects and thrives off the energy that comes from running attended Flame sessions.

2021 saw Tim bring his technical knowhow and creative flair to Cheat - kick starting their online and VFX department - and has since worked on numerous commercial projects of note including George at ASDA’s ‘Arrive Like You Mean It’ which had everyone talking; from industry publications to Grazia, Nick Grimshaw, Mo Gilligan and JLS’s JB.

LBB> There are two ends to the VFX spectrum – the invisible post and the big, glossy ‘VFX heavy’ shots. What are the challenges that come with each of those?

Tim> Some differences aren't so big. The VFX heavy shots still have many elements that need to be seamlessly integrated to sell the final composite. However there likely will be many artists involved, making it a real team effort, and there is much greater subjectivity of course. Vital to have that close relationship with the creative team right from the beginning. Pure invisible post for me is always satisfying. It requires great attention to detail which really pampers to my OCD tendencies!

LBB> As a VFX person, what should directors be aware of to make sure you do the best possible job for them?

Tim> VFX is the servant of narrative and creative intent of the director and, of course, should never be an end in itself. So early discussions are great and vision shared. But even on a simple VFX shot time and money can be saved if a little thought is put into how a shot is captured ahead of time, which can only be a good thing.

LBB> VFX is a true craft in the classic sense of the word. Where did you learn your craft?

Tim> I found myself enjoying editing small projects while at college, so I thought this would be something I would love to pursue as a career. I started as an edit assistant and then grabbed my chances to get into the suite whenever I could. Getting into compositing and Flame was a great move. I’m pretty much self taught, but along the way so many other artists have been generous with sharing tips and tricks that have been invaluable for refining the craft.

LBB> Think about the very, very start of a project. What is your process for that? Do you have a similar starting point for all projects?

Tim> It's always vital right from the start that everything is correctly organised and named, which is even more of an imperative with larger collaborative projects. Either way if you want to preserve your sanity as an artist and don't want to see embarrassing errors creeping into your timelines, a tidy project is so important.

LBB> We imagine that one of the trickiest things with VFX is, time issues aside, deciding when a project is finished! How do you navigate that?

Tim> I'm always pleased to have a time limit on a project as it gives me focus on what I'm going to achieve and how I will get there. Since we probably time quoted on the job in the first place, I've only got myself to blame if things are suddenly running a bit tight! But in the end I can never let things go if I'm not happy with the result, so time management if definitely a core skill of the job.

LBB> Is there a piece of technology or software that's particularly exciting you in VFX? Why?

Tim> Interesting to see how AI integration into Flame is developing. There are already some really helpful tools coming on stream but the future possibilities, it seems, could be truly amazing. Away from Flame, virtual LED sets will revolutionise VFX shoots and hopefully slowly bring to an end the age of green screen.

LBB> How have you navigated your role during Covid? Was there a big shift to remote? Tell us about your experience.

Tim> Of course remote working has been essential during the pandemic and it's been a relief that Flame has worked well using the usual PC-over-IP software. However, sharing a flat with a six month old, finding a suitable peaceful corner with perfect lighting for intricate VFX, has on occasion been a challenge. So in many ways it's exciting to be back on wonderful Cheat HQ soil, not just simply for more focus but also for the extra buzz from being in a creative environment. Can't get all that from a Zoom! 

LBB> Are there any lessons you've learned / experiences that you've had from working during Covid that you'll be looking to keep with you once things hopefully get back to some form of normality?

Tim> Good communication with production has been even more vital during this time. Really have to be more self conscious about regular check-ins as informal chats just don't happen. I certainly missed the human interaction, but it has meant there is a more disciplined thorough process which is now habit. 

LBB> How did you first get into the industry? What was your very first job in the industry and what were the biggest lessons that you learned at that time?

Tim> I studied electronics at college so I had my first break in post as a technician. But it didn't take me long to realise I wanted a more creative career path. Then it was late nights and weekends honing skills. Eventually production took pity on me, hanging around, as I was, all hours, and threw me a few small jobs. Then I was away! Enthusiasm is everything. It was then. And indeed it still is now.

LBB> What was your first creative milestone in the industry – the project you worked on that you were super proud of?

Tim> There were a couple Promax wins while I was at Sky, including my very first Flame job. So that was encouraging in the early days. Also my first job at MPC Shanghai was a nice challenge. The Jaguar commercial had already been shot and I was thrown the lead as I walked through the door. I hadn't managed a project with the resources of MPC at its disposal before and it opened my eyes to the creative scope you have when you have a large pool of talent on a job. 

LBB> From a VFX perspective, which ads have you seen recently that you've been particularly fond of and why?

Tim> Maybe because I was working in East Asia not too long ago and I'm feeling nostalgic, but I really like the BBC's Tokyo Olympic promo. Great fun and sweetly executed. I'm also fond of our recent Asda George ‘Arrive Like You Mean It’ ad too. Rarely when working on a job, after you've seen it a thousand times, are you still smiling when you watch it through. I think all of us involved at Cheat felt the same way. It’s great when that happens.