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Why Post Houses Are Adland’s Secret Hotbeds of Innovation


Laura’s Word 19 February 2014

Why Post Houses Are Adland’s Secret Hotbeds of Innovation

There must be, it’s fair to assume, several potent hangovers lingering around the offices of Framestore this week. After picking up their second VFX Bafta for Gravity, which picked up six gongs in total on Sunday night, the team would be forgiven for being in a celebratory mood. And odds are looking good for next month’s Oscars, so they should probably be stocking up on the Alka Seltzer. It’s been a great start to the year for them, and while Framestore are currently – deservedly – basking in the spotlight, the whole post production industry should be feeling proud. Why? Well I have a sneaking suspicion that they might be the most innovative companies in the ad industry.

This week the UK press has been questioning the ‘Britishness’ of Gravity, which won the award for Outstanding British Film 2014 at the Baftas. The director, they complain, is Mexican (despite living in London) while the cast is American. And it winds me up. Almost every article I read in the mainstream press completely undermines and ignores the extent of Framestore’s involvement in the film, not to mention the local inventiveness that’s gone into making one of the most realistic space movies ever. Dismissed in London’s local paper The Evening Standard as ‘VFX nerds’, the team were involved with pre-production and production design as well as conjuring the eyeball-busting visuals. They consulted NASA, they built giant LED light box sets, they created nearly every single thing on screen aside from Clooney and Bullock’s beautiful fizzogs.

Outside of the big awards story, there is plenty of inventiveness elsewhere too. There’s the Mill, whose creative studio Mill+ is nurturing creative talent like Carl Addy and McBess. Digitally literate animators who can take the lead as creative directors – it’s a far cry from the traditional image of obliging post-houses shunted on at the end of the process. Post houses are moving increasingly upstream and their artistic input is increasingly important.

It’s a trend that has been happening for a few years now, for all of these post houses. They’re doing pre-viz, production design, creative direction on projects. And for the really major Hollywood projects, like Gravity, like Gladiator, they often have to develop brand new software or adapt existing technology to cope with the demands of ever more sophisticated audiences and ambitious directors.

Creativity and technology is the killer combination for advertising in the 21st century. And really, when you think about it, post houses have always had to be masters of both. Keeping up with tech developments and doing their own R&D is in their DNA – as is the drive to make aesthetically stunning pieces of work. A few months ago I caught up with a couple of the guys from The Ambassadors. Conversation soon turned to their extra-curricular projects, from experimental films for Occulus Rift to their cloud-based project-management tool Cube – they’re always looking forward. 

And then there’s MPC’s utterly phenomenal Transforming project, in which they worked with artists Rob and Nick Carter to bring magnificent old Masters Painting to life using 3D animation, complicated algorithms to create lifelike behaviours, and experimenting with 4K filmmaking. Oh and 3D printing to create a bronze version of Van Gogh’s ubiquitous Sunflowers. And talking of 3D printing, something set to go mainstream in 2014, the team have been amassing a collection of 3D printed models of every character they design. Oh yeah and there’s the tiny matter of their upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy movie.

To their credit, many post houses still nurture new talent unlike any other corner of the industry. Sure you can go to film school, but for hungry runners staying late to play with the suites and chat to the experts there’s no better education in the fundamentals of craft. About six months ago Rushes – which until recently had its own platform for supporting emerging directors, Soho Shorts – released a filmmaking app with Straight 8. It’s a project that really struck me as giving back to the industry, particularly inexperienced filmmakers without the cash for fancy equipment or the time or knowledge to hunt out vintage cameras.

This time last year I was being blown away by the real-time digital puppeteering techniques being pioneered by the likes of Framestore and Passion (not a post house, but as a production and animation company perhaps not the first people you’d expect to be talking about cherry-picking different aspects of video game mechanics).

Aside from the post production giants, there are new kids on the block like Electric Theatre Collective and Time Based Arts which feel more like upstart start-ups and are attracting directors and creatives with an altogether different approach.

Last week I interviewed Wieden+Kennedy Amsterdam’s Edu Pou, who said that he found hanging out with the agency’s digital production department and keeping in touch with production houses was crucial to staying ahead of the game tech-wise. And I’d most definitely add post houses into that mix. I’ve been thinking about his words a lot over the past few days, particularly with Framestore’s big win hitting the headlines. A fellow journalist at another publication once asked me what was so interesting about writing about post and production (“What, is it writing about new cameras and machines and stuff?”). It’s a fairly typical attitude, I think, of those in the branding and marketing side of the industry. Aside from the fact that I could talk to a colourist for hours (no, really), I always come away from a meeting with a post house learning something new. A new bit of technology, an experiment, an idea. As the ad industry becomes more technology-focussed and trend-obsessed, my question is ‘what’s NOT interesting about that?’

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Genres: Visual VFX

LBB Editorial, Wed, 19 Feb 2014 18:02:45 GMT