Campaign asked 20 top directors who they would pick to make up their
ideal post-production team.
Smoke and Mirrors
In just over a year, the upstart company, Smoke and Mirrors, has managed
to establish itself as one of the commercials industry’s busiest and
most creative post-production outfits.
High points to date include the complex compositing on Vaughan and
Anthea’s ‘planet’ commercial for Levi’s through Bartle Bogle Hegarty,
demanding high-profile spots for the likes of BMW, Reebok and Kiss FM,
and even the occasional sortie into Hollywood for high-resolution
effects work on last year’s Batman Forever and the US box-office hit,
The company’s success is based on two major factors, the emergence of
Discreet Logic’s Flame, Inferno and Fire software as an industry
standard, and the calibre of its owner-operators, who brought a
substantial client base to the new set-up with them. Founders Sean
Broughton (formerly of Rushes), Jon Hollis (one-time head editor at the
Mill) and Chris Roff (co-founder of the Mill) are all Flame specialists
(or ‘Flame artists’ as they grandly style themselves), and the company
has invested almost exclusively in the Canadian-developed system.
‘It’s by far the most flexible system,’ the S&M director, Penny Verbe,
claims. ‘The software can be updated, and you can add on whatever
features you like.’ Smoke and Mirrors set up with one Flame - which runs
on a Silicon Graphics Onyx ‘super’ computer - but quickly increased its
capacity to three as demand mushroomed.
Housed on six floors in Soho’s Beak Street, S&M eschews the ‘designery’
ambience favoured by many of its competitors. ‘We’re very down to
earth,’ Verbe says. ‘We encourage an easy-going atmosphere and even
chose all the sofas and lights ourselves.’ This, she adds, gives the
impression that client money is being spent on expertise and man-hours
rather than fancy decor.
Tom Sparks, yet another award-winning Flame operator, joined the S&M
board earlier this year.
The Mill, Robin Shenfield’s more-established upmarket operation, ran S&M
a close second in this category.
BEST FLAME ARTIST
Jon Hollis Smoke and Mirrors
‘He’s a great person to bounce ideas off and always adds a lot
creatively as well as pushing the buttons,’ says the Brian Byfield
director, Mark Denton, of Jon Hollis, Flame supremo and co-founder of
Smoke and Mirrors.
It’s a quality that has led a posse of more experimental directors to
Hollis’s door, boundary-pushers such as Tomato and Jonathan Barnbrook,
though the unassuming Hollis seems keen to play down this aspect of his
work. ‘I may be unintentionally creative,’ he admits. ‘There is a lot I
can bring to a project, I always try to step back from the kit and think
about it more broadly.’
This kit is inevitably Flame, the impressive post-production software
that is the cornerstone of S&M. ‘It’s an incredibly elegant way of
working,’ Hollis says. ‘The whole idea of a software-led package is
wonderful. It’s almost irrelevant that Flame is driven by Silicon
Graphics Onyx. You can add funky bits of software as you need them;
sculpt the machine to create a specific effect. The subtleties of the
colours you can achieve are incredible. You can work on a hundred
layers, all of which are colour correctable.’
Hollis’s progress has been relentless. He did a year-long media course
at West Bromwich College of Commerce and Technology before landing a job
at SVC as a tape operator, where he moved through the ranks to become an
on-line editor. From there, he went to the Mill, where he was quickly
appointed head of editing. When he saw the potential of Flame, he was
convinced the time was ripe to set up his own shop. ‘I’ve been at the
right place at the right time,’ Hollis says. ‘I was at SVC when they
brought in the first digital disk on-line suite and at the Mill for one
of the earliest Flames. Who knows what technology might bring us next?’
There wasn’t a close second in this category but others nominated
included Rushes’ Verdi Sevenhuysen, S&M’s Sean Broughton, Perry
Wainwright at the Moving Picture Company and the Mill’s Jean Luc Azziz
and Ant Walsham.
BEST SOUND DESIGNER
Andy McLellan The Tape Gallery
Like many of his ilk, the Tape Gallery’s Andy McLellan has recently
switched over to the more esoteric job title of ‘sound designer’. ‘It’s
a bit of a sore point,’ he says. ‘In effect [the Tape Gallery] has been
doing it for ages and then suddenly all these people sprang up calling
themselves sound designers as if they were somehow different.’
McLellan reckons 99 per cent of his workload is commercials based, but
occasionally he does also turn his hand to corporate videos. Though
‘sound is often the last consideration’ of creative teams, he maintains
there is still plenty of room for creativity in his chosen field, and
that a fresh pair of eyes (or ears) can often bring that crucial extra
10 per cent to a project.
His forte tends to be ‘comedy stuff rather than full-monty film type
stuff’, and he’s recently worked on humorous spots for Lynx and
Polaroid, both through Bartle Bogle Hegarty.
McLellan’s favourite piece of sound equipment is the Synclavier, which
he describes as ‘a very powerful digital sampler capable of weird and
McLellan has been installed at the Tape Gallery for nine years, though
his career started inauspiciously as a teaboy-cum-gofer at Piccadilly
Radio in Manchester. He’d soon picked up enough technical know-how to
move on to the operating desk, which was when he started to become
interested in the making of commercials.
His next job was at Hereward Radio in Peterborough where, in something
of a sideways move, he was appointed copywriter in charge of local
commercials. ‘I was churning out 40-odd commercials a week,’ he recalls.
‘I was producing, arranging the voiceovers, engineering - a bit of a
one-man band, really.’
McLellan then went back to Manchester to Pluto Studios, which handled
ads for Granada TV and various local radio stations, before relocating
to London and the Tape Gallery.
BEST TELECINE OPERATOR
Mick Vincent VTR
Telecine - the transfer of film to digital video tape - is an essential,
though often underrated, part of the production process.
However, according to VTR’s Mick Vincent, it is undergoing something of
an image change. ‘People are slowly beginning to realise its value,’ he
says. ‘Telecine has become much quicker and more sophisticated over the
past couple of years.’ If you lose quality at this early stage, the
results can be flat and uninspiring, jeopardising the rest of the
project. Accurate grading is a must, and special effects, particularly
colourisation, are possible during telecine.
‘Poor telecine is a bit like getting David Bailey to takes photographs
for you and then getting them developed at Snappy Snaps,’ Vincent
Vincent is head of the team of six in the telecine department at VTR,
where he has been for the past ten years. On average, he works on four
to five commercials a day. Vincent - who trained as an electronics
engineer- spent three years working in the radar industry before moving
into film, joining Rank Cintel as a service engineer.
‘Knowledge of electronics can be easily adapted,’ he explains. ‘My first
love is telecine operating, but my engineering background does help me
see things in a broader context. I know how to get the best out of a
VTR provides Vincent with a ‘nice balance’ of pop promos and commercials
to work on. Recent big-budget videos he’s contributed to include George
Michael’s come-back single, Jesus to a Child, as well as films for the
Britpoppers, Blur, Pulp and Oasis. Commercials include Bartle Bogle
Hegarty’s send-up spot for Lynx, a Sure commercial shot by Patricia
Murphy, plus spots for Vodafone, Weetabix, Budweiser and Nike. VTR is
soon to take delivery of the first Datacine Spirit in the UK, a new
film-resolution telecine machine developed by Philips and Kodak. ‘It’s
the next generation of telecine machine,’
Vincent says. ‘It should open up a whole new area for us.’
Adrian Seery of Rushes was the runner-up in this category.
Sam Sneade Sam Sneade Editing
Sam Sneade must have one of the most difficult jobs in commercials post-
production. Imagine having to snip, chop and prune at exquisite footage
delivered by virtuoso film-makers such as Tony Kaye, Frank Budgen and
Daniel Barber every day. It must require the kind of decisiveness and
bravery usually reserved for the battlefield.
‘Editing is so instinctive,’ Sneade says. ‘It’s like sculpting time, and
if it’s done well it should be seamless. It’s all a question of pace and
In the finite world of commercials, where 60 seconds is considered
something of a luxury, the pressure is at its most acute, but this
doesn’t seem to faze theunflappable Sneade, who remains distinctly cool
even when the going gets tough. And he did it the hard way too.
The young Sneade arrived in London straight out of college, armed only
with an English degree and the vaguest notion about wanting to get into
films. When he was offered a position as a runner at Jim Bambrick
Associates, he made it his business to learn all he could about editing
techniques and equipment. His big break came in 1986, when Tony Kaye
begged some free editing time for a film about the Optician’s Council.
His association with Kaye has continued over the years, notably editing
the director’s comeback commercial, ‘unwind’, for British Rail through
Saatchi and Saatchi, and his controversial anti-cocaine film, which
shows a man shooting a revolver through his nostril.
After ten years at Bambricks, Sneade set up in business on his own last
year, under the no-nonsense name Sam Sneade Associates. ‘I didn’t want
to call it Snips or anything cheesy like that,’ he explains.
He’s since worked with Frank Budgen on the recent Volkswagen UFO
commercial, as well as spots for Orange, Allied Dumbar, Virgin, Johnnie
Walker whisky and Graham Fink’s new Persil ad.
BEST HENRY OPERATOR
Tim Burke and Rob Harvey The Mill
Tim Burke and Rob Harvey met at college in Norwich - where they studied
graphics and animation - more years ago than they’d care to remember. In
the late 80s they resumed their acquaintance at the post-production
house, Cell, and during their tenure proudly invested in the country’s
first Quantel Henry. ‘We were a year ahead of everyone else which stood
us in good stead, but Henry has come on in leaps and bounds since then,’
Harvey recalls. ‘The new software is blinding.’
Harvey believes Henry’s library system still gives it the edge over its
rivals. Many different versions of the same sequence can be stored, so
that earlier versions can be returned to if the director feels he or she
has been heading down a blind alley. ‘It is just so fast to edit on if
you use it in conjunction with Flame, you can have the best of both
worlds, but generally I don’t find Flame so user-friendly,’ he says.
Though Flame has undoubtedly dented Quantel’s (the Newbury-based maker
of Harry and Henry) dominance in the post-production market, Harvey
believes the real threat lies elsewhere. ‘Macintosh systems such as Avid
are incredibly cheap compared with something like Henry,’ he says. ‘They
are definitely worth keeping an eye out for. Having said that, Quantel
is always moving the goalposts, always bringing out some amazing new
‘Rob and Tim are good problem-solvers,’ says Doug Foster, a director at
Blink Productions, who has worked with them on spots for Guinness,
Strepsils and Stena. ‘They can foresee things before they happen, which
is a big plus when you’re forking out for expensive post-production
Burke and Harvey, together with Karl Mooney, are preparing for the
launch of an (as yet unnamed) company, a joint venture instigated by
Ridley and Tony Scott and the Mill. It will specialise in high-
resolution commercials and feature films. ‘It’s going to be a one-stop
house,’ Harvey says. ‘We’ll do everything from shooting to 3D work to
An honourable mention goes to Barnsley at the Mill, who came in a close
second in the Henry category.