WHAT’S HOT AND WHAT’S NOT: Craft skills are now firmly at the heart of the ad making process. Jane Austin and Gavin Boyter talk to some leading edge practitioners about the good, bad and over-used



As Guinness ’surfer’ continues to win yet more awards, Sharon Reed,

managing director of FrameStore, the facilities house responsible for

the ad’s stunning effects, is not surprised by its success. ’’Surfer’

entered the public consciousness and proved that there is still room for

big budget extravaganzas. The new angle is that there is more emphasis

on making the animation look realistic and organic. Now technique can’t

become a cliche because it is invisible. It’s a real shame when trends

like morphing take over and punters spot them. Now it’s all about

capturing people’s imagination.’

Reed says that the function of post houses has evolved considerably over

the last decade. ’We’re no longer just part of a finishing-up stage, but

part of the production process. We are constantly pushed to be faster.

This is indicative of the post-recession advertising environment.’

FrameStore is being offered more and more scripts featuring


Reed believes this is due to the special proprietary techniques the

company developed for the hit BBC series, Walking with Dinosaurs, which

required a team of ten animators working over a two-year period to

produce three hours of animation. ’Now we’re bringing these techniques

to ads,’ she says.

’And we have the ability to create all character animation in

pre-visualisation mode, which allows the director to add personality to

the animations.

Also, a new software package allows us to take a photographed

environment and build a 3-D environment which will let us change the

camera move and track all pixels to be able to move individual elements

within this space.’

Reed also notes that the number of telecine suites in London has more

than doubled in the last decade. She believes this is because ’directors

are constantly searching for a new look. Ten years ago everything was

golden. Now the trend is for more restrained and muted colours. Telecine

is no longer a transfer but an effects session. Sometimes it does feel

that too much is resting on technique and then you do something like

’surfer’ and realise that’s why we’re in effects.’


Mark Craste joined the production house, aka Pizazz, three years ago,

producing work for clients including Nescafe, Orange and Procter &


He recently directed the NatWest Insurance spot, ’Mr Lucky’, for TBWA

GGT Simons Palmer, for which he won the 1999 British Television

Advertising Craft Award for animation.

Craste believes that ’there has been a huge change’ in animation

technology over the last ten years, especially in the use of computers

to trace and paint. The computer is now the central tool of the

animator. ’There are definite gains,’ agrees Craste, ’but the

possibilities for changing things at any point can draw the process

out.’ It sometimes encourages procrastination, Craste says, adding that

’the client has a lot more input’.

Needless to say, the biggest development of recent years is in the use

of CGI - computer-generated imagery. At first it was exploited rather

crudely, as with any new technological development, and so the viewing

public had to put up with jumping cereal boxes and dancing bottles of

bleach. Certain high-profile animation specialists changed all that.

’Pixar has shown that possessing true animation skills can make CGI work

better,’ says Craste. Toy Story used cutting-edge animation but infused

it with real life and character. However, Craste points out that CGI

still looks inferior in some respects to hand-drawn work.

According to Craste, there is still a tendency for ’agency creatives,

stuck for an idea, to just fling some animation in there’. He admits its

use is often pointless and making it seem necessary is a real challenge

in commercials work.

Craste sees new markets for animation in the continued expansion of the

internet and e-commerce. Developments in cable, satellite and digital

television will increase demand for all sorts of programming, including

animation. Computer-generated imagery will continue to improve and,

crucially, will be easier to use. There’s a great feeling of opportunity

among animators in London at the moment. ’Hopefully, this is not just a

passing phase,’ he concludes.


Andy Delaney and Monty Whitebloom are unimpressed by the overall use of

computer graphics and effects in advertising. As the directing duo, BIG

TV, they are no strangers to weeks in the post suites and have been

inundated with requests to repeat the effect in their video for Mary J.

Blige and George Michael’s duet, As, which featured multiples of the

singers in a nightclub. But the pair bemoan the recurring use of effects

to disguise the lack of an idea.

’Effects are shorthand for no idea,’ they explain. ’When Jurassic Park

was big, agencies would say to us, ’You know the dinosaurs in Jurassic

Park? Well, we want that to sell insurance.’ Sometimes it’s like, ’Oh,

we’ve got to sell sugar, bring on the dancing spoons’.

’Effects have got so big,’ they continue, ’that there is almost no need

to go out and shoot anything and agencies love that because when you go

out to shoot there is a good chance that something will go wrong. Apart

from the work that Jonathan Glazer, Chris Cunningham and we do, it would

appear that everyone is obsessed with album covers by Hypnosis. When

people say they want surrealism they really mean that they want an

elephant with really big ears. All this space ship and alien stuff is

really dreadful and we reckon that it’s because too many people in the

advertising industry paid pounds 10 to go to a bad ELO concert and took

too many amphetamines.’

They defend their video for Lauryn Hill’s Doo wop that thing, which won

the best music video award at the MTV Awards, because it had a strong

idea. Through the use of split screen the video illustrated the

differences between a black New York street party in the 60s to one


Apart from talking babies (’sign of the Devil,’ they say) and floating

people, BIG TV claim not to mind ’crappy effects’ as long as they are

interesting. They dislike the current trend for amateur film. ’There are

too many ads where it looks as if they didn’t employ a DP - making ads

look like Crimewatch. In the US, the vogue is for taking footage of dead

celebrities and using computer graphics to animate them into a more

contemporary setting.’


Although new to the industry, having only signed to Black Dog Films this

month, Cassius Coleman’s promo for Jamiroquai’s Supersonic has marked

him out as a director who does things with motion control and

pre-visualisation that even a jaded MTV generation hasn’t seen.

In shooting Supersonic, Coleman utilised motion control rigs for complex

camera moves, as well as to physically hurl the members of Jamiroquai

towards and away from the lens. Such simultaneous movement would have

been impossible to co-ordinate before the invention of pre-visualisation

software such as 5D’s Android, which allows the moves to be modelled on

a computer beforehand and then tested for feasibility, based upon the

specific kinematics of each rig. In the case of Supersonic, the moves

were programmed the same way that graphic equalisers encode sound as


The song was broken down into 11 tracks, each of which was encoded as

one particular movement. As the music pulses, so do the musicians.

Despite this high-tech starting point, Coleman doesn’t want to be

straitjacketed by post-production intensive work. ’It’s difficult to

know when to stop and start with post,’ he says. ’Having the right

collaborators is the key.’

Coleman believes the future will see a greater degree of collaboration

between production houses and post-production houses, with the

distinction blurring as the latter become involved in creating even the

initial idea for a project. For all his recent experiences with

state-of-the-art effects, Coleman talks glowingly of shooting Jamiroquai

on the road using Super-8, digital video and 16mm and his values remain

traditional. ’The power of the script should be at the core of a

project, always.’


The Quarry was founded by Paul Watts and Bruce Townend in 1993 and in

six years has reached the enviable position of having to turn work


One of Watts’ recent success stories has been the ’the world chooses

British Airways’ ad.

Editing has, of course, been revolutionised in the last decade by the

introduction of non-linear systems such as Avid and Lightworks. ’With an

Avid you can absolutely confirm that the cut you’re showing to the

people in the room is the best possible,’ says Watts. Whereas

previously, it was time-consuming and expensive to strike a duplicate

print in order to show alternative cuts side by side, now there are no

such constraints.

Such flexibility does not necessarily make the process faster, Watts

points out. He says: ’When there are 100 ways of going with something,

you still need to retain some discipline. You still have to go through

each and every frame of the rushes.’ Such diligence is something Watts

feels editors ought to apply to other stages in the post-production

process. ’I’ll go to telecine and certainly to important stages of the

dub,’ says Watts.

Watts is concerned that the unstoppable march of technology may put

unnecessary pressure on the editor’s role. He is keen to maintain a

distinction between edit and facility houses and admits that ’we are

being pushed into a situation where we aren’t just editors anymore but

are expected to finish the job too’.


It seems a long time since the silver flying logo represented the

cutting-edge of film effects. However, it still makes the occasional

appearance, notably in Central European sports broadcasting. Here

Campaign presents its bullet-point guide to what’s hot and what’s not in



- Effects that don’t look like effects. Seamless effects, which evoke

fantasy and where the joins are invisible.

- Character animation - expect more talking animals (especially goldfish

and dinosaurs), and babies delivering the brand’s message.

- Pseudo cinema verite and wonky hand-held camera techniques - all

achieved in post of course.

- Selective focus.

- Multiples of central character in film.

- Telecine.

- 60s retro graphics.

- The obvious use of post-production in films and TV series. Hugh Grant

walking through four seasons down Portobello Road in Notting Hill,

directly influenced by Blackcurrant Tango’s ’St George’.


- Dancing kitchen utensils.

- A selection of faces representing sociological differences seamlessly

morphing into each other.

- A golden, cosy hue telecine and watery greens.

- Certain uses of the time slice. Please, no more jugs pouring milk.

- Floating people.

- Lens flare.

- Multi-layered type.

- Picking out one-coloured object from a black and white scene.

- Background seamlessly changing as the spokesperson moves ’unaware’

through a changing environment.

- Frantically cut commercials.

- Giant people walking through a landscape.

- Seamless pull-back.


Split Screen

Oh dear. Best used to good effect in seminal 70s movies and TV series

such as Shaft and The Brady Bunch, this device is more commonly used now

in kitsch, ironic spots that evoke the era. That’s fine, but the device

rarely offers anything to the narrative.

See BIG TV’s Doo wop that thing video for Lauryn Hill to witness the

effect put to good use.

The Morph

The granddaddy of effects. Devised as a transition and fix-it tool, the

morph has been used to within an inch of its life over the last decade

as an effect. So commonplace has been the use of the effect that the

term ’morphing’ has entered into the vernacular and a table turning into

a lion no longer fools punters.

Still, used subtly to form a natural transition the morph remains in


The Time Slice

A beautiful device but, like the morph, relied on far too much. A

live-action effect in which everything except the camera’s view appears

frozen in time. Very impressive when used to freeze things like

overflowing liquid, people mid-jump, people rushing around in urban

environments, and a pot falling. One of the best examples of multiple

time slices put to great use was in Michel Gondry’s ’Smarienberg’ spot

for Smirnoff.


Colour processing systems such as Da Vinci, Pogle and a new wave of

telecine systems, the Spirit and C-Reality, have all contributed to

telecine operators becoming colourists and having a more significant

role in the look of commercials. Plug-ins - added-on software filters -

also contributed to the process enabling soft glows, speed and blurs.

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