Tag Archives: The Mill

Visual Effects in Commercials: Chantix, Verizon

By Karen Moltenbrey

Once too expensive to consider for use in television commercials, visual effects soon found their way into this realm, enlivening and enhancing the spots. Today, countless commercials are using increasingly complex VFX to entertain, to explain and to elevate a message. Here, we examine two very different approaches to using effects in this way. In the Verizon commercial Helping Doctors Fight Cancer, augmented reality is transferred from a holographic medical application and fused into a heartwarming piece thanks to an extremely delicate production process. For the Chantix Turkey Campaign, digital artists took a completely different method, incorporating a stylized digital spokes-character — with feathers, nonetheless – into various scenes.

Verizon Helping Doctors Fight Cancer

The main goal of television advertisements — whether they are 15, 30 or 60 seconds in length — is to sell a product. Some do it through a direct sales approach. Some by “selling” a lifestyle or brand. And some opt to tell a story. Verizon took the latter approach for a campaign promoting its 5G Ultra Wideband.

Vico Sharabani

For the spot Helping Doctors Fight Cancer, directed by Christian Weber, Verizon adds a human touch to its technology through a compelling story illustrating how its 5G network is being used within a mixed-reality environment so doctors can better treat cancer patients. The 30-second commercial features surgeons and radiologists using high-fidelity holographic 3D anatomical renderings that can be viewed from every angle and even projected onto a person’s body for a more comprehensive examination, while the imagery can potentially be shared remotely in near real time. The augmented-reality application is from Medivis, a start-up medical visualization company that is using Verizon’s next-generation 5G wireless speeds to deliver the high speeds and low latencies necessary for the application’s large datasets and interactive frame rates.

The spot introduces video footage of patients undergoing MRIs and discussion by Medivis cofounder Dr. Osamah Choudhry about how treatment could be radically changed using the technology. Holographic medical imagery is then displayed showing the Medivis AR application being used on a patient.

“McGarryBowen New York, Verizon’s advertising agency, wanted to show the technology in the most accurate and the most realistic way possible. So, we studied the technology,” says Vico Sharabani, founder/COO of The-Artery, which was tasked with the VFX work in the spot. To this end, The Artery team opted to use as much of the actual holographic content as possible, pulling assets from the Medivis software and fusing it with other broadcast-quality content.

The-Artery is no stranger to augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality. Highly experienced in visual effects, Sharabani founded the company to solve business problems within the visual space across all platforms, from films to commercials to branding, and as such, alternate reality and story have been integral elements to achieving that goal. Nevertheless, the work required for this spot was difficult and challenging.

“It’s not just acquiring and melding together 3D assets,” says Sharabani. “The process is complex, and there are different ways to do it — some better than others. And the agency wanted it to be true to the real-life application. This was not something we could just illustrate in a beautiful way; it had to be very technically accurate.”

To this end, much of the holographic imagery consisted of actual 3D assets from the Medivis holographic AR system, captured live. At times, though, The Artery had to rework the imagery using multiple assets from the Medivis application, and other times the artists re-created the medical imagery in CG.

Initially, the ad agency expected that The-Artery would recreate all the digital assets in CG. But after learning as much as they could about the Medivis system, Sharabani and the team were confident they could export actual data for the spot. “There was much greater value to using actual data when possible, actual CT data,” says Sharabani. “Then you have the most true-to-life representation, which makes the story even more heartfelt. And because we were telling a true story about the capabilities of the network around a real application being used by doctors, any misrepresentation of the human anatomy or scans would hurt the message and intention of the campaign.”

The-Artery began developing a solution with technicians at Medivis to export actual imagery via the HoloLens headset that’s used by the medical staff to view and manipulate the holographic imagery, to coincide with the needs of the commercial. Sometimes this involved merely capturing the screen performance as the HoloLens was being used. Other times the assets from the Medivis system were rendered over a greenscreen without a background and later composited into a scene.

“We have the ability to shoot through the HoloLens, which was our base; we used that as our virtual camera whereby the output of the system is driven by the HoloLens. Every time we would go back to do a capture (if the edit changed or the camera position changed), we had to use the HoloLens as our virtual camera in order to get the proper camera angle,” notes Sharabani. Because the HoloLens is a stereoscopic device, The Artery always used the right-eye view for the representations, as it most closely reflected the experience of the user wearing the device.

Since the Medivis system is driven by the HoloLens, there is some shakiness present — an artifact the group retained in some of the shots to make it truer to life. “It’s a constant balance of how far we go with realism and at what point it is too distracting for the broadcast,” says Sharabani.

For imagery like the CT scans, the point cloud data was imported directly into Autodesk’s Maya, where it was turned into a 3D model. Other times the images were rendered out at 4K directly from the system. The Medivis imagery was later composited into the scenes using Autodesk’s Flame.

However, not every bit of imagery was extracted from the system. Some had to be re-created using a standard 3D pipeline. For instance, the “scan” of the actor’s skull was replicated by the artists so that the skull model matched perfectly with the holographic imagery that was overlaid in post production (since everyone’s skull proportions are different). The group began by creating the models in Maya and then composited the imagery within Autodesk’s Flame, along with a 3D bounding box of the creative implant.

The artists also replicated the Medivis UI in 3D to recreate and match the performance of the three-dimensional UI to the AI hand gestures by the person “using” the Medivis system in the spot — both of which were filmed separately. For the CG interface, the group used Autodesk’s Maya and Flame, as well as Adobe’s After Effects.

“The process was so integrated to the edit, we needed the proper 3D tracking and some of the assets to be built as a 3D screen element,” explains Sharabani. “It gave us more flexibility to build the 3D UI inside of Flame, enabling us to control it more quickly and easily when we changed a hand gesture or expanded the shots.”

With The-Artery’s experience pertaining to virtual technology, the team was quick to understand the limitations of the project using this particular equipment. Once that was established, however, they began to push the boundaries with small hacks that enabled them to achieve their goals of using actual holographic data to tell an amazing story.

Chantix “Turkey” Campaign

Chantix is medication to help smokers kick the habit. To get its message across in a series of television commercials, the drug maker decided to talk turkey, focusing the campaign on a CG turkey that, well, goes “cold turkey” with the assistance of Chantix.

A series of four spots — Slow Turkey, Camping, AC and Beach Day — prominently feature the turkey, created at The Mill. The spots were directed and produced in-house by Mill+, The Mill’s end-to-end production arm, with Jeffrey Dates directing.


L-R: John Montefusco, Dave Barosin and Scott Denton

“Each one had its own challenges,” says CG lead John Montefusco. Nevertheless, the initial commercial, Slow Turkey, presented the biggest obstacle: the build of the character from the ground up. “It was not only a performance feat, but a technical one as well,” he adds.

Effects artist Dave Barosin iterated Montefusco’s assessment of Slow Turkey, which, in addition to building the main asset from scratch, required the development of a feather system. Meanwhile, Camping and AC had the addition of clothing, and Beach Day presented the challenge of wind, water and simulation in a moving vehicle.

According to senior modeler Scott Denton, the team was given a good deal of creative freedom when crafting the turkey. The artists were presented with some initial sketches, he adds, but more or less had free rein in the creation of the look and feel of the model. “We were looking to tread the line between cartoony and realistic,” he says. The first iterations became very cartoony, but the team subsequently worked backward to where the character was more of a mix between the two styles.

The crew modeled the turkey using Autodesk’s Maya and Pixologic’s ZBrush. It was then textured within Adobe’s Substance and Foundry’s Mari. All the details of the model were hand-sculpted. “Nailing the look and feel was the toughest challenge. We went through a hundred iterations before getting to the final character you see in the commercial,” Denton says.

The turkey contains 6,427 body feathers, 94 flight feathers and eight scalp feathers. They were simulated using a custom feather setup built by the lead VFX artist within SideFX Houdini, which made the process more efficient. Proprietary tools also were used to groom the character.

The artists initially developed a concept sculpt in ZBrush of just the turkey’s head, which underwent numerous changes and versions before they added it to the body of the model. Denton then sculpted a posed version with sculpted feathers to show what the model might look like when posed, giving the client a better feel for the character. The artists later animated the turkey using Maya. Rendering was performed in Autodesk’s Arnold, while compositing was done within Foundry’s Nuke.

“Developing animation that holds good character and personality is a real challenge,” says Montefusco. “There’s a huge amount of evolution in the subtleties that ultimately make our turkey ‘the turkey.’”

For the most part, the same turkey model was used for all four spots, although the artists did adapt and change certain aspects — such as the skeleton and simulation meshes – for each as needed in the various scenarios.

For the turkey’s clothing (sweater, knitted vest, scarf, down vest, knitted cap, life vest), the group used Marvelous Designer 3D software for virtual clothes and fabrics, along with Maya and ZBrush. However, as Montefusco explains, tailoring for a turkey is far different than developing CG clothing for human characters. “Seeing as a lot of the clothes that were selected were knit, we really wanted to push the envelope and build the knit with geometry. Even though this made things a bit slower for our effects and lighting team, in the end, the finished clothing really spoke for itself.”

The four commercials also feature unique environments ranging from the interior and exterior of a home to a wooded area and beach. The artists used mostly plates for the environments, except for an occasional tent flap and chair replacement. The most challenging of these settings, says Montefusco, was the beach scene, which required full water replacement for the shot of the turkey on the paddle board.


Karen Moltenbrey is a veteran writer, covering visual effects and post production.

Meet the Artist: The Mill’s Anne Trotman

Anne Trotman is a senior Flame artist and VFX supervisor at The Mill in New York. She specializes in beauty and fashion work but gets to work on a variety of other projects as well.

A graduate of Kings College in London, Trotman took on what she calls “a lot of very random temp jobs” before finally joining London’s Blue Post Production as a runner.

“In those days a runner did a lot of ‘actual’ running around SoHo, dropping off tapes and picking up lunches,” she says, admitting she was also sent out for extra green for color bars and warm sake at midnight. After being promoted to the machine room, she spent her time assisting all the areas of the company, including telecine grading, offline, online, VFX and audio. “This gave me a strong understanding of the post production process as a whole.”

Trotman then joined the 2D VFX teams from Blue, Clear Post Production, The Hive and VTR to create a team at Prime Focus London. She moved into film compositing where she headed up the 2D team as a senior Flame operator. Overseeing projects, including shot allocation and VFX reviews. Then she joined SFG-Technicolor’s commercials facility in Shanghai. After a year in China she joined The Mill in New York, where she is today.

We reached out to Trotman to find out more about The Mill, a technology and visual effects studio, how she works and some recent projects. Enjoy.

Bumble

Can you talk about some recent high-profile projects you’ve completed?
The most recent high-profile project I’ve worked on was for Bumble’s Super Bowl 2019 spot. It was its first commercial ever. Being that Bumble is a female-founded company, it was important for this project to celebrate female artists and empowerment, something I strongly support. Therefore, I was thrilled to lead an all-female team for this project. The agency creatives and producers were all female and so was almost the whole post team, including the editor, colorist and all the VFX artists.

How did you first learn Flame, and how has your use of it evolved over the years?
I had been assisting artists working on a Quantel Editbox at Blue. They then installed a Flame and hired a female artist who had worked on Gladiator. That’s when I knew I had found my calling. Working with technical equipment was very attractive to me, and in those days it was a dark art, and you had to work in a company to get your hands on one. I worked nights doing a lot of conforming and rotoscoping. I also started doing small jobs for clients I knew well. I remember assisting on an Adele pop video, which is where my love of beauty started.

When I first started using Flame, the whole job was usually completed by one artist. These days, jobs are much bigger, and with so many versions for social media, some days a lot of my day is coordinating the team of artists. Workshare and remote artists are becoming a big part of our industry, so communicating with artists all over the world has become a big part of my job in order to bring everything together to create the final film.

In addition to Flame, what other tools are used in your workflow?
Post production has changed so much in the past five years. My job is not just to press buttons on a Flame to get a commercial on television anymore; that’s only a small part. My job is to help the director and/or the agency position a brand and connect it with the consumer.

My workflow usually starts with bidding an agency or a director’s brief. Sometimes they need tests to sell an idea to a client. I might supervise a previz artist on Maxon Cinema 4D to help them achieve the director’s vision. I attend most of the shoots, which gives me an insight into the project while assessing the client’s goals and vision. I can take Flame on a laptop to my shoots to do tests for the director to help explain how certain shots will look after post. This process is so helpful all around in order for me to see if what we are shooting is correct and for the client to understand the director’s vision.

At The Mill, I work closely with the colorists who work on FilmLight Baselight before completing the work on Flame. All the artists at The Mill use Flame and Foundry Nuke, although my Flame skills are 100% better than my Nuke skills.

What are the most fulfilling aspects of the work you do?
I’m lucky to work with many directors and agency creatives that I now call friends. It still gives me a thrill when I’m able to interpret the vision of the creative or director to create the best work possible and convey the message of the brand.

I also love working with the next generation of artists. I especially love being able to work alongside the young female talent at The Mill. This is the first company I’ve worked at where I’ve not been “the one and only female Flame artist.”

At the Mill NY, we currently have 11 full-time female 2D artists working in our team, which has a 30/70 male to female ratio. Still a way to go to get to 50/50, so if I can inspire another female intern or runner who is thinking of becoming a VFX artist or colorist, then it’s a good day. Helping the cycle continue for female artists is so important to me.

What is the greatest challenge you’ve faced in your career?
Moving to Shanghai. Not only did I have the challenge of the language barrier to overcome but also the culture — from having lunch at noon to working with clients from a completely different background than mine. I had to learn all I could about the Chinese culture to help me connect with my clients.

Covergirl with Issa Rae

Out of all of the projects you’ve worked on, which one are you the most proud of?
There are many, but one that stands out is the Covergirl brand relaunch (2018) for director Matt Lambert at Prettybird. As an artist working on high-profile beauty brands, what they stand for is very important to me. I know every young girl will want to use makeup to make themselves feel great, but it’s so important to make sure young women are using it for the right reason. The new tagline “I am what I make-up” — together with a very diverse group of female ambassadors — was such a positive message to put out into the world.

There was also 28 Weeks Later, a feature film from director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo. My first time working on a feature was an amazing experience. I got to make lifelong friends working on this project. My technical abilities as an artist grew so much that year, from learning the patience needed to work on the same shot for two months to discovering the technical difficulties in compositing fire to be able to blow up parts of London. Such fun!

Finally, there was also a spot for the Target Summer 2019 campaign. It was directed by Whitelabel’s Lacey, who I collaborate with together on a lot of projects. Tristan Sheridan was the DP and the agency was Mother NY.

Target Summer Campaign

What advice do you have for a young professional trying to break into the industry?
Try everything. Don’t get pigeonholed into one area of the industry too early on. Learn about every part of the post process; it will be so helpful to you as you progress through your career.

I was lucky my first boss in the industry (Dave Cadle) was patient and gave me time to find out what I wanted to focus on. I try to be a positive mentor to the young runners and interns at The Mill, especially the young women. I was so lucky to have had female role models throughout my career, from the person that employed me to the first person that started training me on Flame. I know how important it is to see someone like you in a role you are thinking of pursuing.

Outside of work, how do you enjoy spending your free time?
I travel as much as I can. I love learning about new cultures; it keeps me grounded. I live in New York City, which is a bubble, and if you stay here too long, you start to forget what the real world looks like. I also try to give back when I can. I’ve been helping a director friend of mine with some films focusing on the issue of female homelessness around the world. We collaborated on some lovely films about women in LA and are currently working on some London-based ones.

You can find out more here.

Anne Trotman Image: Photo by Olivia Burke

a52 Color adds colorist Gregory Reese

Colorist Gregory Reese has joined LA-based grading and finishing studio a52 Color, which is led by executive producer Thatcher Peterson and includes colorists Paul Yacono and Daniel de Vue.

Reese comes to a52 Color after eight years at The Mill. While there he colored a spectrum of commercials for athletic brands, including Nike and Reebok, as well as campaigns for Audi, Apple, Covergirl, GMC, Progressive and Samsung. He worked with such directors as AG Rojas, Matt Lambert and Harold Einstein while developing the ability to grade for any style.

Reese contributed to several projects for Apple, including the History of Sound spot, which sonically chronicles the decades from the late 1800s to 2015. The spot earned Reese an HPA Award nomination for Outstanding Color Grading in a Commercial.

“Color is at the center of how audiences engage with a picture in motion,” explains Reese. “Some of its technical components may not always be instantly recognized by the audience, but when it’s done right, it can make for an emotional experience.”

Merging his love for music with the passion for his craft, Reese has collaborated with artists like Jack Ü, Major Lazer, Arctic Monkeys, Run The Jewels, Jack White, Pharrell Williams and many more. Peterson and Reese previously worked together at The Mill in LA. “Having had the fortunate experience of working with Gregory at The Mill, I knew he was the real deal when it came to a seasoned colorist,” says Peterson.

The all-new facility was yet another perk that sealed the deal for Reese, as he explains: “One of the biggest barriers for entry to color is not having access to theaters. a52 Color solves that problem with having the ability to grade both broadcast and theatrical formats as well as giving us a high level of creative freedom. It left me immediately impressed by how invested they are in making it the absolute best place to go for color grading.”

He will be working on FilmLight Baselight.

CVLT hires Katya Pavlova as head of post

Bi-coastal video production studio CVLT has added Katya Pavlova as head of post production. She will be based in the studio’s New York location.

Pavlova joins the team after six years at The Mill, where she produced projects that include David Bowie’s Life on Mars music video remake directed by photographer Mick Rock, as well as Steven Klein’s augmented reality experience for W Magazine’s cover, featuring an interactive 3D digital portrait of Katy Perry.

In her new role, Pavlova will focus on growing CVLT’s post production operation and developing new partnerships. She brings career expertise in a broad range of editorial, VFX, design and CG disciplines across digital and broadcast. In her time as a producer at The Mill, she worked on variety of work for brands including Netflix, Facebook, Ralph Lauren, Jimmy Choo and Vogue.

“We have seen post production needs shift focus from traditional media channels to multi-platform requirements, including emerging technology like augmented reality and crafting short-form videos for social media and mobile audiences. At CLVT, I intend to adapt our team to execute post on advanced AR projects as well as quick turnaround videos for social channels.”

VFX and color for new BT spot via The Mill

UK telco BT wanted to create a television spot that showcased the WiFi capabilities of its broadband hub and underline its promise of “whole home coverage.” Sonny director Fredrik Bond visualized a fun and fast-paced spot for agency AMV BBDO, and a The Mill London was brought onboard to help with VFX and color. It is called Complete WiFi.

In the piece, the hero comes home to find it full of soldiers, angels, dancers, fairies, a giant and a horse — characters from the myriad of games and movies the family are watching simultaneously. Obviously, the look depends upon multiple layers of compositing, which have to be carefully scaled to be convincing.

They also need to be very carefully color matched, with similar lighting applied, so all the layers sit together. In a traditional workflow, this would have meant a lot of loops between VFX and grading to get the best from each layer, and a certain amount of compromise as the colorist imposed changes on virtual elements to make the final grade.

To avoid this, and to speed progress, The Mill recently started using BLG for Flame, a FilmLilght plugin that allows Baselight grades to be rendered identically within Flame — and with no back and forth to the color suite to render out new versions of shots. It means the VFX supervisor is continually seeing the latest grade and the colorist can access the latest Flame elements to match them in.

“Of course it was frustrating to grade a sequence and then drop the VFX on top,” explains VFX supervisor Ben Turner. “To get the results our collaborators expect, we were constantly pushing material to and fro. We could end up with more than a hundred publishes on a single job.”

With the BLG for Flame plugin, the VFX artist sees the latest Baselight grade automatically applied, either from FilmLight’s BLG format files or directly from a Baselight scene, even while the scene is still being graded — although Turner says he prefers to be warned when updates are coming.

This works because all systems have access to the raw footage. Baselight grades non-destructively, by building up layers of metadata that are imposed in realtime. The metadata includes all the grading information, multiple windows and layers, effects and relights, textures and more – the whole process. This information can be imposed on the raw footage by any BLG-equipped device (there are Baselight Editions software plugins for Avid and Nuke, too) for realtime rendering and review.

That is important because it also allows remote viewing. For this BT spot, director Bond was back in Los Angeles by the time of the post. He sat in a calibrated room in The Mill in LA and could see the graded images at every stage. He could react quickly to the first animation tests.

“I can render a comp and immediately show it to a client with the latest grade from The Mill’s colorist, Dave Ludlam,” says Turner. “When the client really wants to push a certain aspect of the image, we can ensure through both comp and grade that this is done sympathetically, maintaining the integrity of the image.”

(L-R) VFX supervisor Ben Turner and colorist Dave Ludlam.

Turner admits that it means more to-ing and fro-ing, but that is a positive benefit. “If I need to talk to Dave then I can pop in and solve a specific challenge in minutes. By creating the CGI to work with the background, I know that Dave will never have to push anything too hard in the final grade.”

Ludlam agrees that this is a complete change, but extremely beneficial. “With this new process, I am setting looks but I am not committing to them,” he says. “Working together I get a lot more creative input while still achieving a much slicker workflow. I can build the grade and only lock it down when everyone is happy.

“It is a massive speed-up, but more importantly it has made our output far superior. It gives everyone more control and — with every job under huge time pressure — it means we can respond quickly.”

The spot was offlined by Patric Ryan from Marshall Street. Audio post was via 750mph with sound designers Sam Ashwell and Mike Bovill.

VFX supervisor Christoph Schröer joins NYC’s Artjail

New York City-based VFX house Artjail has added Christoph Schröer as VFX supervisor. Previously a VFX supervisor/senior compositor at The Mill, Schröer brings over a decade of experience to his new role at Artjail. His work has been featured in spots for Mercedes-Benz, Visa, Volkswagen, Samsung, BMW, Hennessy and Cartier.

Combining his computer technology expertise and a passion for graffiti design, Schröer applied his degree in Computer and Media Sciences to begin his career in VFX. He started off working at visual effects studios in Germany and Switzerland where he collaborated with a variety of European auto clients. His credits from his tenure in the European market include lead compositor for multiple Mercedes-Benz spots, two global Volkswagen campaign launches and BMW’s “Rev Up Your Family.”

In 2016, Schröer made the move to New York to take on a role as senior compositor and VFX supervisor at The Mill. There, he teamed with directors such as Tarsem Singh and Derek Cianfrance, and worked on campaigns for Hennessy, Nissan Altima, Samsung, Cartier and Visa.

Freefolk New York hires Flame artist Brandon Danowski

Freefolk’s New York studio has beefed up its staff with the addition of Brandon Danowski as lead Flame artist. Danowski joins Freefolk after spending four years at The Mill’s New York City office, where he worked on the NFL’s 2015 Super Bowl Babies spot, among other things.

His resume includes working on brand campaigns for Samsung, The New York Times, HBO, Verizon, Cadillac, Lincoln and TD Ameritrade. “I learned so much at The Mill, and it was brilliant being part of a global company of that scale. I’m now excited about working in the atmosphere of a boutique and am delighted to have joined the roster at Freefolk”.

Danowski started in the industry in 2010 as an intern with Beast, Company 3 and Method in Atlanta. He was brought on full time when his internship ended.

Working in TV, film and commercial projects, Freefolk provides full-service post and VFX, including 2D & 3D visual effects, high-end color grading, shoot supervision, animation, design, concept and direction.

Digging Deeper: The Mill Chicago’s head of color Luke Morrison

A native Londoner, Morrison started his career at The Mill where worked on music videos and commercials. In 2013, he moved across to the Midwest to head up The Mill Chicago’s color department.

Since then, Morrison has worked on campaigns for Beats, Prada, Jeep, Miller, Porsche, State Farm, Wrigley’s Extra Gum and a VR film for Jack Daniel’s.

Let’s find out more about Morrison.

How early on did you know color would be your path?
I started off, like so many at The Mill, as a runner. I initially thought I wanted to get into 3D, and after a month of modeling a photoreal screwdriver I realized that wasn’t the path for me. Luckily, I poked my nose into the color suites and saw them working with neg and lacing up the Spirit telecine. I was immediately drawn to it. It resonated with me and with my love of photography.

You are also a photographer?
Yes, I actually take pictures all the time. I always carry some sort of camera with me. I’m fortunate to have a father who is a keen photographer and he had a darkroom in our house when I was young. I was always fascinated with what he was doing up there, in the “red room.”

Photography for me is all about looking at your surroundings and capturing or documenting life and sharing it with other people. I started a photography club at The Mill, S35, because I wanted to share that part of my passion with people. I find as a ‘creative’ you need to have other outlets to feed into other parts of you. S35 is about inspiring people — friends, colleagues, clients — to go back to the classic, irreplaceable practice of using 35mm film and start to consider photography in a different way than the current trends.

State Farm

In 2013, you moved from London to Chicago. Are the markets different and did anything change?
Yes and no. I personally haven’t changed my style to suit or accommodate the different market. I think it’s one of the things that appeals to my clients. Chicago, however, has quite a different market than in the UK. Here, post production is more agency led and directors aren’t always involved in the process. In that kind of environment, there is a bigger role for the colorist to play in carrying the director’s vision through or setting the tone of the “look.”

I still strive to keep that collaboration with the director and DP in the color session whether it’s a phone call to discuss ahead of the session, doing some grade tests or looping them in with a remote grade session. There is definitely a difference in the suite dynamics, too. I found very quickly I had to communicate and translate the client’s and my creative intent differently here.

What sort of content do you work on?
We work on commercials, music promos, episodics and features, but always have an eye on new ways to tell narratives. That’s where the pioneering work in the emerging technology field comes into play. We’re no longer limited and are constantly looking for creative ways to remain at the forefront of creation for VR, AR, MR and experiential installations. It’s really exciting to watch it develop and to be a part of it. When Jack Daniel’s and DFCB Chicago approached us to create a VR experience taking the viewer to the Jack Daniel’s distillery in Kentucky, we leapt at the chance.

Do you like a variety of projects?
Who doesn’t? It’s always nice to be working on a variety, keeping things fresh and pushing yourself creatively. We’ve moved into grading more feature projects and episodic work recently, which has been an exciting way to be creatively and technically challenged. Most recently, I’ve had a lot of fun grading some comedy specials, one for Jerrod Carmichael and one for Hasan Minhaj. This job is ever-changing, be it thanks to evolving technology, new clients or challenging projects. That’s one of the many things I love about it.

Toronto Maple Leafs

You recently won two AICE awards for best color for your grade on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ spot Wise Man. Can you talk about that?
It was such a special project to collaborate on. I’ve been working with Ian Pons Jewell, who directed it, for many years now. We met way back in the day in London, when I was a color assistant. He would trade me deli meats and cheeses from his travels to do grades for him! That shared history made the AICE awards all the more special. It’s incredible to have continued to build that relationship and see how each of us have grown in our careers. Those kinds of partnerships are what I strive to do with every single client and job that comes through my suite.

When it comes to color grading commercials, what are the main principles?
For me, it’s always important to understand the idea, the creative intent and the tone of the spot. Once you understand that, it influences your decisions, dictates how you’ll approach the grade and what options you’ll offer the client. Then, it’s about crafting the grade appropriately and building on that.

You use FilmLight Baselight, what do your clients like most about what you can provide with that system?
Clients are always impressed with the speed at which I’m able to address their comments and react to things almost before they’ve said them. The tracker always gets a few “ooooooh’s” or “ahhhh’s.” It’s like they’re watching fireworks or something!

How do you keep current with emerging technologies?
That’s the amazing thing about working at The Mill: we’re makers and creators for all media. Our Emerging Technologies team is constantly looking for new ways to tell stories and collaborate with our clients, whether it’s branded content or passion projects, using all technologies at our disposal: anything is at our fingertips, even a Pop Llama.

Name three pieces of technology you can’t live without.
Well, I’ve got to have my Contax T2, an alarm clock, otherwise I’d never be anywhere on time, and my bicycle.

Would you say you are a “technical” colorist or would you rather prioritize instincts?
It’s all about instincts! I’m into the technical side, but I’m mostly driven by my instincts. It’s all about feeling and that comes from creating the correct environment in the suite, having a good kick off chat with clients, banging on the tunes and spinning the balls.

Where do you find inspiration?
I find a lot of inspiration from just being outside. It might sound like a cliché but travel is massive for me, and that goes hand in hand with my photography. I think it’s important to change your surroundings, be it traveling to Japan or just taking a different route to the studio. The change keeps me engaged in my surroundings, asking questions and stimulating my imagination.

What do you do to de-stress from it all?
Riding my bike is my main thing. I usually do a 30-mile ride a few mornings a week and then 50 to 100 miles at the weekend. Riding keeps you constantly focused on that one thing, so it’s a great way to de-stress and clear your mind.

What’s next for you?
I’ve got some great projects coming up that I’m excited about. But outside of the suite, I’ll be riding in this year’s 10th Annual Fireflies West ride. For the past 10 years, Fireflies West participants have embarked on a journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles in support of City of Hope. This year’s ride has the added challenge of an extra day tacked onto it making the ride 650 miles in total over seven days, so…I best get training! (See postPerspectives’ recent coverage on the ride.)

The Mill’s color team adds long-form work to offerings

The Mill, known for its work on spots, games and music videos, is broadening its offerings to include creative digital intermediate work for feature-length indie projects. This new initiative is being led by Mill colorist and director of DI, Damien Van Der Cruyssen at The Mill’s New York studio. Van Der Cruyssen has worked on features Clown (directed by Jon Watts), Blue Caprice (directed by Alexandre Moors) and the Mick Rock documentary Shot! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock (directed by Barney Clay).

“Our passion is for the artistic side of the DI process,” says Van Der Cruyssen. “Being able to work on both commercials and movies is wonderful for a colorist. The variety helps you approach all different kinds of work, with each one giving you new creative skills that you can apply to the other.”

And how does the work differ from spots to long-form? “In commercials, I finesse every shot and push the boundaries to create the desired emotion and have an impact,” says Van Der Cruyssen. “For features, it’s more about letting the grade develop over time and building it around the arc of the story.”

L-R: Damien Van Der Cruyssen and Dee Allen.

Dee Allen, who was promoted to global color director back in July, calls this expansion of services a natural progression. “Our team collaborates with world class directors and DPs, and this allows us to extend the collaboration into features. In New York, we are also supported by our relationship with Technicolor PostWorks, providing an end-to-end solution to clients across all aspects of DI workflow and final deliverables. Of course, we’ll continue to grow our commercial and music video work, finding creative opportunities across all media.”

DI color work will be also available at other Mill studios in the moviemaking hubs of London and Los Angeles, as well as the burgeoning industry in Chicago. Additionally, filmmakers can work from any Technicolor location across the globe, either using The Mill’s remote network or by flying the talent into, for example, Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver.

Mill Color’s latest feature work can be seen in Barry (our main image), a biopic of outgoing US President Barack Obama set during his time as a college student in New York City. Released mid-December on Netflix, the film was directed by Vikram Gandhi and colored by Van Der Cruyssen.

Mill colorists already have experience working on features. Recently, head of color in NYC Fergus McCall graded The Greasy Strangler (directed by Jim Hosking) and colorist Mikey Rossiter completed work on Burn Country (directed by Ian Olds). In Chicago, head of color Luke Morrison graded Among Wolves (directed by Shawn Convey). In London, colorist Mick Vincent has done work for leading long-form TV shows including Dr. Who and Merlin. The team also has a successful history working with feature directors and DPs on commercials, including Guy Ritchie, Rupert Sanders, Tom Hopper, Peter Berg and Wally Pfister.

 

Technicolor buys VFX house The Mill

Technicolor has purchased London-based The Mill, a large visual effects and content creation studio for the advertising industry, for €259 million ($292 million) on a debt-free basis.

Founded in 1990, The Mill has been providing high-end visual effects for both advertising agencies and brands, and has earned in excess of 1,000 industry awards. It has operations in the key markets of London, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

According to Technicolor, this acquisition accomplishes many objectives set out in Technicolor’s Drive 2020 strategic roadmap:
·     It establishes visual effects and digital creation across all segments of high-end content, including cinema, TV and advertising.
·     It reinforces Technicolor’s portfolio of brands, including MPC, Mr. X and Mikros Image servicing a broad range of customers across 10 global locations.
·     It brings talent and expertise around emerging technologies such as virtual reality content that will enable Technicolor’s to enhance its technology platform across the entire industry.
·    It adds significant financial contribution with a business that has grown revenues at a 16% CAGR since 2009 to reach €135 million in 2014 while delivering EBITDA margins of approximately 20 percent.
·     It allows Production Services to better balance its portfolio through increased exposure to advertising and strengthens the financial profile of the Entertainment Services segment. With this acquisition, Production Services accounts for approximately 40 percent of Entertainment Services revenues.

Tim Sarnoff, president of production services and deputy CEO at Technicolor, wrote this about the acquisition in his blog:

“For a company like Technicolor, this phenomenon is a terrific opportunity to focus on our established strengths as a creative technology company and to invest further in the talent and resources that will help drive this evolving definition of artistic and persuasive storytelling.  Today’s acquisition of The Mill is aligned to the growing demand for premium content and creation of new consumer experiences.

Tim Sarnoff

Tim Sarnoff

The Mill is a leading provider of VFX content creation for the advertising, gaming and music industries. The Mill’s leading position in the global advertising VFX/post-production market aligns to our desire for immediate scale. Their investment in developing and producing content in emerging spaces (they partnered with Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group on a five-minute live-action virtual reality short film) also complements our company-wide efforts in these technologies. The Mill and their passionate talent are constantly pushing the frontiers of visual narrative, which means they will avidly leverage the technical chops of Technicolor to create new solutions for their clients.

“Equally, The Mill’s push into the content creation space, working closely with agencies to develop and realize their more technically complex ideas and stories, provides Technicolor visibility further upstream in the content creation value chain. 

“With this acquisition Technicolor will extend its current position and technology know-how in VFX to rapidly capture further market share within the advertising and branded experience sector.”

To read Sarnoff’s entire blog click here.

2015 AICE Awards: Cut + Run’s Sam Ostrove wins Best in Show

At the 2015 AICE Awards, held May 14 at the Skirball Center in Los Angeles, the four-minute Volvo Vintersaga (pictured below) film from the Swedish ad agency Forsman & Bodenfors, edited by Sam Ostrove of Cut + Run, was named Best in Show. The film also won Ostrove the AICE Award in the Automotive category.

AICE Best in Show Vintersaga from VolvoAICE_BestInShow_Vintersaga_Volvo3main

Editors Graham Chisholm of Married to Giants, Chris Franklin of Big Sky Editorial, Joe Guest of Final Cut, Nadav Kurtz of Cutters and Adam Pertofsky of Rock Paper Scissors each won two AICE Awards. Chisholm won in the Public Service category for work for Cundari’s CIBC Run for the Cure and in Best of Toronto for the Toronto Raptors. Franklin won in the Dialogue/Monologue/ Spoken Word category for American Express and in National Campaign for E*Trade. Guest won in the Montage category for Lurpak and in Storytelling for John Lewis. Kurtz won in the Online Campaign category (which he shared with Cutters editor Cameron Yergler) for CVS and in Under 50K for Wingmate. Pertofsky won in the Fashion/Beauty and Best of Los Angeles categories for his work for Levi’s.

Rock Paper Scissors editor Damion Clayton won for a Beats by Dre spot in the Alternative Media – Over :90 category while editor Biff Butler won in the Best of New York category for work for Adidas.

Beast editors took home three AICE Awards: Blake Bogosian won in the Alternative Media Category — :90 and Under category for Johnny Random; Karen Kourtessis won in Comedy for Hayden 5’s Hello Flo; and Jai Shukla won in Spec Spot for New Balance. Cutters editors were recognized with three AICE Awards; in addition to the winners for Kurtz and Yergler, editor Louis Lyne won in the Best of Detroit category for Ford.

The Mill editor Adam Scott won in the Color Grading category for Axe White Label, while the company’s Lisha Tan and Andrew Proctor won in the Design category for work for the Texas Lottery. Winning the Visual Effects award were Phil Crowe, Chris Bayol, Robert Sethi, Becky Porter, and Jacob Bergman for their work for DirecTV.

The full list of winners is available online at http://www.aice.org/?section=events/aice_awards_show/winners/&view_by=year:::2

Paul Marangos brings his Flame expertise to Hooligan in NYC

Paul Marangos has joined New York editing and VFX boutique Hooligan as senior visual effects Flame artist. He has over 20 years of post experience, with an eight year tenure at The Mill and stops at London’s Cell, LA’s The Finish Line, Johannesburg’s Blade and Scarlet in NYC.

He has already wrapped up several projects with Hooligan, including commercials for Citi and Match.com, and Indrani’s short film Crescendo, curated by Pepsi in conjunction with the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Match

“I’ve always enjoyed working with editors, and Hooligan provides me the opportunity to step out of traditional facilities and work directly with them in order to continue doing what I do best,” says the South African born Marangos.

“Paul always seems to be way ahead of me,” adds Kane Platt, president/senior editor at Hooligan. “He always knows what I’m working on and what the creative challenges are, and will call me into to his room to look at wonderful visual ideas before I’ve even started cutting. It’s an enthusiasm that one rarely finds — and it usually leads to great things.”

Over the years Marangos has contributed to commercials for brands such as Nike, BMW, Taco Bell, Lexus, Honda, Guinness, Cadburys, Samsung and Pepsi. His advertising reel is highlighted by Nando’s Cannes Lion-honored “Dictator” campaign and FNB’s 2010 World Cup ad in which he seamlessly composited a full stadium using only 150 people.

Marangos has also worked on graphics packages for major networks and TV shows, including the Sucker TV, and the 2001 feature film “Hannibal. His special effects work can be found in music videos for Oasis (Right Here, Right Now) and Mariah Carey (My All), as well as Björk, Madonna, Goldfrapp, Kyle Minogue, Radiohead and Elton John.

Meet The Artist: Sandra Dow

Behind the Title…

The 20-year vet of The Mill couldn’t live without a kettle, DVR and an encoder… oh, and she likes sleep!

Sandra

NAME: Sandra Dow

COMPANY: The Mill (@millvfx) in Los Angeles

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
The Mill in Los Angeles has been producing visual effects content and imagery for commercials and films since 2007

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE? 
Head of MCR  (Master Control Room)

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
The Machine Room is responsible for everything that enters or leaves The Mill. I would like to think we are the heart of The Mill, without us, the building couldn’t run. It might not be the most glamorous job, but we make sure that all the months/day/hours of creative hard work actually reach your TV/computer screen looking the best they possibly can and on time.

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