"It's trying to say something about the standard of work we're doing," explains Ben Gibbs, the Inferno artist who founded the shop three years ago with Fire artist Jim Bohn, both formerly of POP. "In an environment like this, you have to aspire to do the most interesting work and make stuff that's pleasurable for the viewer to watch." The shop's seamless effects, which range from compositing and color correction to "digital surgery" on people's faces, have enhanced the work of agencies like Goodby Silverstein and Wieden & Kennedy and directors like Traktor, David Kellogg, Tarsem and Spike Jonze. One of the company's most memorable projects was Jonze's Fat Boy Slim "Weapon of Choice" clip, in which the fancy-footed Christopher Walken sashays, spins and floats through the halls of a Los Angeles hotel. Gibbs was the supervisor on the project, which won big at the 2001 MTV Music Video Awards. Native Australian Gibbs has had a long relationship with Jonze, whom he first met at POP doing a Coca-Cola spot that followed a camera traveling from outer space to the ocean depths. Since then he's also worked on Jonze's clips for Weezer and Tenacious D. In commercials, Gibbs recently did some heavy pre-pro and compositing for the Jonze-directed Levi's spot "Crazy Legs," out of TBWA/Chiat/Day (see p. 45).
On Inferno, Sea Level also has artist Jean-Luc Azzis, who joined the company last year after working at the Mill (he created effects for the Tarsem-directed Nike "Good vs. Evil" spot) and Digital Domain, where he worked on features, including the film Contact. Azzis' recent projects include commercials for Pepsi and Wrigley's Orbit gum, as well as the crashing-piano music video for David Grey's "Please Forgive Me."
Completing the team is Jim Bohn, whose studio is known as The Womb. Appropriately enough, as a Fire artist, he's the big-picture guy who pulls together the finished product. "Some of the stuff I do isn't really specific," he notes. "It's more how the entire commercial fits together." Bohn's latest jobs include Goodby's elegant Hewlett-Packard "Coffee Table," directed by Rupert Sanders, and the campy Ultimate TV spots from Venables Bell, in which the spokesman in the foreground of each spot is deftly but comedically composited into the frame. Most recently, Bohn worked on four E*Trade spots for Goodby, directed by Noam Murro, which harken back to the late '90s heyday of job abundance. Bohn created the titles for a quick opening sequence, which he then ripple-dissolved into various time warp scenarios.
The great work comes and goes, but there's always the great space. "The best thing is when somebody's sitting in a room after nine hours and they just look up and go, 'God, I love this place,' " says Gibbs. "To me, that's everything."