Mowbray, 29, a Sydney native, has a good sense of timing himself; he skipped college to start on the programming side of the early computer graphics scene in Australia circa '87 with a company called Video Paintbrush, which later became the well-known Aussie effects house Animal Logic. He later spent a year at Softimage in Montreal before going to Western Images in San Francisco in '94, which was the first post house to have a Flame on the West Coast, he says, where he first hooked up with Keeton. When Keeton went off to open Good Pictures, Mowbray followed, and two remain together in an effort to turn the post house concept around, as it were. "There's far more creative involvement in the post process now, and in many cases it's been incorporated into the front end of the creative process, and that's what Radium is all about," he believes.
"I think in general Flame is improving commercials," he adds. "Rather than being plopped on top of a scene, effects are being integrated into a scene on a very visceral level." Indeed, among the highlights of the Mowbray reel (seen above) are a pair of highly inventive Rubin Postaer Honda spots; one features a Flame-created pencil that wipes an Accord owner's slate clean, while another, for the Honda Del Sol, stars sunbathers whose beach blanket morphs seamlessly into a convertible.
Johnnie Semerad was a fine arts major studying to be a painter 11 years ago at Pratt Institute, when he got an internship at Charlex. He started on the Paintbox, and "analog" painting fell by the wayside, as did a parallel but slow-moving career as an illustrator at American Greetings; he stayed at Charlex nine years, going from the Paintbox to the Harry to the Henry and on to the Flame, and he left to open his own New York computer effects house, Quiet Man, in early '95. Why Quiet Man? "My wife calls me that," he explains. "I guess I'm not a big talker."
Semerad, 32, finds his draftsman's background essential to his Flammability; "I don't see how you can work these machines without being an artist," he says. "Even when you're doing the simplest retouch, you have to know shadows and highlights-you have to have the eye."
That eye is apparent in the Quiet Man reel, which includes seven spots that premiered on this year's Super Bowl, including ambitious BBDO Pepsi projects like the Cowboys' Deion Sanders meeting Wile E. Coyote, and the amusing Joe Pytka-directed "Goldfish" that is miraculously revived by a soft drink. The adorable fish, created in Flame by Semerad and Dave Shirk, had to be unrealistically cute, explains Semerad. "A real dead fish is not funny looking, it's gross. We tried to make it like a fat man floating on his back."
What does Flame's future hold? A more competitive boutique environment, based most likely on a Windows NT platform that doesn't rely on very expensive Silicon Graphics equipment, according to Semerad. "The smaller PC-based machines are getting faster and faster," he says. "A few years ago it would have cost millions of dollars to start this company. Now it doesn't have to. It's not a marketplace for just the big boys anymore."
Baby-faced Mark Casey is, appropriately enough, good with babies. Among the highlights of his four and a half years at R/Greenberg-he just jumped coasts to ILM in July-is a Flame fest for McDonald's and Leo Burnett, in which a baby (seen above), on a swing set by a window, goes happy/sad as the Golden Arches appear before her eyes on each upswing. "It's the most intense Flame job on my reel," says Casey. "The same baby is shot happy and sad; in the morning she was happy, in the afternoon she was cranky. We tracked the sad face onto the happy body, matched them up, then had to do a cross dissolve and a warp, and a big color correction since the sad baby had a redder face. With any human face, it doesn't take much for the viewer to notice when something's wrong. There's not a lot of room to cheat."
Casey also did a very funny baby spot for Edy's ice cream (above right) and Goldberg Moser O'Neill, in which a tot who can barely sit up by himself starts to boogie like James Brown at the mention of Edy's for dessert. "That was a baby's head and a 14-year-old midget's body in a baby costume," Casey explains. "It was mainly a question of how well did the head track on the body. A dancing baby doesn't require that much realism."
Casey, 30, is a Rhode Island native and a broadcasting/film graduate of Boston University. He was a storyboard illustrator before joining Greenberg, where he worked first as a producer, then a Paintbox artist, then a D-1 editor till the Flame was born. "At its best, it's a cross between an art and a science," says Casey of Flame work, and he too puts crucial emphasis on the eye. The knowledge of "what makes a good composition, a good shadow, comes from a compositing background. How to create natural lighting, movement and color are all key. Flame 'operator' doesn't necessarily offend me, but I'd prefer to be called an