Dave Smith, The Mill, London

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How has what you've been able to do and the way you do it changed?

The most impressive change over the last few years, which has had the biggest impact on Flame and Inferno work has been the advance and evolution of CGI. Not just the impressive and revolutionary applications of CG as used by Michael Gondry in Levi's "Mermaids," Smirnoff and Bjork's "Hyperballad," but the more subtle and photorealistic achievements of the past few years.

An illustration of how this genre has developed is a new spot for General Electric (through M&C Saatchi). There were three shots where CG was required to create elements that were impossible to shoot. The premise of the commercial is based upon time-lapse photography, which is cut together in such a way as to allow the viewer to understand that the darkness is constantly moving away to reveal beautifully lit images beneath. Obviously this meant that the modes of transport such as a train or a plane would need to be shot separately or totally recreated in CGI. As the train needed to be a diesel/electric train from the beginning of the 20th century and one of the planes had to be an early Boeing from the late 19th century, it became increasingly apparent that these two vehicles would need to be completely CGI Also, when we saw the angle at which (director) Gerard de Thame and [agency creative] Matt Eastwood wanted the 777 to be shot, it was much easier to also build this in CGI.

On these three shots The Mill has achieved a perfect synergy between the two media, CGI and inferno. There is now a point in the relationship between the two areas of effects work where we can achieve perfect photorealistic images, which when seen in the cut only appear to be more fantastic in-camera shots. In a strange way, the emphasis of our craft seems to be increasingly to achieve the perfect composite, to make it seem that there was no postproduction involved.

Talk about your craft and how it has facilitated new areas of creativity. Discuss in the context of a cutting-edge project you've worked on recently - how this project represented a new achievement in what you were able to put on the screen, a change in the gear or how you use the gear, a change in the process or in the way you work with creative/production people.

For the aforementioned GE spot, the biplane shot between the minarets was shot by Gerard de Thame's second unit in Jordan. DP David Morgan took me there as a way of ensuring that he had covered all the elements required for postproduction, as well as using The Mill's laptop to get images back to London for the director and agency to approve as fast as possible.

David Morgan and I set up the cameras before sunrise and took a video tap into The Mill's mini DV camera. We set the DV camera's record speed to the same frame rate as the Arri and were able to approximately duplicate the material being shot on 35mm. This was then loaded into the laptop via a fire-wire. By using Avid DV Xpress on the laptop, the images were frame cut to create the shot as it would finally appear after the telecine and online edit. Once both David Morgan and I were happy that the shot looked as good as possible, this cut was then made into a Quicktime movie using the Avid's built-in filters and compression systems.

As you can imagine, the location of the minaret/biplane shot meant we were not in a luxurious edit suite or even a hotel room. Although having saved huge amounts of time and therefore money by cutting and compressing the material while shooting, I still had to get the Quicktime to London. Using GPRS on my mobile handset and software already downloaded into the laptop from London, I then established an internet connection and logged onto [the Mill's BEAM.TV . . . The combination of an incredibly tight and demanding schedule with a not overgenerous budget means that the demands of projects such as these described now require the presence of a visual FX supervisor as well as an editor along with the technology and software, which is able to cope with instant turnaround, immediate processing and highly unusual and varied locations. Increasingly, one must be a master of all trades in order to facilitate the needs of the client and the job. [For the full story, search www.adcritic.com.]

What is the most significant project of the past few years and why?

Gladiator is the most significant project of the past few years, as it marks a return to filmmaking roots. It shows throughout the film a successful and seamless integration of effects and filmic skills. Oscars until that year had showed a trend for rewarding blatant or obvious effects work. This is a return to the traditions and standards of old while utilizing new technology and skill sets.

What are the most significant technological developments of the past year or so?

CG - texturing and lighting - create more photorealistic images. The advances here show how this part of the industry raised its game in response to other developments. Spirit - 2K and 4K scanning in video environment as well as greatly improved flexibility for blowups and moving image in (telecine).

There is an increased compatibility between manufacturers of both hardware and software, as well as more opportunities for open and interactive dialogue with suppliers. Also, there seems to be a greater flexibility in the demands and responses of clients and manufacturers.

What is your least favorite development in the post/effects process?

There seems to be less time and money to achieve bigger, better, more impossible and more impressive effects.

How are skill sets for effects artists changing?

Not only is one expected to be an editor, a visual effects supervisor, a compositor and a team manager but, in today's market, you need to be a salesman, a diplomat, a producer and a creative. As the technology evolves in every area, more clients are able to start working with software such as Imovie or other visual and sound editing packages - this means that as their skill set evolves so must ours, as we all move with the times and the technology.

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