Studio Sense: My take on integrated production

I really enjoyed Glen Taylor’s piece on integrated production in the Studio Sense supplement, I also enjoy Taylor James’ work. Smoke and Mirrors has a similar model to theirs, so it’s hard for me to write a piece on the same subject without feeling like I’m plagiarizing Glen! As I said, our model is similar but ours came about a different way so I’ll talk about that.

Smoke and Mirrors is a post production facility, offering TV post production, TK, CGI, 2D, motion graphics, Grading, Flame et al…. Me and my motley crew of retouchers and CG ops rocked up a few years back, operating totally independently of the broadcast guys. When we moved to our Poland Street office we found ourselves sharing a space with Smoke and Mirrors’ Studio. To quote their creative director Dan Andrews, “The Studio are a bunch of creative misfits, we’re the square pegs surrounded by lots of nice round holes, the guys who geeked out on video games, vinyl and graffiti when they were at school and still do now! We offer VFX supervision, Art Direction, Design, 3D, Compositing, Illustration/Concept design, as well as offline editing. We can turn our creative minds to any project small or large and collaborate as much as needed on projects. A director recently described The Studio experience as “being back at art school, full of passion and creative ideas.”

These guys really turned our heads, we saw the potential for cross over from our work which was heavily in the print world, to theirs in the moving image. Over the years we have all seen those lines blurring between still and moving image. We joined forces with ‘The Studio’ and have never looked back.

Bombay Sapphire ad produced by Smoke and Mirrors
Bombay Sapphire ad. Client: Levine/Leavitt, Bombay Sapphire. Photographer: Dimitri Daniloff. Retouching: Smoke and Mirrors

With the invention of digital out of home, all of a sudden art directors and creative’s could make their posters move! We would have an agency creative working alongside one of our retouchers and they could see what was going on across the room, they would ask what these guys were doing and how did they go about taking their idea into this world of moving image? The answer is simple, tell us what you want to do and we’ll do it!

Now, a few years into our integrated offering, CG artists who only ever focused on print renders are animating, animators who only ever used their CG software to animate are working on print campaigns. This isn’t as simple as it sounds, the technical set ups for scenes in motion are different to print. The level of texturing is completely different, resolutions are wildly different but the way it has come together offers an amazing solution for clients. We are getting more briefs than ever that span both disciplines, with no pattern as to which medium leads which. That is great and shows that creative’s aren’t just coming up with one idea for a TVC and hoping they can squeeze some print out of it and vice versa. They are coming up with these ideas and talking to us about how to approach it to ensure optimum quality is obtained across the mediums. This is also encouraging as agencies of all sizes and shapes are starting think this way and we hope we can continue to give our 2 pennies worth!

With this integration obviously comes cost savings and we all know deep down that it’s the bean counters who pull the strings! We can always look at the bigger picture and streamline workflows to offer cost savings and time efficiencies, but over and above that, I think having the whole thing under one roof makes life much easier for clients to manage their work and their clients expectations. The feedback we have had is that the simplicity of the offering is what really stands out for them. Sliding from one desk to another to review stills and motion, walking a couple of yards to a grading suite or a Flame suite, walking a few extra yards to the Star and Garter for refreshments. You’re living the dream!

Mitsubishi Outlander ad produced by Smoke and Mirrors for Golley Slater Cardiff
Mitsubishi Outlander ad. Client: Golley Slater Cardiff, MItsubishi. Car Photographer: Nigel Harniman. Retouching and CGI: Smoke and Mirrors

So into the future we go with some exciting work, some really forward thinking artists and with some luck and judgment (in equal measures!) some happy clients, who are really seeing the potential of a post production world where the leaders of industry are keeping ahead of the curve and making some fantastic content. The sky really is the limit, as technology evolves, lines of communication widen and boundaries are continually broken, lets go for it! Spread our wings and try new things. Flip things around and see how they work, deconstruct and reconstruct, it’s a great feeling! Surely I’m not the only one who used to take their toys apart when I was kid? Only to not be able to put it all back together again. After punishment came a sense of rebellion and victory! Ok, the tape recorder will never play Guns n Roses again but man it felt good to see how that machine worked! My brother still hasn’t forgiven me for ruining his roller skates, but I was convinced I could make them faster!

Tom Gibson is Operations Director at Tag Creative/Smoke and Mirrors

Smoke and Mirrors are a sponsor of the Creative Review Photography Annual 2015.

Lead image: This is England ’90 billboard. Client: 4Creative. Photographer: Dean Rogers. Retouching: Smoke and Mirrors

Smoke and Mirrors' Tom Gibson
Smoke and Mirrors’ Tom Gibson

Studio Sense is CR’s sponsored series of expert opinion pieces. If you would like to contribute, contact

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