“Nothing in my opinion can ever match the compulsive magic of that big screen in a darkened auditorium,” said Lord Richard Attenborough, summing up the extraordinary invention of cinema that this year celebrates its first centenary. The mesmerising light show imported here from Paris by the so-aptly-named LumiÃ¨re brothers took no time to capture imaginations and grow into a massive industry. In Britain alone more than 125 million visits are made to well over 700 cinemas every year.
However, while most in the media focus their gaze very firmly on the actors and directors that help cast the spell, away from the spotlight the real wizards of special effects, modelmaking, sets, costume and countless other aspects of design remain the unsung heroes of the business. Until now.
Not to be entirely jingoistic about British blood in these selections, the special effects crown goes to British-based native New Zealander Christian Hogue.
At the start of the decade Hogue founded the 3D digital effects facility Lost in Space, and has worked on a line of spectaculars. Under the umbrella of Industrial Light and Magic, he worked on Terminator 2 (creating the demise of the chrome creep), Super Mario Brothers, Judge Dredd, Goldeneye and, most recently, Stephen Spielberg’s They’re Back. One of his favourite projects was for Bernardo Bertolucci’s Little Buddha, where, in conjunction with The Computer Film Company and senior animator Rachel Mills, Hogue used morphing to make the new-born Buddha appear to speak.
After completing a computer science degree in New Zealand, Hogue worked his way to the UK via Australia. “I wanted to come here because of the excellent reputation for broadcast design,” he says. For a while he worked for The Moving Picture Company and put in the UK’s first Alias interactive computer graphics system. “It was a critical juncture for computer graphics. Until then most people had written their own software, then user-friendly Alias came along.”
Hogue is optimistic about the British industry: “British effects are in big demand, we have the kit and the talent,” he says. Combining commercials with film projects, he has recently completed ads including the Vauxhall Vectra and is awaiting the start of work on the US-financed, UK-crewed Mutant Chronicles. “I’d like to see special effects considered on a par with the other creative departments instead of being brought in right at the end on post-production. I predict that it won’t be long before we see actors interacting in real time with synthetic figures,” he says.
Ever since the first screening of the Yellow Submarine, British animation has bobbed along on the crest of a wave. Our store of talent is vast and constantly replenished. In recent years we’ve been delighted by the likes of Richard Williams, who worked on the innovative and superbly technically accomplished Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Paul Berry, who brought to fruition Tim Burton’s glorious and seriously quirky Nightmare Before Christmas and, of course, Aardman’s Nick Park with the phenomenally successful Wallace and Gromit. However, our nomination for the latest hot talent to sizzle on the screen is Cardiff-based AAARGH! – the partnership of ex-Newport Film School students Deiniol Morris and Mike Mort. Their television debut was through S4C with The Gogs – a snivelly, simple, squabbling Stone Age family, blundering from one disaster to the next.
Along with script writer Sion Jones, Morris and Mort have scooped a pot-full of international film awards. Their cinema debut was made recently with Levi 501’s first animated ad for the European market, in which a pair of jeans was used in a rescue of a damsel in distress. It was soon screened worldwide.
The Brits always do a lovely costume drama – the whole world loves our Jane Austens and our Merchant Ivory colonial spectaculars. But the Design Week nomination for threads with cred goes to the award-winning Sandy Powell, who has an impressive portfolio that spans theatre and film.
When it comes to the art house movie, Powell virtually holds a monopoly on costume design. Her list of credits is spectacular, ranging from the highly-staged series of cameos that made Derek Jarman’s Wittgenstein and the sumptuous Orlando to Neil Jordan’s Interview with a Vampire and the rip roaring Rob Roy.
There’s an unmistakable innocence about old movie magazines and those charming film annuals that used to fill the buffs’ shelves. Post-war filmgoers couldn’t get enough of Stewart Granger and Cary Grant all slicked down and dressed up, or Liz Taylor caught resting off-camera on the set of Cleopatra and Joan Collins dressed in her bathing costume talking about her hobbies.
However, the world has spun a few turns since then. Empire and Premiere magazines have demonstrated vividly that our appetite to feed on stardom is as keen as ever, and since their debuts a clutch of new magazines have fluttered into the newsagents.
The best of the latest for my money is the science fiction glossy SFX from Future Publishing. It’s got lots of “how-it-was-done”, gossip, profiles, diary dates to keep you informed of the latest Star Trek convention, readers ads and reviews.
Computer Arts comes from the same stable, and is for those who are really serious about special effects and want to make their own movies. Launched at the end of last year, the first issue included a CD-ROM with a sneak preview of Pixar and Disney’s Toy Story – claimed to be the first feature-length 3D computer-generated movie.
Also well worth a check is the Internet’s Hollywood Online (http:///www.hollywood.com), a neat presentation that includes movie stills, preview clips and the chance to nominate Oscar winners. Be patient, though, this is a site that’s pretty heavily used and you may well have to wait your turn.
The making of the Bond movies is often as smart and sophisticated as the hero himself.
Pinewood has been home to just about every Bond production and its 007 stage is claimed to be the world’s largest.
The latest hit, Goldeneye, featured some of the most technologically advanced title graphics ever seen on the screen. The designer/director was Daniel Kleinman of production company Limelight. Kleinman’s breathtaking sequence was put together at the digital post-production house Framestore, and incorporates the favourite elements of silhouettes, guns, kitsch humour and gorgeous women.
In the past, Bond titles were always produced by Maurice Binder, but his death since the last movie made way for the new boy. “It was a tough act to follow,” says Kleinman, who studied graphics at the former Hornsey School of Art, names Saul Bass among his heroes and spent the Eighties making ads and pop videos – including Gladys Knight’s Licence to Kill.
Kleinman explains: “I had an open brief and could have made a complete break from the past, but I set myself the challenge of keeping some elements and giving them a contemporary feel. The technology has advanced a lot recently too. Where film opticals used to be done on film, I was able to compose everything digitally on the computer. There’s much greater control. Before Goldeneye, computers were used for three- or four-second bursts, but these titles ran for a full three-minute sequence – it’s almost like a film on its own.” The five-week digital film schedule used a combination of 3D animation and Inferno and Domino compositing and effects film technology.
Jurassic Park certainly looked impressive to its audience, but it was seriously bad news for the 3D modelmaking industry. “We thought our time was up and that the computer had taken over,” says leading British modelmaker Bill Pearson. “But since the Apollo movie, which achieved many of its effects with superb models, our fortunes have been revived. The modelmaker’s skill has been recognised once again.”
Pearson’s career has jumped between film and television. After working on major blockbusters including Alien, Flash Gordon and the Sean Connery sci-fi Outland, his most recent work has been with Gerry “Thunderbirds” Anderson on the children’s television series Space Precinct.
Pearson reckons that the film modelmaker’s lot is not a happy one at present. “I’d hate to be starting out now, there are so many experienced people out of work.” He also feels that because the US film industry is so rich, the investment in effects technology is greater and is leaving the UK behind. “We lost the lead with Star Wars,” he says.
It’s true that most of the film posters we see in the UK promote US films and are intended for a global audience, but every now and then there springs the opportunity for bespoke design.
When a distributor wants to appeal directly to a British audience, there is a strong chance that it will turn to the Creative Partnership.
The company’s main business is theatrical release, and within that brief it offers poster design. Recent projects have included striking UK billboard posters for Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Johnny Mnemonic. “Posters over here constitute a much greater part of the marketing mix,” says Creative Partnership spokeswoman Mia Matson. “In the US there’s a much greater focus on TV advertising, but in the UK we are seeing more and more spending on outdoor media, and posters are recognised as an important marketing tool.”
The successful spin-off is a hugely profitable enterprise, and helping to creating some of the most inventive products of late is the Cheltenham-based graphic design consultancy FLB. Recent hits include The Lion King and Pocahontas plasters and Super Mario and Casper pasta shapes.
“Before I was a parent I used to think film merchandising was a rather naff idea, but I’ve really come to appreciate its tremendous value,” says designer Robin Benion. “Of course, much of the marketing success is based on matching the character with an appropriate product, for example Die Hard toiletries probably wouldn’t go down too well.
“In our experience, fmcg products like pasta and plasters have worked extremely well; branded pasta really does encourage children to eat and the plasters have helped kids cope with the pain of cuts and bruises. The products help the success of the films too by broadening their appeal.”
The design process is extremely tightly controlled by licensors – thick, ring-bound style guides are issued detailing the poses of the characters and colour palettes for everything right down to eyes and lips. Says Benion: “If they are shown looking to the left in the guide, then they have to be used looking to the left. Continuity from screen to product is essential.”
After enjoying a blaze of glory in the Thirties and Forties, cinema design slunk off into a Dark Age of the grim brick box multiplex. Happily, a flare of hope was fired last year with the completion of the dazzling two-screen Harbour Lights cinema in Southampton.
Designed by Burrell Foley Fischer, noted for its work on London’s Almeida Theatre, the Riverside arts centre, Nottingham’s Media
Centre and the Phoenix Arts in Nottingham, the elegant, new picture palace in Southampton borrows liberally from the language of boat design. Moored at the edge of the now-defunct P&O ferry dock, the auditoria are accommodated in a timber-clad keel while tucked underneath the prow is a glazed entrance lobby with inclined windows supported by tapering masts. Detailing is decidedly shippy – the glazed stair tower is reminiscent of a ship’s funnel and there’s even a “bridge” at first-floor level.
Cinema 100 events
Cinemas in Britain, an exhibition at the RIBA Heinz Gallery, 21 Portman Square, W1 from 23 February to 5 May. Curated by cinema historian Richard Gray of the Cinema Theatre Association, this show is arranged chronologically. It starts with pre-First World War drawings and the first British ‘super’ cinema, The Regent in Brighton, designed in 1919 by Robert Atkinson, and traces history through to Erno Goldfinger’s Elephant and Castle Odeon of the Sixties.
The British Tourist Authority has hooked up with Vauxhall to publish a map of British movie locations – available from Tourist Information Centres.
Sunday 2 June is Cinema 100 Day, when cinemas around the country will reduce ticket prices for the whole day to just 1.
Throughout the year there are dozens of special events and screenings planned. For further details contact the main Cinema 100 office at 10 Stephen Mews, London W1P OAX. Tel: 0171-636 7214. Fax: 0171-255 2315.