Immaculate conceptions

In order to realise an idea, it is essential to be able to source the right material. Jane Austin talks to seven people who have tracked down the wherewithal to turn their creative dreams into working solutions. Jane Austin is editor of Shots.

Mark Denton

commercials director with production company Godman

Mark Denton’s vision for his one-bedroom flat in London’s St John’s Wood was to realise his vision of a cartoon stately home. Think Hansel and Gretel meets Brighton Pavilion.

“I really liked John Steed’s mews house in The Avengers TV programme,” explains Denton. “I’m also a great fan of the American cartoon strip Ritchie Rich, which is about the five-year-old son of a multimillionaire who has dollar signs on everything he owns.” His other influences were the Brighton Pavilion and Carry On films, he says.

With stoic determination to pay homage to this hybrid of influences, Denton set about sketching the furniture, wallpaper and soft furnishings that reflected his influences. His starting point was a series of photographs of himself, taken by the photographer Malcolm Venville, in various guises as spoof ancestors. These were all mounted in lavish gilt frames.

These portraits were hung upon rather salient monochrome striped flock wallpaper, which had to be ordered from the US as flock is no longer available in the UK because of its alleged carcinogenic properties.

Denton sourced a number of crafts people to realise his sketches of furniture, lighting, door handles, sculptures, carpet and quilt. John Wilsher, a cabinet-maker friend, created him a hi-fi cabinet which was neatly disguised as a mini Gothic castle.

There’s a turquoise chest of drawers with Denton’s bog-eyed griffin icon. This icon was cast in brass and created by model-maker Howard Sly, who also cast the natty lions’ paw feet which are set at the bottom of several pieces of furniture. Other pieces of furniture include a bookcase lined with the sleeves of faux-leather books, while another is styled as a Roman temple and is painted lilac – naturally.

In front of the luxurious green velvet drapes and the ruched net curtain rests a Lambretta scooter, which is soon to be gold plated, resting on a purple and lime-green carpet with a vast pound sign in the centre. The bed’s headboard was moulded and sculptured by Harry Francetti, while Denton found a seamstress who created a silk bastardised Union Jack quilt. “Mock patriotism,” adds Denton.

An exaggerated bust of Nelson, atop a mini Corinthian column, serves as a standing lamp. This was created by model-maker Ron Mueck, who recently had a piece featured in the Sensation exhibition at London’s Royal Academy.

The whole miniature ancestral home feel is enhanced by a number of rope divides which keep some distance between visitors and the “art” on the walls.

Denton is immensely proud of his “gaff”, which has taken two years to achieve. For inspiration, he spent a lot of time making day trips to stately homes, design exhibitions, reading magazines and phoning up the Crafts Council. He says that working in advertising was the best help he could have, as he constantly meets people with unusual creative skills who are up for a laugh and keen to do something unusual for their portfolio.

Jon Hollis

flame artist at Smoke & Mirrors

In common with most special effects artists, Jon Hollis , a flame artist with post production company Smoke & Mirrors, has built-up a digital archive from jobs he’s worked on and scenes he’s shot on a DVD camera.

“A director will generally bring in licensed references that he wants to use in an edit,” explains Hollis. “My role is to change that image and make it better. In my library there are shots of skies, rolling clouds, fires, moons and deserts. DVD film enables me to put the footage into D1 immediately. One example could be a close-up of a leaf on a tree that would work well as an image to put behind someone when they are presenting a programme.”

One of Hollis’s most recent jobs was the post production on a music video for The Verve track Sonnet. Directed by Chris Palmer of Gorgeous, the original plan for the promo was to have the camera closing in on the lead singer in a long tracking shot as the song opens. When the camera hones in on the singer’s face, he closes his eyes and the camera begins tracking backwards. As it moves backwards, the scenes that emerge are apparently the thoughts that are going on inside the singer’s head.

Palmer’s original idea was to bring the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper album cover to life in this shot, and spent several days shooting a cast of weird and wacky characters in a landscape constructed from thousands of licensed images and pieces of film. However, the band weren’t that keen on the characters and they were consequently dropped.

Owen Lee

copywriter at Partners BDDH

A chance discovery of a poem written by an 87-year-old American woman by creative team Owen Lee and Gary Robinson of ad agency Partners BDDH, sparked-off an innovative and effective creative solution for the agency’s new campaign for Harley Davidson.

The poem If was written by Nadine Star and considers what she would do if she could live her life over again. The pair found the poem on the office wall of one of their colleagues, which had been given to him by his mother. Their final creative solution showed an image of an 87-year-old man alongside the poem with a freephone number offering test drives.

The poem perfectly suited the brand’s proposition and research. Research had shown that Harley Davidson’s target market is 40-45-year-old men with a 40 000-plus income. “We didn’t want it to be known as ‘the old people campaign’,” says copywriter Lee. “So we took the idea from the poem of the idea of realising your dreams before it’s too late; with the premise that there is a ‘Harley gene’ within everyone.”

The resulting campaign features several other executions where the copy echoes the theme of Star’s writing, focusing on the individual realising his dreams.

According the Lee, the campaign has been so successful that it had people in the planning research groups in Germany crying. “Volks-wagen in Germany have placed bulk orders for Harley Davidson as a means to inspire selected staff,” he says. “And British Airways has bought a lot for its marketing staff. We also received a letter from a 57-year-old gentleman saying ‘You have managed to create a stunning poetic image for a machine, and fire the imagination with nostalgia for life’s missed moments’.”

But the biggest honour for Lee came from his mum. “My mother belongs to a literary club and each quarter all the members meet and bring along a favourite piece of poetry. One woman brought along our ad which she read to the group,” he concludes.

Nik Ramage


Sculptor Nik Ramage confesses that his studio is “a rather elaborate garden shed” that is overflowing with street market bric-a-brac and old mechanical technology.

His work has featured as magazine illustrations, corporate brochures and album sleeves. Ramage likes the notion that the elements featured in his sculptures have a history and frequently have an after life, as many clients like to display them afterwards.

A recent commission, for the re-launch of the Robert Harding photo library, boasted two of Ramage’s pieces. One piece, The Ego Has Landed, illustrated the advertising section of the library’s archive, while Life’s A Banquet introduced the editorial section.

Ego consisted of a machine with Victorian bellows (from London’s Portobello Road market), apparently blowing-up a gold balloon with a face drawn on it. The whole premise to the piece was to appear very flashy, showy and noticeable. Banquet, alternatively, showed a huge mouth with luscious red velvet lips mounted on a candelabra that “munched away”, courtesy of a basic mechanical system. The base of the sculpture is surrounded by fruit and a lobster to enhance the notion of abundance.

Ramage, a graphics graduate from Brighton Polytechnic, had to enlist help from tree surgeons to find a suitable tree for the album cover for Dodgy’s album Free Peace Sweet. Rejecting the idea of popping down to Epping Forest with a chain saw, the surgeons helped him cut a tree into sections so he could take it back to his studio and carve the album title on to it.

Thomas Root

co-director with Antirom

Not even the humble banana is safe from the clutches of multimedia designer Thomas Root. Root, a co-director of multimedia company Antirom, challenges designers’ obsession with technology by creating dramatic effects by, for example, blowing up a banana by inserting a banger, then filming it on a High 8 camera and incorporating it into a stunning piece of multimedia communication.

The banana featured in an interactive window for a video wall in a Levi’s shop. Antirom’s aim is to get “back to basics” with regard to multi-media design. It is this use of domestic products that differentiates the work from that of its techno-loving competitors. “I like using a low-fi medium, like a High 8 camera, and try to avoid using too many software-driven post production techniques. The great thing about multimedia is that it doesn’t need high resolution elements. The only thing I like about 3D packages is the capacity to render in frame,” explains Root. “So instead of drawing a teapot or a kettle with a package, we prefer to shoot a real one. Consequently, we created a really powerful click mouse by filming ink slowly dripping into a bowl. People who work in multimedia don’t go for it and source interesting stuff because they get too excited by the technology.”

Antirom has created two CD-ROMs and an interactive window and kiosk for Levi’s and websites for Guinness and MTV, and is an extension of design and directing group Tomato. “As we work with Tomato, we borrow elements it has shot for commercials and friends supply images. We have loads of archive film, which is just silly, spontaneous and interesting things that we’ve shot, like footage of loads of clockwork toys. It’s amusing to go on a hunt for the perfect kiwi fruit on a Friday afternoon and find a way of using it,” says Root.

Aziz Cami

managing partner at The Partners

Before working on a specific design project, The Partners sources images that will be used in a storyboard to create a visual expression of the brand’s personality.

Images are found from an array of printed material and are collated together. According to Aziz Cami, the consultancy’s managing partner, the exercise boasts three main benefits. “First, the act of creating it gives our designers a more sophisticated impression of the brand. Second, it serves as a totem; a rallying point that everyone can relate to. And finally, it works as a fantastic management tool,” he says.

“The board in front of you works as a visual representation, so that you can hold it up next to the design of the brochure to see if the design is sympathetic to the original idea.”

The Partners has worked with client Rexam, which specialises in paper products and packaging, for over ten years and has designed its identity twice – the first time to mark a change in name (from Bowater) and, later, on the company’s relaunch.

Rexam’s latest identity aims to convey its hi-tech and modern approach and impart the sense of a company that is futuristic in its outlook. Consequently, the board used images of silver and blue typography, shots of silver fashions and metallic machinery. This was used as a constant reference by the designer.

John Simmons

director at Interbrand Newell and Sorrell

John Simmons is the first to agree with the old adage that image isn’t everything. A director with Interbrand Newell and Sorrell, Simmons is in charge of finding the “right” copy to appear in a company’s design work. The right quote or passage that fits with the client and enhances the company’s ethos.

For the past six years, the then Newell and Sorrell has produced all the marketing and promotional material for bookseller Waterstone’s. This incorporates all the banners for the shop windows, which are changed every three to four weeks; as well as diaries, pocket guides to different areas of the store and guides on different literary genres such as science fiction.

While the bulk of the copy is written by Waterstone’s, Simmons and his team help with finding precise quotes and emotive, appropriate copy. “The first thing we do is search through books of quotations and we know instinctively what clients should avoid,” he says.

“The danger is that many go for the po-faced, meaning-of-life type of missive which doesn’t work. It’s always best to go for something with a bit of humour. Most of the projects we work on have a strong link to words, as language has a strong link to identity.”

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