A Balancing Act: Last week's Lunchtime Talk
Last Friday we were joined by Matt, Rob and Kat from Flat-e collective. Flat-e are a London-based design studio, run by three creative directors Matt Bateman, Robin McNicholas, Rob Slater. They make films and animations for music promos, advertising, feature films and live events. Kat has recently been brought on board as the Flat-e producer. They joined us in the Studio to talk about their practice, what they have learnt, good and bad, from previous projects and the balancing act they perform, being artists working in the commercial sector.
They started by introducing three of their previous projects:
The Evolution of Mobile – Vodafone
After working with large-scale projection mapping in previous projects Robin was interested in exploring other ways to use projection mapping. Working on a collaborative project with Marshmallow Laser Feast, he wanted to know if it was possible to do 3D projection mapping using a handheld camera and projecting onto small objects, in this case directly onto a range of mobile phones - watch the video here
Good - Research and Development
At the beginning of the project they were given a relatively limited brief by Vodafone who had based their spec on what flat-e had done before. As they developed the relationship, however, it was clear that the client was happy for them to have a lot of creative freedom, loosely interpret the brief and try something more innovative. This in turn allowed them as a studio to develop their offering and gave Vodafone something more exciting in the long run.
Bad - Ownership
The video was a success with over 800,000 views on YouTube. It even went on to win a prestigious BIMA Award in the advertising world with full credit given to the agency. It was a really good lesson in ownership and meant that they now make sure they are always appropriately credited for their work.
My Secret Heart
My Secret Heart is a film, music and performance installation collaboration by composer Mira Calix and Flat-e commissioned by Streetwise Opera. It is the largest arts project with homeless people in history. It won the PRS music society award in 2008 and a British Composer Award in 2009 - watch the video here.
Good - Longevity
As the project was commissioned by a charity, the process was slightly different from their other corporate work. Working with a composer meant they were able to move away from Electronic music that accompanied most of their previous work. They felt that one of the nicest aspects of developing My Secret Heart was its longevity. It’s toured around the world from the International Film Festival to Superdeluxe in Tokyo and has been seen by over 150,000 people.
Bad - Logistics
They explained that because of the scale of the installation and the amount of people involved they felt at times that they got too heavily involved in the logistics of the piece. With over 120 people working on sound, filming, editing and performance they had to think about the bigger picture all of the time and sometimes lost sight of things.
Sony PS3 Video Store Realtime Projection Mapping
Another project Robin directed was a commission to make a series of videos for Sony using 3D projection mapping. Along with Barney Steel from FND, and Memo Akten from MSA Visuals, he wanted to explore the camera being a floating point in 3D, with the tightly mapped projection looking immaculate from a constantly changing viewing angle. By attaching a PlayStation®Move to the camera they were able to continuously alter the way that the projections mapped to the environment so that the illusion of a live animation was preserved, even as the camera whizzed around the room. The result is an amazing spectacle, filmed in one take with no post-production or CGI. Watch the video here.
Good – Client
Matt and Robin spoke of Robin's good relationship with client on this project, and stressed how important it is to pick a client you feel you can work productively with. Clients become an additional member of the team; they can affect how you work, how you think and the mood and motivation of the entire team for the weeks and months you work together. It’s important to remember that the client also needs you, so it’s worth being selective and making sure you ‘hire’ someone you feel happy working alongside.
Bad – Curation
Looking back on the project Robin felt that it might have been more effective as just one video so as not to split the audience and force them to be more cut throat in editing down to just include the things that had the most impact, rather than trying so many different things. By the time they had realised this would be the case it was too late, as the client expected three videos. They spoke of the need to curate early and refine their idea before starting the wheels in motion. They learned that large companies have extensive sign off processes involving a lot of people for every variation, so knowing exactly what you want to achieve from an early stage can be really valuable.
How do you budget and cost in advance when you’re using new technology?
It’s something that’s always been a challenge. With the first project it was a case of knowing how much it cost to buy projectors for large-scale projections and then working out the difference in equipment, while factoring time for research and development. A lot of the time even though you aren’t given a figure the company will have a certain amount in the budget. It’s a bit of a dark art guessing and it varies from company to company.
How long do the projects take you?
Funnily enough that’s the question we get asked the most, especially in business meetings. The Vodafone project took between three and four weeks. My Secret Heart was slightly different because it was developed as part of a residency but it was still relatively quick. The projects tend to be spoken about within the companies for a long time, but when they’ve got the go ahead they need it delivered in a really short space of time. Projects tend to be very intense and the vast majority are under two months. We have a lot of people we’ve worked with before and trust so if the budget allows we draft people in to help.
Have you ever had a project that you’ve thought has gone really successfully?
We’ve actually been very lucky in that we’ve been happy with every project that we’ve done to date. There are always things that we want to improve on next time. The things that might not have gone so well are what you learn from, and which inspire you next time. The worst thing we can imagine happening is looking back on a project and thinking that the money has somehow impinged on the art, and so far that’s never happened to us but it’s something you have to be aware of working in the commercial sector.
Do you have any advice for people starting out?
Some of it’s about luck, being in the right place at the right time. The best advice I can give is to just make something ace. Make something that you believe in because that’s what creating art is all about.
Most creative people worry at times that their work is stupid, or not good enough but it’s something that everybody faces. Just go out there and create something ace because people love awesome stuff.
It’s also really important that you realise when you need to use other people’s expertise. The reason we got Kat on board as a producer is because it was our weakest area. In an ideal world one of us would have excelled at producing, one would have been an amazing creative and one would have been a brilliant businessman but it didn’t work out like that.
What would you say are the biggest challenges creating work in the commercial sector?
It’s always important to keep an eye on the work you make. It’s really easy to run away chasing the jobs, but it’s important to stop and ask yourself is this what I want to do? Am I creating work I want to make? If the answer's yes and you can work with commercial partners then keep on going, if you ever reach the point where that’s no longer possible you’ve got to evaluate if it’s the right path for you.