Access toured the weird and wonderful headquarters of Artem, a special FX company bringing Hollywood quality props to the event market. In this interview, we spoke to Artem CEO Mike Kelt to find out more about the company and its creative process.
How did Artem get started?
There are a few players in our space of special FX, but we tend to cover it all, while most companies are more specialist. When we first set up, we wanted a proper workshop space. We came from the BBC, which had a high-quality space, and if you work on jobs where people want things the following day it’s practical to have a proper workshop. Sometimes, in our line of work, the lead time is the same day and we have to make, for example, a snowflake and ship it abroad from Heathrow Airport.
We used to be a third commercials, a third tv, now we do more events work, and would like to do more. Commercials’ budgets have dropped a lot overall. Some companies even shoot them on iPhones deliberately.
What does the client relationship look like with Artem?
One half of you is working out how to do the job, the other is listening to what they want. Most of the client’s production team might have an idea, or a drawing, but almost always we redraw it, as it will have to be a 3-dimensional product that people, or a camera, will rotate around. Even a sketch from the side and front often doesn’t work from a practical point of view.
So you often lead the creative process?
The Barologist Bar, a recent Leith-based bar/venue project we worked on, included us constructing a full-sized figure who was based on a real person from an old Victorian book. We don’t have a house style, but the client does. In this case, they gave us free reign and they kept an eye on the project. We would regularly take photos and they would give feedback, and enjoyed seeing it come together.
We worked on Holiday On Ice recently, which also has a house style, and we came up with a practical answer to what they want in terms of large props. When working on the Olympic Opening Ceremony (pictured top), we had a lot of people making props of various sizes, but in that case it was up to the production designer to ensure consistency.
Working on The Olympics Opening Ceremony was such an adrenaline rush, and we did so much in such a short space of time. People here thought I was mad. We had marquees in our yard, and everyone was working flat out.
How do your touring projects work creatively?
Coldplay, for example, will employ someone they know to direct the visual side of the show, they’ll know which songs will be played, then they’ll discuss concepts, and come to us to ask how the ideas can work, and if they are even possible. Take That’s bike that flew above the audience on their recent tour was a collaborative thing, we knew logistically how that would work.
How long do your creations take?
A hyper realistic face requires a live cast, then sculpting, hair work, etc, can take three weeks, but it’s around six weeks for a full body.
We don’t tend to keep stuff. Sometimes you have to destroy it because it’s part of the agreement.
What are your career highlights?
I go back years to a small project for a Mazda commercial. We created a suit for a dancer which even today I think was superb. It was a fibre glass suit which was jointed so you could move. He was breakdancing in the suit at one point. I wished we could have filmed that!
It was around the time of Robocop, when they created two suits – one for when he was sitting down, and I think we did better. There were a lot of late nights working on that one.
Where do you hire staff from?
We hire from various institutions. Wimbledon College is good, and there’s various model making degrees and prop making courses nationwide. To most parents it probably sounds ludicrous, but now it’s quite profitable.
Do you have limitations?
We can do practically anything you can think of. I encourage clients and directors to think about what they would like to happen if they had a magic wand. If it’s impossible we’ll tell you. It might be unaffordable, but rarely impossible.
Doing props for events is satisfying because they last longer. Sometimes the props we make barely appear on film, but at an event, it will likely go on tour and has to be more durable and reliable.
Space is always a compromise at events. There’s never enough backstage, and it’s a bit of a nightmare when you’re building quite large items. It’s the nature of the business though, and I quite like working with that. Fitting our props into an old Victorian theatre, for example, is a challenge, but a fun one.
The ambition of sets is ever increasing as more money is coming from tours, so there’s more investment.
Have you considered using old film props for event works?
Tableart talks about how to integrate our props into seasonal events. The things at event doorways, and so forth. Budgets for events are generally less than a film. There’s not usually anyone who thinks of the lifecycle of a model because the film industry is so compartmentalised. Keeping stuff aside for Premieres is rare but there is every opportunity to do that.