Mike Kelt, Chairman of physical SFX company and prop designers Artem, runs down his ten favourite projects from the last year.
Picking ten props from the last year or so of projects is not an easy task!
The areas Artem work in vary tremendously, and have changed over the years as clients realise it’s possible to build virtually anything. This means that the challenges thrown at us constantly evolve. Sometimes the issue is budget, sometimes creativity, or even technology, with usually very tight deadlines.
When Artem was formed in January 1988, we assumed we would work mainly in TV drama, but it quickly became clear that commercials were where the creativity and opportunity were. Nowadays, we work mainly across events, film, TV drama, commercials and private commissions, with some notable work done on the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony (pictured above).
Lately, we have been creating our own challenges by designing and producing more of our own products, such as smoke and wind machines, with a view to marketing them globally, creating a whole new set of opportunities. So far, the events’ industry has been very interested, with Take That – who we have been lucky to work with several times – using them on their last tour.
- Take That’s Greatest Hits Tour 2019
Client: Batasco Partnership/Kim Gavin
We had an opportunity to supply an iconic moment for Take That’s 2019 Greatest Hits tour – Odyssey. We were asked to design and fabricate three ‘chopper’ style motorbikes to be ridden during the song ‘Spin’. The motorbikes all needed to have spinning wheels, be able to lean from side to side, perform wheelies, emit smoke from the exhaust pipes, be able to withstand the rigours of touring, and be safe for the performers. During the show, the motorbikes were flown onto the stage and Gary Barlow, Howard Donald and Mark Owen controlled all the movement and effects themselves through the handlebars.
- Life-Size Steam Train for Holiday on Ice Showtime – 75th Anniversary show
Client: Holiday on Ice Productions
The brief here was to create unusual, major props and one of the most exciting (and challenging) was a steam locomotive capable of travelling on ice. Our designers and fabricators had eight weeks to build the entire lightweight painted steel train, which was constructed and tested in our West London workshop. The steam locomotive had to be electrically powered, while still puffing smoke and steam, and had to convert into the rear of the train when leaving the ice.
- Sweet Harmony: Rave at the Saatchi Gallery
Client: Project Zoltar
Project Zoltar, an underground multi-platform art collective, approached us to produce several items for their Sweet Harmony: Rave exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery. Sweet Harmony: Rave is an immersive retrospective exhibition presenting rave culture through the voices and lenses of those who experienced it. We used our 7-axis KUKA robotic arm to machine large-sized heads, aircraft and military icons, stone slabs and characters from the era that were attached to a steel tower supplied by Project Zoltar. The exhibition runs at the Saatchi Gallery until 14 September 2019.
- Vortex Smoke machine: A four foot ‘donut-shaped’ smoke ring for touring theatre performances of Torus
Art and maths collided when dance company HUMANHOOD asked us to design and build a piece of equipment capable of projecting a single large donut-shaped smoke ring from the rear of a stage out over the audience for dramatic effect. The ‘smoke vortex cannon’, as it came to be known, had to be DMX programmable, to enable control from the lighting gallery. The finished product was reinforced with steel rings and adjustable steel bars, enabling the cannon to be extended and locked into the solid rigid form required to create the shockwave. This shockwave created a donut-shaped vortex smoke ring known mathematically, as a ‘torus’.
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Violet Beauregarde’s Inflatable Blueberry Suit
Client: Sugar High Theatre Productions, Caleb Theatre Productions, GFO Entertainment
We provided inflatable suits for the gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde as she transforms into a giant blueberry for the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory stage shows. The inflatable suits are tailored to fit each of the child actors, who operate them manually. The suit needs to inflate at a specific time in the show and the air supply must be compact in order to remain hidden, yet still be capable of full inflation. To achieve this, the pneumatics were hidden in a small backpack the actor wears.
- Elgin Marbles frieze for Trust TV series: A replica of “Lapith Vs Centuar” panel.
Client: Cloud Eight Films/Production Designer Patrick Rolfe
One of our most interesting replicas was for Danny Boyle’s acclaimed BBC TV series Trust, starring Donald Sutherland. We were approached to recreate the beautiful Lapith vs Centuar frieze from the Elgin Marbles, which has been removed from the Parthenon in Athens and is currently displayed in the British Museum. We visited the museum and took photographs and colour references before building a 3D computer model. We then machined a rough panel on our 7-axis KUKA robotic arm, and this was passed to our sculpting team who sculpted the fine detail in clay.
- Ramez in the Waterfall – MBC TV Show
Client: Masscom98 and Eproducers
We recently designed and created a custom-built life-like male gorilla suit for notorious Egyptian prankster Ramez Galal’s controversial TV show Ramez in the Waterfall. The suit was used in a prank where Ramez appears before a celebrity guest as a fully-grown gorilla and charges towards them. To create the suit, our award-winning special effects team carried out a 3D head scan among other procedures, in order to create an amazingly life-like resemblance. Ramez was able to realistically open the Gorilla’s mouth, snarl the lips and lower the brow to create a menacing look without the need for a complex electronic head and control system.
- Angry Birds 2: Film launch at Cannes Film Festival
Client: Slick Productions
As part of the high-profile launch and photo-call for Sony’s successful family franchise Angry Birds 2 in Cannes, Slick Productions asked Artem to create an oversized Angry Bird, slingshot, nest and prop boxes. Using references supplied by the client and designs generated by our own design team, we created a large elastic band and aged wood to complete the other scenic elements. Our special effects technicians developed the high-speed winching system, pyrotechnics and release mechanism that fired the bird along a guide rope onto a target, which then ‘exploded’ in a shower of confetti.
- Barologist bar: A marvellous ‘Steampunk’ themed bar in Edinburgh
Client: Greene King Brewing and Retailing. The Barologist
One of Edinburgh’s most popular bars recently underwent a complete makeover and was re-invented as The Barologist, with a meteorological theme. The new owners’ brief was a ‘Victorian Steampunk’ feel to all the weather-related features they wanted to install in the venue, from the huge bar to a big red button that delivers a thumping ‘thunderclap’. We were involved from conception to completion. Concealed fans and smoke machines puff and blow a hot air balloon around the ceiling, snow falls gently in snow globes and ‘the Barologist’ himself stands contemplating life from under his umbrella as a steady rain shower falls from inside it.
- Artem Quiet Studio fan: As part of Artem’s on-going development of SFX and studio equipment
Wind is quite often a necessity in film projects, especially in a studio environment where actors are delivering dialogue against green screens or on interior sets. If the dialogue shots have to match windy locations: curtains need to flutter gently, or hair and clothes need to have a mild breeze, you will need a fan of some sort. Artem produce a Super Silent Studio Fan just for this purpose – it has a large area of influence, is highly portable and above all, exceedingly quiet. Silent fans are not just required for filming in studio environments, they can be found in touring productions as well.
Mike Kelt is the Chairman of Artem SFX, as well as one of the founding members of the company. He cut his teeth in the theatre, as a designer and production manager. Before Artem, he worked at the BBC on iconic shows such as Dr. Who and A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Major projects that Mike has overseen include the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics as well as movies including Paddington 2.