Creating Something from Nothing: A Conversation with ARTEM Founder and SFX Supervisor and Mike Kelt
With 28 years’ experience producing effects, props and sets for film and TV, ARTEM have an extensive portfolio which includes work in live events, exhibitions and visitor attractions. Their creative problem-solving enables them to bring their clients’ ideas to life.
Whatever your vision, no matter how big or small, ARTEM can bring it to life.
The Fan Carpet had the pleasure of Speaking with Mike Kelt, the CEO, Founder and SFX Supervisor of ARTEM, he is also a tireless advocate of the British film industry.
Was there a defining moment for you to pursue Special Effects as a career path within the industry?
I didn’t choose to enter Special Effects, but rather got into by accident after applying for two temporary jobs at the BBC in London. I was working in Scotland and thought it might be nice to spend six months in the ‘Big Smoke’. Both jobs sounded as if they were within the Set Design department, as it was then known – I got an interview for the one that turned out to be in the SFX department. To cut a long story very short, despite being two hours late for the interview due to snow on the tracks from Glasgow, and answering some questions completely wrong, I got the job!
Can you name three movies that you look to for the Special Effects that have taught you something or strive to aspire to?
There are a few movies that mark turning points in Special Effect. For me, 2001 and the original Star Wars showed what could be done using traditional techniques, such as miniatures filming; Terminator 2 made audiences sit up and take notice of digital possibilities with the liquid metal Terminator; and Jurassic Park was important because it put an end to Ray Harryhausen’s puppets!
How do you help Actors better understand and visualise the Effects you use in order to give the performance needed?
We create Physical SFX (as opposed to Digital VFX) and I assume you are referring to acting in a process screen environment. I always feel sorry for the actors in those situations as it must be difficult to get into a performance. With physical effects, what’s happening around you is for real – but we often still have to carefully explain what we are doing, as it can come as a bit of a shock. When you ‘shoot’ actors dead, for example, there can be blood everywhere!
Artem have been responsible for some phenomenal Special Effects, from Macbeth to Whisky Galore!, what would you say has been the most challenging when taking on these vastly different projects?
All projects are different and present very different challenges. Even something that sounds simple as ‘mist’ can be problematic – during the filming for Macbeth, we had to cover whole hillsides in Scottish with mist, and it had to be consistent and repeatable. Recently we had to blow up a bus in central London by the Houses of Parliament and we had to work out a way of doing this safely with two Artem staff and a dozen stunt people on the ground floor. But I guess the most challenging brief we’ve ever worked to would still be the Olympic Ceremonies, which involved completing 22 projects in a few months, and to add to the pressure it was broadcast to billions of viewers worldwide! That was extremely hard work for the team, but also great fun. You don’t want to be a nervous individual in this industry.
You’ve worked on some great films, what would be your dream project?
My dream projects are always the films where the production team work collaboratively together. All films involve long hours and hard work, but it is good fun if everyone can have a good time while working hard. But there also has to be a challenge involved to make something interesting – and there are plenty of opportunities for challenges in this business, especially as we cover so many areas of SFX, from floor effects, to explosives, and prosthetics to miniatures. My ideal film project would incorporate all these areas, and I would like to do more miniature work, but the Digital guys are harvesting that these days (not always for the better)!
You’ve worked with some phenomenal talent from Michael Fassbender to James Cosmo to Eddie Izzard to Marion Cotillard, do you have a wish list of who you’d like to work with?
I’ve just finished working with Danny Boyle on Trainspotting 2 and he was someone I wanted to work with on a film ever since the Olympics. He is one of those very nice considerate and appreciative people. If someone appreciates what you have done, you will always go the extra mile for them.
Do you have a number one rule when it comes to creating top quality Special Effects?
I guess the obvious, and boringly predictable, number one rule is safety! But beyond that I really want things to be realistic, rather than ‘Hollywood’, although sometimes it is fun to go over the top with effects. The name Artem comes from a Latin phrase ‘Ars ets celare Artem’ which roughly translated means ‘the art is to conceal the art’. In other words, the viewer should not be aware that what they’re looking at is ‘an effect’ but rather engrossed in the story – the effects should simply add to that, creating an atmosphere, or adding some particular action.
Who or what are you a fan of?
I’m a fan of creativity – in all its many forms. Watching creative people do their thing can be spellbinding. On a film, that can be anyone from the Director doing a great job, or the DOP playing magically with the lighting, to Costume and Makeup transforming the cast, and as a team creating something out of nothing.
What do you have coming up that you can tell us about?
We have just completed Trainspotting 2, which I am sure will be great, and Whisky Galore! hits cinemas soon, which I am told is also brilliant. The Martin Campbell film, known as The Foreigner, used the double-decker and other explosions and it was a great project to work on – I look forward to seeing that.
To find out more about ARTEM visit the Official Website.