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The Mill NY Refines Focus with New GenArts Sapphire Plug-ins

Many of the new Sapphire Plug-ins help The Mill creative team achieve a subtle & stylized look in the new Absolut Vodka spot. (August 16, 2007)

DMN Newswire--2007-8-16-- 2007 marks the fifth anniversary for The Mill New York, the first stateside satellite of the venerable London post production pioneer. And in the space of five years, Mill NY has gone from being a two-Flame fledgling outpost to a full-scale 90-person facility operating in a newly renovated Soho penthouse space. This success is well-earned but not surprising, given parent company The Mill Londons world-renowned reputation for ground-breaking visual effects work, rotating marquee client roster, and roots in award-winning film work. Drawing from this rich tradition, Mill NY hones its talent on commercial spots and music videos, under the artistic auspices of Creative Director and Lead Flame Artist Angus Kneale?himself a 10-year Mill veteran. Across all facilities, The Mill puts more than 35 Autodesk systems through the post production paces. ?We are highly dedicated to the Autodesk platform," Angus attests. "It offers the best tools out there for our needs at this point, and Sapphire is our ?must-have spark set. Its the one set of plug-ins that has to be loaded from the get-go when we install a Flame."

GenArts Sapphire Plug-ins are a collection of over 200 high-end, organic visual effects, each with comprehensive and intuitive parameter controls for unlimited, unique results. The Mills reliance on Sapphire is evident, running it on all Autodesk systems, as well as 12 Burn nodes and 15 Shake systems facility-wide. Angus and his team recently beta-tested Sapphire version 4 for Autodesk systems, and collaborated closely throughout the process with the GenArts engineering team to encourage specific plug-in development and overall enhancements. Angus enthuses, ?Working with the GenArts chaps has been a very unique experience for us. There was a big effort on both ends to meet face to face, make a strong connection, and ultimately share our thoughts on creating some new tools that are totally useful for our artists. Im a big fan of version 4. It is a solid upgrade?Ive needed some of this functionality for years.


The artistic vision of The Mill NY is a deliberate departure from flashy eye-candy, and many of the new?and newly over-hauled?Sapphire Plug-ins help The Mill creative team to achieve this distinctly subtle and stylized look. ?The kind of work we do here at The Mill involves mainly photorealistic visual effects, so you cant always immediately recognize where weve used Sapphire sparks?but they are ubiquitous, explains Angus. A recent commercial spot created for the new Absolut Vodka advertising campaign demonstrates this inconspicuous yet pervasive use of Sapphire effects. The message-intensive ad, entitled ?Absolut Protest, depicts a face-off between an agitated crowd of protesters and a squadron of riot police.

As the tension mounts and civil unrest seems inevitable, someone in the crowd suddenly and incongruously lets fly a pillow, the ominous chanting of the crowd is drowned out by giddy 1940s era music, and the mother of all pillow fights ensues. What if all conflict resolution could be this harmless? In an increasingly unstable world, its a worthy question put to the viewer in this sophisticated, thought-provoking spot.

Angus and his team were on hand for the one week shoot in Montevideo, Uruguay, a location selected for its ?anywhere urban mien. In keeping with the citys global vibe, Angus explains, ?The spot needed to feel quite gritty overall?and in a lot of scenes it was important to throw the crowd in and out of focus in an optical way where there wasnt just a planar defocus. We needed depth and a certain ?dirty look, and the new Sapphire ZDefocus and Convolve plug-ins were integral in achieving this. ZDefocus blurs areas of the source clip by different amounts using depth values from a ZBuffer input, while Convolve creates a wide variety of blur effects using arbitrary filter shapes and coloration. ?Historically, Angus continues, ?Ive found the Sapphire RackDefocus effect to give very pristine, geometric results, but in this case we needed imperfect blurring. So we created various images with specks of dirt and obvious imperfections in the Flame paintbox, then painted up a kernel and piped it into the new Sapphire Convolve effect to bloom the highlights using this intentionally flawed kernel image.

Angus notes that he also used the Sapphire ZDefocus plug-in to subtly keep background artifacts in focus while blurring out the foreground, and vice versa. His goal was to provide subtle focal points on certain characters and elements throughout, thereby enhancing the cinematic feel of the spot. ?I was endeavoring to tell the story in a way that evoked classic film-making?to cinematically draw the viewers eye in such as way that you feel it as well as see it, and Sapphire really helped achieve this in a seamless way. In fact, there are Sapphire sparks used in almost every shot of this spot, but you would never know it?and that was the point.

The new Light3D plug-in also came in handy in the final overhead shot, which included 3D buildings around the city square, as well as a crowd built in Massive and ultralight CG aircrafts flying above the melee. Sapphire Light3D performs 3D relighting of a clip using an input clip describing the surface "normals". In this case, the effect was used to add subtle lighting tweaks to various elements in the scene, such as the rooftops and the crowd below. According to Angus, the Light3D spark was very useful for interactively and quickly fine tuning the light source while compositing, and in general is a huge time-saving tool to have in the Flame environment.

What would be the alternative if Sapphire Plug-ins werent part of his tool kit? ?We would probably have to create our own, Angus reflects. ?And actually we had started to write a z-depth defocus plug-in, but thanks to great communication with GenArts during the beta cycle, we ended up happily using the Sapphire version. Angus also appreciates the obvious efforts that were put into optimizing speed and interactivity in version 4. ?The plug-ins are faster than ever?even in HD theyre blazing. There are a lot of other tools out there that do z-depth blurring in After Effects, but they are incredibly, painfully slow. By contrast, he notes, the new Sapphire ZConvolve plug-in for example?even accommodating for huge variations in depth?is still ?super quick.

Angus has been using Sapphire Plug-ins for as long as theyve been available on Flame, and as a seasoned user, version 4 is a welcome upgrade to an indispensable tool set. ?At the end of the day, post production is a very labor-intensive process, despite many technological advances in the tools we use, he explains. ?Were heavily involved in everything from pre-production on through to the tail end of the creative process?tasked with delivering the final product so to speak. Hours can be insane and deadlines come out of nowhere, and we need tools at the ready that can help us meet challenges and solve problems. Sapphire Plug-ins are at the top of the list in this regard. Theyve really become one with Flame in my mind. Simply put, Sapphire Plug-ins are essential to any project at The Mill.

The full version of The Mill New Yorks ?Absolut Protest spot can be viewed at:

Sapphire Plug-ins 4.0 for Autodesk systems was released in June 2007. To learn more please visit:

About GenArts, Inc.
Founded in 1996 in Cambridge, Mass., GenArts, Inc. is the premier provider of digital visual effects plug-ins for the film, broadcast and video industries. Their product, Sapphire Plug-ins, equips digital artists with a collection of over 200 state-of-the-art image processing and synthesis effects such as: Glows, EdgeRays, LensFlare, Lightning, FilmEffect, Warps and Textures. The effects seamlessly integrate into a number of editing and compositing systems including: Adobe® After Effects® and Premiere® Pro; Apple® Final Cut Pro® and Shake®; Avid® AVX Products; Autodesk® Compositing & Editing Systems and Combustion®; Eyeon® Fusion®; Sony® XPRI®; and Quantel® generationQ products.
Sapphire Plug-ins have become the industry standard for high-end visual effects creation by providing unrivaled image quality, a unique organic look, and ease of use. They have been used extensively in an array of television programs, music videos and feature films, including: Pirates of the Caribbean 1, 2, and 3, Spider-Man 1, 2 and 3, Superman Returns, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Star Wars Episode I, II and III, Sin City, The Matrix trilogy, X-Men 1, 2 and 3, Titanic, Lost and CSI.Additional GenArts product information can be found at
©2007 GenArts, Inc.  All rights reserved.  GenArts and Sapphire Plug-ins are registered trademarks of GenArts, Inc. All other trademarks mentioned herein belong to their respective owners.

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