Simon says - visual effects artist Simon Brewster



Aussie post-man crosses the pond.

By William C. Martel

December 4, 1998

Entering Simon Brewster's workspace upstairs at visual effects and design house A52 (formerly Area 52) on trendy Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood, you expect to see old coffee cans filled with paint brushes, paint pots and rolled canvases. The spacious room seems more like an artist's loft than a high-tech visual effects shop. Surrounded by interesting shapes and textures - including a wood sculpture made by his daughter - Brewster, a visual effects supervisor/Flame artist, is a perfect fit with his artist's surroundings.


Brewster also performed duties on Lexus' "High Bank Track" via Team One Advertising, El Segundo, Calif., directed by Lance Kelleher of Ritts/Hayden, Hollywood. The spot opens with several rows of identical black cars trapped in tollbooth lanes. A white Lexus 300 breaks free, zooms past traffic to a lane marked "300 ES Only" and leaves the black cars behind. The Lexus speeds down the track, gracefully banking as the road curves between chrome and steel skyscrapers. Shadows dance under the elevated road as the Lexus roars past. Inside the car, we get the driver's POV as he eases the car around a race-track curve. Executives in one of the skyscrapers hardly notice the car flying past outside their window. The Lexus banks around another corner and zooms high above the city, as if floating on air, traffic far below.

"We had to shoot all of the different bits, color backgrounds, cars, model shoots, CGI, live helicopters," Brewster smiles. Hired at the same time as the director, the two worked together on the spot. "It was a very integrated approach because we had a very good director."

Brewster was on location for the shooting of components. "I think that's the trick: You have to be involved in all of those processes, but you also have to be hands on. You have to solve the problem. You can't just give it away."

They shot on an airport runway with six cars and one tollbooth, which Brewster cloned into several tollbooths and an endless traffic snarl with his Inferno, adding shadings and reflections. The fences and road markers were added afterwards, and the "grubby" asphalt of the tarmac was cleaned up as well.

"Vision Crew [a Marina del Rey, Calif.-based miniature model company] made the model roadway," Brewster explains. "There was one piece of J-shaped model roadway, and you could only do so much with it. In the end, we had to do some CGI roadways. Lance, the director, decided the car looked better in a different situation than what we'd boarded. So I had to build CGI roads for the last two shots." A52 CGI supervisor Denis Gauthier also used CGI to create little bits of roadway that curved behind buildings.

"The most difficult part was making the cars stick on the model road, working with the bits that we had," Brewster says. "You've got a non-motion-control rig move over a model, and you've got a non-motion-control car-to-car shot of a real car. There's a lot of three-dimensional movement happening that shouldn't be happening. At least they were all going in the same direction!"

Brewster showed SHOOT a clip from "The Car of the Year," a spot directed by Kelleher that Brewster was working on for Jaguar via Ogilvy & Mather, New York, which showed a leaf falling to the street. Brewster had altered the colors to highlight the leaf and create a point of focus within the shot. "You can see an image, and it doesn't necessarily have to portray emotion in itself; the idea is to pull emotions from the viewer, create something more understated, more real, an image that you'll connect to as a human being."

Though he works at a terminal wired to a room full of Silicon Graphics equipment downstairs, he wields his keyboard and pad with caring strokes. "I don't think it's about the tools. They are just the ways and means for doing things," Brewster says. "There's a lot of glamour about certain boxes in the industry when they really are just tools." Paintbrushes for an artist like Simon Brewster to work with in his loft.

COPYRIGHT 1998 BPI Communications, Inc.
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