Artem Films show physical SFX as essential today as digital effects

Artem’s work on the recently released movie Ex Machina, and pending blockbusters starring Chris Hemsworth and Michael Fassbender respectively, shows physical special effects still matter.

There is a gigantically enormous whale starring alongside Chris Hemsworth in In the Heart of the Sea, the Ron Howard movie based on a true 19th-century story that inspired Herman Melville to write Moby Dick. The film is scheduled for release in December.

But, surprisingly for a Hollywood blockbuster, the humongous 36ft-long whale (made to look even larger on screen – see image below) was not created with computer graphics.

It was physically built by multi-award winning UK-based Artem. In addition to digital effects, the west London company specializes in “physical special effects” or “hands-on sculpting.” The company’s skillsets range from building body parts and prosthetics to exploding buildings and designing explosive scenes.

In the trailer alone, In the Heart of the Sea throws viewers into a merciless sea where the ruthless behemoth almost annihilates the movie’s protagonist sailors by taking a relentless stand to protect its dominance of the vast waters.

According to the company’s blog, Artem is keeping mum about how it crafted the life-like polystyrene whale until the movie is officially released.

At a time when computer-generated images (CGI) increasingly dictate how cinema stories are told, it is fascinating to come across hand-crafted technology in movies.

You might have seen Artem’s handiwork in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, Wolfgang Petersen’s TroyValhalla Rising by Nicolas Winding Refn, and the Angelina Jolie starrer Tomb Raider 2.

In addition to generating the physical mist, rain, smoke and fire sprayed, splattered and spread in Macbeth, starring Michael Fassbender and scheduled for release later this year, Artem’s repertoire is on display in Ex Machina.

It created the futuristic props for Alex Garland’s directorial debut, which DNA Films, Film4 and Scott Rudin Productions produced, and Universal Pictures released in the UK and Ireland on 21 January.

Starring Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis), Domhnall Gleeson (About Time) and Alicia Vikander (Testament of Youth), Ex Machina tells the story of a computer coder (Gleeson) who wins the chance to spend time at a house in the mountains. It belongs to the rather unhinged CEO (Isaac) of the company he works for, where questionable experiments involving artificial intelligence take place.

Artem provided a range of sci-fi props, including the characters’ high-tech ID cards, the surveillance cameras and specially-constructed multi-functional phones.

They were designed to add to the film’s claustrophobic atmosphere while hinting at today’s concerns about phone hacking and surveillance. Artem also makes use of its own bespoke 7-axis KUKA industrial robotic arm and 3D printers.