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In the Spotlight - The Mill

With Mike Chapman, ECD at The Mill London

15 March 2023

Masters of post and VFX, many great pieces of work have been through The Mill in its time, and its ECD Mike Chapman has been working at The Mill since 2010, when he started out as a freelance CG artist. He became head of 3D in 2016 before stepping up as creative director two years later, and he has been The Mill’s ECD since the inclement spring of 2021. With studios in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seoul, Shanghai and Bangalore, the Mill keeps turning out great work as the world turns, night and day, united as it is by one binding ambition: to create extraordinary and memorable work that captivates and excites audiences.

So, Mike, how has the past year been for you?

Well, it’s certainly been bit of a crazy year for anyone at The Mill. Starting off with the joining of our friends (and once rivals) at MPC in January, it certainly took a little while for everyone to settle in and work out how the two most successful brands in our part of the industry work together. There have been a few bumps in the road, but after working here for the past 12 years, sudden exposure to a whole new team of amazing talent has been invigorating.

Mike Chapman Black BGBW 5 1 1

What’s the big takeaway you’d carry over to 2023?

Trust – we’d be nowhere without it. Both creatively and technologically, you need to trust in your collaborators on all levels. Whether it’s your clients, directors, creatives, artists, producers or engineers, it takes a team to create the work we do. That might seem obvious, but has been totally reinforced for me over the past 12 months, and it’s the obvious that can often be overlooked and underappreciated.

What’s the best idea you had in 2022 and how did it work out?

Spending time to properly work out what parts of my job are best done where; not just working from home for the convenience of it (like not showering in the morning or having to travel into the studio). But instead, looking at what I am responsible for and what I do on a day-to-day basis and making sure my context is right for the day’s tasks. Sounds boring, right? But I found myself in 2021 and the beginning of 2022 getting stressed out by things that previously wouldn’t have bothered me, and I found the main point of difference was my context.

What were the change-making developments in craft and tech?

Machine learning is probably the biggest game changer: it is at the intersection of craft and tech and, if your social feeds are anything like mine, they were filled in the middle of the year with people’s tests in mid-journey and the like. This democratisation of the tech allowing people to play with AI will help move things forward at a swifter pace, and more questions will be asked of how and where we can apply it. I’m seeing more and more practical problem-solving using AI: computing large data sets and automating some more straightforward tasks has been happening for a good few years now, but these ideas becoming more mainstream is exciting.

How has ideation and creativity evolved and responded to the real-world challenges of a very challenging 2022?

Creativity is an ever-evolving beast, and at its best reflects and informs the ideals of the day. I think the need for us all to be responsible, socially conscious and drive for a sustainable future is clear, so with that as backdrop, creativity and innovation is vital for us to find new and better ways of engaging with our audiences.

Will remote and hybrid ways of working continue to be the industry norm, and how may that impact the work, how it’s done and who’s doing it?

I think that “flexible” working is here to stay and helps us back up some of the things I said earlier in terms of being socially conscious and potentially more sustainable. Like most things, there are pros and cons of WFH vs in the studio. It is vital that businesses learn to harness the best of both and be proactive rather than passive with their teams, setting an agenda that prioritises positive working norms, making the studio space a cultural hub where people want to go to share ideas and experiences together.

On the other hand, being able to tap into a more global talent base is a powerful thing. As a global company The Mill has been sharing work round the world for at least the past decade, and this is getting ever easier with advances in tech and workflows, but there are things you can’t change – time zones for one. So, like with most situations, it is important to know the requirements of any given job role when setting expectations for all parties where people are required to do their work from.

What would you choose as the year’s best campaigns or pieces of work, and why?

B&Q Change, Made Easier by Uncommon and Oscar Hudson out of Pulse (obvs). I just think this is a brilliant piece of work from top to bottom. Taking the familiar saying of turning your world upside down, making it literal and beautiful, is no small feat. The levels of craft didn’t just live up to the idea, they elevated it, and the long takes of unbroken action paired with the set build and performance of the main talent make the extraordinary feel authentic and relatable. But maybe that’s just me having had my first child earlier this year, which is quite a journey. It’s not often that an ad stops me in my tracks and has me scratching my head going, “how did they even attempt to make that?!” If you haven’t seen it, take a look at the behind-the-scenes on Oscar’s Instagram.

Which Christmas campaign in 2022 won you over?

I might be a bit biased on this one, as we may have had a hand in it, but for me M&S Fairy & Duckie, French & Saunders, Dom&Nic – it’s all about the double acts. I just love the Duckie character and seeing her develop was a privilege; my dog Reggie and her skill of beheading her toys even offered up some useful reference. After working on the Heathrow bears campaigns, I must be a sucker for a soft toy.

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What trends do you see emerging as we focus on the coming year?

Continued growth in machine leaning-driven content with more people aware and able to play with it. Also, I think we have seen a massive convergence between the virtual and real world over the past few years, accelerated by the pandemic – this will continue at a rapid rate. Additionally, with gaming becoming more and more mainstream, we will see more content created virtually, whether that’s within games themselves or on social platforms, with people further investigating their digital personas.

What do the British Arrows mean to you, what’s their role in the industry and what’s the impetus behind becoming a sponsor?

The Arrows have always stood out as the pinnacle of British advertising achievement and recognition at this level that means a lot, even when working at a place where our own expectation levels are so very high. It is great to not only be able to highlight talent and collective achievement but also put something back into the industry and help the next generation get a foothold. As far as sponsorship goes our collaborators have always been a key part in the great work that we create.

What do you think will win commercial of the year?!

I’m going to have the stick with B&Q, the fact it has a strong idea and is also strong across most craft categories gives it a great chance. We also have been involved in a few jobs that might be in with a shot, primary of which is the latest film for Burberry, Night Creatures, another collaboration with MEGAFORCE, and after the success of last year’s spot it could do well again.

Burberry Night Creatures by Megaforce and The Mill3

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