WORK > ARTOMATIC key projects (23)
Produced for BMG records to promote one of Jeremy Healy's dance music projects, the full Bleachin's press kit featured a stainless steel tube and 'credit card' for, er, helping to organise your stimulants. All presented in an exquisite routed foam tray inserted into a black acrylic sleeve. Those were the days.
Most books are supposed to be square, so what would happen if it were twisted to mirror the innovative construction in Levi's premium denim line? The book was conventional board-covered book with screen-printed cover and paper pages, but twisted out of shape. The challenge was not in the twisting, but in the final trimming–or lack thereof.
One of a handful of landmark projects Artomatic produced, the Massive Attack Singles Collection 90-98 was the brainchild of Tom Hingston who wanted something that would change when you handled it. Heat sensitive inks had been around since the fifties but were used in small areas, often in a security role. Tom's brainwave was to print an entire surface with it.
The ink changes from coloured to transparent at a specific temperature–and you want it to be coloured in ambient or room temparature and transparent when heated by your hand. And there's a surprisingly small difference between the two–sometimes only a few degrees Centigrade–and of course, both ambient and hand temperature vary greatly.
It was easier said than done since both the LP box and the CD pack were wrapped rigid boxes with the thick cardboard acting as a heat-sink, reducing the reactivity of the ink on the surface. It was October and the prototype boxes would turn up freezing cold and completely unreactive while we were trying to figure out the optimum temperature to set the ink. In the end, we opted for a 20 degree change, which worked for the album's Christmas release, but made them look white in stores in the summer.
It spurned a whole slew of interest in heat-senstitive inks–sadly, mostly for projects for which it was inappropriate and / or too expensive, but the effect still turns up in some projects
This project was the first £100,000 project we produced and was a rare foray into the world of advertising. Our contacts were strictly in the design arena and the two never met. It was also the job that nearly killed us.
Produced for the now-defunct agency Craik Jones, the job had an unusual feature. Unlike most print jobs, which if something goes wrong, they can usually be taken apart and the single offending component re-printed, thus limiting the financial pain involved in rectifying the mistake, the Freelander pack consisted of a number of complex, expensive components, which were all sealed or glued inside one another, meaning that a mistake would mean doing it all again.
The leaflet was originally produced using a different picture and was subsequently re-printed. The initial file copies were delivered to the agency and, lo-and-behold, they had the wrong, earlier image inside. Unfortunately, the job was almost complete (we were running late and were producing all the bits simultaneously as usual), which would've cost approximately £70,000 to put right and would've tipped the business into bankcruptcy.
For some unexplained reason, it turned out the gash leaflets were safe under the printer's production manager's desk and only the file copies turned out to have the wrong image. All the rest were fine. Phew!
The job was also notable for a potential legal run-in with the patent holder on the map format we were using, who had been originally approached to do the job and turned it down saying it couldn't be done. We disagreed and proved it by doing it. They were cross.
This was the single most iconic project we ever produced. Designed by Mark Farrow, it got off to an auspicious start with the initial meeting with Mark and Jason Pierce who duly emptied a shopping bag full of prescription drugs onto the table and said "I want that".
The record company made it possible by pouring their entire marketing budget into the limited edition CD format (there was a 10 three inch CD press kit too) and produced 100,000.
What set it apart was the attention to detail Daniel Mason (Artomatic) insisted on in the production and was a perfect illustration of the ARTOMATIC manufacturing-as-creative-language philosophy. No detail was overlooked with pharma-grade materials and construction clues used everywhere–even down to photographing the CD's being packed in the pharmaceutical packaging plant complete with workers in white lab coats.
The project was slightly mired by the reaction of Mark Farrow who took a dislike to the attention we received for our involvement–he clearly felt we were overstepping the bounds of our producer-role and stopped talking to us. A shame since we went out of our way to describe our colaborative approach to our work and never attempted to claim ownership over his–or anyone else's work. It was to prove to a recurring theme.
This was the official press kit for the launch of Microsoft's games console, X-Box. Designed by East London design firm, The Farm (not to be confused with the ad agency), it was notable for the popular combination of materials that it either inspired or which we seemed to offer to anyone coming through the door at that time–perspex sleeve and routed foam trays.
We were keen to produce our own projects simply because it was fun and the best bit–sitting in the pub and coming up with ideas–seemed so productive. Plus, at that time, as we found out in our travels looking for products for the store, there was very little stuff around. Our products tended to revolve around conceptual jokes and / or odd juxtapositions of materials and meanings.
The Chocolate Heart was our gift to the Valentine's Day industry. Made from exquisite dark chocolate, it was a faithful, detailed reproduction of an anatomical heart. It came in a sturdy styrofoam box to mirror the cooler boxes used to transport live organs. Inside was a Chocolate Organ Donor card for those giving it to a loved-one.
A very young David James walked into our studio in Wharf Road in 1989 and enquired about printing on a medical grade PVC he'd found. The material was made by ICI and had a very distinct quality to it–it was soft, clean and very maliable. It was also very difficult to print being not at all dimensionally stable.
David, who went on to become one of the UK's outstanding creative talents knew the potential of it and clearly explained why: the job was for a seminal fashion / sportswear label (before the idea of the two being one and the same had dawned on anyone) and he wanted something that would capture the essence of the fabric but not imitate it.
He also listen to our concerns about how it would print and designed a simple, powerful and exceptionally beautiful brochure consisting of big simple graphics in bright bold colours that wouldn't mind if they were a little mis-registered. To finish it off, the book was thread sewn to remind people once more of its fashionable subject-matter. This remains one of my all-time favourite projects.
Right at the beginning of the digital music revolution, Decca Records wanted to create a one-stop source for music producers and creative directors to be able to choose a soundtrack from their extensive catalogue. It was all available on 2 CD's but needed some fancy presentation in order to create the sense of occasion with this hard-to-reach audience.
Johnson Banks were hired and came up with a extravagant design that consisted of gluing a heavyweight bookbinding board to a large sheet of industrial rubber blanket as the front and back cover. There was a strip of printed aluminium, but that seemed to go unnoticed in the drama that engulved the project.
Glue is the greatest misnoma in the world of printing. It's a sad euphemism for a pathetic hope that something might hold together long enough for no-one to notice. Such was the case for this project.
Needless to say the initial books looked like they might hold together–certainly long enough to hoodwink us into making all the rest of them, but after a couple of days in the finishers' factory they started unravelling. I'm sure the weather was wrong–too hot, too cold, to damp, whatever, but try as we might, no glue nor even sheet adhesive, which is normally the last resort, wanted to stick them.
After much gnashing of teeth and the unfortunate tragedy of the owner of the finishing company dying in the middle of it, it got solved. Jobs always do get solved. For this, all it needed was 2,000 tubes of superglue. Of course.
Tony Stone is a huge picture library that had already established a reputation for daring innovation for its picture catalogues. There previous one had involved some very daring–know knew what it would look like 'til it came out of the mould–piece of injection moulding, so in comparison, this seemed tame–dare, I say, easy?
They wanted a glow-in-the-dark book. Something that when you turned the light off, it would hauntingly sit there on the shelf when you turned the lights out. The solution seemed straightforward, a simple phosphorescent print on paper, which in turn is case bound to the covers in the normal way.
But, phosphorescent ink has two distinct properties–it's a very course pigment that attracts dirt like a magnet–no good for a heavy book that needs to be gripped. And it possesses very little colour when it's viewed on normal, especially indoor light. And the solution for the first problem–laminating it–makes the second problem worse, the ink becomes almost invisible under the laminate.
Phosphorescent ink works by absorbing short-wavelength light and storing it and then reflecting it out slowly at a longer, green wavelength. After a lot of trial and error, we discovered that we could add very small amounts of dark green and blue dye to the ink to darken it without adversely affecting its light manipulating properties. So, we experimented a bit more and found the precise balance where the ink was dark enough to be visible in tungsten light, but still glowed spectacularly when the lights were switched off, which also had the added benefit of the white graphic appearing to switch to negative as the white panel became dark against the glowing panel surrounding it.
We'd done some initial development work for Burgopak in their very early days and they'd managed to convince Sony Computer Entertainment to use their unqiue sliding-tray action as the basis for the press kit to launch the then revolutionary PS2 machine. The idea was to make what looked like a real machine–the actual machines hadn't been shipped and remained shrouded in secrecy.
Between Burgopak and ARTOMATIC we put together a prototype made of black foamex (and mis-named stiff plastic used in displays) that was so realistic that a senior Sony Executive nearly hit the panic button when she saw it sitting on a junior's desk. After that, all we had to do was figure how to make it.
We ordered more black Foamex than had ever been made in one order and filled our entire factory–each of the kits consisted of about 25 pieces all stuck together with double-sided tape (which for once, didn't let us down) and apart from the fact that we couldn't get another job in the factory for two weeks, it went reasonably smoothly. And it did look exactly like the real thing.
Vylene is the fabric that all is used to fill spaces between other pieces of fabric, either as part of the structure or to give some element of insulation. It's a fibrous, paper-like material that's not very dimensionally stable (it shrinks).
Richard Smith and Cara Galardo of Area wanted to use for an invitation to one of John Galliano's runway shows. They chose a suitable impossible four colour image, which meant the thing was guaranteed not to register as it went through the machines, getting smaller and smaller as it shrank in the dryers after each pass.
But, that wasn't the real problem. It came on a roll and didn't lend itself to sheeting at all easily. Material converters tend to stick to what they know and we couldn't find anyone who'd entertain touching the stuff. So, foolishly or otherwise, we volunteered to come in for "a couple of hours" to do it one-sheet-at-a-time on our guillotine. Luckily, we started early on Saturday morning because it was late Sunday evening before we finished.
It wasn't perfect at all. This picture shows about the best registration we were able to acheive. But, nevertheless, it looked fantastic and was (almost) worth the heartache of producing it.
The enormously talented Michael Johnson of Johnson Banks has many good ideas–it's his business, after all. We weren't convinced of this one when he first approached us.
As his company Christmas card he wanted to create small chocolate figures of himself and colleagues at the design company. He reasoned that if the graphic likenesses were good enough for the wrappers, it wouldn't be necessary to have any detail or modelling on the chocolate itself. He was right.
But, we had to figure out how to print the lightweight aluminium foil (never mind getting hold of it–not sure how that happened). It was far too lightweight an flimsy to go through our machine and after much buggering about, we resigned ourselves to the only workable solution available–stick each sheet to heavy wieght card, using masking tape around the edges (any glue would've ruined the feel the of the wrappers, which would've torn when removing them from the carriers). It worked. It was a ball-ache, but it worked.
On his way to Prada stardom, David James did a few jobs for Levis, who, indirectly, probably kept us busier than any other single company.
To lauch their new range of cords, he came up with the idea of producing a window display constructed of many layers of corrugated cardboard held together with two-foot long coach bolts. The corrugated obviously made reference to the ribbed nature of the cord fabric, but the real coup was using an unlined, open-flute version of the material to line the surface.
For a change, it was an easy job to produce that involved no printing watsoever.
Most of our work was in London. Rarely did we do anything for anyone outside the captital, let alone, outside the country. But, Richard Smith had moved to New York and found himself at Woolf Olins there and in need of someone to help them with a problem.
They were doing a brand strategy book for a software company called Lexiquest, who's interface was very intuitive and they wanted a job with a magnetic cover onto which words could be placed to spell out different combinations. Like most of the projects we produced at this time, it seemed to rely on the success of double-sided sheet adhesive, which though eye-wateringly expensive, would actually stick things together, unlike glue.
With the sole exception of Madonna's Sex book in 1992, by 1996, the design world hadn't seen the packaging potential of silver foil and electronic barrier films. Orbital's record company, Polydor, and their designers (can't remember) did though and they commissioned us to create a futuristic packaging format suited to burgeoning dance act.
It consisted of VHS video in clear sleeve, over-printed polypropylene CD cases and clear plastic insert cards with track listings and other words. But, it spawned a decade's worth of imitators and kept our vacuum machine (and all the other ones we bought after it) churning day and night.
It's odd how this had such a profound effect on the packaging look of the time and really caught on almost immediately in a way the Madonna book failed to do.
More pictures here
Robbie Williams had left Take That and was being groomed for super-stardom as a solo artist by his record company, EMI. One of their product managers sent a cab over with an aluminium case and the simple instruction to source something like it for the Robbie Williams Press kit. We were developing a reputation as sourcing-experts (not a reputation I particularly wanted, since sourcing always seemed to be a poison chalice most of the time).
While we were all wondering where to start, and in a moment of genuius, Daniel flipped over the sample case and got the phone number of the manufacturers in Bombay and we gave them a call. Of course, they could supply 700 cases.
Once we'd gotten over the strange co-incedence that the chap on the other end of the phone was related to one of our printers (!), we ordered the boxes. We'd come to use the Americanism, "to ship" something to refer to a generic method of moving goods, and not specific to any particular transport method. Only by chance, when we enquired when the cases were about to "ship", did they mention that the "ship was due to leave next week". We needed them the following Friday!! Luckily, our friends in Bombay were always resourceful and managed to organise a short-notice cargo-flight to London and they turned up two days later.
Sometime in the early nineties, I got a phone call from a loud gentleman from Rugby called Haydn Evans who had the rights to what sounded like crazy (and pointless) packaging invention and would I meet him in a pub somewhere in the midlands. After I'd signed a copious NDA and promised my life away, he produced the prototype CD pack he was certain was going to take over the world.
Whilst it was certainly impressive, it seemed mind-bogglingly complicated and though Haydn was getting very excited at the thought of hundreds of thousands of these things being made, I pointed out to him he needed to make 50 first.
So, we became the Burgopak maufacturer and though we were constantly reminded by Hayn what an honour this was, it was pretty clear that we might be the only people stupid enough to actually think they could make the things. After a few hair-rasing attempts, we landed the order to make a sizeable quantity of the new Placeb release, and by this time, we'd figured a way of making them that only lost a small fortune (unlike our earlier attempts).
It turns out Haydn was rignt, though he's no longer involved. Burgopak is now an award-winning packaging phenomenon used to package phones and pharmaceuticals and much else the world over.
Steve Turner, now creative director at Media Arts Lab, was involved in producing the influential Size Isn't Everything sneaker book. Since it was being held up as the "sneaker collectors' bible", it made sense to announce it to the press and book trade with a simple flyer printed on bible paper and designed to look like it had been taken from the holy book.
This simple job, probably more than any other we did at the time, showed the value in getting the materials to tell a conceptual story.
Working for fashion designer, Hussein Chalayan, conceptual artist duo Rebecca and Mike came up with the idea of creating a dress that could also be an airmail envelope–the airmail dress.
Making it out of Tyvek–Dupont's synthetic paper-type material–was no accident. Tyvek is used to make envelopes and clothing (though a different grade) for its cheif property–its strength. The dress was large when laid out flat and had to printed on an over-sized screen-bed and then needed some additional stitching of panels. But it's instantly recognisable and the Victoria and Albert Museum have one in their collection.
1998 was ARTOMATIC's best year. Many of our landmark projects were produced that year and it was the best year commercially for us–good enough to fund and prompt us to do the Clerkenwell venture.
The Depeche Mode anthology was a chance to work with Intro, a design company we should've done more work with but hadn't, but Daniel had struck up a relationship with Mat Cook (who later joined us in the ilikeprinting project). Despite the project's complexity, it all went pretty smoothly at our end, with no real major mishaps.
We always liked to get the first finished copies to the client just to check there's nothing we've forgotten while there's still time to put it right. We hastilly assembled the first copy, inserted the CD's and the newly-delivered video, through to our driver who hurtled over to Mute's office. Ten minutes after the van returned we got the phone to ask why the VHS cassette contained a Laurel & Hardy film. Though it was gratifying that, for a change, it wasn't our cock-up, we could sense the despair in the record company exec's voice. This time, it seemed it was a balls-up at the duplicating house that made the tapes. But then again, with record comanies you can never be sure.
This was the job that sunk the manufacturing arm of ARTOMATIC, creating a financial calamaty that the business never really recovered from. It was always difficult putting boundaries around what we did when our core proposition was that we'd do more or less anything.
There are only a few basic methods of making anything–stamping, printing, folding, sticking (glue, screws, rivets, welding etc) extruding, bending, forming and moulding. And all follow the same basic pattern–create an original and then reproduce from it. All production also requires that you see what you're coing to get before you commit to either the full tooling / origination or the run of items and most, like printing, have developed sophisticated processes (proofing) to accommodate this.
Injection moulding is different. Getting a three-dimensional object requires that you make the tool, which, in this case, cost £20,000. So, with a difficult client giving conflicting instructions and–like us–ignorant of the intricacies of the process we were using, we–foolishly–embarked on this venture and made the tool. The resulting clear acrylic box had all sorts of flaws in it and the whole job from then on a desperate fire-fighting excercise trying to put it right.
The job followed the pattern of all things that go wrong. At first there's real urgency, determination and an inclusive spirit to get it right with everyone working together. But, after that, as people's attention wandered and it became clear that solutions weren't to be found, it started to languish in warehouses and calls weren't returned. Understandably, the client didn't feel like paying us and we'd not covered ourselves contractually, caught between a supplier and the client. The resulting hole in our cash flow sank the company.
Aside from the impact on people's livelihoods (the factory was closed and the company re-started as a broker operating exclusively from Clerkenwell), this was the first job we'd actually failed to deliver.
Ford of America was having a hard time and was desperately looking around to see what they could to change their fortunes and had looked to Imagination in London to help them make something of their languishing Lincoln brand. Imagination had worked with Ford for a long time, developing some strong relationships and could always be trusted.
They passed this trust onto us to produce the first physical embodiment of the new, updated, upmarket Lincoln identity. It consisted of a CD presentation in a folder, a sleek leather-bound note-pad with a ram-punched hole cut out of the text into which a customised pen was placed all inserted into a simple, elegant slip case. It was going to be handed to all the big-wigs at a big conference in Detroit.
The job deceptively complex involving a number of artisan suppliers to make the book, the CD case and the slipcase. The graphics were minimal–just the subtely tweeked Lincoln logo; it all rested on the materials and finish, which we kept very close eye on.
What we think about–since we were so familiar with it, it didn't occour to us–was that the logo could be rotated around 90 degrees to be landscape rather than portrait. It was one of those if-it-can-go-wrong-it-will moments, but, yes, the books arrived on the day of despatch with the logo lying on its side rather than standing up. We'd taken every precaution to check the colour, finish and detail of the book and especially the fitment of the pen to ram-punched hole, we'd neglected to ask for a proof of the book with the logo in place, thinking our instructions were clear.
The moment we saw it we knew it was wrong. But it was the day of delivery and there was no way of re-doing it and putting it right. Sadly, we had to admit defeat and call the client and tell them.
As well as being only the second job we failed to deliver (CulturalTies was the first), it was a hard, bitter lesson in the humanities of printing and the fact that whatever you think is obvious, isn't to some people