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AMX Studios
Alisdair Scott and his long-haired friend
Malcolm Garrett in evening wear
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After Effects


by Joe Shepter

AMX Studios’s technical director Alisdair Scott figures Andy Warhol was off by a half-hour or so. "I think you get three shots at being everywhere in this business," he says. "We’ve already had one, and I think we’re about to have another."

He may be right. After a year of down time, AMX Studios is on a tear. Its most interesting project at the moment is Smart Hearts, a combination Web and TV production for Britain's offbeat Channel 4. Smart Hearts uses constantly rolling Web cams to capture a real-life love triangle involving a hubby who dumped his wife for another woman. "It’s a lot like what MTV's ‘Real World’ would be like if it were actually about the real world," says Scott.

The general public doesn't really like or understand or trust computers. But the world's biggest entertainment medium is TV. I think that acceptance of interactivity as a mass medium is going to happen on the TV platform.

- Malcom Garrett

Deciding what the second-most interesting AMX project is would depend on whom you ask. Girls under the age of 16 would say it's the Spice Girls. Men over the age of forty would probably say it's Barclay’s Bank or the British Embassy in Paris (though they may say the Spice Girls too). People with long hair would say Iron Maiden. People with no hair would say the Eurythmics. People with no liver might say Bass Ale. And people with no life would probably say Apple.

For AMX creative director Malcolm Garrett, it’s the end of a long road looking for the range of projects he wants. Garrett, an autograph-signing celebrity and grand middle-aged man of design in Britain, got his start in Manchester doing posters and record sleeves for the seminal punk rockers, the Buzzcocks. During the 80's, he found himself heading up one of Britain’s top music design firms, Assorted Images, polishing much the new wave gloss of acts like Duran Duran, Boy George, and Peter Gabriel.

It wasn’t just all rock and roll to Garrett, though. "One thing that grew out of punk was an attention to detail," he says. "Every band gets involved in disparate activities, from the kind of clothes they wear to the kind of videos they make. That runs with itself, but you have to keep pace with it and introduce elements of consistency…Overall, I think I took the business of marketing pop more seriously than everyone else, and in the end, I was disappointed by that."

By the late 80's, Garrett was looking for a way to branch out from his "semiserious record-sleeve-guy" reputation and became interested in the new media. At a party, he met Scott, a talented filmmaker who would soon earn a spot in the Who’s Who in the History of Interactive Media by coding the first Guinness Disk of World Records. The two spent hours discussing the coming digital age and talked about forming a company. "Then we did nothing for six years," deadpans Scott.

When it finally launched in 1994, AMX instantly became the darling of Britain's ultra-vivid scene. Orbital, Oasis, Pepsi, and Saatchi and Saatchi tapped in. They garnered Web contracts and ECDs. Apple and GoLive even made a promotional movie about the company in which Scott gave a humorous tour of the studios in a leopard print jacket. Then, the boys invested heavily in broadband, a gamble that proved a little premature. They ended up being bought out of receivership by the French advertising giant Havas. With Havas, AMX has seemed a sounder corporate bet, and lately the company has found its broadband expertise in heavier demand.

"Now AMX is focused on delivering real business solutions," says Scott. "I don't want to say we’re doing corporate, and I don't want to have to stand that next to ultra trendy."

Their main strategic focus is interactive TV. "For me, it's a pragmatic direction," says Garrett, "The general public doesn't really like or understand or trust computers. But the world's biggest entertainment medium is TV. I think that acceptance of interactivity as a mass medium is going to happen on the TV platform."

To do this, Garrett thinks, things will have to be simpler than people suppose. "I believe that the Web had a massive take-up because [the interface design] was so basic," he says. "People not familiar with the complexities of the media immediately felt comfortable with it. In order to it make this massive leap forward, interface design had to take a step back. I think we have to take a similar step back with the broadband medium."

And so, with a little luck, AMX will ride broadband to its next fifteen minutes of fame. According to Scott, the only downside to the firm's second coming is the usual one: too much work, not enough play. "The Chinese say, may you live in interesting times," he says. "For us, that’s sometimes a curse."

Adobe senior editor Joe Shepter is an avid Buzzcocks fan.

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