Toby Smith

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XMAS Newsletter 2014


In August I travelled East with the Unknown Fields Division, to Vietnam, China and beyond. We traced the supply chain of the world’s consumer products across the South China Sea down cargo routes and inland to their production. Ahead of the main body of documentary work from our field trip we want to share this festive video which reveals exactly how and where all the santa hats, decorations and disposable tat really comes from…

Yiwu in China is not only home to the world’s largest wholesale commodity market but also many of the “Just in Time” factories that produce seasonal or trending products.  Christmas consumables are finished in summer ready for wholesale, packaging and shipping to principally western markets.


Saturday, March 22, 201, 22:04 UTC.  A searing flash of magnesium bleaches the night as 2 solid rocket motors and a Vulcan engine lift 780 tonnes of rocket towards the heavens. 4 seconds later at 4km away the ground shook and the air reverberated. I was stood behind my tripod tracking the launch in HD on a 600mm lens with another camera snapping stills at 12 FPS on a 200mm lens clamped to a brick wall. My fingers and toes were crossed hoping that 3 remote cameras had sprung into life on timers capturing the same scene at wide angle!

This exciting evening was the conclusion of the first stage of ‘Geosynchronous Satellites.’
A project whereby I traced the narrative of commercial satellites from their design and construction through to international transportation and space-launch. The project is to be published as a collection of still images and an exclusive short film featuring UHD video, time-lapse, custom animated graphics and overlays.


I collaborated with with Thomas Hole on a new website with new editorial functionality including video embeds, print sales, social media integration and importantly a redesigned and integrated map gallery.  “HS2 – Walk the Line” can now be browsed in its entirety above a Google Map base-layer with both captions and the rail-route displayed.


Following on from our 2013 trip to Madagascar I was once again invited by the Unknown Fields Division to collaborate on an experimental field-trip . We began with a cargo-ship voyage across the South China Sea before heading inland into Northern China. Treading a familiar path to my 2009 project on ‘China’s Energy Pioneers‘, we focussed on deconstructing the supply chain behind consumer electronics right back to their mineral source and toxic by-products.


I’ve moved further towards full multimedia output in 2014. 4K cameras and professional sound give clarity, bite and realism to subjects whilst animation can add extra context to subjects. I’m also proud to welcome Brian and Chloe to the team.  Together we’ve ramped-up production quality on location and sped-up delivery of new projects from the editing desk.  We were immediately put the test last month on a commission in Bangladesh to document how hospital ships bring healthcare to the isolated, migratory communities of the Northern Delta.

We’re all looking forwards to getting our teeth into new projects in 2015 but until then we leave you with this tranquil bit of “Slow Television” from The South China Sea.  Full 4K video at 4280 pixels wide, 24 frames per second and 93 minutes long without a single dropped frame.

Kind Regards

Toby Smith


Image 1 – Xmas Unwrapped in a Chinese factory near Yiwu.
Image 2 – Ariane 5 with its payload of 2 satellites launches from French Guiana.
Image 3 – SES-6, a communications satellite, undergoes testing in Toulouse.
Image 4 – Screengrab of -> HS2 – Walk the Line.
Image 5 – The bridge of the Maersk Gunhilde container ship.
Image 6 – Coal Mine, undisclosed location, China.
Image 7 – The South China Sea in 4K