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James Bamford, Colourist at The Mill London, was presented with not one but two awards at this year's Creative Circle Awards; a Gold for Best Colourist on Honda ‘Ignition’ and a Silver for Best Colourist for his work on Lipton 'The Revolution in Tea

Created in collaboration with Wieden+Kennedy and Somesuch’s Aoife McArdle, 'Ignition' pays homage to one of the boldest expressions of human curiosity and engineering endeavour; space flight.

We asked James to share his colour grading process and advice for aspiring colourists in the interview below:


At what stage were you introduced to Honda 'Ignition' and what was director Aoife McArdle's vision?

A treatment was shown to me before the job to start the process and give me a chance to think about the job before we actually started grading which was very useful. Aoife and I had lengthy conversations about where we wanted the grade to end up. It was a fluid process involving trial and error to gain the achieved look.

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Can you take us through your process and explain how you achieved the vivid colours in the film?

This was shot on 35mm film which was a real treat as nothing really beats the feel of film. I always get the film looking straight with good contrast, which enables me to see what the DOP [Honda 'Ignition' DOP: John Lynch] was aiming for and then building on that base. The starting point invariably begins with film exposure and a curve grade. I think at the front end, setting correct exposure and contrast is important as it keeps the integrity of the film throughout your grade.

The film was shot at golden hour, so some of the vibrancy came through from what was originally captured. I brought these out considerably to achieve the burnt orange hues and to enhance the strong accents in the sun and rocket fire which was achieved in a number of different ways. When looking at an image as a whole, I was adding contrast through s-curves and adding texture and depth to the midrange of colours. I also targeted separate elements of the picture using hue angle keys and soft tracking shapes to add extra depth and vibrancy.

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Some of these shots had 20 or 30 layers with each layer chipping away and striving for a better looking image. Each shot contained the layers, which ‘create’ the look of the film, whether this was the burnt orange hues in the highlights or the slightly purple shadows. Quite an integral part of this grade was to make sure there was symmetry to it with the reflections mirroring the sky, so a lot of shapes were used to keep this harmony.

Adding contrast and colour in the right place on the grading stack is very important. Sometimes you just need to stretch the image to its limits then come back a little to find that right balance.

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The project included a host of CG vehicles and atmospheric elements. How did you work with these shots to ensure that the VFX and cinematic live action blended seamlessly?

Some of the shots in this commercial were entirely CG like the Honda NSX shot. The artists in 3D and 2D did an amazing job sitting the elements of the commercial together, and my job was then to make these images sit within the commercial as if they had been shot for real.

I used real film grain, which was added through a blend, to give these shots the similar structure to the rest of the film. For some shots I did request a matte to grade through, as the required look needed this extra finesse.

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What's your advice for aspiring and junior colourists?

I would say know your kit backwards. Never stop experimenting and don't get stuck in a rut - be open to new ideas. Listen to your director and creative, and enjoy it, we are very lucky to be able to do this job everyday!


See more of James' top projects on his reel here.