Interview: Viji, Resident Colourist at Infinite Frameworks5 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
Think Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love, and immediately an emotionally moving palette of colours comes to mind. In any lyrical cinematic masterpiece, besides the director’s brilliant vision, the art director’s eye for details, and the costume-designer’s exquisite craft, there is another often overlooked individual — the colourist.
What exactly does a colourist do? A hell of a lot. In a nutshell, the colour correction process enhances what has already been captured on film or tape. Ask any director and he will tell you that the colour grading process can only be a boon to the final product, something any discerning filmmaker would never forsake.
There are only three post-production companies in Singapore offering the colour grading process on the telecine machine. We sat down for a chat with Viji, the resident colourist at Infinite Frameworks.
Humble, soft-spoken and sporting a head of naturally curly locks, Viji doesn’t look a day over 30 — so it comes as a bit of a surprise when he speaks of 13 solid years of experience working in Malaysia, Australia and Singapore. Imprints of his magic touches can be found on a long list of television commercials, documentaries, television series and feature films.
Sitting in pitch-dark room for a two-hour colour grading session with a professional himself, submersing yourself in the world of technicolour goodness, is sufficient to make you wonder how anyone can afford to skip this incredibly valuable process. With a few swift flicks of his wrist and a snappy click of the mouse, Viji transforms plain, murky raw footages into something that looks like it belongs in a Hollywood blockbuster. How else do you think the models in those skin commercials manage to look so picture-perfect?
What happens when the footage shot leaves much to be desired? Viji muses, “From a colourist’s point of view, I work with what is provided and try to improve on it the best we can. We try and make the corrections and enhancements subtle, so it looks like it could have been done in the camera.” The concept of “less is more” certainly applies. And less is a lot harder to achieve.
Viji’s first foray into the world of colour grading saw him transferring Bollywood prints. He had to assist the senior colourist for eight months before he was permitted to use the colour corrector on his own. Reminiscing about those good old days, he says, “It was fun and it gave me an opportunity to learn how to use the telecine and the colour corrector. Everyone starts somewhere and slowly works their way up. One has to be prepared to colour correct any sort of material.”
There is no school that teaches colour correction, thus on-the-job learning is crucial, and a more than healthy appetite for films certainly doesn’t hurt. He encourages aspiring filmmakers to pursue their interest in film and art. “Qualifications are not important. Having a ‘good eye’ is,” he advises. “You must be interested in and be able to appreciate style. Fashion, art direction, music, photography — just anything visually stimulating.”
After 1Ã‚½ years in Malaysia, 3Ã‚½ years in Melbourne, 9 years in Singapore and countless film reels, Viji still embraces looking at different film materials everyday. Most recently, he has worked on some of the most well-known local films which have garnered international acclaim in film festivals locally and overseas. These include Eric Khoo’s Be With Me, Kelvin Tong’s 1942, Djinn’s Perth and Royston Tan’s 881. Speaking fondly of this year’s release Cages, Viji recalls the unique locations that allowed him to look at Singapore in a different light and the smorgasbord of colours he was given the chance to work with.
“I’m a big fan of art direction and the styling which goes into a project. To me, this is a crucial ingredient for a ‘good-looking’ film.” It goes without saying that one of the many films that is his touchstone is In the Mood for Love, where, he enthuses, “Everything came together perfectly and blew me away — the art direction, styling, locations, excellent camera work, soundtrack and simple storytelling.”
In response to the ever fluctuating local film industry, this tireless artist does not consider colour grading an art lost to the chopping boards of projects with limited cash to spare. “As long as a project is shot on film or tape, the colour correction process can enhance and improve it.” He insists, “It will never be a lost art because from its beginning to today, the colour correction process is vital to selling a film. It gives the cinematographer so much more control over the look of his or her project.”
Viji explains that it is encouraging to see that cinematographers are beginning to realise that the colour correction process is vital in taking the film further in terns of achieving a particular “look” or just correcting it for lighting consistency. Ever ready to learn something new, he is now eagerly awaiting the next wave of new filmmakers and local films. “The local film industry is very healthy now, and we’re looking at 7-9 local films up for release this year.”
Viji hopes to one day be able to create a hand-painted photographic look on film and also to replicate a technicolour look on a negative piece of film. But till then, Singaporean filmmakers will be very fortunate to have this visual maestro working on our local films.
With his signature gentle smile, he offers a last word of advice for the young budding colourists out there, “Know the tools you are using to create. Communicate clearly with clients. Just enjoy what you are doing — and don’t lose the child inside you.”