Rose-Tinted Views : An interview with colourist Azman Mohamed

 Still from 'Halfworlds'

Think you are a photoshop wizard and want to make an ordinary film look a million dollars? (perhaps 10 million in today's terms) The job of a colourist may just be the right one for you. But do not have too many illusions about the job though because apart from being artistic, it is a highly technical position too. Azman Mohamed, one of the judges for this year's National Youth Film Awards, tell us why.

Azman Mohamed is the resident colourist of post-production house GRAVTITATE and has been in the post-production industry for over 10 years of experience. He has picked up a wide array of post-production skills from audio production through to of course, colour grading. 

Aspiring to create works of exquisite beauty and intense drama, Azman's works throughout his career extend across a broad range of genre from television commercials to feature films and documentaries. Whether it’s a movie or TV ads, Azman enjoys the process of telling a story through colours and bringing the imageries to life. Through colour isolation, power windows and skilled use of colour palettes, Azman Mohamed diligently worked with filmmakers and directors to realize their vision and storyline. He also enjoys getting involved early in the process from conceptualization to fruition of the work.

 Still from 'Halfworlds'

Still from 'Halfworlds'

 Still from TV Commercial 'Silver Support'

Still from Taiwan Tourism TV Commercial

We spoke to Azman to uncover the little known facts about the life of a colourist in Singapore.

How many professional colourists are there in Singapore?

There are not many of us currently working professionally in Singapore but I must say that the number is increasing as more people are becoming aware of this profession.  

How did you end up in this profession? How did being a performance artist inspire the transition to being a colourist?

I’ve always wanted to be a colourist since my early days in post-production. I find it fascinating that an image has so much possibilities in its story-telling and by way of colour manipulation, we could bring those ideas to fruition in so many ways. I was also interested in fine arts and was painting at the time so the idea of “painting” an image digitally intrigues me.  

Azman at work in his studio

How can you become a colourist? What kind of formal training must you undergo?

The simple answer to that is learn from online tutorials or take up a course on colour grading and start grading your own work. Even sending your work to initiatives like NYFA to be recognised by industry players can jumpstart your foray into this field. Allowing a bigger audience to appreciate and discover your talent.   But of course if you had the opportunity to intern or work in a post-production house and had the good fortune of getting an on-the-job training that would be awesome. Most colourists I know had to go through years of training in the post production houses either as a tape operator or a runner before even being considered a position as a junior editor or junior colourist. But of course nowadays it’s easy to get your hand on a colour grading software and call yourself one. You just need lots of experience before you can work on a commercial or someone else’s film.  

What's the biggest misconception or myth people have about the job of a colourist?

That it is an easy job and anyone can do it? Seriously, besides it being artistic, the job can actually be very technical as well. You have to deal with materials coming in different formats with footages having different lighting schemes and conditions etc. It’s the challenges that come in many different forms in every session that you have to deal with. As a professional colourist you have to put the client at ease and meet their expectations.  

How long typically is a colouring project for a feature film?

It really depends on the cut and how intense is the treatment. Can range from 7 to 10 days for a full feature.  

Which project/film has given you the most satisfaction? Why?

I did a HBO series recently which has run into its second season and the story line revolves around the world of demons and humans and the conflicts between the two. I was given much freedom to establish the look as far as colour grading is concern and I really enjoyed the process.   

What were some of the favourite moments in your 10+ year career as a colourist?

I consider having the opportunity to work with many talented directors and cinematographers as some of my favourite moments. And of course winning the Apollo Awards for Colour Grading in 2016 for Eric Khoo’s film in the short form category and HBO Asia’s miniseries in the Long form category.

Still from Eric Khoo's segment 'Cinema' in the omnibus feather film '7 Letters'

Colouring aside, Azman is also passionate about music having performed locally as well as overseas. His music has brouht him from concerts and music festivals to the hall of the United Nations. He plays a clay flute called ocarina and has sessioned for a few well-known artiste throughout his time.

Interview by Jeremy Sing
Stills courtesy of Azman Mohamed

Find out more about the National Youth Film Awards as well as this year's jury here.

View a collection of Azman's works in the showreel below.
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