Originally from France, Julien Biard joined full service creative studio Carbon in Chicago in July 2018, after honing his craft at MPC and Finish/Freefolk in London. He has won a number of awards for best color grading and has collaborated with directors such as Filip Engstrom and Crowns & Owls. Here, he talks about his prolific career and his personal journey in the business of color.
What brought you to work in color?
“Initially, I studied engineering, more specifically textile engineering, and ended up working in Madagascar for three years after graduating. This meant spending most of my time in laboratories, designing patterns and colors, either artificially or organically. The color side of this business allowed me to travel the island extensively, as well as a large part of east Africa, in order to source raw elements to design colors. So I naturally left the labs and focused my studies on the development of colors in the field.
“When I left the Indian Ocean, I needed a new challenge and moved to London. I had a real desire to learn English, a language I had never learned at school, which was something that had frustrated me for some time. After a couple of months spending my savings partying and enjoying the English culture, I got a job as a runner in a post production house in London’s West End. On my second day, I met head colorist Graeme Hayes who, through the years, shared his knowledge and passion for this discipline. I became his assistant and simply fell in love with the job.”
What is it about color that you appreciate?
“I appreciate the color side of the post process because of the satisfaction it brings me, especially the reactions of people when building the grade. Creating an atmosphere and a feel to an image, without anybody noticing it or even knowing it's there, is a very satisfying and rewarding feeling.”
How do you stay on to of the technology?
“Technologies are constantly evolving and changing, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. I do miss working on film, but I don't miss the linear workflow, for example. I’ve found that a good way to keep up with how color grading is changing is to experiment with new tools and new techniques. Forcing myself to approach jobs differently and seeing how it works — not falling into a routine — is how I keep learning.
“After being in the dark most of the day, I spend what’s left outside as much as I can — riding my bike, hiking and taking photographs...Just being out and observing the surroundings and sometimes thinking about how I could make it look this way or better when I'm at my desk.”
Where do you sit in line with the VFX teams?
“The sharp end (laughs). Kidding. Linear workflow used to keep us separate, but now we’re much more collaborative and able to bounce ideas off each other, to work together more seamlessly. We have more flexibility to not be so strict with workflows. This, I believe, allows us to be more creative.”
You’ve been a colorist in London, and now in Chicago. Has your work changed across those cities?
“Whilst work remains pretty much the same, the main difference I‘ve found is the director and DP's involvement in the process. In the US, sessions are most of the time agency driven and directors work more remotely than they would in London.”
Colorists don’t just sit in a dark room right at the end the post process any more. How do you see your role in the whole process now?
“The different workflows and links in the chain are greater than they used to be, so I feel like the colourist's input and advice are slightly more important than before. All of the different elements of the process must work together to accomplish the best result. At the end though, I still sit in the dark.”
What is your approach to grading different genres: Commercials, fashion films, music videos, film/TV work?
“No matter the genre, the craft is the same to me. I’m interpreting and understanding the client's desire, being able to apply it to the picture and making it look the best I can.
“Some jobs can be more product-orientated whilst others are more narrative-focused. In the end the idea remains the same — creating pleasing imagery.”
Are there any particular scenes or shots in a project that stand out in your memory?
“Grading The Great British Bake Off was my first real grade and gave me my break. I really enjoyed that experience and it taught me how to grade well and fast.
“Working with the Crowns & Owls directing crew was also a highlight. We all shared the same ideas and were all ready to experiment with different things. We were up and coming and didn't really follow deadlines. Bold, wild and outlandish ideas were flying around. We'd mess up, start again, and mess it up again to finally crack it. This was one of my best post production experiences. It went on beyond, as we are still very close friends.”
Can you tell us more about a recent project and its process/challenges? What Baselight tools did you use the most?
“Again, I believe the main challenge is to make all platforms work together as a unit. It is made much easier now with the way Baselight operates. Its flexibility and power make the whole grading process relatively easy.
“I love the Base Grade tool that came out with Version 5 of the software as well as the tracking feature — that keeps on getting better with every upgrade. The blending tool is always great whilst the Curve Grade remains as vital and efficient as ever.”
What do you like most about your Baselight system?
“The best thing about Baselight, to me as an artist, is the support and proximity we get from the FilmLight team. There is always someone somewhere at FilmLight to answer questions and help.
“The second-best thing is the flexibility it gives us. I have found the software really intuitive, powerful and easy to operate. It's also by far the coolest looking kit around!”
What do you dream to achieve by the end of your career?
“Get a 100-foot sailboat and go on a quest to find the best rum. In the meantime, I’d like to gradually move to grading films and long-form projects. I would also like to train as many people as I can, as I believe sharing knowledge and experience with the people coming up the ranks and giving them a solid base will make our industry stronger and our craft more sustainable.”
What’s next for you?
“My objective now is to excel at Carbon and create a place of reference for color grading in the Midwest and nationwide. Bring in good work and pick up more awards while continuing to have fun!”