1. Limitless Potential
In 1996, for the 10th birthday of the Quantel Graphic Paintbox image compositing workstation (and precursor to Photoshop), Quantel ran an exhibition called Limitless Potential, which showed the best work produced using the system. It blew young James’s mind.
“It was like walking onto the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. [The artist] didn’t just have a mouse, he had a joystick in one hand and several screens. It looked the nuts.
“When I saw the level of stuff they were doing, it was out of this world. All the work was presented on transparencies on plinths that were around five-feet high. You could really see the beauty of these things – from the simple composites of a banana going into a fish (below) to a gingham-dressed zebra.
“It was the middle of my degree and I set my sights onto wanting to be involved in that world. I started to track down who were the key players in London at that time.”
2. Chas Saddington
“[Saddington Baynes co-founder] Chas Saddington (below) was a pivotal person in my life. He was one of the last hand retouchers in London. He was someone who’d look over my shoulder and help me interpret what the client was after. What I also learned from Chas was patience in approach. As artisans working by hand, they didn’t have their undos – it was measured, and about taking their time and getting it right.
“The culture of the business is something Chas and Dick (Baynes) started and we carry on. It’s about valuing the quality of the work. Chas would quite happily tell an agency that we wouldn’t meet their deadline as the work wasn’t ready yet. He’d say, ‘You’ve come to us for a reason, and we feel that if we have one more day, you’re going to get the Saddington & Baynes quality standard.’”
3. Growth potential
“It’s very much about reinventing yourself. It’s about keeping at the forefront. The drive by the founders was about being the best at what we do. We’re continually developing the platforms of user engagement – we’re now going to have a digital department.
“We create the still and animated content we already do and now we want to be in control of how that reaches the end user. We want to [move from creating] emotive images to emotive experiences.”
4. Seeing something new
“I’m in a dark room for most of my life, staring at a screen. Being able to go outside, go abroad, go and look at horizons and experience light and colour – it’s part of my continual education and training my eye. I travel a lot and [I learn from] seeing different cultures – and how cultures are defined by the colours and palettes. When we’re relighting things, you draw on those experiences of how something looks and what made it look right.”
5. Getting nerdy about colour
James has a deep interest in the science of colour and uses his own photography to discover more about grading and toning.
“With photography you often can’t change the composition [as it’s been shot as the art director and photographer want], but there’s a lot you can do with colour grading and tonal work that rely on neuroaesthetics – our understanding of how the brain and the eye will interpret that image.
“There’s a lot that can be controlled by the grading artist. What does contrast do to this element? Where does the eye go? What’s the visual rhythm? How can I change how I feel about it?”