Autodesk celebrated the return of its second annual Flame Award tonight in Amsterdam by honoring this year's winner, James Sénade, at a ceremony coinciding with IBC 2014. Nominated by the Flame community, Sénade was chosen by an award committee that included Framestore's Creative Director Alex Thomas, The Mill's Andy Dill and the winner of the first Flame Award, Vico Sharabani, a Flame artist and creative director at The Artery VFX.
Sénade first took to Flame in 1999 and is currently a Flame artist and VFX Supervisor at Saint George in Paris. His gorgeous, deeply nuanced work simultaneously evokes the artistry, elegance and savage beauty of modern haute couture, whether in the fashion films he has finished for Christian Dior and W Magazine and or in ads for luxury perfumes, cars and top-shelf liquor.
Comparing Sénade's Flame work to the craftsmanship of haute couture, with its Old-World French DNA, is hardly a stretch. "I'm inspired by the unconventional images around me in art, in fashion, in music video, in film," Sénade says. "When I first saw other artists working on the Flame day and night, I knew it was something special. I was impressed with what it could do and what people could do with it from the start, inspired early on by many talented Flame artists. In their hands, the Flame was never really a computer; it was more like a magic tool to manipulate the image. Once I began working day and night on the Flame myself, it soon became not just a job but a way of life."
When asked if he prefers crafting photoreal products and effects or creating more impressionistic and artistic looks, he is genuinely impartial. "I like all the kind of work I can do on this machine. Of course I like when I have the chance for very strong creative input on the project but sometimes it is great to dig in and create very realistic images. It's not the same process. You don't think the same way when you're asked to do something realistic or something artistic. That's especially the case when working with a director who comes from a different place, like the world of fashion photography."
Refering to "The Ever Changing Face of Beauty," (top and above) his collaboration with visionary Norwegian photographer Sølve Sundsbø and Jerry Stafford, Sénade says he used Flame throughout the entire project, from early pre-vis to the final grade. "Sometimes a director can be scared about the introduction of the computer in the process," he says, "and a big part of what I do is making sure they are comfortable with the way I are manipulating the image. Then they quickly forget that it is being done with software."
Sundsbø shot 10 TB of footage for "The Ever Changing Face of Beauty," all of which Sénade could bring into the Flame and begin working with immediately. "I love that I can have everything in front of me from the start to the finish." (He also worked with Sundsbø on Lancôme "Génifique"),
Sénade says his formative training as an assistant gave him more than just creative chops. "You have to learn to get inside the head of the director to understand what they have in mind," he says. "Sometimes you even have to do the opposite of what they ask you to do in order to give you something unique and really special."
His inspirations continue to be found in the work of directors like film and music video director Baillie Walsh (KM3D-1, a 3D fashion film starring Kate Moss), as well as at the museum or on the big screen. "I truly believe that if I was only working on one type of project I would get pretty bored very fast," Sénade says. "I try to reinvent myself all the time and I like working with different kinds of directors because it makes you think differently."
Still from "Dior's Lady Noire" (2009) written and directed by Olivier Dahan. Sénade was lead Flame artist.
Day to day, Sénade also relies heavily on the Flare, which he calls "the best thing to happen to the way I work. I learned Flame watching other artists during the day and working during the night myself. Once the Flare appeared, I could have someone else in the same room learning and sharing ideas at the same time. For me it was just fabulous."
Sénade is devoted to Flame's GUI, particularly the desktop, where he can put different versions of his frames as he works. "Some might think the way I work looks messy, but for me it is very clear; it is like having things on my table in front of me that I can grab at any time."
An artist in the truest sense, Sénade says he looks forward to each new project and creative challenge because it makes him feel, as he put it, awake. "At this point, Flame is really just an extension of my hand and brain."
"Chivas" (2010), directed by Euguenio Recuenco, cinematography by Axel Cosnefroy, and VFX supervision by James Sénade and Sylvery Bolotte
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