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5bu4OmPF 1Wayne Stables took the lead in colorizing vintage WWI-era black and white film footage into realistic and accurate color for the Peter Jackson movie They Shall Not Grow Old. 

Four Questions for Wayne Stables

"You have to get it right because history demands that we remember it accurately in order to learn from it."

By Chris Isleib
Director of Public Affairs, United States World War One Centennial Commission

Among the most incredible aspects of the ground-breaking new World War I documentary THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD is the restoration and colorization of the original 100 year-old imagery. The colorization process was supervised by Wayne Stables, who is a towering figure in the world of cinematic post-production. Wayne started working at Weta Digital in 1994 and has worked on projects including The Frighteners, Contact, The Lord of The Rings trilogy, Avatar, The Adventures of Tintin, and Steven Spielberg’s The BFG. He has recently worked as a Visual Effects Supervisor on Game of Thrones; Beyond the Wall, and is currently working on James Cameron's Avatar sequels. Wayne is an active member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and has been nominated for a BAFTA and numerous Visual Effects Society awards. Wayne kindly spoke to us about his work with the World War I documentary.

WOW -- You colored the film's black & white footage in amazing ways! Tell us about this very central role. What were your thoughts going in to the project? Who helped you?

1536461435220Wayne StablesMy role on the project was to supervise the colourization work that was being done by Stereo-D, ensuring that it was historically correct and that aesthetically the colourization was as natural as we could make it (not always the easiest task with film that 100 years old!). Assisting with this process were Pete Connor who is our resident historian, and Matt Wear a senior colourist at Park Road Post.

We started off with key images, and once I was happy with these we'd pass them on Peter Jackson for his notes. After that we'd just continue to iterate on each shot until he was satisfied with the result.

You go into a project like this very aware that it's incredibly important to get it right, and that to some extent you're pushing into uncharted territory. Film has obviously been colourised in the past but I think that this project pushed it beyond what we had seen before.

What is your background? How did you come to this place/time?

I've been working in the visual FX industry and with Peter Jackson for over 20 years, and a few years ago I worked with him colourising hundreds of photographs that were used in the Great War museum exhibition in Wellington. For that project I led a team of artists responsible for the work, so I was familiar with the process and what it was that Peter was expecting.

For this project I met early on with some of the folks from Stereo D and went through the museum with them to walk them through what it was we were aiming to achieve.

How did you actually carry this colorization out? What methods of research did you use? We are told that your studio was filled with uniforms! How did you keep the thousands of unit uniforms straight? Did you travel for the landscape parts?

The process does start with a lot of research. We had access to a huge range of items (including a studio filled with genuine uniforms) that we could photograph and use as reference.

To ensure we were historically accurate, Pete Connor was always at hand to identify and provide details on what we could see in the footage - no small feat considering that things changed over the course of the war.

Peter Jackson also travelled to Belgium and photographed many of the areas so that we had fantastic reference for everything from the colour of the soil through to the type of bricks that were used on the buildings. After that it really comes down to a lot of artistry (and work) to apply those colours back into the black and white footage.

What did you take from this experience? Did you have any specific moments or specifically-memorable challenges to the project?

I think that the thing that you take away is that people really were no different 100 years ago. They were just trying to live their lives as best they could while dealing while being caught up in a fairly horrific situation. There were some moments that I found challenging to look at and review, particularly when it involved animals.

Why did it matter to you to get it right? Do you have a personal connection to the Great War?

I had a number of relatives that served in WW1, most of whom returned to New Zealand, and one who did not. My great, great uncle Robert Hugh Stables lies buried in Belgium after being fatally wounded and dying on October 18th, 1917.

I actually know quite a lot about him including the spot that he was shot (he was an officer so there tends to be better records of those type of details), and to me he symbolizes all of the young men - of all nationalities - that we see in the movie.

You have to get it right because history demands that we remember it accurately in order to learn from it. I don't think my Uncle Robert would want any sympathy, but he would want all of us to learn from his death in that muddy field 100 years ago.

 RRXKL8UJColorized black and white film was featured in They Shall Not Grow Old.

 

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