By Jasmine Lee
We had the opportunity to interview Kevin Buckley about the creative process that went behind Studio KB’s latest project with the Honda Passport. As a creative boutique agency that specialises in high-end digital retouching, Studio KB works directly with photographers and advertising agencies to create stunning images that are only possible through extensive compositing, seamless retouching and cutting edge CGI. With the drive to make exciting images while maintaining authenticity, Studio KB has been able to make award-winning content. Read the interview below about how Studio KB was able to transform an idea into reality.
Production Paradise: We love your recent campaign for Honda with photographer Jeff Ludes. Can you give us some insight on this epic project?
Kevin Buckley: Thank you! First and foremost, Jeff is an amazing photographer and the crew and agency were a really great team. This wasn’t a model year update but an actual brand-new model: the Honda Passport so very, very, code red. (The code name for the project was Phoenix, that’s what we are signing in the picture below, haha :D) The production plan was to shoot back plates with stand-in cars in various locations (mostly Colorado and Utah) and then shoot the Passport and the talent in Honda’s proving ground in the Mojave Desert. My job was to composite the location shots so we could get a super wide 30,000 pixel panorama that would illustrate the epic nature of these locations and then combine desert assets (car and talent) into the location backgrounds adding motion blurs, dust, shadows, reflections, water splashes, stars, and paint color-shifts to boot. All of that and it needed to be 100% photorealistic and oh yeah, it has to come out stunning as well! And I think, that’s how it turned out, but I never could have gotten it done without the strong teamwork and artistic chops of everyone involved including my staff of retouchers, Jeff Ludes and of course Shea Gauer, the Art Director.
Production Paradise: We understand this campaign, ‘Your Passport to Adventure,’ was to highlight the versatile adventurous spirit of Honda’s all-new SUV, did you face any particular challenge during post-production that made it different to some of your other projects?
Kevin Buckley: I would say the number of different elements that needed to be composited made this more challenging than most other automotive projects. Take for example the mountain lake shot. The lake was stretched vertically to make it more readily readable. A new sky was dropped in. The initial background was made from a three-image stitch that didn’t quite fit together perfectly so various areas needed to be adjusted and cloned. The foreground and road were added from other plates, a slight motion blur was added and all of that was just the background. A host of moves were made on the car. Any desert reflections were removed and replaced with grass and trees. The sheet metal was shifted to white from silver and the trailer was taken from a different shot. The shadows were remade, and dust was illustrated. And of course, a bunch of little cloning and color correction that would be too numerous to mention. Now, none of these things are particularly challenging but when you add them up it gets harder and harder to keep the shot looking 100% real. That’s where the artistry comes in. That’s when it pays off to take your time and do it right so the elements can build upon one another to make something harmonious and exceptional.
Production Paradise: You now work with some of the biggest car brands in the world such as Hyundai, Subaru, Kia, Honda and Mazda. When you were starting out, what were your main sources of clients? Did you always specialise in post-production for the automotive industry?
Kevin Buckley: Well, it’s been a long process, if we start at the beginning. I developed a solid base in the visual arts with a degree in Fine Arts at the University of Southern California. I specialised in oil painting where I would combine various photographic elements together in a realistic, representational style. From there, I worked at a scanning and printing house that also did one-sheet (movie poster art) production. I received some training in scanning, printing and retouching. I continued along in the digital imaging field at a color house and a couple of fine art print shops. By then, I knew I wanted to get into automotive retouching, so I took a step back in pay for the opportunity to learn some automotive retouching at Edmunds.com. They eventually closed their in-house retouching department and I jumped to doing freelance work first for the Icon in Hollywood and then at Rocket Studio. I learned a lot at each place I worked and gained experience in beauty, architecture, creative and automotive retouching along the way. However, automotive remained my passion so I started working for automotive shooters and ad agencies. Now, I am able to hire my own retouchers and help them along, showing them what I can and giving to them as someone gave to me when I was just starting out. It feels good to complete the circle.
Production Paradise: What’s a typical day at Studio KB?
Kevin Buckley: Ha! There really aren’t typical days. Some days I’m flying out to a location to composite images in the back of a travel trailer, chatting with the stylists and the talent as they get ready for the next shot. Other days, I’m over-seeing big projects with many artists to make sure everything getting to the client is realistic and beautiful. Of course, retouching, retouching, retouching, but I’m running a business now so some days it’s promotional emails, website and accounting/invoicing. I really like the variety. It keeps me from getting stuck in a rut and allows me the opportunity to keep learning.
Production Paradise: You also work with motion and cinemagraph, do you have a dedicated team member to take care of this part of the business or do you get directly involved in every project?
Kevin Buckley: Speaking of the opportunity to keep learning… Motion editing is just such a thing for me. I am fascinated by the ability to retouch motion imagery in very similar ways to that of still imagery. The tools are really catching up. However, I realise that one person can’t be an expert in everything and some things are better left to specialists, so for complicated motion editing, I hire a trusted freelancer, but cinemagraphs I usually do myself.
Production Paradise: Any new software/technology that you’ve recently acquired and now can’t live without?
Kevin Buckley: Basecamp. The deadlines are getting tighter and tighter and the number of images per project are only increasing so I needed a project management tool to keep everyone on the same page. I used to use a combination of Dropbox and email but there was just too much coming in and out. Basecamp really streamlines the process of feedback and revisions internally and for the client. I really love it.
Production Paradise: Lastly, you are entering your 15th year in the business, can you tell us what’s next for Studio KB?
Kevin Buckley: Expanding. The internet and social media have made the image more important than ever before. My passion for making them more interesting, more expansive, and more immersive hasn’t waned but grown. I would like to share that passion with clients and peers alike while expanding this business.
Special thanks to Studio KB for giving us insight into their latest campaign with Honda. For more projects and work, check out Studio KB’s work on their website or their profile page on Production Paradise. We wish Studio KB the best in their future endeavors!