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01 March 2010

The best UK colourists attract high-profile clients from around the world and bring the biggest spenders to their facilities. Jake Bickerton profiles the most admired graders in the country

The UK’s biggest post houses all have a large roster of colourists on the payroll and, these days, even smaller facilities also employ one or two dedicated grading artists. With so many to choose from, we’ve attempted to whittle down the list to the 25 most admired grading artists in the UK, through recommendations from peers, grading kit makers and various awards.

The 25 most admired graders

We asked colourists and grading kit makers to recommend the grading artists (both established and up and coming) they rank highest. We also looked at those nominated and winning colourist awards in the British Television Advertising (BTA) Craft Awards, the UK Music Video Awards (MVA) and The Royal Television Society (RTS) Craft and Design Awards. We received over 40 responses from colourists and grading kit makers, each recommending up to six colourists. We awarded points for each recommendation a colourist received and additional points for winning or being nominated for an award. In total, 80 colourists made it through to our long list – the 25 profiled over the next four pages are the ones with the most points.

MPC’s top colourists

The colourist at the top of the pile, MPC’s Jean-Clement Soret, clocked up almost three times as many points as the next best placed colourist, thanks to ample recommendations from fellow colourists and a nomination for the BTA Craft colourist award. Soret’s enviable credit list spans some of the best looking commercials and features of recent years, including Slumdog Millionaire, The Other Boleyn Girl and Sunshine and ads including Philips Carousel, Kerry Low Low Mouse and Evian Skating Babies.

Soret’s ethos for grading is to “constantly criticise your own work, take a distance and analyse, don’t be complacent.” His choice of grading kit is “still old hardware systems like Pandora’s”, although, he adds, “I like Resolve and Baselight is a nice piece of kit too.” In any case, “kit is just a means to achieve your vision, it’s not what’s important,” he says.

Another three MPC colourists make it into our list – George K is the next best ranked, coming in just outside the top five. His spots include Mazda Light Moves, the Channel 4 Chatty Man promo and two ads for San Diego Zoo that were graded remotely with George K on the Resolve suite in London and the clients in LA, reviewing the material in real time. “I think we’ll see more remote grading in the future as technology is moving so fast,” he says.

Paul Harrison and Ricky Gausis make up the rest of the MPC team inside the top 25. Harrison was last year nominated for a BTA Craft award and graded Evian Skating Babies (alongside Jean-Clement Soret), Robbie Williams’ Bodies promo and Strongbow Final Push. He also won the MVA for his grade on Paolo Nutini’s Candy promo. “I try to grade in a harmonious way that fits with the images, and try to be true to the photography and not force a look,” he says.

Harrison adds that he prefers the Baselight or Resolve, rather than traditional systems. “These have moved the toolsets available to the colourist forward in a huge way. The complexity of a grade can be literally mind-boggling.”

Gausis is singled out as an up and coming colourist by a handful of his peers. His recent credits include the Samsung Extreme Sheep viral and the short film Cold Kiss. “I’ve been learning from some of the best colourists in London and beyond and haven’t tied myself down to just being able to establish one specific look.”

Aidan Farrell

Ranking second in our list, The Farm Group’s Aidan Farrell picked up the RTS Craft and Design Award last year for his work on BBC1 drama Wallander. Other recent productions graded by Farrell include The Killers: Live from the Royal Albert Hall and the rom-coms Married, Single, Other and Material Girl. Farrell believes what sets him apart is “the desire to really make a difference rather than someone who copies or tweaks. I love what I do and I hope it shows on screen.” When it comes to grading kit, Farrell says: “The grading system should be flexible enough to be invisible. People are paying for the skill of the colourist and don’t care which system I use.”

The Mill

The Mill’s long-standing colourist Mick Vincent grabs the final place in the top three of our survey. Last year he was nominated for an RTS Craft and Design Award for the grading of Sky 1’s Skellig and an MVA for his work on the Kid Cudi featuring Kanye West and Common Make Her Say promo. “After all my years of grading, I’m still as enthusiastic and love my job as much as when I started.” His favourite grading system is the Baselight, which he says is, “The most powerful and flexible system I’ve ever used. It’s hard to think of using anything else at the moment but who knows what will be available in a year or two.”

Also placing inside the top 10 are two of Vincent’s colleagues, Adam Scott and Aubrey Woodiwiss. Last year, Scott won the BTA Craft colourist award for a second time, for his filmic grade on Fonecta Immigrant. “I always try to create different things and not just use what is considered fashionable.” When comparing today’s grading systems with telecine colour correctors, Scott says: “The data revolution is incredibly exciting, but I still hold a fondness for some of the older systems I began grading with – it’s like comparing records to CDs.”

Woodiwiss picks up a string of recommendations as an up and coming talent. He was nominated for two MVAs last year, for Lily Allen’s 22 and Golden Silvers Arrows of Eros promos. He believes that, “As we move into new digital formats and data-based workflows, the original rushes are looking increasingly flat and void of contrast, feel and mood, so the grade is becoming more important than ever.”

Another two The Mill colourists make it into our list. Seamus O’Kane comes in closely behind Scott and Woodiwiss, with a recent credit list including Toshiba Space Project, Cadbury’s Eyebrows and Barclaycard Rollercoaster. “You need to listen to the opinions of many and then be able to incorporate all of these into your work,” he says of the grading process. He’s a fan of Pandora’s Revolution grading system, which he describes as “the most finely tuned colour corrector available.”

Finally for The Mill, James Bamford is another colourist rising through the ranks according to his peers. He graded Madonna’s Grammy award winning Confessions Tour, Choice FM’s Kill the Gun and Moray McLaren’s We Got Time promo and says grading is about creating “something beautiful from a few choice words or references.” He adds that, “Getting to collaborate with some of the most talented directors and creatives every day is not only inspiring, it makes coming to work a real pleasure.”

Molinare’s men

Molinare has two colourists in our top 25. First up is The Damned United and The Prisoner colourist Gareth Spensley, who comes in just outside the top five. He embraces non-linear grading technology and is a big fan of the Baselight, saying, “In minutes we can go through a multitude of looks, across a number of scenes, and consider them all side-by-side.” Looking to the near future, Spensley believes, “We’ll see a closer crossover of vfx and online work in the grading environment.”

Andrew Daniel, colourist on ITV1’s Nature’s Fury, BBC3’s Don’t Tell the Bride and the features And The Beat Goes On and The First Days of Spring, also makes it into our list, just outside the top 10. “My career to date has been varied and interesting,” he says. “I started as a runner at a company called Fusion some time ago but furiously worked my way up the ranks.” His advice to aspiring colourists is to “Keep at it and be patient.”

Prime Focus colourists

Two Prime Focus colourists – Richard Fearon and James Tillett – are just inside the top 10. Both are nominated as up and coming talent. Fearon’s credit list includes the Bafta nominated feature Shifty, BBC3’s Kill It, Cook It, Eat It and BBC2’s Great British Menu. “You need to capture the essence of each project and deliver a grade that enhances the job and takes it to another level.”

Fearon is another Baselight fan: “The workflow and interface is much slicker than that of traditional grading systems,” he says. He believes the role of the colourist is “having to change considerably. Already colourists are working on set, grading as the shoot happens. And 3d will be a new and exciting era for the industry, which in turn will push colourists to think of new and innovative ways of grading.”

Tillett’s work over the last year includes a brand film for Danish firm Grundfos and the pop promos for Robbie Williams’ You Know Me, The Horrors’ Whole New Way and The Twang’s Barney Rubble. He was shortlisted for the MVAs last year for his grade on Delphic’s This Momentary promo. He says he tries to avoid complacency and repetition in his work, and advises aspiring colourists to “be aware of trends in photography and fashion as well as what grading styles are popular in different areas of film and TV.”

Just outside the top 10

Five colourists place just outside the top 10. The highest placed of these is Halo’s Ross Baker, who originally trained as a car mechanic before a career change into post. His credit list includes the BBC’s Holby City, BBC4’s Earth: Power of the Planets, Discovery’s The Animals’ Guide to Survival and C4’s The Secret Millionaire. Baker believes the key to a successful grade is “being sympathetic to the source material – it’s always nice to create new looks but if it doesn’t suit the show or is detrimental to the natural composition of the shot then it’s irrelevant.” His kit of choice is the Digital Vision Nucoda Film Master: “It gives me great colour tools and speed to create beautiful and consistent grades."

Rushes’ Adrian Seery, Glassworks’ Ben Rogers, Framestore’s Dave Ludlam and Pepper’s Kevin Horsewood are next up, all receiving a similar number of votes from their peers and kit makers. Seery has been grading for over 20 years and his recent credits include the Mother of Pearl Spring/Summer Collection 2009 promo, George Michael: Live In London and the feature The Pharmacist. His career highlight so far is receiving praise from Stanley Kubrick: “I graded a trailer for A Clockwork Orange for him in about 1989/90,” explains Seery. “I thought I could retire happy there and then.” Seery is a fan of Da Vinci grading systems, “Because I’ve used them for most of my career,” he says, before adding: “It’s only natural to like what you’re accustomed to using. We can all adapt to anything, it’s only gear."

Glassworks’ Rogers has graded an extensive list of top ads over the last year, including Talk Talk Brand, Sony Ericsson Raining Music and Guinness Area 22. “It’s a great job and I fucking love it,” says Rogers, who believes a good colourist “takes into account all the art direction and effort behind the camera, listens to what the director wants, gets everyone involved in the grade and knows how to get the best out of someone’s source footage.”

Framestore’s Ludlam has twice won the BTA Craft award and recently graded Twinings Waterfall, Audi S Race and Shelter House of Cards. He says he still has “the passion and love for the business after all these years” and says of grading, “It’s still a very dark art, and you need to be a certain person to live up to the job.” He uses a Pandora Pogle, which he says is “still brilliant for commercials.”

2007 RTS Craft and Design award winner Horsewood, whose credits include Spooks, Hustle and Breaking the Mould, says he’s “trusted to deliver a quality product on time, under budget and frequently under a lot of pressure.” His preferred system is the Digital Vision Nucoda Film Master, which he says is “fast, adaptable, expandable and comes with enough toys to keep even the most demanding DoP happy.”

Inside the 25

Six more colourists place inside the top 25, sharing a similar number of recommendations. Technicolor’s Dan Coles won the RTS Craft and Design award two years ago for his grading on feature-doc Battle for Haditha, while based at Pepper. He now works at Technicolor’s new Lexington Street facility, where he grades on Autodesk Lustre: “The power, flexibility and creativity of today’s real-time software-based grading systems allow me to significantly alter the look and feel of a scene within a matter of seconds.”

Envy’s Jonathan Lieb receives praise from fellow colourists as up and coming talent. He was Envy’s only colourist when it first opened. “Clients come back because they love what you do creatively and because they like hanging out in the suite with you,” he says.

Thomas Urbye left MPC four years ago to open boutique The Look, where his credits include Dead Set and Criminal Justice. He says he’s “always tried to give the image more of a ‘look’ than just the standard ‘crush the blacks’” Urbye uses a Quantel iQ: “The only system you could use as a complete finishing tool”.

Evolutions’ Tim O’Brien works on ratings winners Top Gear, The Apprentice and The F Word. “The mark of a good colourist isn’t always about throwing every trick in the box at a piece of work, sometimes it requires a lighter hand.” Vince Narduzzo moved his grading boutique Narduzzo Too from Soho to Pinewood 18 months ago, where he’s since graded Bafta nominated short film Off Season and BBC1’s Occupation. His career highlights are “working with Jack Cardiff on the remastering of Black Narcissus” and “many feature DIs with Terry Gilliam.”

Jet Omoshebi moved to Ascent 142 from Pepper last year, where she’s graded the BBC’s Hamlet and Emma and ITV1’s Whitechapel. A good colourist has “the ability to listen not only to what’s being said but what’s meant. Adjectives such as warm, cool, innocent and honest mean different things to different people.”


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