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01 March 2011

Jake Bickerton profiles the top 15 colourists in the UK, in our latest annual colourist countdown

One of the few remaining heroes of the post house, the colourist still rules the roost in Soho. These days it’s rare to find a facility without a dedicated grading artist on the payroll, while the larger commercials and film-focused post houses each boast a handful of top-tier colourists. The aim of this feature is to create a definitive list of the UK’s (or as it turns out almost exclusively, Soho’s) top colourist talent. We’ve used a combination of factors to rank each grading artist. We started off by contacting the majority of colourists in the UK asking for a list of grading artists they most admire, including rising stars coming through the ranks. We asked the same of grading system manufacturers, too. In total, we received more than 40 sets of opinions during this research. We then factored in the winners and nominees of an assortment of colourists awards (the British Arrows Craft Awards, RTS Craft Awards and the UK Music Video Awards (MVAs)), and also those colourists named as top ‘vfx artists’ in Televisual’s ‘Commercials 30’ survey of the UK’s commercials production community. Points were awarded for each recommendation, award nomination and award win, and these were tallied up to create the top 15 rankings as presented over the following pages.

For the second year running, MPC’s Jean-Clement convincingly takes top spot. His key productions over the year include Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours and the striking looking Cadbury’s Spots V Stripes and Philips Carousel. He also graded the widely acclaimed John Lewis Always A Woman, which won him a nomination for The British Craft Awards, and the pop promo for The Temper Trap’s Love Lost, for which he was nominated for an MVA. “His style is so diverse and unique. He brings so much to the grade, is always in demand, and attracts all the big directors,” says Framestore’s Steffan Perry. Similarly, The Look’s Thomas Urbye says: “Jean-Clement still has the best reel of any of the colourists in town, he maintains a style above the rest and the clients to match.” Soret’s career highlight so far is working on Slumdog Millionaire, which won an Oscar for cinematography, for which “I like to think the grade added something to it,” he says. Soret believes grading has changed dramatically over the last two years with grading systems putting vfx functionality in the hands of the colourist. “It’s clearly stepping into vfx territory. We routinely use free-form windows and tracking, sharpen, soften, degrain and regrain to a degree that was unthinkable a couple of years ago.”

The highest placed ‘rising star’ in our list this year is The Mill’s highly regarded Woodiwiss. His highlight last year was being nominated for The British Arrows Craft Awards as part of The Mill’s grading team on the filmic Guinness World. He was also nominated for an MVA for his grade on Jay-Z’s On To The Next One promo. Other great looking grades last year include the promos for Florence and the Machine’s Dog Days are Over and The XX’s Islands and the epic Nike Write The Future, which he co-graded. “I think he has a great eye and is already one to watch in the future,” says his colleague at The Mill James Bamford. “He’s already grading with some huge directors, and is in the final stages of transition from junior to senior op. He’s a very talented grader and a very likeable guy,” adds Framestore’s Perry Gibbs. Likewise, MPC’s Paul Harrison says, “He’s a lovely guy and has the talent to do well.” To gain a firm footing as a colourist, Woodiwiss advises aspiring colourists to “become an assistant for a good colourist then listen and learn from them all as much as you can. Learn to adapt your style with theirs.” Furthermore, he adds, “Always be conscious about grades, whether watching films or looking out to sea at the seaside.”

Nominated for The British Arrows Craft Award both for his grade on the retro looking Hovis Miss Chief and as part of the team nominated for Guinness World, Scott (who graded classics such as Sony Balls, Britvic Drench Brains Dance and Lynx Billions) also placed in Televisual’s Commercials 30 list of commercials producers’ best ‘vfx artists’. “He’s the best colourist by a mile,” says colleague James Bamford, while his consistency is singled out by MPC’s Paul Harrison and The Mill’s Paul Harrison, Luke Morrison and Aubrey Woodiwiss. “He has a great style and creates unique looks – he always delivers amazing work,” says Luke Morrison. “Consistency and ability to perform well under pressure, creative excellence combined with technical aptitude, accurate eye for detail and a good understanding of colour theory,” are vital colourist skills, says Scott. His advice for colourists rising through the ranks is to “use your eyes, think about what you’re looking at, explore different ideas and look at all art forms.”

Rushes’ senior colourist Grattarola picked up the MVA gong for his grade on the attractively polished Biffy Clyro’s God and Satan promo and was also nominated for Cheryl Cole’s Parachute promo. Other noteworthy work from 2010 includes his grade on Take That’s highly stylised The Flood video and an intense spot for Sky Living HD series Bedlam. “I think Simone is another great ambassador of the colourist world. He always manages to add a creative sheen no matter what he is working on,” believes Halo’s Katherine Jamieson. Likewise, his colleague Marty McMullan says: “Simone has an astonishing ability to extract the best possible result from any footage.” Simone’s name appeals most to Prime Focus’ Duncan Russell: “He has the best name despite stiff competition from the likes of Mark Horrobin and Aubrey Woodiwiss.” Grattarola says the key to being a good colourist is “having an understanding of people and interpreting their vision.” He describes the client/colourist relationship today as follows: “Clients are like the drug testers and a good colourists is like a good drug cheat, always a step ahead of the game”.

The Farm Group’s Emmy and three times RTS award winning colourist Farrell has been behind the grading panel on many of the best looking TV dramas, and this year added This Is England ’86 and Grandma’s House to his hefty cv. He was one of the first colourists to make an indelible mark on the London grading scene and is widely respected for his work. “Aidan changed the art of telecine grading. He took the knowledge from his pop promo style and used it to bring documentaries and dramas to life. He broke boundaries and set trends that many colourists follow to this day,” believes colleague Sonny Sheridan. Another of his colleagues, Perry Gibbs, goes as far as saying Farrell is “a true artist bordering on genius. He’s never afraid to experiment and constantly pushes himself to create innovative and exceptional work”. Farrell is a self-confessed perfectionist: “I’m obsessive (like a dog with a bone) and won’t leave something until I know it’s right and I’ve explored all alternative avenues. I’ve always aspired to push myself to reinvent my grading technique and visual flare,” he says.

“I‘ve known Vince for a long time and was trained by him. I believe in the last two years he’s returned to his glory days with fantastic work such as Strike Back and Larkrise to Candleford. Speaking to him and seeing his work you can see that his passion for grading is back,” says Halo’s Ross Baker. Three years ago, Narduzzo moved from Soho to Pinewood to set up his own boutique facility. “His bespoke and friendly approach to his business wins him many fans from DoPs to directors,” says Martin Bennett of Digtial Vision (the makers of the grading suite Narduzzo uses). “He’s still delivering world class content for the likes of the BBC and for film.” Technicolor’s Dan Coles says that, “aside from being one of the nicest blokes you could ever meet, I think his contribution to the industry has been amazing”. Narduzzo says his highlight of the last year is “working with Martin Scorsese and Thelma Shoonmaker on the restoration of Peeping Tom.” He attributes his success to his focus on team work in the grading suite and being democratic not dictatorial with grading decisions. “Never think you hold the high ground in your grading suite. You are part of a team, your input is vital, but the ability to listen and collaborate is essential.”

7= GARETH SPENSLEY, MOLINARE Having graded THE film of the year, The King’s Speech, as well as fine looking television series including Wonders of the Solar System and Upstairs Downstairs, Spensley has gained an enthusiastic fan base amongst his fellow colourists over the last year. “He work is always a pleasure to watch –the grade on The King’s Speech was spot on, transporting you back in time without distracting the viewer from the story with over-styling,” says Halo’s Ross Baker. Spensley’s colleague Tim Waller says he has gained a “good portfolio of clients over a short period of grading experience and The King’s Speech is his best work to date.” Prime Focus’ Duncan Russell singles out Upstairs Downstairs instead, saying it looks “blooming lovely.”

7= JAMES TILLETT, PRIME FOCUS ‘Rising star’ Tillett has a long list of impressive looking pop promos under his belt, and was nominated for an MVA in 2010 for his work on DJ Fresh’s Gold Dust. “He’s shown he has a great eye for colour,” says MPC’s George K, while The Mill’s Aubrey Woodiwiss simply says Tillett has a “good style.” Prime Focus’ Duncan Russell is more enamoured by Tillett’s “great eyes and lovely full lips”, “and his grading is pretty good too,” he adds. Tillett believes his success has come about through having “had the good fortune to work with some great directors who have let me get really creative on their projects.”

9= GEORGE K, MPC “He’s a versatile grader and is always pushing the boundaries,” says fellow MPC colourist Paul Harrison of short-form specialist George K. His colourist credits over the last year include the classy, subtlety-graded promo for Adele’s Rolling In The Deep, titles for SyFy, the celeb-filled dance-fest that was the M&S Christmas spot and Channel 4’s Egg Timer promo film for Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals. He is “really creative with a natural flair,” says The Mill’s James Bamford, while George K’s colleague Ricky Gausis says he’s created “some amazing grades this year”. His advice for aspiring colourists is to “have the confidence to offer your opinion and enjoy it”.

9= MICK VINCENT, THE MILL The vastly experienced colourist setting the look on Doctor Who, Merlin and SyFy’s Alice in 2010 is one of the pioneers of creative grading. “30 years of experience means he has a huge portfolio of clients,” says Molinare’s Tim Waller. “For me, Mick has always produced interesting and stylistic grades but it was the Hovis Go On Lad commercial that I really loved; how he carried you through time without making you aware the grade was changing,” says Halo’s Ross Baker. Vincent’s colleagues at The Mill are equally complimentary: “He makes it look easy,” says Seamus O’Kane, while James Bamford says “he’s overflowing with knowledge”.

9= PERRY GIBBS, THE FARM GROUP Nominated for an RTS Craft and Design award for Misfits, Gibbs’ TV work in 2010 also includes That Mitchell and Webb Look, Fry and Laurie Reunited and Total Wipeout. “Too many times now I’ve focused on the credits of a show I liked the grade on and seen Perry Gibbs’ name. He knows when to be subtle and when to throw all the tricks in,” says Halo’s Katherine Jamieson. His colleague Sonny Sheridan adds that Gibbs is “like a scientist – he’s extremely efficient and is a master of his work. Before he starts a job he conducts significant amounts of research into the project to create a unique look for each programme he works on”.

9= RICKY GAUSIS, MPC “His reel was only starting out 18 months ago, but his work is already very competent. He’s a dynamic and cool character and a breath of fresh air in the industry,” says The Look’s Thomas Urbye about MPC’s ‘rising star’. “He’s charming and competent and is capable of going a long way yet,” adds Technicolor’s Max Horton. His MPC colleagues also line up to praise Gausis: “He’s fairly new to grading but works like he has years of experience,” says George K, while Jean-Clement Soret says he is “talented and a very nice person”. “He has an eye for it,” adds Paul Harrison.

13= JATEEN PATEL, FREELANCE Patel picked up plaudits from a number of Soho colourists including Halo’s Baker. “He has a very high technical skill level and is also a nice guy to work with. He has a lab background, which would make him one of the last to come from a lab. That knowledge is hard to come by nowadays and is important and respected. He just needs a break and he will be one to watch in future”.

13= ROSS BAKER, HALO Baker’s credits over the last year include Earth: The Power of the Planet, David Attenborough’s First Life, Lennon Naked and Outnumbered, for which he was nominated for an RTS Craft and Design award. “He has a great understanding for what he is doing,” says Vince Narduzzo, while colleague Katherine Jamieson believes: “He’s one of the most creative and intuitive colourists in the industry today. He’s an amazing teacher and never shy to share his passion about grading.”

15= MATT TURNER, RUSHES Matt Turner joined Rushes last year from LA’s highly regarded Company 3 to head up Rushes’ grading team. and was amongst the colourists that placed in the ‘top vfx artists’ list in Televisual’s Commercials 30 report. “He has succeeded on both sides of the Atlantic and his excellence is exemplified by the global demand for him,” says colleague Jack McGinity.

15= SEAMUS O’KANE, THE MILL O’Kane was part of The Mill’s grading team on Nike Write The Future, and also in 2010 graded E4’s striking promo for Misfits and the promo for Five’s Don’t Stop Believing. “He’s the Ryan Giggs of the colourist world and gets better with age,” says Adam Welsh of Pandora, the makers of the grading system used by O’Kane. His colleagues at The Mill are similarly generous: “He has an amazing sleight of hand,” says Mick Vincent and “his work has great depth and presence,” says Luke Morrison.


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