CHEAT's Toby Tomkins and Tim Smith lift the curtain on the vibrant process of colour-grading
Have you ever wondered what makes a film perfect?
Is it in the brave direction, shrewd edit or pitch-perfect sound design? Is it the creation of another reality, suspended somewhere between the tangibly ordinary and fantastically absurd? Perhaps it’s the small moments - a look between actors, a dramatically soaring score or the gentle warmth of a golden sunrise? Most probably, it’s a wonderful collaboration of all the huge and humble aspects of creating a film that transports its audience far from the popcorn covered floor and into another world. Digging a little deeper, Hackney-based grading and finishing studio CHEAT, are here to share their thoughts on the world behind the screen and what exactly goes into the subtle, suggestive art of colour grading.
Managing director and colourist Toby Tomkins and senior colourist Tim Smith, reveal the creative processes behind four of their most recent prolific pieces of work and how to create consistency amidst chaos.
Toby> This job was really about creating a feeling of an era rather than emulate a specific year or piece of material. So, while we used texture and palette to differentiate the eras, we kept the contrast - specifically in the midtones, consistent to unify the different periods and provide a consistent world throughout. The largest challenge was finding the balance between the TV sets as the primary focus within the rooms, whilst still being able to define the era and maintain the texture and detail for the ‘background’ in each scene.
2. How do you… use colour to create drama?
Toby> Each scene had its own storytelling requirements and it was crucial to convey these in a cinematic, dramatic way whilst retaining a sense of naturalism. The opening scene had to feel like early morning and we had to find the right balance of cool dimness while also introducing our lead characters clearly and matching the slight differences in time in which these shots were captured. The scene in the rain had to look cold and harsh, and so we increased the shine on the horses to make them look wetter and drenched to add more drama to the scene. The river crossing scene was very neutral and flat so lacked a sense of drama so we emulated a much later early evening feel by going cooler which also added to the tension and made the water a little more frightening and cold looking. The crescendo had to ooze positivity and optimism so we went golden and warm with a strong sunset finish to round off the journey.
3. What does… colour look like in a different reality?
Toby> We really wanted to create a stylised cinematic look to make sure the characters felt part of an alternate reality that was tangible but somehow removed from ‘reality’. The celluloid film look really helped achieve this quasi-real world - visceral, yet understated and not overly stylised. It was about striking the balance that straddled both versions of reality - conveying the lucid yet abstract reality of someone living with PTSD.
Tim> Whilst this spot was a spoof, we still took all the sensibilities of a classic perfume ad - the warm, soft, golden, blowy feel and created more a natural feel for it. We kept the colour in a luxurious and rich place but reigned it in from going too far - it still needed to feel appropriate for an Ecover ad.
Some of the shots were much more luxe and over the top, such as the model on the circular plinth and the shots of the bottle, which I think is really fun.
Primarily though, the use of skin tones was a key feature of this spot. Skin tones always need to be treated to the highest level to make sure everything is represented in a true way - using softer contrast levels and muted saturation in the top or the bottom of the image, letting the mid-tones do all the work helped to create the clean matte look. We also added a fair amount of blooming to soften off highlights to create an almost, but not quite, dreamy feel.
Cheat are a London-based colour-grading and finishing studio located near London Fields, Hackney.