Pablo Picasso once uttered that “Good artists copy. Great artists steal”. Whilst his famous quote may still ring true, it’s almost certainly due an update. These days, directors and DOPs aren’t looking to copy. Nor are they looking to steal. What they’re now looking for is to CHEAT.
It’s true. The Machine, winner of Best UK Feature at Raindance Festival? CHEAT. Stutterer, winner of Best Short at the Oscars? Another CHEAT. Even Paul Pogba, the world’s most expensive footballer? CHEAT.
There’s nothing dishonest about any of these award-winning projects - CHEAT just so happens to be the name of the colour studio behind them.
Co-founded by Toby Tomkins and Joseph Bicknell a little under two years ago, the Hackney studio has exploded onto the scene, forging a reputation as one of London’s most pioneering colour facilities. The pair have graded numerous short-form and feature length projects that have gone on to win an array of awards, as well as securing a host of nominations themselves - most notably at the British Arrows Craft Awards and the UKMVAs.
Their work hasn’t gone unnoticed, and they’ve swiftly assembled an impressive roster of clients, whether it’s working on commercials for Adidas and Under Armour, promos for the likes of Bonobo and Ellie Goulding, or full-length feature films – including Kaleidoscope which, graded by Toby, stars Sherlock’s Toby Jones.
Under Armour. Graded by Joseph Bicknell.
Immensely passionate about colour, CHEAT put craft above all else. Their impressive studio features three spacious suites, including a full-projection 4K theatrical grading suite. Their three colourists and four strong production team have created a comfortable, creative environment for clients - and it’s the conversations that go down in this relaxed, collaborative space that shaped the company’s bold moniker.
Their current situation, however, is a long way from where the pair began. With creativity in their blood – Toby’ father worked in the film industry and Joseph’s mother was a musician - both set up shop as independent operators, purchasing their own equipment as their careers began to take off.
“I grew up surrounded by filmmaking,” explains Toby, whose father and uncle were art directors for studio features. “As a kid, I’d often help my dad out at work and I had my first official art department job at 17, working on Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
Toby worked on the likes of Sherlock Holmes, Blood Diamond and The Holiday whilst still at school, but it was at university where he discovered his passion for colour grading – a way to combine the story telling power of editing with the wizardry of VFX. Taking the initiative to get keys cut for his university’s grading suite, Toby racked up an inimitable portfolio of work moonlighting on grading jobs.
“I was in my element working there at night, although I had to be careful,” says Toby. “Let’s say the uni may have frowned upon my night time access to the suite... I did once get caught by the cleaner whilst I was grading a promo with N-Dubz, but luckily she turned a blind eye!”
From his enterprising beginnings, Toby quickly found himself at a London sound house, building a bespoke grading suite for feature and commercial projects. When the company downgraded to a smaller site, Toby stumbled upon an exciting opportunity. “I offered to buy all their grading equipment from them,” he explains. “Firstly, I set up a suite at my parents’ house, where I graded the film Four. I then had to relocate the whole setup to Wales to grade The Machine.”
The Machine, starring Caity Lotz. Graded by Toby Tomkins.
It was a decision that paid off when the film went on to premiere at Tribeca, win Best Feature at Raindance and picked up awards at the Welsh BAFTAs. The film’s success set Toby on his way back to London, where, in 2013 he set up a suite in a slick East London studio situated within the stunning Arthaus building.
Joseph, meanwhile, had been forging his own successful freelance career after he, too, developed a passion for colour at university. “I loved the collaboration and creativity it offered,” explains Joseph. “I purchased some basic grading equipment and set myself up in a suite at university, where over the last two years of my course I had the opportunity to work with some fantastic young directors and DoPs.”
Operating out of a suite at Clapham Road Studios that he helped set up, Joseph developed and honed his skills on promos, branded content and short films, building a client base from the ground up. With both developing stellar reputations as autonomous colourists, it was two years later when their paths crossed and they teamed up to form their own fully-fledged colour studio.
“It’s been fantastic building CHEAT together. We both feel it’s about understanding the creative message and being brave in offering the freshest ideas,” explains Joseph.
“Utilising modern technology and streamlined working practices, we tailor our approach to each project through communication and open dialogue,” adds Toby.
Sheer dedication to the craft has seen the team have an active presence in the research of colour science and the development of grading tools – a presence that’s considerably greater than any other company of its size.
“Operating in a digital era in which the authentic richness of film is so often asked for, we’ve pioneered our own proprietary LUTs that emulate the look and feel of film,” explains Toby.
It’s this commitment to enhancing the creative process and, ultimately, the work that has propelled the company to where it currently is. Momentum is firmly with CHEAT as they continue this year in the same vein that they finished 2016.
“We strive to make the post process more flexible and creative in an ever-evolving advertising and entertainment landscape,” concludes Toby. “We plan to harness that momentum by expanding our roster with the best talent and supporting them to deliver award winning work.”
Adidas Football x Pogba Capsule Collection. Graded by Joseph Bicknell