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Making the Grade: Finding the 'Right' Feeling with Kody Wescott
Post Production
New York, USA
Assembly assistant colourist on how Lez Rudge and Vincent Taylor inspired him and keeping an open mind

Kody has always been drawn to storytelling. It led him to study film and television at Full Sail University in Florida where he was first introduced to the art of colour correction. He was fascinated by the possibilities it brought to visual storytelling, and taught himself everything he could about it. It wasn’t long before Kody was grading high-profile projects for for RuPaul’s Drag Race, Nike, and Audible. Kody is constantly pushing himself to grow and improve as he works with clients to bring their vision to life.

LBB> What was your first experience with the world of colour grading – and when did you decide that being a colourist was a role that you wanted to pursue?

Kody> My first real experience in the world of colour was a Jagermeister commercial. It was one of the first jobs I assisted on, and the director was worried that the footage was unusable. The colour temperature had been set incorrectly on set causing the footage to be skewed extremely blue. The colourist took a look at the footage, and with an incredibly creative use of windows and colours, turned the nearly unusable footage into something incredibly unique and interesting. Once I saw a professional colourist at work, saw how much control and how much impact they had on the final look of a project, I knew that being a colourist was something that I wanted to pursue. 

LBB> What was the project that you felt really changed your career?

Kody> There have been many projects that have felt extremely integral to the development of my career, but I’d have to say that the one that feels most important was also my first. It was a Maybelline commercial. I hadn’t been doing colour for very long, and most of what I had done up to that point was unsupervised pickup shots. I was extremely nervous as I walked into the session, partly because it was my first supervised session, but also because Maybelline grades were complex.

I’d assisted on them before, and saw how the senior colourist handled them, but would I be able to do that myself? The session began, and it wasn’t long before a challenging shot presented itself, and I handled it. The next challenge arose, and I handled it. Each complication that came up, I was able to handle it, until suddenly the session was done. The client was happy and excited to work with me again. It affirmed for my superiors, but also to myself, that I was ready to handle my own projects. 

LBB> How/where did you hone your craft and did you have any particular mentors?

Kody> I was very lucky to assist for two amazing colourists, Lez Rudge and Vincent Taylor. They both have a wealth of knowledge and experience in the world of colour grading, and I had the opportunity to sit in on their sessions, to see first hand how they work, and to ask them questions about their process. It was an invaluable experience for me. I would go into their projects, see how they built their grade and try to replicate it on my own. It was these exercises in matching their grade that helped me build up a familiarity with the tools and an understanding of how colour works. I was able to start bringing that knowledge to my own projects and my own grades.

LBB> Tell us more about your creative process - (e.g.when you get a project, how do you go about developing a look?)

Kody> One of the most important parts for me when establishing a look is bringing out what naturally exists in the image. I like to bring it to a point that can only really be described as feeling 'right', a richness of colour and a balanced level of contrast, like this was how the footage would look if it existed in the real world. Once at that place of rightness, I can push the image into a more stylized direction that supports the overall tone and message envisioned by the creatives. 

LBB> From experience, we’ve found that colourists often love art and photography - when you’re out of the studio, what inspires you?

Kody> I’ve always had a passion for stories. It was my love for movies that got me into the film and television industry to begin with. Recently, I’ve gotten into graphic novels. A very different medium than video, but I find their use of colour fascinating. It’s the thread that pulls along the whole story. They have dark, rich colours mixed on the same page with a soft, gentle pallet and combined in a way that you don’t see in any other medium. I love to try and bring just a hint of that unique rich style to my grades.

LBB> Colour grading is largely a digital affair, but there’s also been a resurgence of film over the past few years in commercials and music videos. What are your thoughts about working on film versus digital formats like 4K? And what are your favourite techniques for capturing a vintage or tactile feel?

Kody> Film and digital are two unique tools in a filmmaker’s arsenal. Film gives a project a stylised, gritty feel right out of the gate, a look that can be hard to authentically replicate with a digital format. Digital is crisp and clean, an aesthetic that some might prefer over the graininess of film. Both have their own uses, and both can look amazing when handled properly. Whether I’m working with film or digital, I love to pull the natural colours and tones out of the footage. Add a bit of rolloff to the highlights, and just barely kiss pure black in the darkest parts of the image, and you’ve got a very rich and down to earth look.

LBB> When working in commercials, what role can colour and a grade play in enhancing a brand’s assets and what sort of conversations do you have with creatives and clients about that (e.g. is there often a strategic/consistent ‘look’ for a brand? Can these be too heavy handed?) 

Kody> Some brands have a specific style that they like to keep consistent across all aspects of their marketing, from print ads to television commercials. These often include a uniform level of brightness and contrast, staying away from anything overly moody or stylized, and a uniformity in their brand colours so they can be recognized anywhere. These guidelines are usually provided up front and give the colourist and creatives clear boxes to check off during the grade. On the other hand, some brands will adopt a new style for each of their campaigns, tailoring a look that fits the mood and tone of a particular product or message. These projects are much more of a collaborative effort between the creatives and the colourist as they work together to come up with the best look. In either case, a good colour grade is essential, whether it’s a very precise grade that meets all of the brand’s requirements, or a uniquely stylized grade that fits a specific feel.

LBB> How do you ensure that each colourist-director partnership is a success?

Kody> The key element in a successful colourist-director relationship is an open mind on both sides. A director brings to the table the days, weeks, years they’ve spent with a project. They bring the emotion behind it, the message, the intent. The colourist brings a fresh perspective along with their knowledge, expertise, and a bit of artistic flare. It’s easy for either side to get a rigid idea of what look would work best for a given piece, but it’s when these two points of view work together that the magic really happens. The fresh view of the colourist bounces off the deep rooted idea and feelings of the director to grow into something bigger than either. It’s this collaboration that brings out the best of a project. 

LBB> What advice would you give to budding colourist?

Kody> My advice for a budding colourist is that creating a cool, stylized look is only step one. Colour grading can sometimes get minimized to that one idea, but the truth is that the bulk of the work lies in creating consistency over multiple camera angles, camera types, lighting setups. Matching shots and being able to bring all of those elements into order is every bit as important as setting that initial look, and is just as integral to making a great colourist. 

LBB> In your opinion, what’s difference between a good grade and a great grade?

Kody> To me, the biggest difference between a good grade and a great grade is how well it works for the given project. There are hundreds of different grades that would make an image look good, but not all of them would properly convey the thoughts, feelings, and emotions intended by the creatives. It’s when the colour works together with those elements, elevating and enhancing them, that a grade goes from good to great.

LBB> How is the craft and trade of colour grading changing?

Kody> There’s recently been a huge shift from in person colour sessions to remote colour sessions. The pandemic proved that remote sessions were possible, and the trend stuck. I do most of my sessions from my home office, broadcasting to clients who are sitting in their living room. This adds a tremendous amount of flexibility for both me as the artist and the clients that we work with.

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