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Making the Grade: Tom Mangham

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The newest award winning colourist to join Black Kite Studios on how his work on DJ Shadow ‘Rocket Fuel’ helped him stand out and keeping things simple but beautiful

Making the Grade: Tom Mangham

Tom Mangham's love of colour grading started when he discovered how it can breathe life into any visual and evoke an emotional reaction.

Tom’s craft and vision have earned him a rapidly growing reputation and following, collaborating with leading directors such as Sam Pilling, Luke Davies, Remi Laudat, Tash Tung and Shaun James Grant. His passion, creativity and precision have lead him to create iconic imagery on projects such as Sam Pillings DJ Shadow FT De La Soul ‘Rocket Fuel’.

Tom has ascended to become one of the industry’s most highly sought-after artists, claiming some of the industry’s top accolades including Best New Colourist at Kinsale Sharks and Best Colour at the 2020 UK Music Video Awards.

Tom joined Black Kite in 2021, ready to take his already prolific career to the next level.


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?

Tom> I did a work experience placement where I had the chance to see a few of the post-production roles such as Flame, 3D and online. I remember the colour demonstration like yesterday, the colourist brought the image to life in seconds and the lightbulb switched on for me.


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

Tom> There’s been many at various stages in my career. But the standout job which has helped me to gain the most recognition was a promo for DJ Shadow ‘Rocket Fuel’. It was a privilege to grade it and I’m very grateful for the opportunity.

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

Tom> I started at The Mill which gave me a great platform to hone my craft on various projects and work with some great directors. They also had a brilliant roster of experienced colourists to learn from too. It’s why I chose to join Black Kite studios as I think it’s important to surround yourself with talented, experienced colourists. You would struggle to find two better than George K and Rich Fearon.


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

Tom> Ideally it would start by having a chat with the director and DOP as I try to get a good understanding of the look they have in mind and what they have shot for. Once I start grading I try to balance out the image and get back to how it was in camera, from there I start to get creative and develop the look.


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

Tom> I do love photography but it’s just a hobby which I don’t take too seriously, although I do think seeing an image from behind a lens, thinking about exposure composition etc, It definitely helps my grading without realising.


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?

Tom> When I started, telecine machines were on the way out, so I wouldn’t pretend to be an expert when it comes to film. That said I have been lucky to grade some great projects that have been shot on 16 and 35mm and I consider it a real treat whenever I do. I believe you can achieve some beautiful ‘filmic’ looks with footage shot on digital, something I love to do. But if you are after the real thing then i’d say just shoot it on film. If budget is an issue you can look at alternatives such as scanning the footage back to film, which I’ve done before with great results.


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?)

Tom> Grading can have a key role in the storytelling process as you can shift the feel of an image with your choice of colours. For creatives this can be a particularly useful tool as you can make the grade mirror the brands values. It goes back to my earlier answer about having a conversation at the start of the session to discuss the best direction, everything is a collaboration as far as I’m concerned.


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

Tom> Serving decent coffee in the session for a start! After that I think it’s important to listen and collaborate as much as possible.


LBB> What advice would you give to budding colourist?

Tom> Find a job assisting an experienced colourist, listen and learn as much as you can. It's a craft that is refined over time so having someone with that experience can be invaluable.


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

Tom> For me its the subtle things that set apart the good from the great. The more effortless the grade feels the better. Keeping things simple but still beautiful if one of the hardest things.


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

Tom> I think it's an ever evolving craft and It’s important to keep up to date with it all. HDR certainly feels like the next big shift and I’m intrigued to see how it unfolds.

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Black Kite Studios, Mon, 16 Aug 2021 13:02:00 GMT