Luke Colson discusses the vision for Untold Studios as the head of creative partnerships in LA
There was no way Untold Studios would ever be overlooked. The independent creative studio demonstrated a firm grip on cultural relevance from the offset, crafting impactful, uninhibited and entirely unforgettable content for music, TV, film and advertising. News of Untold Studio’s arrival on the scene spread like wildfire, following their launch in London in 2018, and quickly making a name for themselves as the world’s first entirely cloud-based studio. Supported by next-generation technology, Untold merges the worlds of entertainment and advertising, with a collective creative output that knows no bounds - from building the visual world for Adele, to producing a design-led brand campaign for Ralph Lauren, and creating a mini documentary about Emma Raducanu for Nike.
Untold has gone from strength to strength, operating from their east London HQ, proving that their revolutionary model is both flexible and scalable. In what seems to be a very natural progression for the company, earlier this year they announced the launch of their first US offshoot. Locating a dream spot in the movie-making hub of Culver City, Untold’s LA studio will see the company’s international ambitions brought to life. Actioning these exciting expansion plans is Luke Colson, a revered executive producer, and recently appointed head of creative partnerships for Untold Studios in LA.
With multiple industry accolades and big budget productions under his belt, Luke has accumulated an epic back catalogue of experience spanning production, advertising, TV, film, motion design and VFX. The decision to invite Luke aboard was an easy one, with two of Untold’s founders, Rochelle Palmer and Darren O’Kelly having witnessed the executive producer’s prowess first-hand, during their time together at The Mill. In this interview, Luke speaks to LBB about what drew him to Untold, how it feels to reunite with his fellow Mill alumni and how he plans to raise the studio’s profile in the US.
LBB> What was your start in the industry? Where did you learn your craft?
Luke> Wow, that’s taking me back! I actually studied graphic design and animation in London, at Chelsea Art School, then Camberwell School of Art, before eventually getting a degree in Graphic Design from the University of the West of England. After all of that, I decided I wanted to be more on the production / people side of things.
I got my first job as a runner at Soho Images, in the heart of London’s Soho, moving into scheduling, doing the night shift for a year which nearly killed me! I went on to be head of scheduling, then head of post production at a couple of places, before starting up UNIT. I was the first ever employee there and it was a frightening, but very fun experience, growing that place from the ground up.
From there, I joined The Mill as head of design and EP, where I stayed for almost a decade, moving to LA and deciding to focus solely on design and animation projects. Finally, I joined Elastic, where I stayed for five years! And… breathe…
LBB> Looking back at your career so far, what work are you most proud of? And why?
Luke> I love this question. While at The Mill I worked on an anti-knife crime campaign, ‘Choose A Different Ending’ with AMV/BBDO. It was one of the first interactive live action films on the YouTube platform, giving viewers the option to click a path at the end of each film, deciding where our hero character went and showing what could happen if you make the wrong choice. It was a hard hitting, raw, and incredible project to be a part of, and aside from the messaging about the dangers of knife crime in England, it was a creative revelation and won the Grand Prix at Cannes that year.
I have some favourite main title work from my time at Elastic that I am proud of too: ‘His Dark Materials’, for which we won a BAFTA, and ‘Only Murders In The Building’, which has just been Emmy nominated, and was just a delight to work on. I would also say the branding for both the NHL and College Football channels for ESPN were some of my favourites, from a 3D design and animation stand point. Delicious to look at!
LBB> You’ve worked with Rochelle and Darren before, can you tell us a bit more about that?
Luke> Yes, we worked together at The Mill in London, some of the best, most enjoyable years of my life so far. We had such a great team and we were building something amazing. It’s fair to say I know them both very well. I have Darren to thank for my introduction to The Mill back then, just as I do now, as I find myself in the exciting position of working at Untold Studios with a few familiar faces again!
LBB> How does it feel to be reunited with them?
Luke> It feels fantastic, if not a little surreal! It goes to show that you really never know what is around the corner. Their enthusiasm to get me on board and help build our studio in LA has been electrifying. There is a real sense of opportunity to create something special out here, and we do seem to be like a classroom full of excited kids when we speak about the plans ahead. I’m stoked.
LBB> What drew you to Untold Studios and how did you know you could help?
Luke> Untold in London is established, it's flying, and the work that everyone has done to get the studio to where it is today is staggering. LA is a different market, and it's one I know very well from my time in LA over the past seven years, so I felt I could help in that area for starters. Secondly, I have real experience growing a studio, and I am really not afraid to start at ground level and work hard to get the Untold name out there in LA and the US, and get the work flowing. Some people hate it, I rather like it, it makes me tick and I love the challenge and excitement of it all.
Most importantly, the culture and the talent. It’s a no brainer when you have FILFURY heading up the creative team, and a number of high profile creative directors and directors already on board in the studio here in LA. The way the existing team talks about the culture, the support, and the importance of creating a safe and enjoyable place to work for everyone, is something very close to my heart.
LBB> How do you plan to drive design efforts within the LA studio?
Luke> I want to continue to nurture our studio offering to start with creativity. Good design is at the heart of everything, but we are not just a Design and Animation Studio, we are a creative studio with talent spanning across 3D, 2D, VFX, Live Action, and Photography. We are currently working on a number of projects that incorporate all of these mediums; there is a motion graphics and photography project for a Tequila Brand, a lovely main title for Apple TV+, some 2D animation for Netflix, along with shooting some incredible music videos and TV commercials!
LBB> What excites you most about the new creative studio in LA?
Luke> We get to build on something special and reach for the stars to create award winning work we can be proud of - it’s both a daunting and a thrilling moment in my career. I look at the team we have here and I already can't wait to look back in a few years and reflect on the work we have done, and the progress we have made. The London studio is such an inspiration to us and we get to collaborate and partner with them as we go.
LBB> How do you incorporate future-facing technology into design-driven work?
Luke> Untold was the first fully cloud-based studio in the world which is very cool, so technology is really in the DNA of the brand. We have a team of technologists and real-time artists who continuously innovate and prototype, using cutting-edge visualisation tools.
One of the latest projects that caught my eye, just before joining, was ‘Malanca’, a real-time animated teaser the team created with Epic Games. It’s a really artistic and heartfelt approach to using real-time animation and a step away from the gamified aesthetic often associated with game-engine technology. I think partners are really curious about the role technology plays in creativity and communicating with audiences. Untold is a really great place for them to come to experiment, bounce ideas and create cutting-edge work.
LBB> How do you plan to build key creative partnerships on behalf of Untold?
Luke> Building any creative partnership with a client relies on patience, trust, good work and honesty. I’m fortunate enough to have worked with so many wonderful clients, agencies, studios and brands over the years. We will be looking to expand our portfolio here at Untold, using our growing showreel of awesome work to pitch in and hopefully win some nice projects! I’ve come into a studio that is already working with Apple TV+, Esteé Lauder, Ralph Lauren, A24, PlayStation and others, so we are planning on taking these projects, existing relationships, and new ones, to build our brand.
LBB> You’ve been in the biz for over twenty years, what has been your biggest lesson?
Luke> Trust no one. Just kidding. Honesty goes a long way. As an EP or department head, working with an array of clients at any one time, building a sense of trust and honesty through a project, often results in a much more pleasant experience for everyone. We work in a pretty stressful environment, and I’ve seen what some projects do to the mental health of seemingly invincible humans. So, as cliché as it is, I have learned to check in on people - staff and clients alike - asking if they are OK and really listening if they tell you they are in trouble.