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BEING A JUNIOR COLOURIST … by Aurora Shannon

04 Aug

I found going from Assistant to Junior Colourist very difficult as there was no set path. The leap from assisting on big films to grading is huge, at least 15 years of experience sat between myself and the colourists I had been assisting. I had already sort of taught myself how to grade, by watching the colourists, working through the manual, playing with the tools and grading shorts in my own time.

Aurora Shannon

Aurora Shannon

I first discovered filmmaking during a summer course where I wrote and directed a 16mm short called ‘Noise’. I had just left school with little idea of what I wanted to do except for a general sense of creativity and this inspired me to study BTEC ND Media Moving Image at Lewisham College and BA(Hon) Broadcast Post-Production at Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication, as well as joining a number of young people’s filmmaking groups and courses, where I continued to experiment with filmmaking and animation throughout my studies.

The transition to post-production came very naturally to me, as I found the seemingly limitless possibilities of digital tools incredibly creative. During my time at Ravensbourne where I was, in effect, training to be an editor, I discovered colour grading on an old Avid Symphony. There were only a few basic tools – saturation, brightness and so on – but seeing how they could transform an image was inspiring and, after discovering how to key and change a colour on Quantel I, was transfixed.

Half way through my last year I decided to focus solely on colour grading and spent my work experience unit at Soho Images, as it was the only facility in London to have a laboratory for processing film, a telecine for grading rushes and digital intermediate for grading features, all in one location.

I worked as a Runner but spent as much time as I could sitting with the Features Colourist Rob Pizzey, just watching what he did and asking the occasional question. He seemed to be impressed by these questions and he asked me to stay on, so I was offered a four day a week Runner position in the digital intermediate department – which is now known as Company 3 London. I did this job throughout the last term of university and so, by the time I graduated, I had already stopped being a Runner and was Assisting in scanning and recording.

'Quantum of Solace' (2008), the first film I assisted on with colourists Stephan Nakamura and Rob Pizzey

‘Quantum of Solace’ (2008), the first film I assisted on with Colourists Stephan Nakamura and Rob Pizzey

A few months later I was asked to assist Stephan Nakamura, a Colourist from Company 3 LA, who came to London to grade ‘Quantum of Solace’, although in reality it was the other way round with him very patiently teaching me how to colourtrace and do other basic tasks! After that project ended I carried on as Digital Intermediate Assistant and had the privilege to assist some of the best Colourists in the business, Rob Pizzey, Adam Glasman, Stefan Sonnenfeld, Stephan Nakamura and Mitch Paulson, on over 70 features.

 

'Act of Memory: A Christmas Story ' (2011), the first short that I graded with director Jack Ryder
‘Act of Memory: A Christmas Story ‘ (2011), the first short that I graded with Director Jack Ryder

 

One of the most embarrassing things that happened while I was assisting and still learning the basics of grading, was when I was asked to do a grading test with a cinematographer I really admire, as the Colourist was unavailable. I was reassured that he would just tell me what he wanted me to do and it would be very simple – but every time he asked me to do something like ‘move the highlight towards magenta’ it would go the other way, the exact opposite – until he eventually gave up on the session. I then found out that there are two modes on the system, the Da Vinci Resolve – rank and vector. I was accustomed to using vector as it’s the default but the Colourist had his project set to rank, meaning that everything is the opposite like on the older systems – so I now double check before I begin!

'Arthur Christmas' (2011), the first film that I operated the 3D convergence for with stereographer Corey Turner

‘Arthur Christmas’ (2011), the first film that I operated the 3D convergence for with Stereographer Corey Turner

My proudest moments have always been when I’ve really pushed myself, which happens to some extent on every project I grade. The best yet was asking one of our clients if I could grade the short she was editing, when I hadn’t yet done any – and then watching it on Sky Arts with my family on Christmas Day – which was pretty special and extremely rewarding as it kick-started me into grading my own projects.

'Wonderful Pistachos- Get Crackin’ (2012), the first commercial I graded in affiliation with Frankenweenie

‘Wonderful Pistachos- Get Crackin’ (2012), the first commercial I graded in affiliation with Frankenweenie

A disappointing occasion was when I was approached to grade a really great documentary after the director saw some of my work, but I was unable to meet their deadline and had to pass it up and it went on to win an extraordinary number of awards – but then really surprising things can happen too, I met a friend of a friend at a pub and went on to grade both of his shorts and will be grading his first feature later in the year.

I found going from Assistant to Junior Colourist very difficult as there was no set path. The leap from assisting on big films to grading is huge, at least 15 years of experience sat between myself and the colourists I had been assisting. I had already sort of taught myself how to grade, by watching the colourists, working through the manual, playing with the tools and grading shorts in my own time.

'Snow White and the Huntsman' (2012), the first film I graded all the visual effect backplates for under the guidance of colourist Adam Glasman

‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ (2012), the first film I graded all the visual effect backplates for under the guidance of Colourist Adam Glasman

As my colleagues saw me doing this they began to give me little bits of work – or I asked and sometimes got a ‘yes’ – so slowly my confidence and their trust in my ability built up over the course of about three years until I was doing the video grades, trailers and affiliated commercials, cut changes, new shots and scenes, ‘outsourced’ shots with complicated grades, visual effect backplates and providing additional grading hours on big projects.

'Dead Cat' (released 2013), the first feature I graded in a lead role with Director Stefan Georgiou and Director of Photography Jun Keung Cheung

‘Dead Cat’ (released 2013), the first feature I graded in a lead role with Director Stefan Georgiou and Director of Photography Jun Keung Cheung

Eventually, as clients responded well and I demonstrated that I was ready to take on ‘proper’ work, I was promoted to Junior Colourist. The work is similar to what I did before but the grading side, which of course I enjoy the most, has increased significantly, along with the prestige of the projects that I get to lead on.

So, my advice to anyone wanting to make a career in post-production is to do as much work experience as possible whilst at university so you can find out exactly which aspect you want to pursue – be persistent, learn from your mistakes and, above all, be patient – there’s a lot to learn and there are no short cuts!

'Rush' (2013), the first film I graded the video deliverables for with Director of Photography Anthony Dod Mantle - and also provided additional grading for the main version and  the trailers

‘Rush’ (2013), the first film I graded the video deliverables for with Director of Photography Anthony Dod Mantle – and also provided additional grading for the main version and the trailers

Aurora Shannon, Junior Colourist at Company 3 London

Aurora Shannon’s film credits include: Jack Ryan; The Counselor; Captain Phillips; Rush; World War Z; Les Miserables; Skyfall; Frankenweenie; Anna Karenina; Snow White & The Huntsman; Wrath of the Titans; The Woman in Black; The Iron Lady; The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel; The Inbetweeners Movie; The Decoy Bride; Paul; Prince of Persia – The Sands of Time; Nanny McPhee Returns; Green Zone. Television credits: The Gruffalo; The Promise; The Special Relationship.

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3381741/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1

 

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3 responses to “BEING A JUNIOR COLOURIST … by Aurora Shannon

  1. Simon Fuller

    December 19, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    Well done, what a great story. May you continue have more success.
    Simon
    eightfivetwo.net
    Hong Kong

     
  2. Pingback: Color Grading Craft Stories | Jonny Elwyn - Film Editor
  3. Zander

    August 20, 2014 at 5:01 am

    Really enjoyed reading this, found it while doing some career research. Always good to hear about the different paths people take to get where you are in this business. You are so lucky to get to color some amazing projects!

    As a Jr. Colorist working out in LA I found it especially interesting because I would love to eventually find color or other post work in London myself.

     

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