Picture grading course at Colour Training – Resolve 101

Mytherapy Grading 101 course Dado Valentic

Dado Valentic in action – Mytherapy

I recently went on the Resolve 101  grading course at Colour Training in London. Grading basically means adding colour to RAW digital video footage, but having been on the course I can now say it means a lot more then that…

As a director, I get involved in a lot of different projects: from micro budget and no budget shooting, to full TV commercials and terrestrial TV series and when I’ve got the budget I always turn to Dado Valentic at Mytherapy for my grading and finishing. We first met when I was shooting small fashion films for brands, right at the birth of the fashion industry deciding how to cope with moving image. The problem of course was how to make relatively low budget video look good next to incredible high end stills. Dado of course worked it out and in doing so, made me look good. So I kept returning to him as the workflows became more complex and the need for exemplary grading more vital. For a director knowing what can be done in the grade is very useful, we occasionally have to turn to our graders to change substandard shots into workable shots – perhaps we had too little time on set or the lighting wasn’t thought through enough – whatever, it happens! But these guys really earn their money by bringing artistry into the production mix, raising what we’ve captured and fixing what we got slightly wrong. So why would it be important for a director to actually go on Dado’s grading course? For me it wasn’t about learning how to fix things. It was about learning the science behind digital colour;  how to look at shot or scene with a colourist’s eye and thinking more in advance about the scenes themselves. It was about what emotion was playing out for the viewer to interpret and how to use colour and light to help this emotion punch through. I’ll often talk in broad terms with Dado. when he’s grading, about the look I want to achieve in post: we did the slightly orange skin tones with teal and blue blacks for the Vestiaire Collective ad we worked on last year. It was a noir-ish, cartoonish commercial. Now I understand what else Dado did when he was grading the sequence and that knowledge is going to feed back into my work.

Grading 101 did teach me a lot of technical stuff which I’d half understood before (a dangerous position to be in!) and by the end of the course I felt I could do much of the basic grading with a proper understanding of what was behind it. But, (obvious though it is) I now realise more fully that colourists are artists with their own styles, unique palettes and interpretation. It’s what makes my job and all our jobs in the industry so fulfilling: we get to be creative, work with talented people and ultimately make something together that is better then what we could achieve on our own. And we keep learning, which is the greatest gift of all – if you’re into the moving image then do the Grading course… It’ll make you a better director.

Britain’s Whales, Britain’s Sharks


In this picture it’s our fourth time out to the Celtic Deep and I’m still compulsively filming dolphins – they’re endlessly fascinating and I challenge anyone to turn away when they arrive. This day was the calmest I ever saw it out there. The dolphins activity mirrored the sea conditions with languid transits and approaches to our boat.


One of the good things to come out of making #BritainsWhales and #BritainsSharks is raising awareness of the beauty of our ocean and the importance of UK waters as a stop off for whales and sharks. Our gloomy plankton filled seas are full of food for Blue Sharks in our summer, as they carry out their vast circumnavigation of the Atlantic. And for Humpback Whales travelling north to the Arctic from the Azores, the UK is an essential stop off and re-fueling point – we’re basically an upmarket motorway services for cetaceans.

We filmed a population of adolescent Humpbacks off Ireland who now don’t even bother to make that journey all the way to the Arctic. Our contacts in Ireland told us that this had only started happening in the last 15 years. Meanwhile more humpbacks are travelling up through the Celtic Sea between mainland UK and Ireland, so maybe we’ll start seeing similar adolescent populations hanging around us here too.

DoP Mike Cuthbert filming the whale in Helmsdale in NE Scotland

DoP Mike Cuthbert filming the whale in Helmsdale in NE Scotland

Having seen these animals close up, having heard them breathe and call each other, I can say with all my heart that a world without whales would be the end of the world. But for Humpbacks at least, the future is positive: Before commercial whaling, the population of Humpbacks was estimated to be somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 in the North Atlantic. At its lowest in the early seventies there were just 2000. Now with whaling banned for over 40 years, estimates are that the population is around 23,000. For the films, we  studied and documented what happens when a whale dies – it was central to our documentary proposition and it’s called whalefall. One of results of the Humpback population bounce is that there is more natural whalefall (around 3 a day) and more die from contact with man either through ship strike or entanglement in ropes and nets. As a species they are particularly susceptible to entanglement: they’re capable of very fast abrupt changes in direction when they’re hunting and have massive fins to allow this. But it’s these fins and a Humpback’s inability to swim backwards that gets them caught.

How to freeze a 10m long 7 tonne adolescent humpback whale? £15,000 of liquid Nitrogen, a custom built hydraulic skid and a freezer container.

How to freeze a 10m long 7 tonne adolescent humpback whale? £15,000 of liquid Nitrogen, a custom built hydraulic skid and a freezer container.

The whale we filmed was found alive and struggling and tangled in various ropes. Valiant and brave efforts were made to save her but in the end she drowned. Her death likely coming in two parts: first a 12mm nylon rope caught around the back of her skull, slowing her down and affecting her breathing and feeding for maybe 5 weeks. Then shattered, hungry and disorientated she scooped up the rope between some lobster pots which caught behind her tongue. I arrived with a film crew 24 hours later. It was unbelievably sad – we all felt responsible in some way just by being humans. Normally whales found like this, are sent off to landfill in a costly and complex operation that sees them cut up and buried beneath our rubbish.

For our whale, the plan was to take her back out to sea and put her back into the food chain and we would document the whole process. We partnered up with scientists from Plymouth University, most notably Dr Nick Higgs, an enthusiastic whale fall specialist who had studied these events all over the world but never in UK waters.

Nick Higgs and Ben Fogle inspecting plankton - the start of the food chain.

Nick Higgs and Ben Fogle inspecting plankton – the start of the food chain.

We also had shark expert Richard Pierce on board. Richard spends his life travelling the world studying sharks and campaigning for their conservation. With these two involved we had the best people the UK could offer to help us pull off what was becoming a mammoth logistical operation. But neither of them knew what would actually happen.

DoP Paul Williams filming in the Celtic Deep with Ben Fogle

DoP Paul Williams filming in the Celtic Deep with Ben Fogle

We took the whale back out to sea in late August, statistically the best time of year for temperature sensitive blue sharks who we could predict should be in the Celtic Deep based on fishing data. But would they come in numbers and how big was that blue shark population?

Presenter Ellie Harrison and Nick Higg transfer back to Pembroke Port

Presenter Ellie Harrison and Nick Higg transfer back to Pembroke Port

What happened is better seen in the films rather then written here, but in death she fed at least 200 sharks but maybe many, many more. We counted 25 on the surface from our drone footage and filming with an ROV we counted another 25 lurking a few metres below… and then moving down more and more until the numbers bottomed out at about 30 metres – the estimate was 200 sharks. But the feeding was constant over 36 hours and we observed visibly ‘full’ sharks leaving the area as more constantly arrived, attracted by the oil leaching from the carcass and spread far and wide by the ocean currents.

There were so many sharks on our ROV monitor that we had to stop filming as we were running out of space.

There were so many sharks on our ROV monitor that we had to stop filming as we were running out of space.

Our whale fed 10 million calories back into the food chain and the main recipients, at the surface at least: the shy, utterly stunning Blue Sharks. Unlike the Humpback whales who are slowly coming back from the brink, British Blue Sharks are not protected. Estimates vary but somewhere between 6 and 10 million are taken a year in the Atlantic alone. So we’re trying to use the publicity around our ITV shows to raise awareness for sharks with a campaign by the Shark Trust here in the UK to impose fishing limits for Blues. Please get involved.

Sign up for the crowdfunder.co.uk/SharkTrust  and join the Thunderclap campaign http://thndr.me/3MqHlS

Watch Britain’s Whales at 8pm and Britain’s Sharks at 9pm ITV1 25th March 2016



Filming for O’Neill and The Plastic Project

Pumping surf in the Arctic Circle

Pumping surf in the Arctic Circle

Back in April I travelled with photographer Tim Nunn and pro surfer Micah Lester up to the Lofoton Islands in the far North of Norway. We were shooting for O’Neill wetsuits, with Micah spending hours at a time in the 5º water, although air temps around zero and strong winds coming straight off the pack ice meant it was pretty extreme for all of us. The shoot was everything we hoped for…

Micah and Tim heading back from a surf shoot

Micah and Tim heading back from a surf shoot

We had some adventures hiking into beaches through snow covered mountain passes. We had amazing light (and some rubbish light) and we were a tight crew: the work was smooth and fun. We were also shooting for The Plastic Project – an ocean litter awareness project that Tim started and has been championing on a shoestring budget for the last year.

Mike Cunliffe wraps up in the Lofoten Islands

Mike Cunliffe wraps up in the Lofoten Islands

So now we’re back in the edit suite in North Cornwall and I’m churning through twenty hours of footage that we shot over nine days. We’re producing a five minute short film for O’Neill of the whole trip, as well as a cut down version and a 30 second version for point of sale plus of course a stills set for print advertising and social media.

For the Plastic Project, we’ve started the long form documentary that we’ll shoot over the next year, but we’re also cutting a promo for a hashtag campaign that will drive people to the Plastic Project. Check back for more info!

Vestiaire Collective re-cut commercial

We’ve just recut our TV commercial for French ‘pre-owned’ clothing brand Vestiaire Collective – its now 20 seconds long instead of 30 for the UK, and we’ve re-versioned it for Germany with new music and new voice over. Vestiare Collective have gone big on the media spend and the re-cut commercial airs during Made in Chelsea, amongst other places…

Post-production – creative times

“So how was the shoot?”

People always ask about the shoots, about what happened, about the light, whether the contributors were easy to work with etc. But I never get asked about the post-production, and often it’s the most satisfying, creative part of the production, where we find out what we really got and whether we captured the essence of our subject. In May we post produced a short for David Griffen, so no questions about the shoot but some lovely footage to play around with – check it out below. It’s a shoot he did in Jalan Alor food market in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. David went on to win the Food Photographer of the Year with a still from this shoot.

This is Neil surfing

I shot this one amazing morning in September trying out the new GoPro. It’s just slammed together footage but I like the way that it really feels like Cornish surfing – only Neil really can make 1ft waves look this effortless. Half an hour later and a sea mist appears, brightly lit by the strong sun, it would have been amazing if the battery had lasted – so never shoot without backups even if its just for fun. There’s a pure aesthetic to Neil’s surfing, he reminds me of a dancer – no wasted movement, just pure form and function. One day we’ll make a whole film with him.

Old Man of Sudan

Travelling is a big part of what we do. Always exciting, always great to take in a foreign culture, particularly when you’re working with locals and getting to know a country with their guidance. But sometimes when work stops and you’re truly on your own and far from home, that’s when you have a great experience. I took this picture on one of these occasions.

The location is in the desert in Sudan, about six hours west of Khartoum. I was trying to take pictures of the mountains as dusk fell, when this old man came up and asked for me to take his photo. He wanted to look at the image on the screen of my camera and seemed truly amazed. Eventually his friend came along and told me he had never had his photo taken. I’d like to say that I printed out a copy and made sure he got it, but I didn’t. I love the picture though: he wears his years well and seemed utterly relaxed.



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