DRAMA GRADING by COLOURIST AIDAN FARRELL

Aidan Farrell is one of the pioneers of colour grading in the UK and one of the top colourist in the world. Even if you haven’t heard of him, you most certainly have watched a project graded by him. He is the man responsible for the grade of highly acclaimed dramas including Downtown Abbey, Blackpool and The Devil’s Whore. In 2012 Aidan received a BAFTA Special Award recognising his outstanding creative contribution to the industry and his extensive work and accomplishments in his field.

Following this much deserved achievement he sat down with the FX Guide and recorded a podcast in which he talked about his career from the early days in art school until now.

“I came from a very unusual background. I’ve grown up with cameras. I could have gone down the DP route. That was a big love of mine, I sort of had a great love of photography, a great love for cameras; I studied arts, went into animation and ended up being a colourist.

“So my training had been from the art’s side and from the photographic side, so I have always felt very comfortable over the years speaking in photographic language, talking to cinematographer or directors in a photographic way, never in a technical way. A lot of colourists came from VT ops and engineering”, he explained about his past and what he believes is the difference between him and most colourists in England.

“Another big difference between me and other colourists in London is that everyone works mute, there’s no sound! Be it a music video or a drama or whatever it is, sound is a huge integral part of the process, it gives you emotion and a feeling for what you’re doing.

“If you are working on a big bright sounding music video, you don’t want to put a big desaturated green look on it, unless you are being really ironic”, he continued.

In addition, Farrell says that the whole process of grading for him started as a live experience.

“On any given day, if anyone walked into the suite [in the late 1990’s], there would be an organized chaos. Because I obviously couldn’t do everything on my own, I’d set up all the effects and everything we wanted to do and the film would be going through and we would be going live to tape, so I’d be on the balls grading live and would have one of my assistants shoving a pronist in, somebody else (generally a member of the band) shoving this tin foil in and out [of the gate] and the music will be blasting, and everyone would have a job and I’d be this conductor orchestrating the whole lot”.

Following his years grading hundreds of music videos, where he was live grading and working on practical effects for his looks, Farrell progressed naturally to arts programmes, then science films, factual and finally dramas.

“On period dramas there seems to be a complacency where people think you can just put this brown sepia feel to it and your job’s done. But, in fact, in period pieces there are so many colour opportunities that you could use. For example on a show I did called The Devil’s Whore for Channel 4, a 4 part series on the English civil war – that is probably one of my fondest memories of grading, I turned the whole palette black and white and then put individual colours back in, so what looks like a really colourful finished product is a whole range of primaries going on a black and white background”.

Of his untraditional approach to colour grading, Farrell concludes:

“If you want something traditional looking, I’m probably the wrong man for the job”.

To hear the whole podcast, click here.