Splice Magazine features Dado

Splice Magazine recently featured our Chief Therapist Dado Valentic. Written in his own words the article gives incredible insights into our business and how we arrived at this point:

Multi-award winning colorist and company founder, Dado Valentic talks about what inspired him to become the artist he is today and how he has gained the enviable reputation for being an expert in all things digital. He also talks about he started his company ‘Mytherapy’ and how he has made that a success. 

“When I was 15/16 I used to live in a small town in former Yugoslavia, which is now Croatia and I just knew very early on that I wanted to become an artist. Actually my whole childhood was defined by my uncle who was an actor and who I absolutely loved. He used to take me to film sets and to the theatre and as a child I totally fell in love with film making. There was one thing that my uncle asked me to promise him as a kid and that was that I will never become an actor! So I knew I was not going to be an actor but I definitely wanted to become an artist.”

“At school I  studied physics. I don’t think I choose physics because I liked it, it was mainly because the school was very close to where I lived and it was very convenient. But once I started going to the classes I actually enjoyed it!”

“Another great thing about that school was they had a classroom that was equipped by a big medical research centre, and there was about 12 Apple IIc’s. Now this was the 80’s and an Apple IIc at that time was like a spaceship enterprise, it was amazing what this computer could do. So very early on I started programming. When I was 14, my Uncle bought me a computer as a christmas present, it was a ZX Spectrum. That was my first computer I started working with it day in and day out.”

“Then a year later I started my first company, it was a software company called ‘Floppy Soft’. The reason I called it ‘Floppy’ was at that time the software was distributed on magnetic tapes and I was dreaming at that time to buy myself a floppy drive,  so I called my company ‘Floppy Soft’. I started selling software, some software I was versioning myself and some I was copying adding a bit and then re-selling. That was going really well until I reached 16 years of age where my Father realised that some of my software dealings was not legal. When he realised this, and with him being a lawyer he decided I needed to shut down my company and that was the end of my first business venture!”

“I was left with all of this equipment for duplicating tapes, and I realised that I can record music with it and my Father was ok with that. So I started copying and making mix tapes and I was selling them to bars and friends. I also started playing those mix tapes at school and then I gave one of those mix tapes to a DJ in a local club, and eventually through those tapes and my DJ friend I became a DJ. Lucky for me also there was a teacher at my school who was into electronics and loved to build his own mixing consoles who told me that if I really love music, I should go and study sound engineering, so that is what I did. It was actually around that time my Father died and his last wish was for me to go to that school.  And I did.”

“I moved to Munich, I started at the school and at the same time I was working really hard on my DJing career. In September in 1991, Munich used to have an airport called Munich-Riem that had closed down and the huge hangers were turned into this free zone, a party zone! I remember the first time I went into one of the hangers and heard loud music and saw DJs and everybody going completely crazy. I stayed there for the whole weekend! That experience has changed me, I realised that there is this counter-culture and that I really loved and wanted to be part of it. After I finished my studies I worked for a radio station producing and DJing, and by that time I had a name as a DJ and producer. It was the time of the big raves and I was in the middle of it.”

“In 1996 I decided to go on holiday to London for 2 weeks, that was 18 years ago! I never left. I just fell in love with London from the moment I came here. There was a lot work in sound engineering at that time. I moved to Portobello Road and found that just in that area of West London there was about 200 record labels. I got into the scene and started playing and DJing a lot.  I had a friend who was a visual effects artist working on the Quantel ‘Henry’ and she asked me if I would like to come in and help her with a few things. And so for the first time in my life I entered the world of picture post production!”

“I remember walking into the grading suite where she worked and it was incredible. There was this guy sitting in front of these 3 balls and had beautiful pictures on a screen, it was amazing. In those days colorists would sit in their rooms and have these beautiful women come in and offer them and the clients whatever they wanted. So I asked this guy if he could show me what he does and he started to show me and I thought – it was really boring! I just felt that the potential of what this wonderful human invention could do was enormous but what he was doing was very little. Because all he was doing was looking at the scopes and balancing R G and B. I remember asking one of the assistants that was working there, how does one become a colorist? He said you become an assistant and then you move into the colorists role. This guy was an assistant for the past 7 years and was waiting for the colorist to have a heart attack before he could take his position! This is what it was like then in London at that time, because there was only 5 or 6 places in London that were able to do colour grading.”

“I thought I really like this colour grading thing because of my synesthesia but  there was no way I was going to sit as an assistant for seven years or more. What I did was carry on with my music and keep trying to add picture into my music production. That helped with getting a job with Apple. Steve Jobs had taken over Apple again and they were desperate to get new people on board. I believe they liked the fact that I was into music and thought I could do really well supporting some of the clients that Apple had in that area of creative industry. I really enjoyed my new job and stayed working for Apple for about a year, but at the same time I still carried on DJing.”

“I then got head hunted by Sony. That is where I fell in love with R&D. I love the world of crazy scientists who are working out these amazing things with technology. But out of the blue I was asked to sign a DJ contract with Bacardi where I had to travel around the world DJing at Bacardi B-Bar events. So at that point I had to stop working for Sony and commit to DJing full-time.”

“I just came back from tour of Brazil. loved the place, so one night as I met these guys who were making this documentary about street kids in Brazil and were looking for some help I decided to help them. I’ve used my skills I learned through my jobs at Apple and Sony and have onlined and very roughly graded their film. As good as I was able to do it at that time and very instinctively and completely for no fee. That project went on to win a BAFTA for the best kids documentary. That was the sign – I thought.”

“I packed my bags and went to LA and did a course with Da Vinci, it was fantastic. The real problem at that time was that Da Vinci was the size of a huge cupboard and cost something like a quarter of a million pounds so I was not going to be able to buy one! Whilst on the course I met few guys who were neg-cutters and they introduced me to a company in Hollywood who used this system called Final Touch, and it only cost around twenty thousand pounds and it would run on a mac!”

“At the same time I met this producer who was from London, and I convinced him to give me a job to do a DI on his film. I came back to London, re-mortgaged my house, took some advance and bought a Final Touch. I formed a company but was struggling to find a name. It was that client who said to me “hey you are my therapy” and I thought that was a perfect  name for a company! So that is how Mytherapy was born.”

“I did for that producer 3 DI’s in a row back to back. I was doing 2K grades on a Mac Pro using a Blackmagic decklink card with this Final Touch system, which was unheard of at that time. That was how I started as a colorist. Slowly I gave up DJing and committed more and more to colour grading and started doing bigger and better jobs. When the final touch become part of Apple’s FCS the big magic was no longer in it because everyone could have a system. It was at this time I became interested in stereoscopic 3D, that was before Avatar. I just thought it was beautiful and very artistic. So I worked with a company in Germany called Iridas and I built my very first stereoscopic grading system.”

“Then one day this guy opens the door of my studio. He had a great hair cut and I though OH MY GOD it is Brian May! The famous guitarist from Queen. What many people don’t know about Brian is that he loves astronomy and stereoscopic photography. He had this project where he uncovered stereoscopic photography from the 17th century and he wanted to put it onto an IMAX screen. He asked me if I could do it, and I accepted it. So we did our first stereoscopic job together.”

“Around that same time UK’s most prolific 3D producer came into my studio and he was really knowledgeable about 3D. So I said to him ‘How about I cut all your  showreels and in return you teach me more about 3D’.”

“Very soon after he hired me to post-produce the very first stereoscopic 3D production in the UK, it was the Opera Carmen in 3D. It was the first time I worked on a multimillion pound project. The really cool thing about it was that I had beaten all the big post houses to get the project because they could not deal with 3D. After that I did another big 3D job which won a BAFTA and then as soon as you know I was MR 3D!”

“Around the time of Pirates of The Caribbean I realised that the 3D bubble was going to burst because 2D imagery was being converted into 3D and that was not the point and all creativity was lost. So I was trying to work out what was going to be the next big thing. Very early on in 3D we always had to work with digital cameras.”

“It was a British Society of Cinematographers who asked me to help them with their infamous digital camera tests. I realised at that point that someone has to process the images that come off the digital cameras in the same way the lab would process a film. So there came the idea of digital lab services. There was nothing like that around at time. ”

“So I thought I am going to start a data lab. I delved deeper and deeper into RAW digital imagery and learned that we could do amazing stuff with it. I slowly gained a reputation for knowing a lot about RAW data processing.”

“That year my biggest clients were big post houses, like Frame Store, The Mill and Moving Picture Company. They would send me the data and ask me to work my magic! I was getting some great results. Then the big movie producers started knocking on my door. Guy Richie was shooting Sherlock Holmes and had some helmet camera and high speed stuff going on and they asked me if I could match that footage to the stuff shot on film. I said yeah of course! For the next year that was all I did, I would be matching the digital footage to the film footage for various feature film productions.”

“The more I did this, the more I developed my own idea of how things should look and how things should be done. I was just really imitating the way that film looks, and I thought the time has come for somebody to develop looks that are completely different to those coming of film. And to my rescue came Da Vinci Resolve. At that time Blackmagic bought Resolve and changed it to work on a MAC and made it to work with nodes and not layering. I felt like I was born again! I needed a tool that allowed me to express myself and I felt that this was the tool that I was waiting for.”

“I then found a new premises for Mytherapy and turned it into a small science lab with a colour grading facility. It was not easy, the industry had changed. But I did not give up and a year later things have started paying off. I have built a ‘Mytherapy’ method of digital color processing using mainly Da Vinci Resolve but with an open mind. We haven’t done  any work in less than 4K for the last year. I am very proud of the quality and results we are getting right now. We have slowly built a niche where we are the specialists for really good looking digital images.”