Tag Archives: The End of the F***ing World

Colorist Chat: I Am Not Okay With This’ Toby Tomkins

Colorist Toby Tomkins, co-founder of London color grading and finishing boutique Cheat, collaborated once again with The End of the F***ing World director Jonathan Entwistle on another Charles Forsman novel, I Am Not Okay With This. The now-streaming Netflix show is produced by Entwistle alongside Stranger Things EPs Shawn Levy and Dan Cohen, as well as Josh Barry. The director also once again called DP Justin Brown.

Toby Tomkins

Adapted from Forsman’s graphic novel of the same name, the series follows a teenage girl named Sydney as she navigates school, crushes, her sexuality and sudden on-set superpowers. You know, the typical teenage experience.

Here, Tomkins talks about collaborating with the director and DP as well as his workflow.

How early did you get involved on I Am Not Okay With This?
Jon Entwistle had reached out to DP Justin Brown about his interest in adapting this graphic novel after working on The End of the F***ing World. When the series then got commissioned and Justin was on board, he and Jon convinced production company 21 Laps that they could do the grade in London with Cheat. There were some discussions about grading in LA, but we managed to convince them that it could be a quick and easy process back here, and that’s how I got involved.

I was on board quite early on in the production, getting involved with camera tests and reviewing all the material with Justin. We worked together to evaluate the material, and after Justin chose the camera and lenses, we built a color pipeline that informed how the material was shot and how the show would be captured and pass through the color pipeline. From then, we started building off the work we did on The End of the F***ing World. (Check out our coverage of The End of the F***ing World, which includes an interview with Tomkins.)

What kind of look did Jon and Justin want, and how did they express that look to you? Film or show references? Pictures?
There were quite a few visual references, which I already knew from previously working with Jon and Justin. They both gravitate toward a timeless American cinema look — something photochemical but also natural. I knew it would be similar to The End of the F***ing World, but we were obviously using different locations and a slightly different light, so there was a little bit of playing around at the beginning.

We’re all fans of American cinema, especially the look of old film stock. We wanted the look of the show to feel a little bit rough around the edges — like when things used to be shot on film and you had limited control on how to make any changes. Films weren’t corrected to a perfect level and we wanted to keep those imperfections for this show, making it feel authentic and not overly polished. Although it was produced by the same people that did Stranger Things, we wanted to stray away from that style slightly, making it feel a bit different.

We were really aiming for a timeless American look, with a vintage aesthetic that played into a world that was slightly out of place and not really part of reality. During the grade, Justin liked to put a line through it, keeping it all very much in the same space, with perhaps a little pop on the reds and key “American” colors.

Personally, I wanted to evoke the style of some teen film from the late 20th century — slightly-independent looking and minimally processed. Films like 10 Things I Hate About You and She’s All That certainly influenced me.

You have all worked together in the past. How did that help on this show? Was there a kind of shorthand?
We learned a lot doing The End of the F***ing World together and Justin and I definitely developed a shorthand. It’s like having a head start because we are all on the same page from the get-go. Especially as I was grading remotely with Justin and Jon just trusted us to know exactly what he wanted.

Tomkins works on Resolve

At the end of the first day, we shared our work with Jon in LA and he’d watch and add his notes. There were only three notes of feedback from him, which is always nice! They were notes on richness in some scenes and a question on matching between two shots. As we’d already tested the cameras and had conversations about it before, we were always on the same page with feedback and I never disagreed with a single note. And Jon only had to watch the work through once, which meant he was always looking at it with clean, fresh eyes.

What was the show shot on, and what did you use for color grading?
It was shot ARRI Alexa, and I used DaVinci Resolve Studio.

Any particular challenges on this one for you?
It was actually quite smooth for me! Because Justin and I have worked together for so long, and because we did the initial testing around cameras and LUTs, we were very prepared. Justin had a couple of challenges due to unpredictable weather in Pittsburgh, but he likes to do as much as possible in-camera. So once it got to me, we were already aligned and prepared.

How did you find your way to being a colorist?
I started off in the art department on big studio features but wanted to learn more about filmmaking in general, so I went to film school in Bournemouth, back when it was called the Arts University College Bournemouth. I quickly realized my passion was post and gleamed what I could from an exceptional VFX tutor there called Jon Turner. I started specializing in editing and then VFX.

I loved the wizardry and limitless availability of VFX but missed the more direct relationship with storytelling, so when I found out about color grading — which seemed like the perfect balance of both — I fell in love. Once I started grading, I didn’t stop. I even bribed the cleaners to get access to the university grading suite at night.

My first paid gig was for N-Dubz, and after I graduated and they became famous, they kept me on. And that gave me the opportunity to work on bigger music videos with other artists. I set up a suite at home (way before anyone else was really doing this) and convinced clients to come 30 minutes out of London to my parents’ house in a little village called Kings Langley.

I then got asked to set up a color department for a sound studio called Tate Post, where I completed lots of commercials, a few feature films — notably Ill Manors — and some shorts. These included one for Jon called Human Beings, which is where our relationship began! After that, I went it alone again and eventually set up Cheat. The rest is history.

What, in addition to the color, do you provide on projects? Small VFX, etc.?
For I Am Not Okay With This, we did some minor work, online and delivery in house at Cheat. I just do color, however. I think it’s best to leave each department to do its own work and trust the knowledge and experience of experts in the field. We worked with LA-based VFX company Crafty Apes for the show; they were really fantastic.

Where do you get inspiration? Photographs, museums?
Mostly from films — both old and new — and definitely photography and the work of other colorists.

Finally, any advice you’d give your younger self about working as a colorist?
Keep at it! Experience is everything.

Creating the look for Netflix’s The End of the F***ing World

By Adrian Pennington

Content in 8K UHD won’t be transmitting or streaming its way to a screen anytime soon, but the ultra-high-resolution format is already making its mark in production and post. Remarkably, it is high-end TV drama, rather than feature films, that is leading the way. The End of The F***ing World is the latest series to pioneer a workflow that gives its filmmakers a creative edge.

Adapted from the award-winning graphic novels of Charles Forsman, the dark comedy is an eight-part co-production between Netflix and UK broadcaster Channel 4. The series invites viewers into the confused lives of teen outsiders James (Alex Lawther) and Alyssa (Jessica Barden), as they decide to escape from their families and embark on a road trip to find Alyssa’s estranged father.

Executive producer and director Jonathan Entwistle and cinematographer Justin Brown were looking for something special stylistically to bring the chilling yet humorous tale to life. With Netflix specifying a 4K deliverable, the first critical choice was to use 8K as the dominant format. Brown selected the Red Weapon 8K S35 with the Helium sensor.

In parallel, the filmmakers turned to colorist Toby Tomkins, co-founder of East London grading and finishing boutique studio Cheat, to devise a look and a workflow that would maximize the rich, detailed color, as well as the light information from the Red rushes.

“I’ve worked with Justin for about 10 years, since film school,” explains Tomkins. “Four years ago he shot the pilot for The End of The F***ing World with Jon, which is how I first became involved with the show. Because we’d worked together for so long, I kind of already knew what type of thing they were looking for. Justin shot tests on the Red Weapon, and our first job was to create a 3D LUT for the on-set team to refer to throughout shooting.”

Expert at grading commercials, and with feature-length narrative Sixteen (also shot by Justin Brown) under his belt, this was Tomkins’ first responsibility for an episodic TV drama, and he relished the challenge. “From the beginning, we knew we wanted to work completely RAW at 7K/8K the whole way through and final output at 4K,” he explains. “We conformed to the R3D rushes, which were stored on our SSD NAS. This delivered 10Gbps bandwidth to the suite.”

With just 10 days to grade all the episodes, Tomkins needed to develop a rich “Americana” look that would not only complement the dark narrative but would also work across a range of locations and timescales.

“We wanted the show to have richness and a denseness to it, with skin tones almost a leathery red, adding some warmth to the characters,” he says. “Despite being shot at British locations — with British weather — we wanted to emulate something filmic and American in style. To do this we wanted quite a dense film print look, using skin tones you would find on celluloid film and a shadow and highlight roll-off that you would find in films, as opposed to British TV.”

Cheat used its proprietary film emulation to create the look. With virtually the whole series shot in 8K, the Cheat team invested in a Quad GPU Linux Resolve workstation, with dual Xeon processors, to handle the additional processing requirements once in the DaVinci Resolve finishing suite.

“The creative benefits of working in 8K from the Red RAW images are huge,” says Tomkins. “The workstation gave us the ability to use post-shoot exposure and color temperature settings to photorealistically adjust and match shots and, consequently, more freedom to focus on the finer details of the grade.

“At 8K the noise was so fine in size that we could push the image further. It also let us get cleaner keys due to the over-sample, better tracking, and access to high-frequency detail that we could choose to change or adapt as necessary for texture.”

Cheat had to conform more than 50 days of rushes and 100TBs of 7K and 8K RAW material spread across 40 drives, a process that was completed by Cheat junior colorist Caroline Morin in Resolve.

“After the first episode, the series becomes a road movie, so almost each new scene is a new location and lighting setup,” Tomkins explains. “I tried to approach each episode as though it was its own short film and to establish a range of material and emotion for each scene and character, while also trying to maintain a consistent look that flowed throughout the series.”

Tomkins primarily adjusted the RAW settings of the material in Resolve and used lift, gamma and gain to adjust the look depending on the lighting ratios and mood of the scenes. “It’s very easy to talk about workflow, tools and approach, but the real magic comes from creative discussions and experimentation with the director and cinematographer. This process was especially wonderful on this show because we had all worked together several times before and had developed a short hand for our creative discussion.

“The boundaries are changing,” he adds. “The creative looks that you get to work and play with are so much stronger on television now than they ever used to be.”