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Making the Grade: Jon Dobson

Wash company owner and lead colourist on starting out early, taking the collaborative approach and telling a story through emotions of colour

Making the Grade: Jon Dobson

You can take the man out of Leeds but you can’t take away the Northern pride and charm from Jon Dobson; this might also explain why Yorkshire Tea will always be an option for Wash clients (other brands are available, just don’t say it out loud when Jon is in the room).

Being the company owner and lead colourist at Wash, Jon brings with him vast experience and expertise across music videos, tv series, features and commercials for the leading blue-chip clients, agencies and directors alike. Working with brands such as Bentley, Dyson, Adidas, Jaguar and Bugatti to name but a few.

In his spare time you’ll most likely find Jon snowboarding or drenched in mud on his bike - either way he'll be on a mountain side.


LBB> What was your first experience with the world of colour grading – and when did you decide that being a colourist was a role that you wanted to pursue?

Jon> I was fortunate enough to have an easier entry into the game. My Dad had a grading suite in his post facility in Leeds and I had the curiosity and freedom to have a play whenever I wanted. I’d been helping out from a young age and subconsciously being drawn into the production world. In the very early days I was shooting and doing all sorts of post, but it didn’t take long for me to realise I have a love for dark rooms, spinning wheels and flashing lights. There was something special about colour grading that just clicked with me - it just didn’t feel like a ‘job’.


LBB> What was the project that you felt really changed your career?

Jon> There’s been a few pivotal career moments for me. I originally did mostly long form projects and it wasn’t until I’d done about 1000 TV shows that I realised I desperately needed variety. If I had to pin one project down it would be working with Joe Ridout on some commercials for Topman. We just ended up with some beautiful looking films that I still love to this day. Joe was also coincidentally one of my first ever clients when I started Wash and I think working with clients like him in the earlier stages and playing around and achieving different styles for music videos, TV series and commercials.



LBB> How/where did you hone your craft and did you have any particular mentors?

Jon> Started in Leeds, Honed in London. Shoutout to ‘Dobbo Senior’ for still being my greatest critic. 


LBB> Tell us more about your creative process

Jon> I initially like to have a spin and get a feel for the footage. Working closely with the director, DP and creatives as well is of course crucial. I always like to take a collaborative approach, we normally talk through references and grade notes but this often evolves throughout the session, so it’s all about keeping an open dialogue to make sure we arrive at where we need to in the end. 


LBB> From experience, we’ve found that colourists often love art and photography - when you’re out of the studio, what inspires you?

Jon> Art and photography and the colour work of others of course have a big influence but I also feel there’s tons of stimulus that comes when I’m outdoors exploring the world; those times when you really switch off and notice the finer details you might not have experienced before. I love to travel and it’s amazing how different light, landscapes and architecture can inspire what I do in the grading suite.


LBB> Colour grading is largely a digital affair, but there’s also been a resurgence of film over the past few years in commercials and music videos. What are your thoughts about working on film versus digital formats like 4K? And what are your favourite techniques for capturing a vintage or tactile feel?

Jon> It really depends on what the outcome needs to be - is this a commercial/promo/narrative? Does the film stock add to the story? For me the most important element is telling the story through colour and the emotions it needs to emit, and if the project warrants shooting on film then I’m totally all for it.  I do love working on film stock but I also enjoy emulating that texture and feel digitally, it can be very satisfying.


LBB> When working in commercials, what role can colour and a grade play in enhancing a brand’s assets?

Jon> The grade plays a crucial role in an overall film to help convey emotion. The same subtlety can be applied to commercial work. For example if a brand wants to feel warm and inviting then the use of colour can definitely help to achieve that. Lots of brands have their own grade looks that are associated with them and an audience might recognise this before even seeing the logo; just like the recognition of music, or a familiar voice.


LBB> How do you ensure that each colourist-director partnership is a success?

Jon> There’s no secret formula but I’ve been really fortunate to have worked with some great directors and have long standing relationships with them. My approach is to be completely myself, personable, honest and collaborative. Listen and push boundaries and ideas. There’s always room to try things out or play around and this often produces something that wasn’t even considered originally, which can in turn bring a project to another level. We all want the same result at the end, the best result possible, so it’s all about being on the same page. I think operators can often forget that everyone else on the project has been working on it for months, even years, and we sometimes only have several hours to do our thing, so it’s essential to give it your all as it’s someone else's masterpiece you’re being trusted to work with.


LBB> What advice would you give to budding colourist?

Jon> Don’t be afraid to try something different, playing around is essential. Always look to try and improve, whenever you think you’re finished ask yourself, “What else could I do”. Be your own biggest critic and have the desire to constantly want to learn. Invite criticism openly - it’s not personal, so don’t take it to heart. Also don’t rush to the top spot - try to learn and appreciate things at all stages of your career working your way through from runner, assistant, junior colourist etc.


LBB> In your opinion, what's the difference between a good grade and a great grade?

Jon> Feeling. Often great grades are the ones you don’t consciously notice. 


LBB> How is the craft and trade of colour grading changing?

Jon> As colourists we have more and more great tools at our disposal as software and hardware develops. Techniques and creative calls that may have once made me think “oh god that’s going to take yonks to render” I now don’t even think about which opens the door to even more creativity and flexibility. The pandemic has obviously substantially affected us as colourists too. The industry was already leaning towards working more remotely but Covid has accelerated this. It’s great on the one hand as it gives opportunities for those to virtually attend grades where they might not have in the past, but on the other hand it’s always lovely seeing clients in the suite and we can’t wait to welcome them back properly. 


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