Colorist Chat: Cheat Founder Toby Tomkin

Toby Tomkins is founder and senior colorist at Cheat, a 7-year-old London-based post studio that provides color, online and VFX work across television, film and commercials.Cheat’s work has been recognized by the BAFTAs, Emmys, Oscars, MTV VMAs, Royal Television Society Awards, D&AD and many short film festivals.

As for Tomkins himself, he has an extensive portfolio of short-form work and feature films, including As I Am, the British Independent Film Award-winning The Machine, and Stutterer, which won the Oscar for best short. Other projects include commercial work for Porsche, Cadbury and McDonald’s and some upcoming projects for the BBC, AMC, Netflix and FX.

Toby Tomkins


Let’s find out more from Tomkins.

How do you like to work with the DP/director?
It’s very much linked to the relationship between the DP and director and how that works, as well as how they like to work. I love story/emotional briefs and input, but I’m also happy to get specific feedback — it really depends on the relationship and dynamic during a project.

How do you prefer they describe the look they want? Physical examples? Film to emulate?
I love references, particularly if we get to talk them through and find out what we like about them. Is it a feeling or just the aesthetic? Is it because of the tone more than the color? Things like that really help me understand what’s behind the references rather than taking them at face value.

I think ultimately my role is as designer. I’d like to quote Tinker Hatfield (the shoe designer), who once wisely said, “I think there’s art involved in design.” But to me, I don’t think of it as art. My perception of art is that it’s really the ultimate self-expression from a creative individual. For me as a designer, it is not the ultimate goal to become self-expressive. The end goal is to solve a problem for someone else, and hopefully it looks great to someone else, and it’s cool to someone else. This is how design works for me.

Are you sometimes asked to do more than just color on projects? Has your job evolved at all beyond color?
I try to avoid it and let the experts in their field handle things outside of color. However, if needed I’m happy to give some basic cleanup/beauty and VFX a go. It really depends on what is the best use of my time. I find I have the best impact on a project when I get to just focus on the color.

Toby Tomkins


What are some recent projects you’ve worked on?
I recently worked on, This Is Going to Hurt, Heartstopper, The End of The F***ing World, We Are Lady Parts and I Am Not Okay With This.

What do you do to de-stress from it all?
Open to suggestions!

You are a judge for the FilmLight Colour Awards. Why was it important to take part, especially since you aren’t using Baselight in your work?
I’ve always been a proponent of the idea that good color grading is good color grading, regardless of how you get there or what software you use. I really respect FilmLight for supporting the craft as a whole, and I’m excited to be a judge for the awards because I love reflecting on other people’s color grading work.


It’s such a subjective discipline, and I like to think I balance my own subjective ideas with objective technical assessment when it comes to judging. It’s important to judge with feeling as much as it is to do so technically, and I hope I can bring that to the panel.

What are you looking for in the entries this year and what will make a winner in your eyes?
I think there are three pillars that define a great grade. First, it needs to serve the narrative or emotion. Second, it needs to complement or enhance the photography. And third, it needs to be executed well technically.

If you were to submit one of your grades to the FilmLight Colour Awards, what project would you choose and why?
Cheat colorists are actually submitting grades for the awards. We’re submitting the work that we believe has those three pillars I mentioned above, but with an extra emphasis on the first pillar ― serving both the narrative and the emotion. Though, of course, I won’t be judging any of the work submitted by my team.

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