An Exclusive interview with Serbian Colourist Nikola Mrdalj who has joined Mumbai based Nube Studio

Serbian Colorist Nikola
Serbian Colourist Nikola Mrdalj who has joined Nube Studio, Mumbai

Mumbai based Nube Studio which is known for having international colourists on board is in news again for the same reason. The last one to enter the gates of the post-production company located at Khar was Turkish colourist Metin Okutay. And now Serbian Colourist Nikola Mrdalj  has recently joined Nube Studio.

Nikola has worked as a colorist for the past 6 years. He started at Media Plus, where he was mentored by one of the best colourists in region and worldwide. Nikola has worked in more than 500 TV commercials, feature films, TV series and music videos.

His interest in photography started in 2003 which led him to apply to the Belgrade’s film academy, cinematography class, in 2006, where he graduated. From that moment on, Nikola has worked as a DoP on several short films, among which “Golden League” and “Hooks and Baits” were highly rated on international short film festivals, especially for their outstanding look.

Animation Digital Digest spoke to Nikola who shared his passion as a cinematographer as well as a colourist and his future plans in India

How has your experience as a cinematographer benefited you in your new role as a colourist?
Nikola: The benefits go both ways. As a cinematographer, I can more easily guess the right tone of the image, and more importantly, it allows me better communication with the DOPs, directors and producers since I know the process from start to render. Lenses, lightning and camera movements are not strangers to me. Knowing and understanding the nature of the camera helps me detect and solve problems and make better judgements. Then again, a colourist can bring to cinematography many elements such as keen awareness of the visual potential of the material. On-set colour grading is in my opinion a necessity and can make a big difference in the end result.

What elements led you to photography and then later cinematography?

Nikola: I spent my childhood outside, in nature, and it is perhaps this visual beauty that I experienced as a kid that always stayed in my heart and eye. In the evenings we would watch movies, I remember thinking about all the people who came together to bring some idea to life through film. Photography was the first to come by, but cinematography and later colour grading all come from this love for the moving image.

 Who’s your inspiration as a colourist?

Nikola: Stephen Nakamura – he has his colour work done on most of my favourite movies.

When did you think of specialising in colour grading?

Nikola: After spending some years at the academy, during and after which I worked as a DoP on short films, I went to a colour grading suite at some point and it immediately struck me that I must become a colourist. I have spent a lot of time playing around with my still photos, and later on, with my films, and – I had an impression that in that room I could make a lot of good things happen, as opposed to working on a set, which always leaves a person with a feeling that more could be done.

 Name some of the major projects you have worked on and the experience of working on each of them? Any memories?

Nikola: All the projects have their sweet spots. Seeing a client leave the office with a smile of satisfaction, always fills me up with good energy. But when it comes to major projects, one small difference emerges – as those are mostly being pre-produced and produced by veterans – when they come to the grading suite, they are sure of what they want to do and how it is supposed to look. That means less experimenting, but at the same time, having someone who has a sincere mileage as a creator to guide me, always presents a chance to learn something new.

What’s your most memorable project as a colourist?­ Also, the most challenging?

Nikola: The most challenging projects are often the ones that lack during the production. One way or another, it always ends up making a strong and bad impact on the image quality of the film, which then transforms my work from something that is a creative process – to fixing mistakes.

But at the same time, after the process, when I finally sit and watch the film on tv or cinema, and it looks like none of those problems ever existed, it is a special accomplishment.

What software do you prefer working on to improve colour grading?

Nikola: Absolutely – I prefer working on DaVinci Resolve. I have been working on this software for more than 6 years now, and I enjoy it very much.

What was your experience like when working on Television commercials as a colourist?

Nikola: Working on TV ads is very challenging and rewarding. Usually, most of the projects are handed to me in the very last moment – it seems that for some reason all ads were supposed to be aired “yesterday”. At that time, speed and reliability is of the utmost importance, and with such a small space for error, one has to work at max capacity to get the work done properly. The most rewarding is the content of all the authors who stand behind the project, seeing what they have worked on for the past few days / weeks in its best light.

How do you identify what kind of shade of colour needs to be applied in a given scene within a movie or video that your working on?

Nikola: When identifying the kind of shade of colour suited for a movie scene or video, I have to be able to pinpoint the mood, atmosphere and the client’s, or brand’s aesthetic vision and needs. Then to combine these elements with the technical aspects of the material to define the best tone of colour that needs to be applied. So you’d have a triangle of aesthetics, poetics and in a way – “techniques”, that you have to be aware of in order to have everything come together.

As a cinematographer what was your experience with the short films “Golden League” and “Hooks and Baits”?

Nikola: Many cinematographers would agree, shooting films is, at the same time, really exhausting, but at the same time – one of the most satisfactory jobs one could have. Working long hours, almost two thirds of a day, short sleeps, waking up to the same schedule.. but at the same time, one gets to work with, and meet different and interesting people, travel to places one would most probably never get the chance to see, and in the end, telling a story that hopefully moves the audience in a way. It was a great honour to hear that my work was acknowledged by the renowned, and my personal favourite cinematographer, Mr. Janusz Kaminski, for best cinematography in the “Hooks and Baits” film.

What was your experience like when working with brands famous brands like Coca – Cola, Fiat, Ford, Somersby, Fanta, L'Oreal, Dr. Martens, Schweppess, Dove, Vileda, Ikea, UNICEF, Raiffeisen, Telenor?

Nikola: Organisations like these have a level of production and material quality that is not easy for smaller brands to accomplish. And as I mentioned earlier, the veterans behind these projects know their jobs pretty well and the work is more focused on details and quality over experimenting and finding a mood.
What is your next project which will you be working at Nube­­­­­ studio?
Nikola: I’ve already worked with great brands like Suzuki, Google, Marutti, Hero, VISA, etc. and even without knowing what my next project will be, I look forward to working with Nube’s clients. The element of surprise and not knowing what the next project will be is also very motivational to me considering the amazing projects and people I have worked with up till now, I look forward to it.