Interview with Cinematographer Mandy Walker

Posted on Jul 5, 2024 by Samara Husbands

A Vision in Colour

Cinematographer Mandy Walker tells Nicola Foley about her relationship with colour – and colourists – ahead of judging entries for the 2024 FilmLight Colour Awards

Mandy Walker, AM, ACS, ASC knows a thing or two about the power of colour in crafting captivating cinematic narratives. From collaborating with Baz Luhrmann on Elvis and Australia to lensing 2020’s live-action take on Mulan, the Australian cinematographer’s work is full of stunning, sumptuous visuals on a grand scale. Her appreciation of colour – and the crucial role colourists play within that – has earned her a spot on the judging panel for this year’s FilmLight Colour Awards, which are currently open for entries. 

Now in their fourth year, the awards celebrate the art of colour across the world and aim to reflect the cultural, visual and technical values of the international colour grading community of today. It’s a craft worth celebrating, thinks Walker. “I really appreciate the artistry of great colourists and how they can help cinematographers enhance the storytelling with colour, contrast, light and darkness to create atmosphere and focus the audience’s gaze on what’s important in the frame,” she enthuses. 

Walker’s keen eye for these details makes her an invaluable judge for this year’s awards, where she says she’ll be on the lookout for colour work which blends naturally into narratives. “I look for consistency and colour which is not too affected as to look overly treated, but that  seamlessly works with – not against – the elements of the story and what’s seen in the frames with lighting, art direction, costume and makeup,” she elaborates. 

Collaboration with colourists is key to Walker’s process, and she works closely with them throughout to achieve the desired aesthetic in her films. “I always include the colourists as early as possible when I’m working on the visual language of the movie,” she shares. “This is to set up and test LUTs with them that work with elements of other departments – and to explore the way the colour, lightness and dark can work with texture, reflective elements and lensing.” 

The DOP values technically skilled colourists who also have a creative flair and bring their own ideas to the table. “I like working with someone who is an artist and understands the aesthetic of my vision,” she muses. “And who can collaborate and be open to create new looks which suit the movie, rather than someone who works on a movie in the same style they always go to.” 

Throughout her career, Walker’s relationship with colour has evolved, but her awareness of its resonance in art has remained constant. “I have always been sensitive to colour – the emotions it can enhance and the images it creates when used with light and dark, focus and distortion and layering,” she reflects. As a case in point, she references her work on Elvis, which used different LUTs to enhance the lighting, art direction and costume, expressing transitions of colour and contrast. By working with the various lenses, it helped the audience relate to distinct time periods – from the low-contrast pastels of the forties to the rich, vibrant hues of seventies Vegas. 

Evolutions in colour grading tech have significantly impacted her work, especially the emergence of the DI, which she says makes her job easier and more flexible. “To be able to play and test ideas in pre and post is exciting,” she says. “Also, the grading tools have become faster and more easily manipulated. When we shot with film and did a chemical analogue grade, we were more limited by the film stock, processing and the adjustments of colour and density only in the final prints.” 

Looking to the future, she expects the evolution of imagery, storytelling and technology will continue to influence colour grading trends. “But I don’t feel going extreme is what interests me,” she reveals. “I appreciate more the subtlety and artistry of the person to enhance the visual language.”

Currently, she’s busy working on additional photography for a live-action film adaptation of Snow White, and is ‘looking forward to seeing what’s next’.  Watch this space! 

Winners will be announced at EnergaCamerimage 2024 in November.

This feature was first published in the July 2024 issue of Definition.

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