20 and Thriving: How Fige Built a Pan-African Color Grading Studio

20 and Thriving: How Fige Built a Pan-African Color Grading Studio

In the world of filmmaking and visual storytelling, color grading plays a vital role in shaping the emotional experience and visual appeal of films, music videos, and other media projects. This transformative process, led by skilled colorists, involves expertly manipulating colors to create unique visual aesthetics that captivate audiences.

In this article, we speak to Fige Deegbe, a 20-year-old passionate colorist and founder of CutNColor,  a boutique color grading studio based in Accra, taking the color grading industry in Ghana and across Africa by storm. He shares his creative journey to starting CutNColor Post.

Tell me about yourself, your background and how this creative journey started. 

My name is Fige Deegbe, and I’m 20 years old.  I am proud to be the founder of CutNColor. I initially started my journey as a photographer during my time at Achimota School. Throughout my high school years at Achimota School, I delved into the art of capturing moments. 

However, later in high school, I switched gears and ventured into videography. After completing high school, I decided to pursue videography full-time. During this period, I stumbled upon a fascinating aspect of videography known as color correction. It involves the skilful manipulation of colors to enhance their overall appearance and make them more visually appealing.

As I delved deeper into this field, my interest grew exponentially, and I became completely enamoured with the process. Consequently, I made the decision to pursue color correction professionally, despite needing formal education in the field. Instead, I relied on my dedication to self-improvement. I diligently scoured the internet, investing in courses and honing my skills through practice.

And that, my friend, is how I became a colorist—driven by a genuine passion for the craft and an unwavering determination to master the art of coloring.

I guess venturing into Videography inspired your whole journey in color grading.

The purpose of studying that was to make my work stand out.  I didn’t want to be another videographer doing the same old thing. I wanted to have a different vibe in my work by being able to manipulate colors in it myself.

Great! On CutNColors Twitter Page, it says, “Boutique Color grading studio in Accra, Ghana”. Kindly break down that for us and take us through the color-grading process.

In our case, the term “boutique” refers to a small shop. Although we have made progress, we still operate as a small business when considering the broader context. As a color grading studio, our operations are primarily virtual. This means that there is no central office where work takes place. Instead, the people I work with are located in different parts of the world, working from their own homes and enjoying the comforts of their personal home studios.

Let me start with what a colorist does to further break down what we do as a color grading studio. A colorist is responsible for enhancing communication through engineering colors. Our role is to shape the viewer’s emotional experience by manipulating the visual aesthetics of a film or video. For instance, when you watch different movies, you may notice that some may look happier than others because they’re colorful, bold and a bit saturated and other films may look sad because they have muted colors, probably a bit dark. These variations are intentional decisions made by the colorist. 

The color grading process is the stylistic part of things, and it consists of two main aspects: color correction and color grading itself. Color correction involves basic adjustments to the raw footage. This includes fine-tuning the white balance, adjusting the warmth or coolness of the video, and selectively brightening or darkening certain areas to convey specific information. 

Once this foundation is set, the color grading stage allows us to delve into the intricacies and create a distinct visual look for the material. Ultimately, as colorists, our goal is to present the audience with precisely what we want them to see, shaping their perception through the careful use of color.

You can typically find color grading being used primarily in the entertainment and advertising industries. It plays a significant role in various forms of media, such as commercials, documentaries, music videos, and feature films. Additionally, it is also utilised in social media content creation.

Have you faced any significant challenges in running your studio, and how have you overcome them?

The journey has been pretty smooth. I wouldn’t lie because, I mean, it could have been worse. However, one significant challenge we’ve encountered: receiving payments across borders.

One of the things I never understood was why it was so hard difficult to receive payments from countries like Nigeria, especially considering the amount of business we conduct together. 

We have clients from various parts of the world, with a majority located in Europe, and for them, the payment services we use actually work. However, the challenge arises when it comes to getting paid in Africa by Africans.

In the UK, for instance, we can use Wise transfer, which functions smoothly without any issues or complications. Unfortunately, in Africa, we often find ourselves resorting to alternative methods, such as someone physically going to the bank. Our goal is to ensure a seamless and hassle-free experience for our clients. We strive to eliminate any additional steps or inconveniences for them. Asking clients to go to the bank can be particularly challenging since they lead busy lives. They may have commitments like being on set or attending meetings. Requesting them to make a trip to the bank takes away valuable time that could be better spent on more profitable endeavours. By making their lives easier, we can ensure a great experience for each client working with us.

That’s the biggest challenge. However, it’s important to recognise that every business faces various challenges, some more manageable than others. Fortunately, Accrue service has emerged as a game-changer, capable of effectively overcoming these obstacles and helping us receive payments from our clients across Africa, and It is evident that the team is good at what they do.

What made the journey smooth for you?

Well, I’ve always considered myself a creative person. Transitioning from photography to videography and then to color grading was easier than one might think. Many of the skills and knowledge I acquired in photography and videography have proven valuable when it comes to color grading. What sets me apart from others is my experience as a photographer. Through my work as a photographer, I learned about lighting and other skills. This prior experience in other fields has accelerated my journey in the world of color grading and made it smoother.

My parents have also played a significant role in enabling me to pursue my passion. To give you some background, I was studying design at Radford University. However, as my color grading business started to take off, I realised that it was an opportune time to invest in its growth. I approached my dad, sharing with him the bank statements and the projects I had worked on. I explained that seizing this moment was crucial because the momentum of a business doesn’t last forever. After some discussion, he supported my decision. It happened around a year ago when I was in my second year of university.

I decided to take a break from school and focus on building my business. The plan was to dedicate two years to this endeavour, ensuring that certain aspects of the business were automated, allowing me to return to my studies while the business continued to operate. I’m currently in the second year of this process, and things are going really well. I owe a great deal of gratitude to my parents for their support.

The journey has had its challenges, and progress has sometimes been slow. However, my experience, coupled with the unwavering support of my parents, has helped me push forward. Oh, and I mustn’t forget the role of faith in all of this—God has been a guiding force in my endeavours.

What are some of the notable or memorable projects that make you proud as an entrepreneur?

Recently, my team and I had the opportunity to work on four music videos within a month for the talented artist Akon. Although most of them have not been released yet, we’re excited about the projects. Additionally, last year we collaborated on a project for Puma featuring the Ghanaian footballer Mohammed Kudus. Our portfolio extends to working with renowned brands like Crocs and MAC Cosmetics, including a collaboration with Tiwa Savage. We have also partnered with Spotify and Davido, Chipper Cash and BurnaBoy campaign video and colored the 2023 Vodafone Ghana Music Awards (VGMA) Music Video of the Year – Black Sherif’s ‘Konongo Zongo’. However, our pride doesn’t solely stem from working with these prominent brands.

What matters most to us is the ability to enhance the work of individuals who may not have had the opportunity to achieve such high standards before. Seeing the transformation of their projects from what they considered substandard to top-class work is incredibly gratifying. The testimonials we’ve received have been remarkable, with some expressing disbelief that their projects could turn out so well until we became involved. This aspect holds great significance to me.

While it’s undoubtedly exciting to collaborate with big brands, our true focus lies in elevating and supporting smaller, emerging ones. For larger companies, we simply supplement their existing stature. However, for these up-and-coming brands, we must contribute to their growth and help them improve the quality of their work. This is where our true satisfaction lies. Thus, my greatest accomplishment is providing smaller or younger creators with better quality work. That’s what truly matters to me.

How important is collaboration with other professionals, such as directors or cinematographers, in achieving the desired color grading results?

Ideally, a collaboration should take place between the director, cinematographer, VFX artist, and colorist. However, initiating this collaboration before the work has even started can be costly and time-consuming. Therefore, in most projects, there isn’t room for this additional step. However, in cases where such collaboration occurs, the process usually unfolds as follows:

First, the director creates a treatment, which is a document outlining their vision for the project. This treatment is then shared with the various artists, including the VFX artists and the colorist. Each artist provides their input by creating separate breakdown documents. The VFX artists specify the visual effects they plan to incorporate, while I, as the colorist, create a color palette document. This document details every aspect of the video, down to specific colors, such as the shade of someone’s sunglasses. Essentially, we are designing a look that aligns with the intended message of the project. This document is highly detailed and covers various elements like the color of the sky, cars, costumes, set design, and more.

Once this documentation process is complete, the director takes it on set, ensuring that the design department receives the document and executes it to the best of their abilities. After the shoot, the footage is handed over to the editing team, who piece together the shots and create a timeline. At this point, the process may vary slightly. It can either proceed to VFX for additional effects before reaching the color grading stage, or it can directly come to the colorist for the application of the grade, followed by the involvement of the VFX team.

That summarises the general process and its sequence. 

What kind of clients do you typically work with, and what projects do you specialise in?

We specialise in producing short-form content, including music videos, commercials, documentaries, and short films. Our expertise lies in creating engaging and impactful projects within these genres.

Yes, anyone can submit their content to us. However, in order for us to have a significant impact on your project, it needs to be b done right. 

When a project is presented to us, we request a preview. We carefully review the material and ask ourselves, “Can we genuinely enhance this? Is it something we are enthusiastic about improving?” 

Once we decide to take on the project, the process begins. Just that a client has short-form content alone does not guarantee our ability to work on it. It must be a project that we are genuinely interested in working on.

What challenges do you see in the industry?

Currently, I am acquainted with all the major colorists in this region, which poses a problem for me. I want to expand my network of colorists to the extent I am able to forget names when I have to mention them just because there’s a significant amount of colorists to pick from. It’s crucial to have a diverse range of colorists available, as there are only a few individuals making a significant impact in this field. In truth, our industry is barely thriving, and that’s what I want to emphasise.  

My goal is to encourage more colorists to enter this space because there are ample clients for everyone. Some individuals may feel threatened by the potential decrease in workload, but I disagree. The demand for colorists is vast enough to accommodate a thousand new professionals joining the industry. However, it’s important to note that working as a colorist requires a high level of skill and dedication, making it a challenging field. It demands sacrifices and time, resources that many people lack. This is where the real challenge lies.

What advice or tips for aspiring colorists or individuals interested in starting their own color grading studio?

One of the most valuable tips is to engage in daily coloring practice. This may sound repetitive, but it holds true. It’s through mistakes that we gain unique insights. Practice, practice, practice is truly the key to progress. Without experiencing failure and learning from it, success becomes incredibly challenging to achieve. Now, I don’t mean to imply that some individuals are inherently destined for success. While that may be the case for a few, the majority of people must embrace failure as a stepping stone towards victory. Experience is crucial in this journey.

Consider a scenario where you are fortunate enough to have a client despite your limited experience in problem-solving. During the project, you encounter a completely unfamiliar issue. In such situations, you have two options. First, you could seek guidance from someone who has encountered a similar problem in the past. However, they may not be readily available to assist you at that exact moment. Alternatively, you could turn to the vast resources available online in search of solutions. The drawback here is that you might end up spending hours online, which is precious time that your client is paying for.

Therefore, it becomes imperative to have your own reservoir of experience. While it’s impossible to know everything, having personal experiences is vital. There have been instances where I’ve had to reach out to other colorists for help, but without encountering similar situations before, I wouldn’t even know the appropriate steps to take. My foremost recommendation at this point is to prioritise practice. It is the most crucial piece of advice I can offer you right now—practice, practice, practice.

What are your future goals for your business?

Our goal is to establish offices in various regions of Africa because we are a Pan-African company. By expanding our presence across different countries, we aim to serve the entire continent better. 

Additionally, a key objective for us is to provide professional training in color grading. There is currently a shortage of skilled colorists, and we believe that increasing the numbers will greatly enhance the quality and diversity of creative work from Africa. We value the unique perspectives that individuals bring to the table, and by training more people, we can foster a broader range of artistic expression. Training individuals in color grading is a crucial aspect of our future plans.