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Colour Grading "Maggie"; What we did in the shadows

Updated: Jan 25

Discover how we worked with James Kennedy on his latest horror short; Maggie. We talk about playing with shadows and the importance of finding a tonal motif. Keep reading to learn more.

A care worker is looking worried about sounds coming from upstairs

Tracks and Layers have worked with award winning Director James Kennedy many times previously, whether on other short films, commercials or music videos.

With Maggie, we didn’t just want to make a scary, haunted house movie. We really wanted to tap into the social issue of loneliness amongst an ageing population and use that as a starting point for darker themes that might scare the audience. We wanted something that could sit alongside the contemporary resurgence of films that explore horror through atmosphere and dread, rather than shocks and gore - films like "Get Out" and "Saint Maud".

James Kennedy, Director

The Brief Encounter

A discussion opener

Typically horror films have some of the strongest colour grades. It's a great example of how a grade can really define and enhance the atmosphere or mood of a film. It's also for this reason that they can be more tricky to find new ground and to attempt to further develop the concept of how a horror film can look.

Like any film, finding a look which will complement the art direction, colour pallet, costume design and story is the first challenge for any colourist and their director.

We can see from the above how the green/teal tones sit with the sickly yellow throughout. This treatment might put the viewer at unease and give a visceral sense of neglect and grime. The main character's world is dark, lonely and unpleasant.

Early into pre-production, I had a conversation with my DP James Oldham about making this a very dark, murky film that the audience could feel. We worked closely with our art director Jim Brown to create a very specific colour palette and texture, which we could then perfect in the grade.

James Kennedy, Director

All Aboard!

The care worker arrives at the door

Tom Majerski, co-director and head of operations at Tracks and Layers, was the colourist for this project.

He has worked alongside both Director (James Kennedy) and DOP (James Oldham) on multiple projects together and they have a solid history of award winning collaborations.

The close attention to detail and meticulous art direction of Maggie is typical of James Kennedy's work and something we look for in the projects we choose to collaborate on.

Making Tracks

When a strong colour grade look is required, part of the process is to find just how far the image can be manipulated before reaching breaking point, or an undesirable aesthetic (or both!) Thanks to James Kennedy being able visit our MediaCity colour grading suite in person, Tom & James were able to explore a few different possibilities and to finesse certain details to a very precise degree.

To achieve the right colour grade for this film, we had several considerations to keep in mind.

  • Understanding the layers - The finished film would feature a combination or practical and visual effects. The colour grade process in this case would sit before the VFX is applied.

  • Adding Darkness - The incredible filming location and set design was such that the grade would need to really emphasise and exploit the deep, dark shadows in every extent of the frame. In several instances the grade needed to tread a delicate balance.

One such example is in the shot below. Have a look for yourself and then read on....

Did you see it? Have a look at the doorway to the room...

Finding the right level to ensure that such ghostly apparitions could hide in plain sight was just one part of this colour grade project. There are many moments in the film where details need to be just on the fringes of visibility.

  • True Grit - The colour graded needed to fully emphasise the gritty, grimey and greasy aesthetic of the art direction. By using qualified selective sharpening and mid tone contrast adjustment we could extract every last bit of this detail.

Layers of Feedback

Maggie official selection The Rio Grind Film Festival 2022
The annual Rio Grind Film Festival is an immaculate assortment of new and award-winning international, Canadian, indie, cult, sci-fi and horror shorts, features, and documentaries

Maggie best horror award at Vancouver Independent film festival 2022
Vancouver has the largest cluster of top VFX and Animation studios in the world, including Sony Pictures Imageworks, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), Animal Logic and others.

Maggie official selection maniff 2023
Screening the best independent film from around the world since 2015.

We are thrilled to see that Maggie is already pleasing audiences and performing well around the world. It's a testament to all the hard work invested in the frames before it landed on our desk that we were able to collaborate on another project we can be really proud of.

Thoughts from the client

We knew Tom at Tracks and Layers would instantly get what we were going for and elevate the footage to the next level and we couldn’t be happier with the finished product!

James Kennedy, Director

Got a short film or advertisement that needs expert colour grading? We give every project the attention it deserves – get in touch today by calling 0161 2981214 or emailing


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