Sweeping shots of epic Scottish landscapes. Celebrity chef Nigella Lawson whipping up an indulgent dessert. Terror as long-buried Daleks return to menacing life. These are some of the most iconic sequences in modern British TV history, and one man lies behind them all – Neville Kidd ASC.
The Emmy-Award-winning, Edinburgh-born cinematographer, a member of the prestigious American Society of Cinematographers, has a long and impressive list of credits. He's become an industry legend for giving each of his shows a distinctive and unique look, while recent Netflix hits Altered Carbon and The Umbrella Academy have brought his visionary genius to a worldwide audience.
So what's the story behind this rare talent? With the launch of season two of The Umbrella Academy on Netflix, Neville shares how he got into the business, his career highlights, and some of the Canon kit that's helped him along the way.
Neville fell in love with moving images visiting the cinema in his childhood during family holidays in the Scottish seaside resort of North Berwick, east of Edinburgh. "I remember seeing Jason and the Argonauts and James Bond and thinking, 'This is heaven. I'd love to work in this world'," he says. "It lit something inside of me."
He went on to study for a BA in Photographic Studies (Film and Video) at Edinburgh Napier University from 1986, working on 16mm as well as the early stages of video, before attempting to get his foot into the industry at a tricky time. "At that point the British film industry was on its knees," says Neville. "The American productions weren't coming any more."
In this series tracing the birth and growth of the Scottish nation, to give the footage a suitably grand and epic feel, Neville sought out a new camera. "And so began my relationship with Canon," he says. "It was a big moment when I bought my first Canon EOS 5D Mark II [now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV]. I used it for both stills and filming, and it provided me with brilliant results. Using full-frame photography in my film work really helped it stand out against everything else. The difference was monumental, and I started using the Canon EOS 5D Mark II in my documentaries from that point on."
In the 2010s Neville began adding drama to his CV, including Taggart, Outlander, and Doctor Who. The last of these in particular was a dream come true. "That's what I'd always wanted to do since I was a kid," he says. Neville filmed six stories for the sci-fi show in total, including some of the most iconic episodes in its long history.
His first, Asylum of the Daleks, was notable for a spectacular and atmospheric scene featuring every single Dalek that had ever existed. The crowning glory of his run, though, was the 50th anniversary episode, Day of the Doctor, which was filmed in stereoscopic 3D, screened in cinemas worldwide and simulcast to more than 75 countries.
After working on two episodes of Netflix's hit time-travel show Travellers, Neville was signed for one of the streaming company's biggest productions to date, sci-fi series Altered Carbon. This futuristic cyberpunk show, set in the year 2384, required a ground-breaking and visually compelling look. After much experimentation, Neville turned to Canon Cine Prime lenses because of their light weight, wide aperture and speed.
"We were shooting 5K, so we needed high-quality lenses," Neville explains. "But as well as that, these lenses are fast. When you're making episodic television, that's crucial – you need to have a lens that is fast and has a broad range, so the Canon Cine Primes were perfect." Neville had three lenses in his kit: the Canon CN-E50mm T1.3 L F, Canon CN-E24mm T1.5 L F and Canon CN-E35mm T1.5 L F.
Following the success of Altered Carbon, Neville moved on to another Netflix blockbuster, an adaptation of a comic-book series about a dysfunctional family of adopted superheroes. "Because we'd done all the R&D on Altered Carbon, we took the same lenses on to season one of The Umbrella Academy," says Neville. "We didn't question it."
Set in an alternative present-day where John F. Kennedy had never been shot, The Umbrella Academy saw Neville expand his toolkit of Canon Cine Prime lenses. His three previous stalwarts were joined by the Canon CN-E14mm T3.1 L F lens, which offered the cinematographer a wider angle view, and the Canon CN-E85mm T1.3 L F lens, for tight shots.
Providing a fine control over depth of field, the Canon CN-E14mm T3.1 L F in particular played a crucial role in achieving Neville's vision. "The look we went for in season one needed to be just two degrees from reality," he says. "We wanted people to feel it was odd – kind of familiar, but not really. That's what these Cine Prime lenses were able to give us – a wide loss of depth of field that was slightly strange – and I think it worked perfectly. The fall-off was insane, because these are very fast lenses, so the Cine Primes worked perfectly with the full-frame photography. The visual look was just unique."
When it comes to creating distinctive, unique, and even iconic imagery, Neville suggests keeping things simple. "Stick to the vision that comes from your heart," he says. "And you'll know how to visually tell the story."