How Neville Kidd became TV's hottest DoP

A behind-the-scenes shot of Neville Kidd filming Netflix show Altered Carbon.
Before filming shows such as Sherlock, Altered Carbon (shown here) and The Umbrella Academy, Neville Kidd studied photography and film at university in Edinburgh. "We worked on 16mm as well as video, which was in its very early stages," he recalls. "It was great, because as well as using the new technology, we were trained on Steenbecks, all that kind of stuff." © Katie Yu / Netflix

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.

James Purefoy and Antonio Marziale in a still from Altered Carbon.
James Purefoy and Antonio Marziale in Altered Carbon. For the futuristic cyberpunk show, Neville needed a striking look, and choosing the right glass to achieve this distinctive aesthetic proved key. Canon Cine Prime lenses were the solution. © Netflix

Cinematic inspiration

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."

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So instead of heading straight for the movies, Neville landed his first job as a cameraman making news and documentaries for BBC Scotland. It proved to be a real baptism of fire. "Working for the BBC, there is no room for mistakes," he says. "You have to get it right or you're fired. That was a fantastic learning curve."

In the 1990s, Neville struck out on his own. But while freelancers today are encouraged to specialise, back then it wasn't an option. "As a Scottish director-photographer, you had to do everything," he says. "There wasn't enough drama, corporate or documentary work to do only one. That's why a lot of us Scottish DoPs are jack-of-all-trades."

With this work ethic, his career steadily took off, and by the end of the decade he was working on popular factual shows such as Nigella Bites, Michael Palin... on the Colourists, and River Cottage. This trajectory continued throughout the 2000s, on shows such as Who Do You Think You Are?, Timewatch, and Simon Schama's Power of Art. Then in 2009, he won a BAFTA for Best Photography for BBC showcase drama-documentary A History of Scotland.
In a still from The Umbrella Academy, Kate Walsh leans against a wall with ruined buildings behind.
The Umbrella Academy also had to have a distinctive look. Advising budding cinematographers, Neville says you need to be true to yourself. "If you try to second-guess what people want, you'll fail, because you won't know where you are. You have to stick to what your heart tells you about how this should be visually told." © Netflix
In a still from The Umbrella Academy, actors David Castañeda and Tom Hopper (behind) enter a misty theatre.
The critical requirement for The Umbrella Academy was a sharp fall-off in depth of field, and Neville found that Canon Cine Primes – the Canon CN-E14mm T3.1 L F in particular – produced the feel he wanted, with great low-light performance and fine creative control over focusing and depth of field. © Christos Kalohoridis / Netflix

From DSLR to cinema camera

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.

On the set of The Umbrella Academy, DoP Neville Kidd and director Peter Hoar talk to Tom Hopper as Luther Hargreeves.
Neville on set on The Umbrella Academy, with the show's director Peter Hoar and the towering Tom Hopper as Luther Hargreeves. The show obviously involves some CGI in post-production, but that doesn't take any of the responsibility off the cinematographer. © Christos Kalohoridis / Netflix
A cinematographer with a camera on a handheld rig films a scene from Altered Carbon in a light-filled room.

How Canon Cine primes helped make Altered Carbon

The DOP of Altered Carbon reveals how he shot the visually stunning cyberpunk series using an arsenal of Canon Cine primes.

Canon's EOS C300 cinema camera, now succeeded by the Canon EOS C300 Mark III, played an important role in Neville's TV drama work, producing sharp, high-quality footage in a lightweight body. "It gave us a way of getting additional shots that you wouldn't be able to get with a heavier camera," he says. "To have a Canon EOS C300 was phenomenal, and directors loved it too. It's always been a support for me."

Having worked with director Nick Curran and showrunner Steven Moffat on Doctor Who, Neville went on to join them both on season three of Sherlock. Here, the lightweight nature of the Canon EOS C300 proved invaluable in giving pivotal scenes an energetic and distinctive look. This included attaching Canon EOS C300s to the side of taxis, to capture evocative shots of London reflected in the windows. He also attached the cameras to actor Benedict Cumberbatch himself, to better capture Sherlock's frenetic mindset.

"Working on Sherlock was a big moment because for me it was the best-looking show on television," he recalls. "So visually speaking, I threw everything at it." Recognition followed in the form of a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Cinematography.
The creators of The Umbrella Academy, artist Gabriel Bá and writer Gerard Way, on set viewing rushes.
The creators of The Umbrella Academy, artist Gabriel Bá (left) and writer Gerard Way (second from left), on set viewing rushes. Canon Cine Primes proved to be the perfect partners on the first series of The Umbrella Academy (as they had on Altered Carbon). The compact, fixed-focal-length lenses offer spectacular 4K image quality and a full frame image circle.  © Christos Kalohoridis / Netflix

Precision-engineered Canon Cine Prime glass

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."

 Filming a scene from The Umbrella Academy, with DoP Neville Kidd standing next to the camera on a gantry.
Filming a scene for The Umbrella Academy. "When I start reading a scene, I can see it in my head straight away," says Neville. "Then you know what lenses to use – you can apply that technical relationship with the glass."  © Christos Kalohoridis / Netflix

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."

Skrevet af Tom May

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