Post-production: The Colorist
Update: Finding, retaining, and understanding the work of a professional colorist is necessary and rewarding.
We always begin with the following disclaimer: It is impossible for you to know less about filmmaking than what we knew when we began the Salted Christmas journey. This series of articles is not designed to teach anyone in the industry anything. The series is simply intended to share with our friends some of what we’ve learned about the art, the skill, and the business of filmmaking.
Why should color be such a big deal? Just point the camera at the subject and press record! No big deal, right? Actually, color is a major problem in filmmaking. Many variables come into play when attempting to record so much footage, in so many places, in such a short period of time.
The quality of light, the amount of light, the lens on the camera, the filter on the lens, and more in-camera settings than we could possibly count all contribute to the light levels ultimately recorded by the camera. Said another way, a million parts move simultaneously in this machine. So how do we achieve a consistent and pleasing look across 133 minutes? The main strategy involves the work of cinematography (management of the camera) in capturing a pleasing image. Assuming the success of the cinematographer allows us to consider the work in post production of the colorist. For Salted Christmas, one major way our cinematographer prepared us for the colorist was by shooting in a format called 5k RAW. We will write an entire blog post about the reasons for utilizing this file format at another time. At any rate, the 5k RAW footage allows maximum opportunity to the colorist in post production.
First things first, does anyone know a professional colorist? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? Of course not. They don’t grow on trees. Uh, except for us, that is. We’ll also write an entire post at some point on God’s peculiar provision for this project, but suffice it to say the Lord brought a professional colorist to the AWANA program we attend at Calvary Chapel Plantation. Totally ridiculous. Not only that, he is a Christian who believes in what we are doing and was therefore willing to cut his hourly rate to us so that we could work with him. Good luck explaining that one away.
Once we had the colorist, we faced the problem of maximizing his productivity so that we could have his expert hand on as much of the project as possible. He graciously agreed to the following workflow: he would set the look on a scene by scene basis and instruct us on how to apply those looks to the many clips in the scene. He trained us on both the theory and practice of coloring and showed us the specifics of using Davinci 12.5, one of the finest professional coloring softwares available. He was also very kind to concentrate on the most problematic scenes himself to give us the best possible results in the difficult places.
Working in Davinci, he set all of our clips to a gamma curve called Redlog Film, which is very washed out and dull in appearance, but maximizes the sensor’s ability to recall light levels. It allowed us to start with the most possible information coming out of the sensor. It also allowed us to change camera settings like ISO, shutter speed, and white balance as necessary AFTER THE FACT! Suffice it to say, a professional colorist working with Redlog Film data achieves results bordering on shocking.
As an example, the following images demonstrate what Redlog Film looks like prior to coloring. The image displays no color separation nor any life whatsoever. But the data for a magnificent image is waiting to be brought out.
The same image after coloring. Notice the color separation and the blue in Byron’s shirt beginning to pop. The skin tones are now coming through and other elements of the scene are making their presence felt.
Another example straight outta Redlog:
And again after coloring:
In the images below, pay close attention to the white scope in the upper left hand corner. The first scope image shows a very compressed color profile which is evident particularly in the red and green channels in the upper right scope. The second scope image shows what happens as the dynamic range of the image is accessed. Notice how the levels are extended into the lower and upper section of the scale, producing a much more pleasing image while avoided clipping any of the available image information.
Needless to say, Salted Christmas couldn’t look the way it will without the talent and skill of our wonderful colorist. As we sat in the room watching him work, we thought we sensed yet another bullet whizzing past our heads.