What exactly is the colour of happiness? Gold? Sunshine? Your sweetheart's lips? The colour of money?All of the above?
Colour grading as a profession was established to correct anomalies within photography - continuity errors in terms of shooting times, stocks and locations - and has progressed with technological advancements and learned skills into an art.
Colourists are called upon to interpret the essence of a narrative and pump emotion into selected shots, to maximize impact and assist audiences to connect more deeply with the text.
As expert technicians and artisans, colourists are capable of bringing an extra dimension to any project through their use of colour. Amongst other things good colourists must be technically proficient, able to discuss on set data acquisition, workflows, file types, compression rates, and delivery platforms: but what makes a good colourist great? That rare talented individual who is able to contribute to a project’s financial and creative success?
“Effective, creative communication is key,” says Melbourne Colourist Martin Greer. “The skill to actually get inside a director or DOP’s head in order to bring about the best result. It’s not just taking instruction – ‘Make it brighter and more colourful etc.’ - and while that can of course be done, it may not necessarily be the best thing to do.”
By getting into the head of a director or a DOP, Martin, and other Digital Pictures' colourists, draw out their creative vision and key story elements in order to identify opportunities in which the art of colour can be best used to enhance the audience experience.
In addition to interpreting a director’s reference, a good colourist has an innate and practiced understanding of broad human reactions, colour tones and hues, in the same way sound engineers understand the subtle manipulation of mood with pitch. Understanding physiologically the way the eye auto-adjusts when looking at colour is imperative to controlling a successful colour session.
Colourist, Brett Manson, explains, “This human reflex can pose a very real problem while executing a grade. As it happens spontaneously, it must be monitored. For example, a creative vision may call for a golden palette….and as time passes, perhaps two or three hours, you all decide that it is not really golden enough and you continue to add colour. This is because the eye autocorrects and after looking at any colour it normalizes and abstracts. An experienced colourist will always break and refer to a neautralising colour to reestablish the best colour direction.”
Johannes Itten (1869 -1960) was a Bauhaus master and color theorist whose teachings and books on colour and design are still used today. Itten was one of the first art theorists to define and identify strategies for successful color combinations, and defined grey as the perfect neutraliser for the eye, and that’s the one colour that does not offer its complimentary colour when you close your eyes.
“It is our role to best interpret and control the application of colour correction and enhancement to best manage a project’s creative journey within a budgeted timeline,” says Colourist Deidre McClelland.
“Clients will speak to us in words, emotions and pictures. It is our responsibility to merge our experience with ambition and commitment to create a new and iconic text; it is an adventure and sometimes not without risk,” says Colourist, Vincent Taylor.
“It is very interesting to understand how different people react to colour and ways of composing a colourscape to best represent the nuances of their film, series or commercial.” Added Colourist Dwaine Hyde.
Deidre agreed,“Yes, for example think of a horror film - you might think of deep tones, high pitched sounds, blacks and perhaps lots of dark greens. However when I worked with Sean Byrne on his film The Loved Ones he wished to maximize the script’s comedic value and its appeal to a young adult audience by mixing a traditional horror loo, glossy rich palette that included candy hot pinks. The result is unique and memorable.”
Sydney based Colourist Annelie Chappelle, said “When I worked with DOP Toby [Oliver] on Spirited [Series 2] he had a very strong idea of the look he wanted. Not only could he express what he wanted, he brought me reference shots to further explain subtleties of the look and feel he was after. It was a fabulous collaboration and we produced a look that worked best for all involved in the project.”
“Digital technology has revolutionised the world and the entertainment industry. From the types of stories told, to the way they are told, to the number which are shot, posted, delivered and consumed,” says Colourist, CJ Dobson.
Twenty years ago, the industry produced a new release film every couple of weeks; now, a couple of new releases are produced every week. The speed of production and consumption has also affected budgets across every industry sector.
“I was speaking with a DOP the other day who was reminiscing about having a day or half a day to set up the whole scene - now, it’s all go, go, go,” says Deirdre McClelland.
Marcus Timpson, Colourist, “When DOPs are under pressure, either due to technology or time they choose, sensibly, a very safe exposure. The actual art of lighting and photography is still there, it’s just that the time is not, so one of our tasks is to assist them to add the flair in post that they intended for their shot but that they did not have the time to set up.”
“What many people might not realise is that it is not always an addition - it’s often a subtraction. Due to the detail captured by digital technology, I find that I am often taking the detail away, rather than adding these days,” says Brett Manson.
“Yes, sometimes a half a day on set compared to a few hours in post is a big cost difference, so now there are more instances of shooting with a safe exposure and knowing that the footage can be corrected in post production,” says Timpson.
This trend combined with the variety of digital cameras and data work flows on offer, has further strengthened relationships between DOPs, directors and colourists.
With such rapid changes on set and in post technologies, what does the future look like for a professional colourist?
Digital Pictures’ in-house futurist, John Fleming, says “Digital Pictures’ colourists have been consulting with DOPs in pre production for years and now we are seeing a dynamic shift in this colour conversation through on-set innovations. These compact, travelling systems offer clients on-location data management, color correction and real-time rushes. It is an exciting development for data and post pipeline management.”
“As technology shifts and advances, colourists are required to learn new systems and approaches, the autodesk 3D ‘relighting’ tools now offered in the latest professional packages are a good example, but one thing is a constant,” says Martin Greer “I know colourists who are fine technicians, but I think what makes the team at Digital Pictures great is that all of the colour graders are creative story tellers and they are passionate about it. They know how to get the best out of very high-end, powerful grading equipment and they know how to get the best out of a story which is a combination that will deliver the best possible results for a client.”
Digital Pictures’ colourists have all travelled various technical paths on the road to becoming colourists. Some were editors, others camera operators, others VFX artists and others from film labs. As a collective brains trust they have centuries of specialist colour grading experience.
They continue to learn from and collaborate with some of the country’s greatest storytellers and directors. Recent projects include, The Eye of The Storm (winner of Best Film, Melbourne International Film Festival 2011) Snowtown and The Burning Man, all of which have been accepted into the prestigious 2011 Toronto Film Festival. The team is also proud to have worked on 12 of the 23 films in competition at this year’s AFI ACCTA Awards.
For a full list of film credits and to view colourists reels, please visit: http://www.digitalpictures.com.au/our-work
by Ella Mitchell