Duncan Russell, Senior Colourist, Freefolk
Alexis Van Hurkman, Writer/Director/Colorist, Van Hurkman Productions
Stephen Nakamura, Senior Colorist, Company 3
Brad Malcolm, President, Athentech Imaging Inc.
Jordan Snider, Supervising Colorist, Chromacolor
James DeRuvo, Film and Technology Reporter, DoddleNEWS
Larry Jordan: Tonight on The Buzz, we are talking about color, color grading and how color drives our emotions. We start with a look at the basics of color. Stephen Nakamura is the senior colorist at Deluxe’s Company 3 in Los Angeles. His projects include Oz The Great and Powerful, Prometheus, Zero Dark Thirty, and many others. He sets the scene for us on color and the basics of color grading.
Larry Jordan: Duncan Russell is the senior colorist at Freefolk. Based in London he specializes in color grading for commercials and visual effects. Tonight, we talk about the rules of color, the evolution of color looks, and the challenges of grading for HDR.
Larry Jordan: Brad Malcolm is the CEO of Athentech Imaging. They make Perfectly Clear, a Photoshop plug in that automatically color corrects still images. Tonight, we’ll talk with Brad about what makes a picture perfect.
Larry Jordan: The easiest place to fix color and exposure problems is on set which means that bringing a colorist on set can save time and money. Tonight, we talk with Jordan Snider who explains his smart color workflow and how he helps the production team see the colors they’re creating on set.
Larry Jordan: Alexis Van Hurkman is renowned as a writer, director and colorist. Recently he shot and graded a film to test how creating a film in HDR changes production and post. He shares his discoveries with us tonight.
Larry Jordan: All this, plus James DeRuvo with our weekly DoddleNEWS update. The Buzz starts now.
Announcer: Since the dawn of digital filmmaking – authoritative – one show serves a worldwide network of media professionals – current – uniting industry experts – production – filmmakers – post production – and content creators around the planet – distribution. From the media capital of the world in Los Angeles, California, The Digital Production Buzz goes live now.
Larry Jordan: Welcome to The Digital Production Buzz, the world’s longest running podcast for the creative content industry, covering media production, post production and marketing around the world.
Larry Jordan: Hi, my name is Larry Jordan. Late this afternoon, Apple released updates to Final Cut Pro X and Compressor. Compressor moves to version 4.3.2 and the changes include a number of bug fixes, including watermarks, DVD burning, AC3 audio sync issues, as well as the ability to monitor compression jobs from terminals command line. Final Cut X moves to version 10.3.3, and its changes include the ability to widen the inspector, improved user interface options when using rolls, faster updating of older libraries, support for Canon Log 3, Sony S-Log 3, and Sony S-Gamut3 media, as well as correcting bugs with DVD burning, audio waveform drawing, and reveal and browser operations. iMovie was also updated with a small number of performance and stability improvements. The updates are free and available in a Mac app store. I’ve not yet had a chance to download or test these versions, so I don’t have an opinion, but the key rule for updates is that if you’re in the middle or end of a project, and you are not having problems, don’t upgrade until your project is complete. If you are having problems, and the problem you’re having is on the list of things that Apple fixed, then go ahead and update.
Larry Jordan: I’ll update one of my systems myself tomorrow to test it, and if it looks good, I’ll update the rest of the office the next couple of weeks. I’ll write more about this in my newsletter on Monday. Now it’s time for James DeRuvo, and our DoddleNEWS update. Hello James, what’s our first story today?
James DeRuvo: Well, Frame.io 2.0, the online collaboration … launched this week. After two years of taking feedback from customers, the new collaborative user interface is reworked, promising to be a quantum leap forward in media sharing and client collaboration. It has over 100 new features, including import export of comments, and annotations directly into Final Cut Pro X and Avid Media Composer. It’s also SMPTE timecode compliant, and has a completely redesigned video player that provides reference as to who’s making a comment and where, and from what I’m seeing, it’s smoother, faster and offers some new features that will make team collaboration.
Larry Jordan: That’s Frame.io version 2.0. What have we got that’s next?
James DeRuvo: Nikon has skipped a few generations as they launched the D7500 DSLR. Photographers and videographers are calling it the D500 Lite, because it has the same image sensor at 24.2 megapixels, and the same EXPEED 5 processor. It’s only two frames per second slower in burst mode, and can shoot 4K, 30p video on board, or via HDMI out. The smaller form factor, due to missing the second SD card slot, and removal of the optical low pass filter, it’s also very light and very mobile. Price is around $1250 and it’ll be out this summer. If you’re wanting to upgrade your Nikon platform, but you can’t swing that D5 just yet, and you don’t mind missing out on a few minor features of the D500, then the D7500 could be right up your alley Larry.
Larry Jordan: Alright. The Nikon D7500. What else have we got?
James DeRuvo: Panasonic’s GH5, their brand new 4K micro four-thirds camera that just came out recently may have some serious autofocus issues. Videographers who have the camera and are testing lenses on the micro four-thirds rig, have complained that in standard autofocus mode, the GH5 continually hunts and just can’t seem to lock onto its target. In Advance plus three and 225 point mode however, the improved autofocus locks in quickly but still hunts pretty noticeably while it finds its focus. Strangely, the focusing issue all but disappears when you’re shooting in 4K 60, locking it in lightning quick. Chances are I think this is probably a firmware issue Larry, and it should be able to be fixed pretty quickly, but if this is a hardware issue, Panasonic may have a bad batch of autofocus sensors.
James DeRuvo: Fortunately you can just stick it on manual mode and do it the pro way if you want, but it’s a drag for wedding videographers who want to run and gun as they’re shooting at the reception and they want to get that autofocus in quickly. Don’t put it on standard mode, keep it on Advanced plus three or 225 point mode to get the best possible focus.
Larry Jordan: It may come as a surprise to you but the NAB trade show is coming up. You may not have noticed, it’s kind of hard to spot. What have you got that’s news for what’s going to happen at the show?
James DeRuvo: Right around the corner, we’re speculating about what’s going to happen in Las Vegas. Will Blackmagic launch a 4K pocket cinema camera? Oh I hope so. Will Canon actually bring C-Log to the 5D mark 3? It’s not looking good, because they just announced a firmware update today and it wasn’t in it. What the heck happened to RED? They’re not even going to be there. DJI is also rumored to be announcing a new quadcopter called the Spark which is basically a miniature version of the Mavic which is already a miniature version. I don’t know how much smaller it can get. There’s probably going to be some new lenses from Sigma, Zeiss and Fuji. It’s a huge convention, I’m sure there’s going to be plenty more than that and we’ll be able to talk about it all every day at five o’clock when I join you on The Buzz.
Larry Jordan: The Buzz will be there covering the entire show. We’re doing 27 shows in four and a half days, and I’m looking forward to your live reports in our last show of the day at five o’clock. By the way, we should also see a lot of stuff on transcoding, a lot more on storage with some new storage technology, a lot of video on IP. There’s going to be some new technology to look at. James, for all these stories, where can people go on the web?
James DeRuvo: All these and more stories can be found at doddlenews.com.
Larry Jordan: James DeRuvo is the senior writer for doddlenews.com and returns every week with a DoddleNEWS update. James, thanks for joining us, we’ll talk to you next week.
James DeRuvo: OK Larry.
Larry Jordan: Take care, bye bye.
Larry Jordan: Enter the new digital eco system of media, entertainment, and technology, where behavior and business have merged to redefine content, workflow and revenue streams. It’s the M.E.T Effect, a cultural phenomenon fuelled by hybrid solutions and boundless connectivity that’s changing the very nature of how we live, work and play.
Larry Jordan: Join more than 100,000 attendees from 160 countries at the NAB show. Conferences are April 22nd to the 27th and exhibits are April 24th through the 27th, at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. Let’s thrive and I’ll see you there.
Larry Jordan: Stephen Nakamura is the senior colorist for Deluxe’s Company 3 in Los Angeles. His projects include Oz the Great and Powerful, Prometheus, Zero Dark Thirty, and many more. Hello Stephen, welcome.
Stephen Nakamura: Hi, how are you Larry?
Larry Jordan: We are doing great, and I’m delighted to talk to you on the phone again. It’s been almost two years since last we spoke.
Stephen Nakamura: Right.
Larry Jordan: Stephen, today we’re talking about color and color grading. How would you define the difference between color correction and color grading?
Stephen Nakamura: I guess they could be considered the same thing. Color correction basically involves changing the color affecting the imagery of any kind of moving image that anyone shoots, whether it’s on film or digital. In its simplest form, it’s basically matching shots, making sure that they’re smooth and if one shot’s warm and another shot’s cool, you need to make them all warm or all cool, or you can be very creative and make things desaturated, a whole scene or a whole movie saturated, desaturated, warm, cool, contrasty, whatever. So it’s really Photoshop on steroids.
Larry Jordan: For projects where we plan to do a lot of color grading, when should we start planning what we want our look to be?
Stephen Nakamura: That usually happens in the dailies area when they first start shooting. Most productions actually try to set looks on set so that there’s a color correction already baked into the files and those color corrections then get baked in, they send it to their editorial department and the editors start cutting with the footage so that footage already has its own kind of look. Whether it may be slightly desaturated or warm or a certain kind of palette, the cinematographer usually determines with the director a particular feel or look, and a lot of that look is baked in really early in the process and dailies.
Larry Jordan: Does it make a difference what video format we shoot if we’re planning to do color grading? Or are all video formats pretty much the same?
Stephen Nakamura: Especially for theatrical, you want to shoot on the highest dynamic range capture medium that you can. The lower the quality of the images are, the more you’ll have things like clipped whites where we’ll lose information in the whites or crushed blacks where we won’t have information in the blacks. Once your capture medium loses information because it doesn’t have any dynamic range or enough dynamic range, we just will be unable to recover it in the post process, so ideally you want to shoot with the highest quality camera that you could get.
Larry Jordan: Do our choices change, either in codecs or other techniques if we wanted to shoot for HDR?
Stephen Nakamura: Not really. Most of the professional cameras that the cinematographers use have enough dynamic range that if they’re shooting it correctly on set, we have all the dynamic range we need for HDR or Rec. 709 or Rec. 2020 or any of the other massing formats that we need.
Larry Jordan: Which is more important to color grading, resolution or bit depth?
Stephen Nakamura: Bit depth is more important. You could have something that’s 4K with a limited dynamic range, and you’re still going to get the clipped whites or the crushed blacks. How sharp the image is, is far less important than having the full dynamic range in your blacks and your whites, so that when we start pushing images around in all the different formats, you have a very robust image to work with that has very little noise.
Larry Jordan: When you’re color grading a project, are there cultural differences in how we perceive color, or the emotions they create when you’re color grading?
Stephen Nakamura: I think as a general rule, that probably is the case Larry. Certainly if a movie tends to be a very happy, romantic comedy, typically it’ll be a little bit more saturated, it’ll be a little bit warmer. Depending on the time period, they’ll have a certain look so people get real involved in that time period that can be affected by color, that people are familiar with. So a lot of times, depending on the movie, you can take a look at the footage, you can tell what type of movie it is, and you can already get a feel for which direction they may want to go in, even though we may not get a lot of direction.
Larry Jordan: Stephen, where can we go on the web to learn more about you and your company?
Stephen Nakamura: You can certainly go on company3.com and you can find me on there.
Larry Jordan: And that’s Deluxe’s Company 3. Stephen Nakamura is the senior colorist at Company 3. Stephen, thanks for joining us today, it is always fun to chat.
Stephen Nakamura: Thank you so much Larry, appreciate it.
Larry Jordan: Bye bye.
Larry Jordan: Duncan Russell is a senior colorist for Freefolk. He’s based in London and has worked in the post industry since 1995 with an early career dominated by film restoration, long form color grades, mastering features and 16mm films for MTV. His passion for color grew from an early love of film and photography, and he’s ranked fourth in the Televisual Poll of Top Ten Colorists in the UK in 2015. Hello Duncan, welcome.
Duncan Russell: Hello Larry, nice to be here.
Larry Jordan: Duncan, just to set the scene, and to put our discussion into perspective, for people that are listening, visit Duncan’s website at freefolk.com, and just watch the movie on the home page. It’s just stunning and amazing. Anyway, Duncan while everybody is moving their browser off the show, and going to go check out your website, how would you describe Freefolk?
Duncan Russell: Freefolk is a boutique post production facility, so by boutique I mean it’s pretty small. We’ve got about 30 people working here. We specialize in color grading and finishing off mostly commercials, but we also do long form visual effects as well.
Larry Jordan: Within that broad context, what’s your role, what do you do specifically?
Duncan Russell: I’m a senior colorist here, so my role will be to take care of the look of the pictures. So when the clients have a grade in mind, they’ve shot their film, it’s usually when they’re looking at the offline, it’s got a LUT on it that’s a standard LUT supplied by the camera company. That will give it an overall grade, unpacking the log image into Rec. 709. This can sometimes look fantastic, and sometimes it’s a little bit agricultural, could be very heavy handed, and you’re going to lose information in the blacks. So what we do as colorists, we’ll take that basic template, and we will turn it into something a lot more nuanced, a lot more beautiful and we’ll maybe chase down a look that you can’t get just with a single 3D LUT. If you’ve got an idea that your TV show or your commercial has to look like something from your own memory, when you’ve presented to a client your idea for their film, you’ve got a very specific idea in your head about how it’s going to look. Is it going to look like Singing in the Rain? Like an episode of Friends? Like Casablanca? Any number of references. We take the raw photography and we will take it to that place that has previously just been imagined.
Larry Jordan: You used the term LUT. A LUT maps the colors in the camera to a particular look, it’s called a Look Up Table. Is that a true statement?
Duncan Russell: Yes, that’s absolutely spot on. We use LUT quite liberally. You’ve given it a very dry, technical term. Sometimes we can supply LUTs which are all creative and yes, it is a remapping, but it’s a reimagining as well, so you’re literally saying, “All you blues over there, you’re very bright and I’m going to swish you over and you’re going to be a lot more desaturated and deep and dark, and all you reds, you’re going to be a bit brighter and more shrill.” So, it can be just a conversion of one color space to another, but it can also be a creative process as well.
Larry Jordan: Why should we care? We’re shooting pictures, does the color make that big a difference?
Duncan Russell: That’s a very good question. Yes, you absolutely should care. It’s interesting actually, when you say you should care, because sometimes you get an offline and you look at just the basic LUT and you think, “That looks absolutely fine. You could put that on air, it’s been really well shot, really well lit. The maths says it’s going to end up with these colors, that looks great, put that out.” Really, if you’re only after a certain standard, you could put it out. But if you get it in here, and you start twiddling with it, nuancing it, loving it, kissing it and stroking it, then all of a sudden all these new things come out, and suddenly people in the room get excited. Color is such an emotional thing and it evokes incredible responses in people that you don’t have to do it, but you should do it.
Larry Jordan: Because color is such an emotional thing, are the rules for color changing? If I look at something from ten years ago, does it mean the same thing today?
Duncan Russell: I think looks are changing. I think the way grading is done is definitely changing. I think the rules don’t change, they may complicate slightly but if you look at old paintings, if you look at Caravaggio, or Titian, or these really early painters, the rules of presentation of an image, and how you tell an emotional story, that really hasn’t changed. Our techniques change, and what we can do has changed, but really, it’s interesting how nailed on your emotional response is to dark things, bright things, isolated colors, color contrast. If you have say, a very dark image, if there’s not something, one single, specular point of brightness in that image, the image just looks flat. But now you put that difference in, your eye sees the brightness and then it perceives the darkness. The same goes with color. If you want someone to see a red, very quickly or to really perceive that red, the rest of the colors that are in that shot, they can’t really fight with that red. They have to give in to that red, so they have to be complementary colors, cooler colors. If you want to direct the eye somewhere, you have to follow the rules. There’s really no way around that.
Larry Jordan: You said the rules are pretty fixed, but looks are changing. How are the looks changing?
Duncan Russell: Yes, the looks are changing. If you watch Hey Ya, by Outkast, you go and watch that video, it’s got a really perfect look for that time. It’s one of my favorite ever grades and it’s super bright and shiny, and just unbelievably sharp and well resolved and gorgeous. If you go then to a video like Open Eye Response by Jon Hopkins, a completely different look, drier, more austere. Things come and go, fashions come and go, so within the hard rules there are tastes. Everyone talks about teal and orange with color, and if you look at the 50s and 60s, there’s not so much of a focus on that. It’s in there, but there’s other complementary color schemes too. If you go onto Harry Potter, and things like that, the teal and orange is huge. So that’s come and gone, the Michael Bay films and all that kind of thing. So fashions come and go but the rules stay solid.
Larry Jordan: With the color grading work that you do, do you have a personal style?
Duncan Russell: I don’t know about that one. I don’t think I do, I think I always aim for really high fidelity, and I always try to tell the story with the maximum amount of resolution as I can within the creative rules that I’ve been set. So I’m always looking at color contrast. Having learnt on film because I’ve been doing this for a while, films response through the high end of exposure, I think is a little more steep than digital cameras. So I’m always trying to get back to that film response to gamut and high brightness images. I’m always looking at the way skin rolls off in the highlights. So for me, I tend to grade things a little dark. I think you could probably encapsulate my whole style by saying, “Yes, his grading’s a little dark.” It’s quite simple.
Larry Jordan: If you’re doing something for SD or HD, or 4K or HDR, does the grade change?
Duncan Russell: HDR does. HDR’s going to change everything.
Larry Jordan: How so?
Duncan Russell: Because HDR has more brightness, it just has more top end, like five times more top end. And it’s got a lot lower shadows, although I think that’s more of a perceptive thing than a real thing, because the brights are so much bright that the blacks seem deeper. When HDR becomes a real thing when we’re all doing it all the time, I think grades are going to completely change. The rules, as we were talking about before, the rules are going to stay the same, but what we can do is going to be completely different. Right now, colorists spend a lot of their time trying to squeeze this very high dynamic range image into Rec. 709 and it’s always a bit of a struggle to get skin tone rolling off nicely, highlights reflecting off glass and metal, all exposed into a nice dynamic range. Now with HDR, you can let those highlights be as high as they would be in real life almost, so your skin can stay in a nice range, but also you’ve got this whole other range of brightnesses on top of that. All the specular brightnesses. I can’t wait to do my first big fat HDR job. I’ve been demonstrating it to clients, trying to get them to invest in the process because for us, for workflow, it’s more expensive because there’s no way round it, you have to buy new monitors and everyone has to invest in that at the same time or there’s no point doing it. So right now, we’re demoing all the time, trying to sell it to our customers.
Duncan Russell: In answer to your question about do I grade differently for SD or HD? No. It’s the same. I haven’t done an SD grade in ten years, but HD and SD have the same dynamic range. Resolution doesn’t really make a difference.
Larry Jordan: I’m a big fan of HDR, can’t wait.
Duncan Russell: When I first saw it, I hated it because I misunderstood it. When I first saw HDR when I first started grading it, I just made everything brighter because there was so much more room. It all looked horrible and too bright. I could barely look at the screen. Then I understood it better, and I realized you keep all the things that were in the middle in the middle, and then the top end just has all this room and range to flow. That’s the beauty of HDR, is it’s going to look more like reality. That can be very dangerous as well as Peter Jackson found out with 48 frames per second, but I think in this instance, it’s going to be really interesting and I think artistically, we’re entering a really interesting phase of grading and mastering, and I can’t wait to see old films remastered that way too.
Larry Jordan: Let’s imagine that I’m a client that’s new to your facility and I come to you with a project and ask you to do a color grade on it. What preparation do I need to do before I come to you and what questions are you going to ask that I need to answer?
Duncan Russell: This is very important because it gets past all the sort of flimflammery you have when you start a session. What I would like from you, Larry is for you to trawl the internet, trawl your memory banks, trawl your rolodex of visual references, and give them all to me. So every photo you were thinking of when you thought up your masterpiece, capture it and give it to me. Every film you love that looks a bit like your vision, give me a still of it, and then we’ll work on that. So basically, bring to me a mood board, a look book, of all the things you love that you want to see in your film. That’s the most efficient way. Bring a thesaurus as well, because you’re going to need lots of flowery flouncy terms to describe looks. There’s no easy way around it, you have to use poetic language when you’re describing color. You’re often speaking from memory and you’re speaking from the heart. When you’ve got a good relationship with a colorist, it speeds things up so well. When you know that he or she understands you, and understands what you mean when you say, “Oh I want it really dark.” Your really dark will be totally different to another person’s really dark. So as a colorist, I have to listen to you and figure out what it is you mean by, “Oh make that really warm” or “Make this really icy.” I have to get there, but to do that I have to know you quite well.
Larry Jordan: Duncan, for people that want to be able to hire you for their next project, where can they go on the web to learn more about you and your company?
Duncan Russell: Well you can go to freefolk.com, that’s got all my details there. That’s also got details of the New York office that we’ve just opened up.
Larry Jordan: That’s all one word, freefolk.com and Duncan Russell is a senior colorist for Freefolk, and Duncan, thanks for joining us today.
Duncan Russell: Thanks Larry.
Larry Jordan: Brad Malcolm is president and co-founder of Athentech Imaging which makes Perfectly Clear. This is a plug in providing intelligent image correction for still images. Hello Brad.
Brad Malcolm: Hi Larry, how are you doing?
Larry Jordan: I am talking to you, I’m doing great. Tonight, we’re talking about color and its impact on our emotions and stills have been dealing with this for a long while. You specialize in stills, so from your perspective, what makes the perfect picture?
Brad Malcolm: The perfect picture is when that’s captured initially in your mind’s eye, so the first time you experience something, your eye captures it, and you store it in memory. That’s a perfect picture, because your eye has no limitations. Unfortunately, what happens with cameras a lot, even though there’s a lot of technology in, is camera or physical limitations which causes distortions, exposure, incorrect color, noise, those types of things.
Larry Jordan: Similar to color, video is just getting its head wrapped around HDR, whilst stills have been working with this for a while as well. What does HDR mean in the world of still photography?
Brad Malcolm: HDR is a fun thing that a lot of people do. It’s been around a long time. Traditionally you would create it by three or more images where you’ll under expose, and normal expose, and over expose and put them together. It used to be more complicated to do. You’d have to use complicated programs and making sure everything is just right with the multiple exposures. Now you can do it a lot more automatically in camera. There’s some software out there that’ll allow you do that for images. But they give creative looks. Many of them are fake and they’re clear HDR looks, but also a lot of looks are really neat that you can create because you just can’t bring out the color or the texture or the tone that you could in a normal image. There’s also a lot of realistic HDR looks now that are tough to tell. Real estate uses that a lot to capture an emotional, warm sunset shot, they still capture the room size because it allows you to capture a wider dynamic range.
Larry Jordan: Color is such an emotional subject, but does color mean the same today as it did ten, or 20 years ago? Or do the meanings of color shift?
Brad Malcolm: Color is color. There’s an artistic effect to it, and that’s why people like photography black and white effects as well. But yes, there’s two aspects to color. There’s one when you capture something, you want that color to be accurate, you don’t want your white snow to be blue for example, and you get those inaccurate colors with all those color tints a lot. Those are unwanted colors, we call them nasty tints, and we want to get rid of them. But then there’s making sure things have a lot of color, and often landscapes, sunset shots, you want to pop those colors to make them even more vivid.
Larry Jordan: One of the things that Perfectly Clear does which is your product, is try to make pictures more perfect. What do you do?
Brad Malcolm: We have a whole bunch of patents and technology. We analyze the image to give you a perfect image, a beautiful image automatically, so you don’t have to be an expert or use complicated tools or spend a lot of time with lots of sliders or adjustments trying to get that perfect image. We overcome things like incorrect color, we overcome things like exposure because we correct for every pixel independently. We’re the only company in the world with an automatic solution that maintains what we call real color and that’s what you see with your eye. We replicate the physics of the eye and how we reproduce that real color, therefore the colors of the sky, or the colors of your face, the colors of your shirt are not going to be shifted to something artificial. There’s a lot of things that we do automatically, up to 20 different corrections automatically from color to face stuff like making sure your faces are perfect as well, so think of it as making it easy to get your image looking its best.
Larry Jordan: I’ve had a chance to play with Perfectly Clear over this last week, and I decided to give it all the bad photographs that I take, which I do intentionally of course. But it really works magic. I was really impressed at the quality of the software, so congratulations, it’s beautiful.
Brad Malcolm: Thank you. We just launched the latest version of it, v.3 a couple of weeks ago, so we’ve re-overhauled the entire software. We’ve added new corrections, new algorithms so there’s a lot of cool stuff out there. One thing, since you were talking about color, we’ve added a foliage enhance, and a sky enhance, so for those people that want to boost the colors in the sky, or the foliage, that’s something that we allow as well. But we’re all about keeping things simple, and keeping things accurate, and saving you time.
Larry Jordan: Can we think about saving money as well? Can you give us a discount on the software?
Brad Malcolm: I was asked for that and you bet. We did give your users a special discount, it’s $99, and comes with a money back guarantee and it’s normally 129, so save $30 until May 10th. So how does that sound?
Larry Jordan: That sounds perfect. The code is Clear99, no spaces. Clear99. For people that want to learn more, what website can they go to?
Brad Malcolm: They can go to Athentech.com. They can also just Google Perfectly Clear and it will come up and check us out and there’s a free trial. Lots of information about what we do and how we help businesses and all that good stuff.
Larry Jordan: Brad Malcolm is the president and co-founder of Athentech. The product is Perfectly Clear, athentech.com. Brad, thanks for joining us today.
Brad Malcolm: Thanks Larry.
Larry Jordan: Take care, bye bye.
Brad Malcolm: Bye bye.
Larry Jordan: Here’s another website I want to introduce you to. Doddlenews.com. DoddleNEWS gives you a portal into the broadcast, video and film industries. It’s a leading online resource, presenting news, reviews and products for the film and video industry. DoddleNEWS also offers a resource guide and crew management platforms specifically designed for production. These digital call sheets, along with their app, directory and premium listings, provide in depth organizational tools for busy production professionals. DoddleNEWS is a part of the Thalo Arts Community, a worldwide community of artists, film makers and story tellers. From photography to film making, performing arts to fine arts, and everything in between, Thalo is filled with resources you need to succeed. Whether you want the latest industry news, need to network with other creative professionals or require state of the art online tools to manage your next project, there’s only one place to go. Doddlenews.com.
Larry Jordan: Jordan Snider is the supervising colorist at Chromacolor, though his career has spanned stills photography, a gaffer on the production electrical team, and a motion picture DIT. Hello Jordan, welcome.
Jordan Snider: Hey, how’s it going?
Larry Jordan: Jordan, what got you interested in being a colorist?
Jordan Snider: Oh, it’s been a whole career of helping people make their images look awesome. I just really fit in there well first as a photo assistant and then as a gaffer and when I moved to Portland, my photo assistant slash post production and stills kind of merged with my onset video motion picture work. A company, Bent Image Lab, hired me as a colorist, and I never got work as anything else.
Larry Jordan: One of the things you do is you bring color management on set. Why is this such a big deal?
Jordan Snider: When you have DIT and the DT almost working together as a unit on crafting the image on set, completely disconnected from the colorist, the person who’s actually responsible for mastering and delivering that image, I think it’s just insane. Not every production does that, but it’s commonplace now, especially in indie commercial production. A lot of times, it’s like the agency especially just takes over responsibility for the post. If you have that disconnect, it can really hurt in terms of efficiency and also just even getting the final product that you want if it was exposed incorrectly. Plus, the experience of being able to do color on set and start that process, and not just back up the media as in DIP but actually work with the DP to craft at least a preview of the final image, something that can follow its way through post, there’s huge advantage in that. With Chromacolor what we do, we meet in the middle with a service with a working title called Pre-Post. It’s basically doing lab work, like Technicolor would or someone who instead of the dailies, but in addition we render out proxies, we will sound sync and color apply for the editor to use, so in that way we can do a very efficient online offline workflow. Offline edit with an online color back with the raw. When we test the whole eco system beforehand, it really helps streamline everything to post. So it really saves a lot of technical hassle for the producer and the editors later, and it allows us to have the best image for the least amount of work.
Larry Jordan: I’ve heard about a new color space called Aces. What’s this?
Jordan Snider: Aces is huge. For the indie industry especially indie producers of color I definitely would listen up if you don’t know about it already. Aces is the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, their color space. They made this for all the different formats, log terms, you have area log, and red log film and Sony has S-Log, S-Log 2, S-Log 3, Canon’s got three or four of them. So if you’re shooting with multiple cameras matching all those is very difficult when you have all those different … to account for, much less lenses and other variables. So Aces brings everything back to the same space, and makes it very easy to match in the color grade. In addition to making it easier to match different cameras, it also allows us to … for multiple formats. A classic example would be for film for cinema, you project in DCI, but for web and broadcast we use Rec. 709 as the color space. So with Aces, it makes mastering, doing your trim path, your main path in whatever format you’re intending, let’s say DCI in this case if you have a master monitor, or just Rec.709 on a regular monitor. Then you can reset your output and do a trim path for a different format, say DCI or Rec. 2020 and HDR, which is quickly approaching new format that will be shaking things up but making display much more exciting. So Aces is a way to deal with these new formats, future proof your product, as well as match cameras and make everything go faster.
Larry Jordan: Jordan, for people who are interested in using you on their next film, where can they go on the web?
Jordan Snider: You can see our website for Chromacolor at chromacolor.video. I also like to plug our Instagram, it’s a really fun, perfect place to showcase our product. Chromacolor_pdx is our Instagram handle and you can find tutorials that we’re doing with the Story and Heart story tellers on their website, storyandheart.com.
Larry Jordan: Jordan’s website is chromacolor.video, not .com, and Jordan Snider is the supervising colorist at Chromacolor. Jordan, thanks for joining us today.
Jordan Snider: Thank you very much.
Larry Jordan: Alexis Van Hurkman is a writer, a director, and a colorist, and as a colorist, he’s graded programs that have aired on the History Channel, the Learning Channel and the BBC, features, shorts, you name it. He’s also a writer or contributor to more than 20 books and written two of the industry standards on color correction. He also consults for Blackmagic Design as part of the product design team for DaVinci Resolve. I get tired just reading his biography. Hello Alexis. Welcome.
Alexis Van Hurkman: Hi, good to be here.
Larry Jordan: Alexis, set the scene, what are you working on now?
Alexis Van Hurkman: The most recent thing I did that I can talk about is a short film. I actually just had a shoot this last weekend, so this is the most relaxed I’ve been in months.
Larry Jordan: Actually, that short film is significant. We’re going to come back and talk about that in a minute, but before that, tonight’s show is devoted to color. What are the software tools necessary for somebody starting out in the industry to master? What do they have to learn to be “a colorist?”
Alexis Van Hurkman: I’m a big fan of really promoting learning the fundamentals of color. All of the tools you’re going to look at, including software plug ins like Colorista and Color Finale, as well as dedicated color apps like Resolve and Baselight and Scratch, they all have the same tools. At the end of the day, if you want to learn to build, it’s not about learning to build any one thing, it’s about learning to use hammers and saws and everyone’s tool box has those things. Being a good colorist, learning to be good at your craft, involves having an equal understanding of the digital signal and an understanding of good taste as it pertains to color. Really the client’s relying on you to be able to size up the image, and make decisions about “Does this look good? Does this combination of colors work? Is the color temperature a little too green? Are the skin tones off? Is that shirt too distracting?” But at the same time, you’re also looking at how the signal is going to go out to whomever is mastering the deliverable. You need to make sure that you’re not clipping things unpleasantly. It’s one thing to have a big grade, but if you’re not realizing you’re clipping the signal in an unusual way, you might get that program kicked back at you. So you have to be equal parts artist and engineer, and you have to learn it all basically. Then you have to understand your tool set so you can work quickly and efficiently.
Larry Jordan: Earlier in the show, we talked with Duncan Russell about this exact concept, about where the rules of color came from, and he took us back to the Dutch masters in the 1600s and how they dealt with light and how they dealt with color. Have the rules of color evolved, or does red always mean the same thing?
Alexis Van Hurkman: I hate talking about rules because it all depends on what you’re working on. But I would say that the principles of painting with light, overall haven’t changed. I’m a big fan of referencing Rembrandt when talking about contrast which is the foundation of your image. When you really learn how to sculpt and hone the color, you find yourself very much in a position overlapping portrait artist, and fine art painters who exercise control over the same aspects of color that we do. It’s surprising when you talk to painters how much of their way of analyzing color and utilizing color overlaps with ours. But the one thing I will say, that is evolving, is the color palette available to the film maker and the digital colorist, is expanding in a way that we haven’t seen in decades. That all by itself is opening up new horizons in creative possibility.
Larry Jordan: You’ve worked a lot with both Blackmagic and DaVinci Resolve, and DaVinci brings color correction to the masses. When should someone do color correction themselves, and when should they hire a pro?
Alexis Van Hurkman: I think it depends on how much confidence you’ve got. I’m always going to say if you hire a dedicated pro, you’re going to probably get a better and faster result, because you’re working with someone who does this day in, day out. They’ve learned how to see the image, they’ve learned how to break the image apart into the components that need to be adjusted, and they can give you an informed opinion very quickly about what’s going to work and what’s not going to work. If you’re going to do it yourself, that’s great. But if you’re not skilled, it’s going to take you a lot longer and you’re also going to feel a lot more uncertain. There’s a reason when I direct a film I have a DP instead of trying to call out the lighting schemes myself. Because my DP knows way more about putting together that on set lighting than I do. It’s not like I don’t know color and lighting as a colorist, but I don’t know it as an on set professional. So for me, I’m a big believer in using skilled professionals, to help you maximize each part of the film making process.
Larry Jordan: I want to go back to this film project you just finished last weekend. There was actually a special goal associated with this. Give us a quick summary of what the film was about, who it was for and what you were trying to do.
Alexis Van Hurkman: It’s a short film, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have Flanders Scientific sponsor it. Their interest was in getting some HDR material that they can show off a workflow that is possible with their on set displays. For me, the purpose of the film was to really develop a project that was destined for HDR mastering, from end to end.
Larry Jordan: How did your production change when you thought about HDR from the very beginning? What was different?
Alexis Van Hurkman: Trying to figure out how we were going to manage the decision making process. HDR expands your gamut, it allows much more rich saturation and it obviously allows you much greater contrast than really popping super bright highlights. So the challenge is, how do we look at our lighting on set and figure out is this going to work? As the person who’s going to be doing the grade later on, I had a particular interest in making sure that the lighting scheme had a certain variegation in the highlights. I didn’t want every highlight to be at the same level. I wanted some 500 nit highlights, I wanted some 800 nit highlights, I wanted some 1000 nit highlights, and I wanted some 4000 nit highlights, because I knew that if that was built into the color scheme, later on when I did the grade, it was just going to be much easier to accentuate that kind of highlight differentiation that I’ve found in the HDR jobs I’ve done so far, really gives you a much richer and more sophisticated image. Rather than differentiating everything into just diffuse white and then super white. I like having more of a range, more of a gradation of highlights.
Alexis Van Hurkman: Flanders Scientific have introduced a new DM series of monitors, DM240 and the DM250. They have what Flanders calls an HDR preview mode, and they call it a preview mode because the displays aren’t capable of doing official HDR levels. They only go up to I believe 350 nits, but what they can do is give you an ST2084 representation of the image, such that you do see your HDR levels pop at that 350 nit level. So you get this suggestion of what the HDR signal could be, and of course, their scopes have an HDR scale. So I was really fortunate, since I work with Blackmagic, being able to reach out to their color scientist, who provided me with a lot so that I could output the correct signal from the Blackmagic URSA mini camera that we were using on the shoot, to be able to send the right signal to the Flanders displays, so that the DP and I could see how the lighting scheme was working out, and the DIT had a similar display to try out some test grades and see how things were going. So we were really able to account for what the HDR master would benefit from, right at the moment of shooting. That included the makeup artists doing their last looks and the set decorators re-adjusting things to make sure that we had highlights where we wanted them. It was just a tremendous help, it really did work well.
Larry Jordan: What codec were you shooting, and what format video do we need to shoot in order to be able to capture as much information as we can so we can create an HDR signal later?
Alexis Van Hurkman: We were shooting RAW, and on the Blackmagic URSA mini camera, that’s CinemaDNG raw. I was shooting with the 3:1 compressed raw, because that’s perfectly fine for everything we were doing. The raw recorded data is going to give you the greatest range. My interest was making sure that we had every single pixel of detail possible, so I just wasn’t interested in transcoding into another codec. Now you can turn any signal into HDR, it’s just that the fewer bits you’ve got the lower the bit depth is, the greater a risk you’re going to rip the signal apart a little bit if you stretch it too far. So ideally you want 12 bits of captured data. You can get away with ten bits I’m sure, but my feeling is why take a chance? So as far as I’m concerned, any project I’m doing where I’m mastering to HDR, I am trying to get a 12 bit raw signal.
Larry Jordan: So we shot 12 bit raw, and you experimented to make it look as beautiful as you can on set, you now have 800 hard discs filled with data. You’re back…
Alexis Van Hurkman: We actually don’t. I’m going to interrupt you there because I’m very proud of pointing out that I keep my shooting ratios really tight. We rehearse our actors. Two days of shooting full 12 hour days, three scenes a day, I ended up with one terabyte of data.
Larry Jordan: So we take that one terabyte, bring it back to your color suite, where you’re doing the color grade, how are you monitoring and what software are you using to do the grade?
Alexis Van Hurkman: I’m using DaVinci Resolve. Most professional grading applications have already been working with HDR because they’ve always had to maintain a high bit depth, high dynamic range data under the hood. The only difference now is there are displays that you can use that allow you to actually output to a greater range. So that’s what’s new, but the software actually has been able to do this for years. DaVinci Resolve’s color science can accommodate HDR beautifully. In terms of the monitor that I’m using, right now I’m actually just doing tests with the CM250 display that I have, and my goal is to get my hands on one of the newer LG displays. I may end up renting an X300 down the road so I have a little time to decide how I’m going to choose to monitor it.
Larry Jordan: Let’s get some brands. Who makes the CM250?
Alexis Van Hurkman: The CM250 comes from Flanders Scientific.
Larry Jordan: The X300?
Alexis Van Hurkman: The X300 is a Sony display.
Larry Jordan: The LG is any specific LG that you’re looking at?
Alexis Van Hurkman: It’s the 2017 model, OLED.
Larry Jordan: That’s the B6.
Alexis Van Hurkman: Yes.
Larry Jordan: I purchased one of those for myself and I’m still drooling over it. So I’m a big fan of that monitor.
Alexis Van Hurkman: I’ve been hearing really good things so I’m probably going to be getting my hands on a B6 to do the master, but again the world of HDR changes a lot in three months, and it’s probably going to take me three months to get to the point where I’m ready to master. So I’m not making any assumptions at this point.
Larry Jordan: I want to know how this whole film comes out, so we’ll check back with you in a bit. But in the meantime, for people that decide they want your expertise, where can they go on the web to learn more about you?
Alexis Van Hurkman: To learn more about me, they can go to vanhurkman.com, or they can check me out @hurkman on Twitter.
Larry Jordan: Alexis Van Hurkman is a writer, a director, a colorist and all round good guy. Alexis this has been fun, thanks for joining us today.
Alexis Van Hurkman: Thank you.
Larry Jordan: Color is both a technically deep and emotionally deep subject, made even more complex by the challenges of getting the right color exposed and shot properly on set. And with the onrushing tide toward HDR, this will only get more complex as we’re forced to find different ways to light, dress the set, and record the results.
Larry Jordan: I want to thank our guests this evening, Stephen Nakamura of Company 3, Duncan Russell of Freefolk, Brad Malcolm of Athentech Imaging, Jordan Snider of Chromacolor, Alexis Van Hurkman of Van Hurkman Productions, and James DeRuvo with DoddleNEWS.
Larry Jordan: There’s a lot of history in our industry and it’s all posted to our website at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Here you’ll find thousands of interviews all online, and all available to you today. Remember to sign up for our free weekly show newsletter that comes out every Friday. Talk with us on Twitter @DPBuZZ and Facebook at digitalproductionbuzz.com.
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Larry Jordan: Our producer is Debbie Price. My name is Larry Jordan. Don’t forget to join us at NAB in a week and a half, and thanks for listening to The Digital Production Buzz.
Larry Jordan: The Digital Production Buzz is copyright 2017 by Thalo LLC.