P3: What’s new or different about color correcting a film today? Has the movement to digital changed the process?
DC: With the ever-increasing advent of new digital formats, operating in the traditional film-log world is not as common. The digital cameras all have their own inherent color spaces and tonal curves, so we need to be able to unify the different formats into one color space from which we can then color correct the TV show or feature. Dynamic range and resolution are also increasing. What was deemed an acceptable resolution, bit-depth and dynamic range five years ago is not necessarily what we think of as the highest quality today. Consequently, we need to be able to stay ahead of these trends. Embracing digital display gamuts, and not always targeting film output as the primary deliverable, is also altering the way that we perceive the final color.
P3: What should a cinematographer or director consider before heading into the color correction process?
DC: As in the past, full-camera capabilities and ranges need to be tested before the production and tested within the DI suite. This allows the cinematographer to know the latitude of the image and where it can be manipulated in the actual final color correction. In the past, this was evaluating negative stocks, exposure ranges and lenses. However, these days, with digital acquisition, it is also necessary to test the different formats of cameras and make decisions based on the aesthetic that these cameras bring to the table.
P3: What should upcoming filmmakers know about using a colorist?
DC: Having the colorist involved from preproduction is vital; forming relationships with the cinematographer and director early, helping with the development of the look, and making sure that there’s the possibility of consistency through dailies into preview into final DI.
P3: What software do you use to color correct?
DC: I personally use Autodesk Lustre, but at Technicolor we also have [FilmLight] Baselight and [Blackmagic Design] DaVinci Resolve amongst our tool set.
P3: Where do you see color correction going in the future?
DC: Near set color correction will play an important role during production, and the utilization of the final colorist throughout the entire production will become more integral. With the colorist being one of the final sets of eyes on the entire show, relationships with the visual effects vendors and 3D companies will increasingly become more important for final continuity as well as creative input.
P3: What have been some of the obstacles you’ve faced? And what could make the process run more smoothly?
DC: For TRON: Legacy, we had to be able to grade and release concurrently 2D digital and film, IMAX and also digital 3D, and be able to set up a remote grading theater at Skywalker Ranch to be alongside the director during the sound mix. Apart from creating a unique and never-before-seen world, we had to integrate completely CG shots alongside hybrid locations, digital elements and entirely photographed sections. This all needed to be executed while maintaining a believable continuity and still keeping disparate worlds. In regards to the digital intermediate process, we managed to achieve all of this with extremely tight teamwork within Laser Pacific [now Technicolor] and the feature editorial team. Communication was key. [The] Chipmunks [production] was an evolving process over the three films. Developing techniques to assist with the integration of the completely CG chipmunks alongside live-action photography, we made judicious use of mattes supplied by the visual effects company, which began on film one for a few shots and ended with a matte for every chipmunk in the final film.
Color grading a feature film is an evolving creative process, and what we think we want at the beginning of production is not necessarily how it will end up. However, having a unified creative intent will ultimately serve the film. You don’t want to discover the look on the last day.