Colourists Interview

1. What colour system are you currently using?  

Dave Hughes: Windmill Lane

We’re using the Baselight system.

 

 

Nik Panteris : Egg Post Production

I am currently working with Nucoda Film Master. I’ve been working with the this system since I arrived at EGG in February

 

Gary Curran - Screen Scene

I use the Nucoda Film Master which is made by Digital Vision.

  2. What in your opinion are the system's benefits? Dave Hughes: Windmill Lane

The reason we’re using Baselight is twofold: One, we were looking to go nonlinear from the older systems and we found that it gave us the best results. We felt it integrated far better from companies from the UK, the Mill, Framestore, MPC, where we’d have done remote grading in the past. Also the colour management is fantastic. Within the system there is another system called TrueLight which is Baselight’s colour calibration system. It means that when we do in particular project we can calibrate our system so that our projected image on screen, our TV deliverables, our prints are all exactly the same.

 

As a colourist it gives me all the different colour spaces Log, Linear, REC709. It also allows me when there is something tricky maybe, I’ve a lightly underexposed image, I can do a primary grade to lift it all up then I can convert the colour space to linear and stretch it back out to give me back full range so there are lots of different tricks to manipulating colour spaces to actually get the best out it.

 

 

Nik Panteris : Egg Post Production

Nucoda has very stable software and is very fast and efficient, it allows me to a lot of complicated looks and operations without letting me down. Also the user interface is very simple, I can totally know where I am and what I’m doing with just a glance. The DVO (Digital Vision Optics - Nucoda’s in house noise reduction software-other plug in’s such as DVNR is a film stock matching tool) are brilliant for me, I think its simply the best plug in set of anything else out there and enables the best image manipulation, enhancement, especially when you try to match different exposures or noise ratios’s, it think its the best tool you can use. It allows me to manipulate the image in a smooth and organic way. The colour grading tools themselves are very intuitive and precise. They just have a really organic feel in the way you interact with the system. The manufacturers keep the system maintained with constant firmware updates an whenever the there is a need for something extra, we communicate directly with Nucoda and the response is immediate. If we need something implemented or they will give us an idea of how we could do it ourselves. Their support is very responsive.

 

 

Gary Curran - Screen Scene

I suppose it splits into two areas, the first area that the Nucoda is really strong on is just handling media, finding media on networks or on SANs (Storage Area Networks) wherever the media may be, conforming out all up and dealing with all the  multiple camera formats, its very good at bringing it altogether into a time line. I’ve been on the Nucoda almost five years and that was one of its strong selling points, Screen Scene does commercials, does TV Drama, TV Documentary, features, so you're often jumping from a commercial into a TV drama to a documentary and into types of projects into different types of workflows and the Nucoda is good at accessing the media, getting it in quickly and having it available to work with. The second thing is that the colour tools are very good, one of the things we really liked when we first got it, was that it is one of the few systems that it could use photoshop blends and modes where you could place an image on top of itself and you do it as a simple  over but you could also multiply or dodge and get some interesting creative looks. Going from a hardware corrector like The Pogle where it was always realtime, it was important that the client had a realtime experience so the at that time when we went into Nucoda there was that sort of change from DaVinci and Pogle it went to Baselight and Nucoda and lustre the PC’s had got just about fast enough to give a realtime experience and it was just about fast enough to begin with. There was still a lot of rendering to do but over the last a couple of years the computers have got fast enough now its pretty well instantaneous and within the added benefit of having all those extra tools that you didn't have you could blur parts of the frame, track shapes and just do sophisticated layering effects that you couldn't do previously.

 

IMG_4013 3. What project are you currently working on?

 

Dave Hughes: Windmill Lane

I’m working on “Miss Julie” shot on 35mm shot by Mikhail Krichman. It’s directed by Liv Ullman. Its an Strindberg play to be based in Ireland around the 1800’s. It was shot three perf Kodak.

 

 

Nik Panteris : Egg Post Production

I’m finishing up “Badly Drawn Roy” which is a kids TV series-I’ve done the pre grade on the live action plates and we’re now getting back the animated elements. We’ll be pushing them to online very soon. I’m about to start on “The Canal” which is a horror film, directed by Ivan Kavanagh, photographed by Pierce McGrael.

 

 

Gary Curran - Screen Scene

“Ripper Street” is taking up most of my time right now. 4. What specific challenges has this project presented for you? Dave Hughes: Windmill Lane

Because it was set in the 1800’s they wanted to use candlelight as natural lighting. “Barry Lyndon” was mentioned but we found there was not enough latitude in the chosen stock but we found that the grain there was a little too much on the 500 ASA. They used large church candles with wraparound mirrors to create the lighting and maintain the natural flicker. They are very dark shots but the range is actually there. We did ask for the gain to be increased in the Arri Scanning machines so that we could drag the mid tones out. the curve on the Arri Scanners can be adjusted in certain ways and the guys in Deluxe ran a few tests to see how they could get the cleanest curve when we asked them to push it a little.

 

 

Nik Panteris : Egg Post Production

For “The Canal” one of the tasks we’ve go to overcome is the fact the project was shot mainly on RED however parts of it were shot on Alexa and parts on 35mm Black and White film on a period hand-cranked camera to simulate the feeling of an archived look. And there’s going to be times that Iv’e had to match the RED files to that 35 B&W archive look. We’ve already done a test, and the results are really encouraging. It is going to take a lot more work to bring those two elements together. With “Badly Drawn Roy” which was beautifully shot by P.J. Dillon ISC, the primary task there was to keep the vibrant feeling the project required. The fact that its shot with kids, so there is a lot of movement, a lot of tracking elements and it was this in particular that was most elaborate.

 

Gary Curran - Screen Scene

Well I suppose the main challenge the Producers presented me with is that there are four separate DoP’s, four different blocks of Director/DoP and the producer has hired individuals certain aspects of their style he really liked he also wanted to keep it within a kind of style, sort of palette that they want to keep the world of “Ripper Street” within. This has been the challenge of the Producer saying, “You need to keep this within an individual world. I’m mean it hasn't really been a challenge in that it still about getting the best out of the footage and you know the sets are really strong, visually in front of the camera, the costumes, all that is really strong so I think it gives different DoP’s different textures, it keep it interesting, it keeps it developing so I certainly haven’t approached it like I want to view the first episode and shoe horn everything into that kind of look.

 

  5. Can you talk about a scene or sequence you recently worked on that was particularly memorable for you, how you overcame difficulties within it and what process you employed to arrive at the final look?

 

Dave Hughes: Windmill Lane

There was a recent Board Bia commercial where the initial Ad was shot on the Red One Camera and the subsequent Ads were shot on the Alexa. The Initial look was set on the Red ad- and because we were able to get into the Red files on the system were were able to lift the ISO within the file itself before we started grading to give it a milkier feel. The next one was shot on the Alexa on Log c and it was flat and milky but the curve on the Alexa is a rather straight curve so we had a rather different shaped curve that gave us a more natural contrast. So on the Alexa we had to fake a red curve. It was interesting for us both Technically and Artistically in that it gave us a way of finding the technicalities to gain the latitude to achieve what we wanted in the piece.

 

And generally its not so much of a difficulty to match different formats. Most projects these days use say Canon Footage with Red Footage or Alexa footage and we find say when we mix Alexa footage and canon footage we find its not so different. The only issue is the fact that Canon gives you H264 low res quick-times but we found that when we changed the colour space, that this Base-light system allows us to do, we can go from a video file and fake it into a Log file by changing the colour space on the system. It means it give us a little more to play with. It is electronic manipulation and you can go crazy but it really is quite good.

 

Nik Panteris : Egg Post Production

I worked on a few Years a go that called “Do Not Forget me Istanbul” and it was shot in the way “Paris, J’taime” was complied. It consisted of a number of short films with a common factor or theme. Each short was shot by a different director and different DoP, different Cameras, different crews, everything. There were six stories compiled into one feature film and I had to work with each one of them and satisfy the need for signature look of each short film and too satisfy the needs of the Production Designer who was the producer as well to make the piece as a whole flow. To let the audience enjoy the experience without it jumping with every story. I tried to find a look that they wanted and satisfy that and then for the adjacent short, I had to find a common factor, the common element, and for a period of time try to find a transition through that, slowly fuse between them without losing the characteristic of each look. And that was tricky. I found some transitions more difficult than others, especially when they were different cameras, such as RED, Panasonic Varicam, HDCAM. There was no real workflow issues, in that they were all shot on the same frame rate and so all could be conformed into one sequence, the most difficult element of the project was the texture or clarity of each camera. We tried a lot of things to resolve this, we manipulated the image using various filters and different curves to they to get to get a consistent dynamic range, in as far as you can go, of course it helped that each film had a distinctive look and that gave me a starting point-it was was the transitions however that made it difficult.

 

IMG_2853

 

 

 

6. Do you think workflows will radically change radically as Cameras technically advance?

 

 

Gary Curran - Screen Scene

I think this is currently an ongoing thing, we are in that world, multiple camera formats and dealing with that. For me it keeps it interesting. I mean the internet is such a great resource now, you can just keep on top of that, if anyone anywhere in the country had shot something, and you get a clip of footage and start having a look at it, we try to be proactive here in Screen Scene, because of the internet and the availability of information, there is no reason to be surprised one of these file formats turing up. These cameras are on the horizon and file formats and getting access to the footage is achievable and we try and be prepared so when someone actually does get hold of the camera then we are ready for it.

 

I think in terms of what I do, I think the ACES (Academy Colour Encoding System, a common standard promoted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences), where colour workflow, colour signs, colour standards can be conformed to a standard; it’s a wide gamma colour space, with pre-designed colour transforms that takes RED, ALEXA, 5D etc. where you can put it all into one colour space with a wide gamut and then work with it allowing one to deliver to TV- REC709 or P3 for Digital Cinema. So I think the ASES is very interesting, it’s a very good initiative, a sort of standard across platforms, and when we’re still learning to deal with different colour spaces, REC 709, P3  etc. or just going from Log to Linear, wide Gamut to Video, you can get a lot of Bumps in the workflow, Gamma shifts, Blacks being crushed so that’s still and ongoing thing.

 

 

7. What do you think will the future bring for your and other colourists work technically and artistically?

 

Dave Hughes: Windmill Lane

I think we’re not just colourists anymore. We’re data managers, we’re colour space converters and also because colourists are the first port of call in most post houses we have to keep up to date on all of the latest technology. To the camera manufacturers, the storage designers, the R&D people, we have to know what’s coming down the line so we than also have to understand what colour space will work with all the new technologies and how to get the best out of what we’ve got. When I first started out I was a colourist, I put a roll of film on a telecine machine, I’d manipulate the light passing though the machine and that was my job. Now I have to deal with the data coming in, I have to understand how it’s going to work from the technicalities of the job and how the files will link back to the originals for conforming. But primarily finding out every new technology that comes out so that we can do our job.

 

Is there a higher exception of the colourist? Is there more pressure? Yes and no: Well I love it. To get the best out of something on screen, whether it’s projected, CG generated or web content. I know that there is different ways of working and some of my colleagues who still work in London wouldn't have as much of an broad understanding of colour space management or file management. Generally if we are doing job that are transferring to the UK or the US I’ll have conversations with chief engineers rather than colourists. I don't mind that. And I encourage it within the team. We are not just colourists anymore, we are part of a bigger picture so we have to understand whats going to happen. When it goes to editorial when it goes to VFX finishing- and we have to bring it all together.

 

 

Nik Panteris : Egg Post Production

There are two different schools on this. Some would prefer to say “I’m going to retain my specialisation in this one area in order to be the best in that field”, or “I will broaden my area into other areas in order to give the best service that I can”. Now the thing is I do believe in specialisation but I do believe also one needs to know their craft as best as possible but it’s moving toward a wider specialisation more and more, so you need to be aware at the least about what going on the field and the way we work with imagery, the way work stations work with each other. I do believe we will end up manipulating the image in ways that we can’t imagine yet. Our job is to be constantly up to date, constantly aware of new technology and how this can be used to enhance or manipulate any image or format. Because it’s not that long ago that most systems could not work with .r3d files and if you did’t know about how to export those files you’d end up with wrong colour temperatures, wrong meta data etc and that was a pain. So you always need to know how to get the best out of each file format and this skill you need for this will never change. The reality is that the field of our expertise is expanding, it’s something you can’t ignore. It’s already happening with on set LUTs for example, the way cameras are changing in so many ways, file formats, sensor speeds and resolutions. You need all the knowledge to push it to the next level.

 

Gary Curran - Screen Scene

Well I think with the power of technology, a current desktop and some free software you can do something that previously would have taken hundreds of thousands of Euros to do. The idea of the colour pipeline, the colour workflow, again is interesting because you can do some powerful things now. The idea of the DoP of establishing a look, a grade, very early on,  being able to use the colourist as a sort of the go-between to help create the LUTs or whatever for the DoP’s, use on set LUTs and sort of start that Dialogue with the colourist, to and then to go back to the DIT. Well that really appeals to me, that the colourist can become involved early on and meet with the DoP and start that dialogue so when it comes to the actual grade it means you don't have you have to hit the ground running. It’s not like you have to say like we have X amount of days left and we need to get it done in those amount of days. You’ve started the dialogue and it’s a couple of months down the line and you have access to the files so you can go off and have a play and factor in some pre-grade time. Especially with TV in that there are so many executives and a lot of opinions, you can actually spend time before you do the grade to experiment, take into account people’s issues or wishes and actually get that established early on in the process.

 

 

 

 

8. Can you talk about the general relationship you have with the DoP and and how that affects outcome of the given project?

 

Dave Hughes: Windmill Lane:

 

Whereas before when most projects were shot on film and everything was in the film world, there wasn't as much as much integration with the DoP because the DoP invariably knew that the Neg had everything in there. Also it wasn't until the grade that you could establish your relationship with the DP. Whereas now we always invite DP’s in from the first day of testing, or on first days of rushes and we’ll talk to them constantly about how we are managing the files etc. sit down chat, send references  to each other and it’s that constant relationship throughout a job rather that benefits the project as a whole.

 

I think DoP’s who have started their careers on film generally tend to have a better understanding of lighting and getting it right. The digital formats because they now capture such a wide amount to data- give you far more latitude in terms of where you can go. And DP’s who’ve started on film give you much more even in the data world because know the importance of exposure.

 

So youd agree that DoPs in the Digital capture approach tend to invest less in correcting the image during the production and would invest more in creating the look in post whereas film cameraman would tend to do the opposite?

 

Yes. We find with certain Dp’s who never have shot on film just get Digital. And they are brilliant at it. But there are others who think you can just do anything. The problem is you can’t. If you don't get it right on the day-its always noticeable throughout a job.

 

 

Nik Panteris : Egg Post Production

The relationship should be one of collaboration, we work for long periods together and we need to be able to communicate at a high level with each other and I what need to understand quickly is what look the DoP needs from this given project so I can execute that and convey all the things the story needs to say through the imagery. Because there is a specific thought process and I need to be able to follow that and I need to get into this thought stream. It’s a tailor made relationship. It’s so subjective and there are a million ways of doing the same thing although I don't believe there is a right or wrong way, something theres just a specific way- and a specific way that works.

 

 

Gary Curran - Screen Scene

I’m sort of easy in terms of trying to get a sense of how the DoP wants to do it because everyone wants to do it differently. Some come in hoping you will conjure up a look and maybe they’re not sure how they want to do it. Others come knowing exactly what they want to do and in some ways you are just carrying out or implementing that sort of look. And then there is everything in-between. I try and just get a sense of how the DoP wants to work and if there’s an opportunity to offer something then I’ll do that. I certainly hope I’m not stuck in my ways because it’s about a collaboration and I hope I create a comfortable working environment to do that so however the the DoP wants to do it he’ll find he’s in that environment in here.

 

 

9. What do you feel is most ideal discourse and methodology to use when

working with a DoP? What kind of information do you most need from a DoP to perform your craft?

 

 

Dave Hughes: Windmill Lane:

The best way of working with a DoP is just sitting down without any preconceptions of where something can go. Try this, try that, push this, push that, lets see what happens. There is no substitute for playing around. It develops two things; a working relationship with the actual material where you can both see where it can go and where it doesn’t suit it. But also you can talk in the same language. There's nothing worse than talking to a DoP who calls Mid Tones say gamma. So once you have that relationship set up, everything works so much better.

 

 

Nik Panteris : Egg Post Production

Of Course you need to get into the technical aspects of the material of the project, a brief introduction, whats going on, the Story. Then we would have to talk about the emotions to convey, what aspects of the image we need to enhance or alter in order to tell that story, to follow the story, maybe contradicting it and according to the DoP, which way do we want to to tell that story? What was the thought process when he designed the lighting? What did the DoP do on set? That would be the first thing to establish, their intentions when they shot it. These are key elements.

 

 

Gary Curran - Screen Scene

I think a mood board is always great reference. It can be from other movies, from photography, from painting or something like that. Images really start creating that world where the DoP is going. Everyone can say darker or brighter but everyone can mean a completely different thing by that. So if you can find a texture or a palette, then its a great shorthand. I’m doing “Patricks Day” by Terry McMahon right now so tTerry just dropped this book on “Movies of The 70’s” so it’s always exciting to see great images and it’s always inspiring to see stuff like that. On a practical level, you're seeing a certain palette or a level of contrast. So you can say like that we’re aiming for this world and it’s a sort of direction to go in. Movies are more interesting to grade because you have a bit more time to do them and you can go on more of a journey and get to go over it a couple of times. I don’t like to try and crack it straight away because it’s good to let the Director and the DoP see the material since they’ve been looking at off-line material on their iPads or laptops.  When they come here for the first time they're seeing their images full res and on a big screen, so I think it always takes a day or so just to get used to seeing that and really objectively viewing the piece. On this project it was very nice. We had something to work with as a starting point. We graded and then we watched and then reacted to it. You were reacting just seeing the Log C going from the REC709 into this sort of Palette. Then on the second pass we look at it again to see where we’re were going then refine it and change it.

 

 

10. Can you talk about On-Set LUTs, their importance (or not) to your work process and your preferred approach to formulating them?

 

Dave Hughes: Windmill Lane

There are two cameras at the moment which dictate this. With the RED, the inbuilt metadata in the actual file always gives us an idea as to the feeling the DoP is looking for, where your mind is at and that is quite helpful even though we strip it all out in grading. The Arri LUT Generator that creates LUT’s is also a good way of working but it’s generally done on a computer monitor and opposed to a broadcast monitor, there is quite a bit of extra contrast, saturation, etc so an on set LUT made from the Arri look generator, we’d use it for dallies if it’s provided to us. If not we’ll do a one light ourselves. We won’t do a typical REC709 conversion. Our overnight guys do a one light for everything. Unless it’s originating on Red. If it’s a little bit darker or lighter, we’ll adjust it but we will inform the DoP and production to the fact. But generally we’ll never work with LUTs in Grading. We’ll have them as reference in Grading if needed and we’ll have access to them, but we wont grade from LUTs, because it causes untold problems.

 

 

Nik Panteris : Egg Post Production

As we said colour grading is now encompassing both ends of the production process- especially during production. There is a process right now where the look is being imposed early on to get a hint as to how the final stage will look. LUTs can fill this gap of what you shoot and what you get at the end. They are good as long as there is collaboration with the colourist and are designed according to the needs of the project and in a way that the look can be easily imported to the final grading stage.

 

Having said that, its important to acknowledge that every project is different so methods are not fixed and one could argue that on set is not the best time to do colour grading  and critical decisions be taken in relation to this. In any final grade, you need to be in a very specific mindset an this may not be the one you you are in on set. So I would say that LUTs are a great idea as long as they are designed with the DoP and the Colourist for the specific projects with tailored and specific demands and are heavily tested. Without testing,  it can become a nightmare.

 

 

Gary Curran - Screen Scene

Obviously they are really important, and it’s that thing we were talking about earlier, if you’re going to have a successful workflow from the process shooting through to the finish, it’s important to start that process with good LUTs created with the DoP and the colourist and the DIT in the same room from the start, to collaborate at that stage and to develop and refine that process.

 

I’ll say a couple of things which I hope will not be too controversial. My experience with the utilisation of On Set LUTs, I find maybe that the system has not got quite enough respect yet and whether that’s because there are budget constraints or time issues in formulating the look files or its simply bad communication, I think there really important things you have to get right. The monitors being calibrated on set, so if you are going to do certain things with these workflows, there are certain things you have to do and make sure are right before you go ahead. For example on “Penny Dreadful” the DoP Xavi Giménez shot tests, created LUTs out on set with the DIT, and then he came in and looked at the material here with the LUTs applied and nuanced them in this environment. In the end it can get quite complicated the LUTs system where you could have two many LUTs. If there are a lot of LUTs, I think the CDL is a better system because it’s easy to take the colour information and set ups and just transfer them in the background.

 

For “Penny Dreadful”, Niall O’Brien the DIT on that project, brought in his four OLEDs and we calibrated them against my monitor so that everything was correct and we brought up some footage. He is using LIVEGRADE on set and he brought in his MACBOOK too, we set that up here, put the footage through and just had a play on that system. It was interesting because I was able to collaborate with Niall and make some suggestion for him about how he might adjust the material on set. The thing about creating the LUTs in many ways is like how the DoP got his printer lights from the lab for Rushes in the past and in some ways there is an argument that this is what it sound be at that stage and if you get good printer lights and so long as it nicely it and exposed you just get some nice printer lights it will get those images. Whereas I think if there are 50 LUTs there could well be a reason there is 50 LUT’s when the DoP knows exactly what he wants and how to get those 50 looks, but sometimes there are 50 LUTS and they are just getting tied up in knots and never just having a good base LUT. And when the project comes to grade suddenly you've got this whole world of managing LUTs between here and the rushes and it can slow the whole thing down and complicate things and make the rushes inconsistent as well. There is a lot of different ways of woking at it, and it changes as everyone has a different way of doing it and there is no quite established way.