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“Making the Grade” – What it takes to be a pro colorist

It is perhaps no more important for a filmmaker to stand out in a sea of ​​visual storytellers than to have a signature style. Everything from the look to the sound to the dialogue to the story – everything plays a key role in creating that signature stamp. And when it comes to creating it visual See, few crafts are as important as color correction and color grading. This is where professional colorists come in.

Color grading and correction

Simply put, this is the art of giving a movie (or video) it’s “look”. In the professional room, this is done in the “closing phase”. Most professional film and video recordings are taken in raw or other form of color profile with low contrast, low saturation that preserves color and light information in the digital files. This gives the color lists the greatest flexibility in manipulating the images to look the way they want.

Before and after color image of a tennis player
The top image was the original footage from the camera.
The bottom is what it looks like after color grading.

And it is the role of colors as an unsung hero that I want to highlight. (In addition to the role a product that OWC’s ThunderBay Flex 8 plays to help the colorist perform his magic.)

A Colorists story

I know just enough about color grading and correction to be dangerous. I can manage, and I have written my part of blog posts at beginner level on the subject.

But in connection with this post, I wanted to get 411 from an experienced veteran (for you international readers, 411 is a daily speech expression that just means “get the information.” It goes back to when you call 411 to find out the phone number of a company or This information has absolutely nothing to do with the topic at the moment, but do we not all like to learn useless things here and there? It keeps life interesting) So, “I called” Joey D’Anna to get it 411 ( in truth, I just sent him an email, but I’m trying to stick to a phone call analogy, so work with me).

Joey is a 20-year-old veteran and a leading colorist at DC Color, a boutique facility in the Washington DC area. He recently completed a detailed review of the ThunderBay Flex 8, and I knew he would be the perfect person to help me.

Joey started his career as an engineer before becoming an editor and eventually worked as a colorist for the last twelve years. He has worked for post offices, TV networks, documentary and film clients and political advertising companies. His specialty has been short-form campaigns, but he also loves working on long-form documentaries and narrative films as well.

“My father was a broadcasting engineer, so I grew up in and around TV studios and post offices,” Joey told me. “I started at the largest post office in DC right from high school and have been fortunate enough to have had a series of incredibly good mentors over the years who helped me learn at work.”

Joey said he spent hours watching veteran editors work a linear suite until he could jump in and do it himself. From there, learning non-linear tools became second nature.

“I have always been interested in computers and technology, so learning new software came to me quite easily. But I started in linear online editing, which often had a color correction component. Joey told me that. “After the linear era, I switched to non-linear finishing for promos and documentaries. Often at the time, campaigns and low-budget TV shows did not go through a dedicated color rating card – so that was my first taste of non-linear color rating, and color is where I have kept my creative focus ever since.

The first time I characterized an entire show that was starting to end (like just grading – not doing any other editing and finishing), I fell in love. Shaping the feeling and tone of the show from beginning to end was so much fun, and I’ve been dedicated to this craft ever since. ”

Today, Joey currently divides his color classification between his work for DC Color and doing training work and demos at trade shows, conferences, and at MixingLight.com (the premier online color classification training destination.)

Screenshot of the Mixing Light website

Technology and change over the years

Filmmaking as a medium has existed for 130 years, and in all that time we have seen enormous progress in all aspects of it. The same goes for color correction and grading. Before the digital world, color grading (or color timing) was done by physically manipulating the movie to give it the look you wanted. I can not even begin to imagine the painstaking process that was required. When the process went digital, it was relatively “easier”, but still quite intensive. It requires a deep understanding of color research, as well as knowledge of how to use the tools.

A colorist in Amsterdam who works with the advanced color sorting system Scratch.
A colorist in Amsterdam who works with the advanced color sorting system Scratch.
Image CC BY-SA Erwin Verbruggen

Over the decades Joey has done this professionally, I wanted to know what changes he has seen.

“The biggest change has been accessibility. As technology has improved and become cheaper, it opened the door for so many more people and companies who could not afford the necessary equipment for advanced color classifications until now. In my case, it has allowed me to have a successful color classification business that I run from home, in my own suite. Ten years ago, it would have been completely impossible just because of cost. “

Another of the changes Joey shared has been the need for the service since the TV times. “Most cameras during that time produced a normalized color image, so any color processing was actually just a fix for problems. These days, almost all cameras detect log or raw coded images that require competent color grading to prepare for viewing. This has driven up both the demand for color classification and the quality of the TV series that people watch. ”

Flex 8 takes the technology game up three notches

There is nothing more important to a digital colorist than the hardware he or she uses. Everything from the processing speed of the computer chips, the power of the graphics card and the amount of RAM. All of these affect their work.

As I mentioned earlier, Joey had an opportunity to use OWC’s ThunderBay Flex 8 and praise its virtues (complete information: Mixing Light is an OWC affiliate).

For me, Flex 8 replaces three separate components in my suite: Video I / O for scope on my assistance station, near-line backup of all my active projects, and a card reader to get client media in and out of my shared storage system. ”

Joey goes on to mention what stood out most to him. “The PCI slot is an important thing for me. I use it to house a DeckLink 4k I / O card to run my scope. The only option is to spend more than twice as much on a dedicated I / O box with a thunderbolt. ”

What it takes to “make the grade”

If you have ambitions to become a professional colorist yourself, there are a few things you should know. First you need to know what color gradation is not it. Joey explains. “I think the biggest misconception about grading is that we are watching a show or a movie in the color suite. Although it is possible to do fairly stylized, heavy color treatments, the look at the end of the day is determined by lighting, production design, costume, direction, photography, etc. Most of the look is made in front of the lens, not in the mail. Color classification works best when done with photography, not fighting it or trying to change it fundamentally. ”

DP and crew work to get just the right light.
DP and crew work to get just the right light.
Photo by Mike Palmowski on Unsplash

I think this is an important point. Interestingly, there is one that contradicts a bit the point I made at the beginning – that color grading plays a key role in the look or style of a movie. However, I stand by my assessment. Whether it’s achieved because of how you design and light your project, or what you do in the color suite, it’s still about how the color and lighting are manipulated to evoke certain moods.

If this is a profession you want to pursue, Joey puts a lot of emphasis on more intangible items than just hardware or software.

“Focus on technique, basics and creativity, not just learning software. I think a great colorist can be a good colorist on any platform, software or system. Software and classification systems always change and evolve over time; but basic skills for examining, evaluating and adjusting an image never change. “

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