By April MacIntyre
Despite numerous press reports predicting the demise of the film medium before the onslaught of digital technologies, film appears still to have a healthy future, due in no small part to the advent of the digital intermediate process. Working with DI gives filmmakers greater control over the look of their projects by allowing more precise manipulation of such parameters as color and contrast.
Today, digital colorists like EFilm’s Mike Eaves and Steve Bowen, sit in the catbird seat, collaborating with directors and cinematographers to create the universal file from which all film and video versions of a motion picture can be derived—including 35mm theatrical prints, HD data or tape, and versions for U.S. and overseas broadcast, VHS video and DVD.
DI’s biggest advantage, in the opinion of many practitioners, is its ability to yield a unique look by changing certain colors of an image completely. Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC used the DI process to collaborate on the final look of the Coen brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou. One striking result was that film’s atmospheric sepia-toned vegetation.
Here Eaves and Bowen discuss their collaboration with cinematographers. Eaves recently worked on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with Ellen Kuras, ASC, and Bowen worked on The Alamo with Dean Semler, ASC.
Below the Line: A cinematographer needs to capture a look, a director needs to know storytelling. What must a colorist know?
Steve Bowen: How to integrate what the cinematographer wanted. It is an extension of him, his vision, in a sense.
Mike Eaves: A colorist must be able to recognize and realize the look intended. Communication with the director and cinematographer and a screening of workprints, or high definition dailies can help.
BTL: Digital colorists are in a very specialized field. Do you see colorists receiving more recognition and credit in the future?
Bowen: I’m not sure about credit, but certainly more recognition. I’ve personally done 18 to 20 DIs, and it is recognized as the way to go now—the wave of the future. It is replacing conventional timing.
Eaves: A new world in timing has opened up. I cannot say much about credit or recognition for color timers, although I would not mind a nod from our industry in some form.
BTL: What type of equipment do you work with and do you have a wish list?
Bowen: We work with proprietary color correctors (IRIX-OS based software) I really have the dream equipment that I need, and whatever I ask for or specify, EFilm fulfills my wish list.
Eaves: I work on a system for color timing that was developed solely for use at Efilm. My wish list changes every day.
BTL: Do you prefer to work on commercials, features, music videos or other specialties and why?
Bowen: Solely features. I did effects for commercials for years, but the urgency of feature work is more satisfying.
Eaves: As a colorist, I have worked on commercials, features, music videos and episodic television. I have to say that feature films are by far my favorite.
BTL: Were you satisfied that colors/contrast seen during DI process were the same as the colors/contrast that came out on the film?
Bowen: EFilm has done such a brilliant job at putting digital files back to film. It’s like black magic: very hard to do, this process. We really have done an outstanding job with the projects that have come our way.
Eaves: Yes. The colors are very truly reproduced on film. Contrast is very true as well. However the digital projector doesn’t quite display the finest detail in black as well as film does.
BTL: What are some of the advantages of DI?
Bowen: It unties the hands of the cinematographer tremendously, and gives them a greater palette of color options.
Eaves: DI gives you the advantage of more control over ‘looks’ than does traditional photochemical timing, and allows for much more in-depth color correction.
BTL: What problems have you encountered?
Bowen: The condensed schedule. We are always waiting on the visual effects guys, there’s never enough time. We are at the end of the timeline and the deliver date never changes, but the start date sometimes crunches down on us.
Eaves: Not many problems to think of. You could say that timing takes longer than traditional photochemical timing, but the result is worth it!