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HD on the Rise

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Coloring HDColor correction is the process of improving or altering the color of a shot or scene in either film or video. Not long ago, most television shows shot on video were not color corrected. Color bars recorded at the head of the tape were set to the proper specifications on a VTR and the program that followed was broadcast to air. The color correcting process has typically been applied to feature films that would last a lifetime, movies-of-the-week that would be re-aired several times, or commercials that needed to have the exact color of, say, a red lipstick approved by a dozen people.But television shows also have a shelf life now, via DVD, so this is changing.Andy Lichtstein has been a color corrector, or colorist, at Technicolor Creative Services-Hollywood (formerly Complete Post) for 14 years. In addition to coloring feature films, movies of the week and commercials, Lichtstein colors the television series 8 Simple Rules, The Bernie Mac Show, Grounded for Life, and That ’70s Show. The first three originate on HD. He works closely with a show’s DP to get the right look. “Sometimes, DPs can achieve what they want through the HD camera filters. And sometimes they can’t. Typically, before a show begins, a DP will shoot something and bring it in to look at it. It’s a trial-and-error process.”Lichtstein defines the steps that lead up to his work. “After the show is compiled offline from standard-definition down-conversions, it goes to online editors who conform the show using the HD footage. I then get a list of every video cut or dissolve, which matches the final conformed master.” At that point, the clock starts and Lichtstein’s real coloring work begins, making color adjustments shot by shot.If it’s a first-time situation, Lichtstein follows closely the vision of the show’s DP and producers. “The DP, director, and/or producer come in and define the look. For The Bernie Mac Show, DP Victor Nelli, Jr. wanted a caramel, chocolatey look, with very strong primary colors. He used lots of super blues–purplish neon to offset the warm colors.”Lichtstein adds, “8 Simple Rule’s DP Bruce Finn wanted to achieve an appealing aesthetic picture, especially for all the women in the show. I think all DPs know that HD is not going to have the ‘texture’ of film. They also know that it doesn’t have to have the immediacy of ENG video.” Whatever the target look, Lichtstein is clear on the results. “The process gives the video image more depth and class and character. It’s another creative tool and it’s constantly evolving.”The technical tools used also play an important role in the process. Lichtstein works with the da Vinci 2k color enhancement system, which is outfitted with Power Tiers—layers of secondary color correction that allow adjustment of one specific color—and a Power Defocus board that allows defocus of specific areas of the image. “With the da Vinci, I have the ability to flag different shots. The Power Defocus allows you to window a part of the image and then defocus it.” During the process, he can access saved setups and reference stills from a previous show and apply the same or similar color enhancements to the current project.“Still,” adds Lichtstein, “tape-to-tape [color correction] for HD television is a luxury because of the fast turnaround.” And time is money so everyone is concerned about the amount of time spent in color correction, he says. “The Bernie Mac Show is about a four-to-five-hour session, including a lay-down [the process of laying down all the corrections to a new master]. Grounded For Life and 8 Simple Rules take under four hours.”Ultimately, Lichtstein feels his role is to support the DP’s work, not replace it. “What I do is like video sweetening. I can massage and even out the color, and sometimes create lighting scenarios a DP couldn’t achieve on the set. We make it more interesting per the DP’s needs. But we never recolor the picture unless the DP asks us to.”The Bernie Mac Show coproducer Marshall Boone offers a clear testament to the successful look of his show. “We would never deviate from what we’re doing, not in a million years.” As Lichtstein recalls, “Victor and I got the greatest compliment after the show first aired when someone said, ‘This film looked beautiful.’”Diana Weynand is co-owner of Weynand Training and consulting. She is the author of How Video Works, Final Cut Pro for Avid Editors, Final Cut Pro HD, and Final Cut Express 2. She can be reached at [email protected]

Written by Diana Weynand

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