One of the advantages of being an industry veteran, and speaking to other veterans, is that it gives me the long view of the video industry. I get to witness the various sea changes that occur over time in the machines, technology and business that is the video industry. One of those sea changes, of course, was when the industry went from analog to digital. There were new machines, new techniques, new terminology, and new business opportunities.I am sensing another paradigm shift in the industry today, and that is with the color timing of HD dailies. You see, the color-timed dailies are emerging as the basis for the final “look” of the film finish in the digital intermediate color timing suite.When the dailies were made in the lab, the print could only be given a “one-light” printing pass—a single basic color correction. If the shot was too dark, the dailies were too dark, but at least the DP knew what he or she had on film. The shift to HD dailies meant that the dailies colorist now had the power of a telecine and digital color timing system, such as the da Vinci, and could now pull the best out of each shot very quickly. The HD dailies were getting a lot prettier than the lab one-lights. Now the emphasis is no longer on showing the DP exactly what he got on film, but how the shot is supposed to look.But the real impetus for the HD dailies to set the final look of the feature comes from everybody else—the studio executives, producers, even directors that get used to how the movie looks in HD dailies—then suddenly the movie looks entirely different in the DI suite. Consternation and hard looks abound, or worse. With big budgets at stake, no one likes surprises, especially studio executives.The look of the HD dailies needs to be largely preserved during the HD previews for two reasons. First, there’s the already documented problem with any abrupt changes in the look of the film. But secondly, there is typically only a day or two to color time the previews, so there is time for only a “trim pass,” nothing fancy. As a result, the preview ends up looking very like the dailies, which, as we have seen, is a good thing.It has gotten to the point that many clients today march into the DI suite with their HD previews tape in hand and thrust it at the DI colorist saying, “Make it look like this!” To that end, most DI suites now have an HD monitor and video deck hooked up so the HD preview can be played as a ready reference.This gives the poor DI colorist two problems. First, it is much less satisfying to follow in the footsteps of a dailies colorist than to create your own masterpiece. Second, there are significant differences between the display characteristics (what color scientists call the “gamut”) of HD video and 35mm film. The DI colorist has the delicate job of explaining to the client that, even though the color timed previews are lovely, there are certain refinements that can be made when color timing in film space to take maximum advantage of film’s visual characteristics.The real unsung hero in all this is the HD dailies colorist who must color time an enormous amount of film in a very short period of time—often during the middle of the night, no less. The day’s film might get out of the lab and delivered by midnight, but there can be 15,000 feet of it! This puts the colorist under an enormous amount of pressure to be beautiful, consistent and accurate when there is very little time to spend on any given scene. The editor needs the footage ASAP. The director needs to see if yesterday’s takes are good enough, or require an expensive location for another day shooting retakes.In spite of this tremendous pressure, the dailies colorist must establish a “shared vision” with the director and DP and establish regular communications through phone calls, email, location photos, and even pictures cut from magazines. They count on him or her to fix any problems that come up in the film and to give them a heads up when he won’t be able to fix it. The key ingredient is a consistent look from inconsistent film. So, as any colorist will tell you, “That’s why the knobs move!
Written by Diana Weynand