Cinematography Mailing List - CML

DIT or Colourist

12th November 2003


Just wanted to get everyone's opinions about something.

I received a call from a film colorist that I've worked with many times over the last few years. He started asking questions about HD cameras and places where he could get some information about them. It didn't sound odd at the time, he'd always been very interested in the film stocks and process I had used on the productions that he coloured and to a lesser, but life saving extent, corrected for me.

So, he took one of our HD seminars and afterwards came up to me and asked me how he could get into the local 600 as a DIT. I did find that odd. Not odd because he wanted to try something new, but because he hasn't had a day of production experience in his life. Not to mention he is a master craftsman at what he does. So, I asked the only question I could…Why?

His reason was simple. Because he wanted to do what he was doing now, outside. (we'll used the term "outside" loosely) Needless to say, we had about a two-hour conversation about painting on set, locking yourself into a color corner and a slew of other things. He really didn't like the fact that there is no AC in video village under all that deubateen. However, the more we talked the more enthusiastic he became about learning how to make "looks" for his clients on set just like he does in a telecine bay.

This, meaning a conversation like that with a colorist, started out as a one-time occurrence…but he has friends and lost of them who are all excited about the same thing.

Most of us who have shot or have been involved with an enough HD production to know that there are pit falls of creating a look on set. We have all seen the limitations that rout imposes on the post guys. So, what happens when the post guys aren’t post guys anymore? I'm not implying that colourists shouldn't learn the cameras and be in the field with the Digital Image Techs or engineers. I only asking the question, is it safe to have someone who knows too much that close to the production/artistic control team. The director, the producer etc. or is having a colorist as you DIT going to prove to be the most beneficial and influential position on an HD production?

I'm not trying to be bias or hold anyone back from doing something they are really excited about or are really good at doing. I personally think it would be great to turn around and ask my tech if the Matrix numbers I'm using will prevent me from doing….?

I was just curious as to what the rest of you thought about turning in-house colourists into on-set camera colorist?

Ryan M. Sheridan
Digital Cinematography Tech.
Birns & Sawyer, Inc.

>So, he took one of our HD seminars and afterwards came up to me and >asked me how he could get into the local 600 as a DIT. I did find that >odd.

Oddly enough, I was considering the same thing. The primary difference between your colorist and myself is that I do have a lot of production experience, as well as over 10 years as a colorist. However, after giving it some thought, I have my doubts as to whether the colouring part of the DIT position will be viable on anything but multicamera, stage based sitcom work in the long run. I say this because underneath it all, I really don't believe that such a task should be done on a set, in the midst of a lot of chaos, under improper viewing conditions (even in a tent), and in the "heat of the moment," where decisions have to be made quickly and are sometimes compromised in the name of expedience, i.e., making the day.

Particularly when shooting single camera, as lighting tweaks are often done between set-ups, even on stage, and weather plays a part on location. Continuity is a large part of what scene to scene post color correction is all about, and post production is where that step should logically be applied if the final result is to be the best it can be. Perhaps more importantly, I also believe that the current practice of trying to achieve close to a final result when shooting HD is really a by product of the limitations of the first generation cameras now being used (i.e., the Sony and Panasonic equipment) - limitations that hopefully will be eradicated in future generations of electronic capture.

We can already see a preview of this with the Viper, a camera that not only discourages production camera tweaking, but actively eliminates it in favor of recording the raw output more faithfully and leaving the final color correction to post, just as we now do with film. I understand the view of Sean Fairburn and others who want to embrace the capabilities of current HD cameras to create new looks, and to experiment with those possibilities. But for many if not most projects, the idea is usually to create a look by knowing the characteristics of the imaging device and using lighting and filtration, as well as composition, to create an image which can then be manipulated if desired, or reproduced faithfully using standard methods. This is where the Viper is trying to go, and I believe it's ultimately where future electronic cameras will also go. The necessity for manipulation of the current cameras directly is most often not to create something unique, but simply to allow one to capture the range of values in the scene. In other words, it's a workaround for the very real limitations in those cameras in terms of maximum contrast ratio.

I would tell your colorist to stay in post production, enjoy the far more predictable hours and superior working conditions (as well as generally better pay), and the likelihood that the need for his expertise will continue for a long, long time, whether we're shooting chemically or electronically.

Mike Most
VFX Supervisor
IATSE Local 600
Los Angeles

>I was just curious as to what the rest of you thought about turning in->house colourists into on-set camera colorist?

Bring Um On…there is far more work than the current state of personnel can fill, and I think there is a fallacy (AKA Myth Exaggeration) about the apparent inability to change things in post if something is done in the Field.

Ask your Colourist buddy to do this simple test :

1) Do nothing to the Camera and create a look in Post.

2) get close to the look in Camera and create the same look in post.

I have yet to see a Frame of footage that was unfixable because in the field someone intentionally set a look that was approved on the set in the first place.

I have seen more mistakes with over exposure (Which has nothing to do with setting a look in camera) than with intentionally shooting any LOOK.

News flash not setting a look is in itself a LOOK.

So the question is who fixes the look that the colorist sets when he is done with it?

So if your colorist sets the look before it is shot or after it goes through post what is the difference? An good engineer is a colourist with a Tan.

Again You can chain your dog to the tree in the middle of the Yard and he can only go as far as the chain will reach. Better to chain him near the most likely place intruders will enter your Land.

"Best way to get a good shot is to start with one"

B. Sean Fairburn

A good post production colorist does not necessarily translate in to a good video controller (or DIT, if you prefer) any more than a good video controller translates in to a good colorist. They both have different production and technical requirements, job demands, and skill sets. Can one make the transition? Probably. Is one going to walk right in to it? Probably not.

Tom Tcimpidis

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