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Re: what's so hard?


What little reputation I have amongst this group is for my not being a
colorist but talking about the job anyway.

Taking it at its simplest, there are two parts to the job of being a
colorist: the old one and the new one.

I call the technical business of transferring film to video the old one
because it was the historical reason for telecine in the first place. I
don't know how much you know about the history of television, but there was
a gap of nearly forty years before the invention of television as a concept
- and a gap of fifteen years between the start of genuine, mass market
public services after the last World War - and the invention of video
recording. In other words, for a very long time programmes were either
performed live or recorded on film.

The first telecines, therefore, were used - and used extensively - by
broadcasters, as the only means of showing pre-recorded material. The
routine use of film rather than video continued on into modern times: it
was not until well into the 1970s that video recorders became portable, so
all news footage was shot on film, for instance.

To get back to being a colorist, the "old" job is just the business of
conversion. That is a challenging task, though, because film is a much
better medium than video. Even with today's highest video standards, there
is far more information on a frame of film than can be accommodated in a
frame of video. The contrast range is perhaps 500:1 rather than 50:1 for
video; there are millions of colours available in video but billions in
film; even 16mm film has probably twice as much detail as can be crammed
into video. So, the old job is to make decisions on what information to
throw away and still get a good picture, in which you can see all the
detail you need, and which still bears a passing resemblance to the
cinematographer's vision.

Now when video recording became more practical for day to day use, pundits
regularly predicted the death of film in television. But, as you have
noticed, it is still with us. A lot of people (orchestrated, one suspects,
by Kodak) decided that film still looks a whole lot better on video than
video does, which is why all the prime time quality series are shot on
film. Transferring those is big business for colorists, although there they
are still using the "old" skills.

Telecine manufacturers also had a vested interest in keeping film going, of
course, and the "new" job is down to them. At first, it was a different way
of looking at the existing facilities of colour correction and pan & zoom
which meant that the telecine could be used creatively, particularly for
commercials and music videos. Colours could be deliberately distorted to
create unreal images which pleased the eye of directors and advertisers.

Then, in 1989, Cintel (the biggest name in telecine manufacture) brought
out a machine called URSA, which also included a whole lot of other whizzy
tricks in which things like picture stretch, rotation and other more way
out effects could be created in the telecine without any picture
degradation. So, the "new" job is a highly creative task, using all the
facilities of the telecine (and other outboard equipment, like colour
processors) to create the look the client requires.

And, as Rob says, that is also a people job. You have to understand what
the client wants as well as have the skills and eyes to be able to achieve
it. You also have to understand group dynamics, as a commercials session
will often have many people sitting behind the colorist, all with different
ideas. The cinematographer will want to preserve the pictures he shot, the
creative director will want to go for maximum visual impact, the product
manager will want his pack to be the perfect colour, and so on. As I said
at the beginning of this note, I am not a colorist, and one of the most
important reasons why not is that my patience would snap and I would end up
wreaking physical violence on clients far too often.

Sorry this is a long posting. I hope this helps, Nicole.


thanks to Ken Robinson, Steve Robinson, and Lynette Duensing 
for support of the TIG in 1997
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