General Colorist FAQ


Is the "Look" predominantly created by the colorist?

Sometimes more than others, but not really . The “Look” should be something that starts pre-production in design, the DP must then capture the essence of the “Look”, and the colorist polishes it. Of course it is not unusual for a Director to change his mind, or be influenced by a colorist to alter the idea. More often it happens that a problem in shooting, or sometimes editing forces a particular "Look" to mask a problem. But usually it is a collaborative effort, everyone moving in the same direction. The “Look” for me as a colorist is determined by the subject and genre, the source material and the time available, in that order. See also "Popular Looks".

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What type of showreel should I have as a colorist?

The showreel is very important when it comes to getting a job as colorist. Sooner or later your showreel will make a difference between getting a job or not. It might be a job at a facility, and it might be a job with a client.

There are 3 types of showreel, and you should consider producing all 3 types if you can.

Type 1: An exciting edit to inspirational music lasting about 3 minutes and never more than 5 minutes. Good for the web and any opportunity to get noticed.

Type 2. A collection of complete jobs, one after the other. If the jobs are longform, you should use short extracts of up to 3 minutes. This work should be finished versions with final sound, and each job should have an ID at the beginning. In some places they will not look at any other type of showreel when deciding on a colorist. Good for getting clients.

Type 3. Some examples of your work showing before and after grading. The comparison is best done as side by side, but a split screen can work, or failing that graded scenes followed by ungraded scenes. This is the best demonstration of your skills, and good for showing facilities and other colorists, but remember it is the least interesting to clients. (my Gallery pages show before and after stills)

Try to do 3 showreels, one of each type. This might not always be possible. Often commercial colorists never see their finished work because it is completed somewhere else. Getting the ungraded material is straight forward if it is exported at the time of the grading, but usually very difficult and sometimes expensive, once the job is done.

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Where can I get colorist training?

Most of the color system manufacturers give, or can arrange operational training, especially if you are freelance or buying a system! The International Colorist Academy (ICA) provides "training for colorists by colorists" and some of their courses are deliberately not specific to any one system. All their courses come with a recognized certificate. The International Colorist Academy website is

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How do I become a colorist?

To be a good colorist you must practice, and have a good eye for images. Many colorists need just those two things, but it helps to understand the nature of different media, formats, cameras etc. and to have a good knowledge of film, art and fashion. Personally, I think studying some color theory and psychology also helps. You do not need to go to art or film school to be a colorist, but all knowledge is useful.

The job is a mixture of technical, artistic and psychological skills. You need to know the about the color system, the nature of color and how people see. You need to be able to make a picture look "correct" and then improve on it. You need to interface well with people, translate ideas and concepts and guide your clients when they need it. Some colorists rely mostly on the psychology, others on creativity and still others on technique, but I believe the best colorists manage all three skills.

The traditional route to becoming a colorist is to get a job as an assistant to an established colorist. Often the position of colorist assistant is filled internally so it helps to get any job with the right company and then to show interest in being a colorist. Most of the manufacturers offer training classes, some free, others for a fee. They can often also advise on who is looking for new talent. Facility houses, vfx houses, editors, advertising agencies, film labs and broadcasters all employ colorists.

The best resource to advertise yourself and to look for a job is the Telecine Internet Group. Sign up to the mailing list and advertise on the classifieds.

Of course there are a few books and classes for colorists, but it is usually learned from experience - Hands on classes with an experienced instructor such as myself can greatly speed up the learning process. My classes are mostly private and arranged by facilities, often just after buying new equipment. Please contact me directly for a quote.

Digital photography books, and the special features on some DVDs are good sources for ideas. For anyone wishing to become a colorist practice with photoshop or a similar program. An ideal first color system is Apple Color (in Final Cut Studio 2).

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What is the difference between log and lin images?

Film naturally captures light as log, but these terms are usually used to describe two different ways of digitally scanning an image. Most commonly the term is used in scanning film, and in creating digital intermediates to go back to film.

Simply put lin capture means each digital step, from dark to light is equal. A lin sequence is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 For log capture each step is double the previous. A log sequence is 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128

If the total number of steps is kept the same, log captures a much greater dynamic range than linear, but it looks very flat. It is therefore ideal as a digital intermediate format.

However, log is not a substitute for more steps, (called the bit depth), it is only a way to get more dynamic range from a fixed bit depth.

So we can say 10 bit log has more dynamic range than 10 bit lin but 16 bit lin has more range and depth than either.

For a more in depth tutorial please contact me to set up a training seminar.

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How do I work in log space?

  1. You should stay log during the whole post production workflow, and use a LUTon the projector/monitor to allow correct viewing
  2. The Lut must be custom calibrated for the projector/monitor, film recorder, lab and stock. If any of these change you will need a new custom lut
  3. The Lut can be applied in software or with hardware. The two most common solutions are Cinespace from Cinetal (software) and Truelight from Film Light (hardware). You should approach them regarding a license and generating a LUT
  4. It is very dangerous to start grading before the LUT is properly created AND checked - it is often necessary to modify the LUT several times to get a good calibration
  5. You will need a probe to profile the projector/monitor. This profile should be updated before the grading starts.
  6. I recommend that you do a short film-out (3-5 mins) early in the grading to be sure that everything is good. Don’t forget to tell the lab it is DI and that they should NOT grade the test!
  7. It is best to process all the film out rolls in the same bath, rather than one each day. It helps keep everything consistent
  8. In your test film-out include some test charts. I like to use a numbered staircase and memorize the first visible change- this can be measured and checked on the beamer. You then know the 10 bit value for first print detail
  9. When making TV versions, burn in the LUT but change the beamer profile for a standard rec 709 monitor and be sure to allow for the raised video black levels (many companies make the tv versions too dark because they are transferred as CG space)

Contact me if you need more help!

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How do you create a black and white image with spot color as seen in films like Pleasantville and Sin City?

The image opposite was done in Photoshop, for my business card. However, it is intended to replicate a common technique used in motion picture and television grading. Usually I would be using Digital Vision Film Master software color correction, or da Vinci 2k Plus hardware.

The technique itself is pretty straight forward. In photoshop it is ok to just draw around the color area, because we are only ever going to process a single frame. For moving images this would be slow and expensive, and possibly noisy around the edges. So in a real project we isolate the color using an HSL key and then removing color from the outside (black) part of the key. The actual operation changes from system to system. On da Vinci I would first remove all the color (sat=0) then isolate the required color with an HSL keyer and add back the original color. In Film Master it is basically the same, except the system has a layer router that allows the natural color to be selected as a source, rather than a saturation control that puts back the color.

Early film uses (Pleasantville for example) did this the hard way by painting frames. Much of Sin City was also done as VFX. But if well planned it can be done quickly and effectively in color correction and I have done several jobs that would otherwise have been very fx intensive.

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What is Bleach Bypass and Bleach Reduction?

Reduced or skipped bleach bath during color film processing. Some of the silver image remains and less of the color dye is coupled creating a distinctive contrasty faded look. "Saving Private Ryan" is a typical example.

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In Digital Vision's Film Master, how do I export a matte as the output?

To export a matte:

  1. In the layer that has the matte you wish to export go to the Router and choose Alpha Output: This Layer
  2. In the Effects menu choose Convert
  3. Add a User Effect layer, which will now contain Convert
  4. Open Convert and choose Format: Alpha, no need to do anything else
  5. You can now bypass this layer to return to a normal output. I actually create a Version to remind me to output the matte as a separate pass

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