Camerimage is fast becoming a Colourist Festival. It began Sunday afternoon with the FilmLight Colour Awards, which played to a packed house. This year’s winning looks were diverse and, refreshingly, winners and finalists originated from big companies, boutiques, and freelancers alike. Congratulations to all! See the Winners.
The panel discussion that followed was led by Lawrence Sher (cinematographer, director, founder of Shotdeck, and chairman of the FilmLight jury). One takeaway: whilst many colourists are involved before shooting, some still get the call after picture lock with little consultation before the final grading session. This is especially true for commercials and music videos. AI was briefly discussed with panellists agreeing that AI tools can be useful for conforming, rotoscope, tracking and depth maps, but are unlikely to replace the human interaction required for final grading.
Monday brought Colorist Society’s Colorist Mixer which featured a panel of award finalists and winners. Many topics were covered but one interesting fact that surfaced was that four out of the five panelists regularly employ colour management. Time and budget were also discussed. Whilst acknowledging that some big budget projects take months to grade, two weeks is more common for features and a day for commercials and music videos. Marina Starke, a freelancer nominated in three categories, noted that it’s often not a matter of how much time a client can afford, but rather how much time the colorist is prepared to spend…a factor of both money and interest in the project. Relationships with DPs, directors and producers was also touched on with the panel agreeing that communication and psychology constitute at least half of the job skills colourists must master.
The panel agreed that free entry for the FilmLight Colour Awards makes a big difference and adds prestige as awards don’t automatically go to big jobs and big companies. Each of these finalists submitted their entries themselves and included commentary about their work. Whilst good cinematography and colour grading are essential for a winning result, an explanation of the concept, research and decision-making process helps the judges better appreciate the colourist’s contribution.
The talk also included a brief mention of how things get fixed—meaning VFX and editing issues. All noted unsolved problems that make it to the final grade must be dealt with…one way or another…by the colourist.
On Tuesday night, Colorist Society and BVK member Dirk Meier organised a wonderful seminar on look development with luminary cinematographers Steve Yedlin, Ari Wegner and Pascale Marin. Steve described his process for look dev using Nuke nodes. When asked if he was eliminating the colourist, he was very clear that colourist magic is still very necessary, but his method ensures his vision is maintained through edit and VFX.
Ari eloquently explained how she plans a shooting philosophy for each film rather than locking into a pre-defined Look. The shooting philosophy might include the point of view, lens choices, framing, eyelines and much more.
While noting that her projects tend to have lower budgets than the other speakers, Pascale said that she follows a similar approach. She relies on communication with colourists, directors and producers to achieve high quality solutions within budget constraints. Shared understanding and good relationships between all parties is crucial to a smooth and pleasant journey…and to great images.
All the DPs were clear that they contact the colourist as soon as they get the project, and value colourist input, particularly for exploring conceptual ideas, creating show LUTs and planning colour management.
The BVK/ CSI seminar is available to view here (the file is in the Camerimage 2023 Pictures folder).
Alongside these activities were plenty of other stimulating screenings and presentations. I found the Zeiss and Arri presentations especially useful. And, of course, the FilmLight Masterclass has become a tradition that never fails to mix interest and knowledge in an entertaining way.
This year the organisers presented a curated mix of films, new and old. I had not previously seen The Truman Show on the big screen and was glad for the opportunity to do so here. Many scenes work incredibly well in a theatre but lose their impact on the small screen. In the example below, a life size Christoff (Ed Harris) appears to standiin front of the screen caressing the star of his show projected on the big screen. I did not appreciate the power of this image until I saw it in the cinema! I think everyone at the festival felt the love for cinema.
This year the festival organisers arranged for the display of Polish artist Jan Matejko’s epic painting Astronomer Copernicus: Conversations with God (on loan from Kraków's historic Jagiellonian University). A national treasure, it depicts the great astronomer on a terrace adjacent to a Gothic cathedral in Frombock that still stands. Inspired by my experience at the festival, I enjoyed the story elements and chiaroscuro of the painting and how they compared to film print emulation as discussed by Steve Yedlin on Tuesday night. I am going to include more paintings in my look development research in future. (Cem Ozkilicci referring to exactly this in describing his inspiration for the Spotlight Award winning Possession.)
If you have never been to the festival, you can get a feel for its unique flavour in this highlights reel .
All in all, Colorist Society had a happy presence at the festival. Before our society was formed in 2016, colour management was rarely discussed, let alone used and colourists were rarely mentioned. Whilst there are still very few awards open to colourists, the FilmLight Colour Awards are now well respected because they provide an even playing field and are judged by cinematographers and colourists who appreciate the challenges and the vision. Colorist Society cannot take all the credit for these landmark changes, but it is gratifying to know that we are moving in the right direction.
I look forward to Camerimage 2024 and encourage colourists to submit entries for next year’s FilmLIght Colour Awards. It’s important to build on this year’s success in building the colourist community. The festival is teeming with cinematographers and full of enlightening chats after screenings and seminars…and during after parties. Torun is both fascinating and inexpensive. I hope to see you there next year.
Kevin Shaw, President of the Colorist Society