Alone in the Room

03 September 2017 12:10 | Kevin Shaw (Administrator)

by Dick Hobbs

In last month’s newsletter, there was a great podcast interview with Juan Ignacio Cabrera CSI. He talked about a wide range of things, but one section that struck me was about his relationship with the people around him while he is grading a movie.

“In Europe, you work with the DP all the time,”

“In Europe, you work with the DP all the time,” he said. “Most of the shows I have done in Spain, the DP was sitting by my side, the whole process.

“There are no unsupervised sessions. Having the DP in the room with me, it was not a hassle, it was a blessing: it was amazing. What has strengthened my skills as a colorist has been working directly with DPs, and being challenged by them. And having them leaving the session comfortable, happy and excited – that’s an amazing feeling.”

I suspect most colorists would agree, that one of the gratifications of grading is the collaboration, the talking through issues and working together to achieve a great result. But is technology now threatening this fundamental partnership?

Until very recently, if you wanted to see what was going on, you had to be in the same room as the colorist, looking at the same (extremely expensive) calibrated monitor. Now, you can deliver files and projects or even stream sessions to remote screens which are calibrated to match.

Remote Grading

Nice Shoes was probably the pioneer in remote grading, with the client in one city and the colorist in another. FilmLight uses a render-free, metadata-driven grading scheme so you can put copies of the raw footage anywhere it might be needed, then just swap compact metadata files so everyone – even VFX artists and Avid editors – sees the latest grade. DaVinci Resolve has a feature that allows a system in one location – with clients - to be controlled remotely by a colorist in another location.

All of which is trending towards the unattended grade, particularly for long-form work. The director, cinematographer and colorist may meet up at the beginning of the project, and perhaps agree on some LUTs and base looks. Then they go their separate ways, two to the set and one to a lonely grading room to interpret and refine the original discussions.

Television work has been done this way for a while. Pressure on movie release dates often means that original photography and post have to be concurrent today. Then there is a growing body of work where the client sends a drive to the colorist who grades the material alone and sends it back graded on another drive.


Do colorists find this approach satisfying, or do you miss the constant challenge and stimulation of working directly with people who are intimately bound up in the creativity? You tell me. Does this work for you?

Collaborative workflows, of course, depend upon communication. But an email list of comments is not the same as sitting together, talking the issues through.

It is also a brake on quality. If you can respond in real time to a thought – should the faces be a little cooler in this scene – then you will do it. If you have to wait for a render to go from 99% to 100% then you might not bother. If you have to put the idea into a report, which is then sent to the colorist to action for the next version, then a lot of the tiny details, which are the difference between good work, and great work will just be forgotten.

The good news is that CSI provides a place to network, to discuss ideas and share experiences. You can challenge established ideas – and I would love to see a debate in the private forums on what I have written here about unattended and remote sessions.

You can debate the issues of the day. For example, in last month’s newsletter the venerable Lou Levinson set out his definition of HDR, and Kevin Shaw responded with a very different set of requirements. I might weigh in on this question myself next month.

Finally, if you are going to IBC this year, then you can join in the Colorist Mixer – CSI is one of the sponsors.  These evenings are not (necessarily) the wild hedonism of the old Telecine Fun Nights of blessed memory, but a great chance to network, meet up and talk. This year’s IBC event is at a great venue, too. You will definitely not be alone in the room.

Dick Hobbs has been a leading commentator and consultant on media technology for more than 30 years. He is well known for his writing and appearances at conferences and on panels, where his lively good humour adds to the detailed subject knowledge.

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