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Colorist Awards Proposal Part 1

05 December 2017 02:15 | Kevin Shaw (Administrator)

by Dale Grahn, CSI Fellow

The question of awards for colorists by the Academy has been raised yet again with many varied responses. Some say that it is too early in the digital timing world to be thinking about awards. Others say it’s long overdue.

I personally have faced this question most of my career. The way that the industry viewed color timing would never have opened a door to the consideration of an awards program from the Academy. They had no idea what or how we as color timers did our job. They customarily would consider the color and look of the film to be the work of the cameraman, set design and costumes.

I think the real answer is easy to find but, even when found, there are many who would claim our skills as their own and try to rob us of our prize including the technology that gives us our tools.


All of the crafts that are in line for an award must meet certain standards of excellence in order to even be considered by the Academy.

Each craft has over time, established the guidelines necessary to judge their own work. By creating these standards or guidelines, they have an unbiased way to measure and judge the skills being used in the work.

The work of a colorist is quite often considered an aesthetic art. Meaning that it cannot be accurately measured because everyone that views it sees it differently.

I find this to be incorrect for most films, if not all. A truly well timed movie will be seen the way the colorist has directed the eye of the viewer.

Storytelling with color - if done correctly - will direct the viewer’s eye and emotions, and carry them through the storyline with a more powerful effect, resulting in a more meaningful story experience.

The following example of this skill is a simple untouched iPhone image of a lake that is drying up. The small mark on the island is a Christmas tree placed there by a neighbor in an effort to cheer up a sad situation due to the long drought.




Photos by Dale Grahn

Just looking at the shot of the lake from camera, doesn’t invoke a feeling of winter for a number of reasons.

First off, the overall tone is in the warm range with reddish browns, most likely mid-tone contamination and global warmth.

The effect being a lack of cool tones, which confuses the viewer’s eyes, thus raising questions concerning the season and time of day.

The corrections to the image in printer points are:

A global correction of +1 cyan, -2 yellow
Mid-tone correction of -3 magenta, -5 yellow, +2 density, +2 saturation
A highlight correction of -3 yellow

These are small but effective corrections and make the image look more like a winter day in the late afternoon. The eye and the emotions instantly recognize the cooler darker image even before the mind can process it.

The point of this illustration is this: the color runs independently in the background of the eye freeing the viewer’s emotions to experience the image without the need of the mind to receive it or explain it.

Seeing that color can truly tell the story of the images displayed by using the eye and the emotions, we can claim our rightful place in the artistry of film storytelling.

The Time is Now

As colorists we must now do as the other crafts have done; establish and define our own standards and guidelines for our craft. These skills and techniques are unique to the colorist alone, and cannot be done in camera or with lighting.

The CSI leadership is currently at work compiling a set of goals, rules, standards, skill sets and categories in the hope of creating an annual awards program for the membership.

Once completed, titles will be submitted for consideration for an actual and official CSI award for excellence in the category of color grading.

The CSI leadership had an awards program in mind when CSI was created, so this is not a new idea. My hope is that it will not take too long to complete and will be well received by the membership.

I know that it will be at least fair to all.

We need to be able to establish our own awards program based upon our unique skills, teach these skills by demonstrating them in lessons and our everyday workflow, thereby shining a light upon our skills that the industry cannot ignore.

I don’t really feel that we need the approval of the Academy to show our contribution to the industry. We can do it without them.

And, we should.

(editor’s note:) Next month, Dale will be back with a follow up on awards and judging standards that he calls, “Independence.”    

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