By Dale Grahn, CSI Fellow
Part 2 of a 3 part series.
Film color timing has been and still is one of the least understood areas of the industry.
The president of Technicolor film labs once told me, “all you do is plus and minus; anyone can be a timer.” Harsh yes, but in his defense this was the standard level of understanding for the job by many within the industry.
Truth be told, he was right - in part. Reduced to its basic components, the job did entail RGB color corrections, which we did by adding or subtracting points to an RGB printer file using three sets of numbers like 26-26-26. Simple math.
The part about anyone being able to be a timer is very wrong, however. I know this from my personal experience training as a timer’s assistant at MGM Labs from 1975 to 1982. Seven years of training just to have the opportunity to become a basic color timer.
Once you achieved the position of a new basic timer at MGM your first jobs were not glamorous. First up, you worked on old 16mm TV shows or airline version films. Then it was on to new or current 16mm’s. After that, you would advance to 35mm old films. Once you made it to 35mm the highest prize to reach was attaining the position of Front Line Timer (FLT). In a number of cases an FLT was actually a more prestigious position than being the Head Timer.
35mm was a separate department in timing with its own levels and hurdles to accomplish in order to reach the top. Using the Hazeltine Color Timing machine, you worked on two levels; old and new films starting lights. Then you advanced to Dailies start lights. Then it was on to restoring old 35mm films to timing feature trailers to student films and small projects.
Enter the client factor. To work on new TV shows and low budget films you needed to be able to work with real and returning clients. These clients would prepare you for the super clients or major film makers that you would have to draw to yourself if you wanted to be on the front lines as an FLT.
I had been at MGM for two years when I was lucky enough to enter the timer assistant program. You had to be chosen to get in, and everyone wanted in.
We all thought, ‘how cool, you get paid to watch movies sweet! ‘ Also a myth.
When I first started my real training in the timing department, which only began after you paid your dues proving you’re worth the effort to train, I was shocked by what I saw. I could not actually see a point of color change in the image to say, ‘yes it is different or better now.’ I started my training knowing nothing about color or it's effect on an image. I went from that to being able to see the smallest of corrections, but it took about 5 years of hard work.
The problem was that with film timing you make color corrections to a file not the film, so you don't see the changes until you make a new print. Which meant you needed to be able to see the change in your mind while you are making it, then be able to see the change you made hours or a day later on the new print. Not so easy when you know that with 35mm features and TV at MGM, you have to make these changes in a theater while the film is running. This was called, "Screen Timing"
Only two labs had screen timers in my day, MGM and MovieLab. All other labs used a two-still projector system known as a "Comparator" to hand crank through a reel of film. No assistant needed. At MGM we were considered Prima Donnas because we had assistants. Screen timing would take 6 hours per reel without an assistant if the timer were good enough to do it solo. With an assistant a 20 min reel took about 30 minutes to correct on screen using forward and reverse projectors.
All these skills were needed just to be a general feature timer at MGM. To reach the front lines you had to outshine your peers by being noticed enough by clients that they officially requested you to be their timer on a big project. Otherwise films were handed out to whoever was capable and available or favored.
If your client was unhappy with the final print you might never get another client at that level.
I spent the first two parts of this article purposely not talking about the subject of "Is Color Timing a True Form of Art?" The reason is simple:
When I think of the old masters of art like DaVinci and Michelangelo I know that it took a great deal of training, mostly natural skill, and a massive volume of work to reach the level of master. Not unlike reaching the level of FLT in a very competitive industry.
So now you have attained the position of FLT, and have mastered the craft of color timing a motion picture or television show. But is the craft and skill that you have earned and learned a true art form?
I think one piece is still missing.
The answer next month in, part three of ‘Is "Color Timing" A True Form of Art?’
Blackmagic Design Announces DaVinci Resolve 12.5.3 UpdateBlackmagic Design announced a new DaVinci Resolve 12.5.3 update for its professional editing and color correction software.
DaVinci Resolve 12.5.3 also adds support for ACES version 1.0.2, including the ACEScct color space. ACEScct is a quasi-logarithmic encoding of ACES data to make it suitable for color grading with DaVinci Resolve 12.5.3.
This new update also improves interoperability with Media Composer. AAF projects containing dip to color dissolves and certain transformation effects such as flip and flop are greatly improved, making it easier to successfully move projects from Media Composer to DaVinci Resolve for finishing. DaVinci Resolve 12.5.3 also improves Dolby Vision XML exporting for mastering and finishing high dynamic range content.
What’s new in DaVinci Resolve 12.5.3
- Added support for Final Cut Pro X XML Version 1.6
- Added support for PostgreSQL 9.5.2 on macOS Sierra
- Added support for ACEScct color science
- Updated ACES support from ACES 1.0.0 to ACES 1.0.2
- Improved performance when encoding to MXF XAVC
- Improved importing of Flip and Flop from AAFs from Media Composer
- Improved importing of Dip to Color dissolves from AAFs from Media Composer
- Improved Dolby Vision XML export
Availability and Price
DaVinci Resolve 12.5.3 update and DaVinci Resolve 12.5.3 Studio update are now available for download from the Blackmagic Design website free of charge for all current DaVinci Resolve customers.