Role of the Colorist 

I. Preface

Colorist is a standalone profession. The colorist creates looks in collaboration with the DOP and applies them using the appropriate tools in color grading. She or he serves as the central contact for the DOP, director, VFX and production operatives and facilitates efficient communication and a common color language

Colorists are specialists in color design and the manipulation of motion pictures in post-production. They have up-to-date knowledge in the fields of creative and technical image manipulation and a sense for color trends and styles, both current and historic. They can connect with storylines and have a sense for dramaturgy. They also know about film production workflows and the processes of the departments involved, e.g. production design, costume and makeup.

The term “color grading” describes the process of color image manipulation of moving images. Colors, their hue and brightness, as well as image contrast can be altered in great detail for the whole image or selected parts in order to create a consistent, creative look for the whole motion picture. Different cameras and aspect ratios can be matched and issues during shooting, like changing weather conditions or different white balances can be solved or smoothed out.

Other common but partly incorrect terms for color grading are, color correction, color matching, digital intermediate (DI) and color timing. The term color timing exclusively describes adjusting the printer light settings in the analog film lab process, which is conducted by color timers.

II. Duties of colorists

Colorists follow a film production usually for the whole period of production. They evaluate and work on the images in collaboration with the DOP to enable the highest possible quality for the final product, following creative decisions and the visual concept. This requires basic theoretical and practical knowledge in most or all of the following areas according to the project involved:

  • Color theory
  • Colors and stylistic movements in art, culture and film history
  • Photography
  • Film stocks and sensitometry
  • Camera systems: principles, use cases, compatibility
  • Optics and lens filters
  • Film lab technology and processing
  • Parameters for digital intermediate film print creation
  • Video technology and signal transmission/processing
  • Digital recording technologies (compression, sampling, codecs, file containers, and so on.)
  • Display technologies
  • Display calibration (as additional qualification)
  • Color management systems
  • Noise and grain management
  • Image framing and re-framing (pan&scan)
  • Digital broadcasting requirements and signal constraints
  • Workflow of film and TV productions

III. Field of activities of colorists

Sorted in production phases of pre-production, shooting, and post-production.

Preproduction

  • Reading the script, familiarising themselves with the story/project intentions
  • Discussion and creation of appropriate visual looks together with the DOP and other departments, if required
  • Evaluation and discussion of test shoots with the DOP and other departments, if required
  • Consulting on possible workflows in regards to the best possible technical and creative finishing
  • Creating looks for on set use, if applicable directly in camera

Shooting

  • Quality control of all image material
  • Color grading of dailies (for editorial, web dailies, and so on) in collaboration with the DOP, under the title of Dailies Colorist

Post-production

  • Online conforming: transfer of edit information and linking of required media in grading/finishing system
  • Planning of final color grading with regards to time and budget limits
  • Communication with post-production and VFX supervisor
  • Color grading for all required deliverables (for example, for cinema, TV, Video on Demand) in collaboration with the DOP
  • Final quality check and sign off together with the DOP

The actual scope of activities may vary depending on the kind of production, i.e. commercials, documentaries, episodics, or features. Colorists may work in fixed employment, project-related employment or as freelancers.

Note: This text is based on original work by the following authors, on behalf of the BVK, and is reproduced here with thanks to them. Some changes to the original text have been made by CSI members in order to keep the definition current.

    • Rainer Bültert BVK
    • Fabiana Cardalda BVK, CSI
    • Felix Hüsken BVK, CSI
    • Dirk Meier BVK


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