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  • mattjones351

Demystifying Color Grading: Insights from a Professional Colorist

I'd like to take a moment to address some of the questions I frequently encounter as a professional colorist and provide you with insights into various aspects of the grading workflow.

1. How do you approach a 'look' for a color grade?

My process typically begins with a discussion with the production team. I inquire if they have any specific notes or references for the grade, helping me align with their vision from the outset. To create a compelling 'look,' I follow the principle of "finding the photography," as emphasized by colorist Walter Volpatto. This means understanding and aligning with the original photography and exposure of the footage from the set before crafting a look. Ensuring the look works consistently across the entire film is essential, not just for a single shot.

During the 'looks' stage, I take the opportunity to experiment, sometimes pushing the footage to its limits and then dialing it back. This exploration helps me comprehend the boundaries of the footage and how far I can push the creative envelope. In the early stages, I often present 2-3 different looks to the director and DP, starting with a close-to-captured look and gradually intensifying them. This approach provides a solid foundation for the final pass.

As a guiding principle, I prioritize achieving perfect skin tones and then adjust the rest of the scene accordingly. I also adhere to a 'less is more' philosophy, avoiding overly complex grading and focusing on subtle adjustments to enhance the footage.

2. Do you use LUTs, and how do they fit into your color workflow?

LUTs (Look-Up Tables) play a pivotal role in my workflow, with their usage tailored to the project. For narrative films or music videos aiming to emulate specific film stock styles, I often start with a film emulation LUT as a foundational point and build the look from there.

In contrast, when working on documentaries or content requiring a natural look, I might commence with a Rec709 conversion LUT or a Color Space Transform. These 'technical' LUTs convert the footage to a standard color profile within my working color space of Rec709.

I also enjoy experimenting by beginning with a Rec709 LUT and then pushing the grade to achieve a stylized look akin to what a film emulation LUT offers. This experimentation helps me understand the impact of film emulation LUTs and how to replicate such looks using my tools.

3. What equipment do you use in your suite, and what do you consider essential?

A calibrated monitor is the cornerstone of a colorist's toolkit, ensuring confidence in consistent image quality across different screens and devices. Additionally, I employ a Blackmagic Micro Panel for efficient color adjustments via physical color wheels and balls, enhancing workflow speed. My setup comprises a custom-built PC with robust CPU and GPU capabilities, although I'm considering a future upgrade to a more powerful Mac for built-in ProRes exporting capabilities.

A recent addition to my setup is the Elgato StreamDeck XL, featuring customizable LCD keys that expedite my workflow by assigning shortcuts for common tasks, ultimately saving time during busy grading weeks.

4. What are the main differences between coloring long-form and short-form content?

Having worked on both short-form projects like commercials and music videos and long-form projects like feature films and broadcast television, I've observed significant differences in approach despite using the same tools.

Short-form projects afford more time for fine-tuning the grade, allowing extensive experimentation, diverse looks, and in-depth client collaboration. Conversely, long-form projects, especially in broadcast television, involve a high volume of shots per day, necessitating broader strokes and limited time for secondary grading.

Feature films strike a balance, demanding a polished grade with a considerable number of shots. To manage time effectively, I often grade shots from each scene initially to establish a unified look and then delve deeper into scene-by-scene grading while monitoring the number of shots graded per day to ensure efficiency. Each format presents unique challenges, and I appreciate the variety in the projects I undertake.

5. What do you believe are the most important skills for a professional colorist?

Client management stands out as one of the critical skills for a professional colorist. Understanding client feedback and creative objectives is paramount. Clients may have a vision but may lack the technical vocabulary to convey it, making it my responsibility to interpret their intentions.

Additionally, it's vital for a professional colorist to recognize that the film they're grading belongs to the client. While offering insights and opinions is valuable, ultimate creative decisions rest with the client. Collaboration is key, and my goal is to bring the client's creative vision to life while providing expertise in the color grading process.

Require colour grading? Let's have a conversation.

Call me: (UK) +447899841320 or (US) +18573896712

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