November 28, 2015 Jim Wicks

6 Questions For A Colorist

Ben Bradbury, 21, is a film student attending college in London. He’s studying digital TV production at Ravensbourne University.

He received a course project to complete called ‘Advanced Skills,’ which involves researching a specific advanced skill set within the TV industry.

Ben hit the Internet for part of his research, found my website, and hit me up via email to ask six questions about color, grading, and being a colorist (or, as he wrote, ‘colourist.’)

Ben wrote to say that he chose to research color grading because, “I know what a vital step it is in the post-production process with every genre and platform within the TV industry having to use colour grading in some way.”

That statement alone was enough to get my attention. It’s not something we colorists hear too often.

Ben said he is extremely passionate about two skills in TV: camera operator, and color grading. As part of his primary research he needed professional advice. After seeing some of my work Ben felt that I might have some advice for him.

I did.

Passion is what drives me to do what I do. I believe that you can teach someone the ‘mechanics’ of using software – what buttons to push, keystrokes, etc. It’s all the ‘this and that’ necessary to get started. But there is something more about this craft we call color grading that I believe you cannot teach: and that is, passion.

But what is passion, exactly?

To my way of thinking passion involves a number of things. It drives you relentlessly to explore, to dive beneath the surface, to follow your instincts. It is part curiosity, part creative, part technical. Passion will kick you out bed when you don’t want to, and keep you up late and night when sleep is far off and nebulous.

The colorist interprets a filmmaker’s words and descriptions into color grades. We are storytellers who use colors to help keep viewers engaged. The colorist also speaks on behalf of the film. The truly great color masters possess a natural ability to see the forest for the trees: seeing the details, but also not losing sight of the big picture.

All of this and more, including helping film students, falls under passion. As I see it anyway.

After replying to Ben’s six questions, I felt the information might also better serve the colorist community at large, including young filmmakers like Ben who have a passion to learn, to grow, to take our craft to new heights.

Here are Ben’s six questions – and my replies:

1. What software do you use while colour grading?
I grade primarily on DaVinci Resolve Studio. But, I have also used Baselight. 
I have demo’d Speedgrade, but do not feel that it is, at this stage, a worthwhile tool for my clients’ needs.

2. What is the best software to use for beginner colour graders?
I would highly recommend DaVinci Resolve. Unlike DaVinci Resolve Studio which is $999(US), DaVinci Resolve is free to download and fully functional.

3. Are there any key steps that make colour grading easier to grasp?
Practice. Practice. Practice.

4.What is the difference between colour grading and colour correction?
Color correction involves correcting image problems, such as: fixing exposure and white balance problems.
Color grading involves shot matching, creating looks, helping to create a unique and consistent feel to the image whereby you are helping to keep the viewer engaged in the storyline.

5. Can you see anything changing in the future for the role as colourist?
I see lots of changes in the future for the colorist. One has to only look back ten years ago to see how far we have come to understand how far we could be ten years on. 
And then there is the technology, which is constantly changing all the time. I believe many changes will be bottom line driven: anything that helps to increase output in less time without sacrificing quality will be embraced.
I also like to think that the colorist will finally become a recognized and respected member of the film and television community, in much the same way as the cinematographers and editors are recognized. 
(see more on this last comment, (here).

6. What is the key to becoming a great colourist such as yourself?
(see number 3, above.)
Some of us came from the telecine days of film and crossed over when the opportunity presented itself. 
Some – like me – apprenticed with a Senior Colorist at a recognized post-production facility. 
A few used to be color timers in the days of film (color timers were the precursors of colorists) and chose to change with the times.

There is no one path up the mountain. As colorists, we all share similar skills:
– a passion for color, color science, art, and technology
– talent, including an eye for color
– technical knowledge and expertise
– the ability to adapt to changing times and technology
– patience
– ability to see small details as well as the big picture
– an inborn or natural curiosity to dive beneath the surface and explore ideas, ask questions, push the boundaries

Best, Jim

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Jim Wicks

Jim is a recognized and well-respected member of the film preservation and post-production community. His work is seen at the movies, on Blu-ray, television, the web, and mobile devices worldwide. Color Correction & Grading services by a Pro - without the high prices or cost of a big facility. Email: jim@jimwicks.com · Phone: 1+ (561) 721-5187