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July 2013

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dear colorist Color grading or correction? By Kent Pritchett Lead Colorist Colorflow Berkeley, CA Questions for an expert. DEAR COLORIST: I often hear the terms "color correction" and "color grading": Is there a difference? KENT PRITCHETT: A number of my clients have recently asked that question. The terms are often used interchangeably, but I think of them differently. "Color grading," in my mind, is what a colorist does in a creative sense. For example, commercials usually call for a "look" or a stylized "grade." When I work on a feature, I'm grading, not correcting. It could be an interpretation of the cinematographer's work on set or completely re-imagining and redefining the look. Obviously, a certain amount of fixing and balancing is required, but the term "grading" refers to the artfulness, not the simple mechanics. "Color correction" is more of a technical description. It's about fixing problems usually inherited from the video workflow. For example, I may "correct" the white balance or fix shot-toshot inconsistencies in lighting or exposure. The question about color correction versus color grading is interesting to me due to changes happening in the documentary world. Although I spend most of my time working on narrative films and commercials, I've recently had the opportunity to work with some award-winning documentary filmmakers. Previously, these films might have been shot on video and color corrected in editing systems. Now, with digital cinema cameras and file-based workflows, I can grade them using the same techniques I've used for years on Hollywood features. As a result, we are able to experiment with more extreme looks and give these docs a stylized, cinematic feel, sometimes even on a limited budget. This is something I like to call a "Documentary DI." Often times with docs, I prefer to schedule a demo prior to the grading session to let the filmmaker know what's possible in a DI. This way, on the first day of the color session, clients come in excited and a bit more adventurous. They now understand that color, or particularly color grading, is a tool that they can use to enhance the narrative while engaging the viewers. So, color correction is what they know; color grading is where we are taking them. Ultimately, however, the terminology doesn't matter, it's how you apply the tools at your disposal. What matters is the finished product and the effect it has on its audience. DEAR COLORIST: Are there any advantages to shooting my project in 4K if it's going to be fin- 44 Post • July 2013 ished at a lower resolution? PRITCHETT: Yes, there may be. As part of a recent Open House at Colorflow (in conjunction with camera rental house Videofax), we conducted grading demos with media generated by three different Sony cameras — the F5, F55 and F65 — and a variety of carefullyselected codecs, up to and including 4K raw. We wanted to allow guests to compare the cameras' performances and how the imagery they generate responds to post processing. pressed format in order to achieve a highquality result. Productions that shoot raw, while initially investing more in cameras and media storage, may come out ahead through savings and more solid results in post production. The more range and resolution you have in your imagery, the more flexibility you have in post. When productions shoot raw, we can spend more time being creative and less time trying to push images into an optimal space. 4K One of Colorflow's grading suites. Camera performance, measured in terms of resolution, compression and other factors, can vary widely, but today's grading systems can, to some extent, blur those lines. For example, I used Lustre to match material shot with the different cameras and codecs, and then conducted a blind test, asking attendees if they could identify the camera sources. The results were so close that a lot of people couldn't tell the difference. With the tools we now have, we can take material from virtually any professional camera system and make it look amazing. But that doesn't mean that productions should choose cameras or capture formats based solely on cost or delivery medium. Shooting at lower resolutions or using high compression rates can actually lead to higher overall production costs and limit the quality of the final picture. For example, greater time and attention may need to be applied in post with a com- footage also provides more flexibility to reposition and prepare VFX plates. Some people think that if you are producing a project for the Web or mobile devices, you don't need to shoot 4K, but that's not necessarily true. If it takes longer to match shots in post or to achieve a desirable look, or if you need to do any other post processing, then it may be a wash. You may actually save money by shooting 4K raw. When it comes to choosing the right camera, codec and workflow, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions, particularly today with the increasing offerings of digital cinema. Each camera has specific attributes that makes it appropriate for specific production situations and budgets. The same applies to post production options. While it's wise to weigh those options and choose your tools carefully, selecting the right talent to apply those tools will always be your most important decision.

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