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Getting the right 'look' with an unsupervised telecine session


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#1 Patrick Cooper

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Posted 30 March 2007 - 11:27 PM

Regarding telecine sessions, I read that a lot of camera operators / dops work closely with the colourist to achieve the 'look' they are going for in terms of colour, contrast etc. For someone who is totally new to this, or in the case of an unsupervised transfer, it must be difficult to communicate effectively with the colourist in getting the 'look' you want. I, myself, would not want anything too flashy or elaborate in terms of a look - I would prefer a natural look with nice saturated colours but not oversaturated (still realistic looking overall.) I realise that such a statement would probably be too vague as a set of instructions to follow and many colourists would likely interpret this in many different ways. I assume that if I said that same thing to ten different colourists, I would probably get ten different 'looks' and some of these 'looks' may not be agreeable to my tastes. However, I'm not really fussy about getting a very exact or specific 'look'.

Is it right to say that certain negative stocks have a 'default' look - for example Fuji 250D or Kodak Vision 2 100T (regardless of colour enhancement in post?) Though I'm guessing that it would not be sufficent to ask a colourist that I want the 'default look' of Kodak Vision 200T when he/she is colour correcting Vision 2 200T film stock for example. Would a better idea be to supply a Kodak or Fuji demo dvd containing a sample of the film stock that I like the look of so that they can replicate it? Though I'm hoping that I won't be charged for the time it takes for them to play the DVD and analyse it.....
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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 31 March 2007 - 12:47 AM

Color-correction is far too much a personal taste issue for you to get what you want without being there to supervise.

At best, you can perhaps send a photo by email that has been Photoshopped to look close to what you imagine.

Otherwise, yes, they would tend to default to standard set-ups for black and white levels, contrast, saturation, etc. depending on what they are setting up to, hence why a grey scale helps. But that assumes that everything that follows the grey scale doesn't need individual correction and that you expose perfectly for what you want, you don't have mismatching weather to correct for, etc. Otherwise, you're basically asking them to "make it match" or "make it look normal" and accepting their interpretation of that if you aren't there.

It's not that hard to communicate to a colorist when you are there; they'll attempt to do what you are asking, show it to you, make more adjustments or explain why it would be hard to do what you are asking.

Colorists don't really know or care about the "default" look of Vision 200T, for example, not when there are about ten Kodak and Fuji stocks out there that vary by how they are exposed or processed, etc. They just look at the image that comes up on their screen, what the levels are on the scopes, and if they don't get any instructions, they will make it neutral for greys, fleshtones, make the blacks black and the whites white and try to hold as much info on the negative as possible.
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#3 Patrick Cooper

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Posted 14 April 2007 - 11:35 AM

"At best, you can perhaps send a photo by email that has been Photoshopped to look close to what you imagine."

Suppose I did submit a photo as a sample, and my footage was exposed in a mix of midday sun, late afternoon sunlight and overcast conditions, would it be best to send a series of photos taken in all of these different lighting conditions or would one image suffice? If I selected one image, would it be preferable to use a photo that was taken in overcast light, showing the colours as neutral, or would any outdoor lighting conditions be suitable as an aid? (Note: all film footage would be shot outdoors.)
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 14 April 2007 - 11:57 AM

If you're going to be very specific about the special look you need from a colorist, you should schedule a supervised session to be there personally. Otherwise, you can either ask the colorist to give you a neutral look or for them to take a best guess as to what you want based on some references you might give them... but you can't micro-manage them if you're not there.
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#5 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 14 April 2007 - 12:08 PM

The cost of supervised & unsupervised at many places is pretty much the same.

At Monaco here in SF, they charged me for a 1/2 hour telecine session for 20 mins of footage. And when I tried to back out and have an unsupervised one instead (for monetary reasons) they basically told me that it's the same price either way. For 20 mins of footage, they would still charge me for 30 mins of the colorist's time. So the only difference, really, is whether you're sitting in a chair next to him/her or not.

I don't know if all telecine houses are like this though, you may need to ask.
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#6 Patrick Cooper

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Posted 14 April 2007 - 12:36 PM

Ah the reason why I may not be present at the session is due to distance. There are no professional transfer houses in my state in Australia. The majority of them are located in Sydney and Melbourne. So even if it may not cost much extra for a supervised session, it would cost me a fair bit for the plane trip over there.
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#7 Jonathan Bowerbank

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Posted 14 April 2007 - 02:59 PM

Ahhhh, I seeeee

In which case, I would attach specific notes and visual references for each roll/slate and pray that it comes back the way you wanted!

Otherwise, just get a best light timed to your grey cards and manipulate the colors to anything special you were wanting to do during your own editing.
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#8 Patrick Cooper

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Posted 17 April 2007 - 03:54 AM

"I would attach specific notes and visual references for each roll/slate and pray that it comes back the way you wanted!"

I'll be praying extra hard! With regards to visual references, would it be helpful to submit photographic images that were taken under a variety of different outdoor lighting conditions or would one 'type' of representative lighting be sufficient? For example, what if a sequence in my 16mm footage was shot in sunny conditions but the visual reference I gave the colourist was exposed on an overcast day, would accurate colour grading still be possible?
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#9 George Lekovic

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Posted 17 April 2007 - 05:36 AM

What I did on my last feature shot on 35mm, bearing in mind that we might not be able to afford a full (or any) color correction session. Well...

I tried my best to shoot every set up with a digital SLR. I would give it to the 1st or 2nd AC and ask them to take time before camera rolls and shoot the set-up. Digital SLR have almost exactly the same chip size as the #35mm frame, so with a, lets say, 20-40 zoom you can get a good reference for those wide and normal shots. All you have to do is adjust ASA/ISO shutter and iris to match your film exposure.

These are also good as a rough reference for judging the frame, commmunicating to other departments, etc...

Then, after the shoot (or every day) you go home and color correct them and attach notes. Now you have a pretty specific reference of how you want this to look. If you have a good printer/lab you can print the photographs, tweak 'em to your preference and then make a book with prints and notes that you will give to the colorist. Beleive it or not, colorists usually like when you make efforts to communicate to them. That gives them an opportunity to play with settings, meet clients in person, etc...

We ended up doing just that, except that we managed getting the lab to have us sit with a colorist for a few hours and set up several important scenes, establish the rapport with the colorist, and give him more guidelines of what is the overall look we are going for.

Hope this helps.
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#10 timHealy

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Posted 17 April 2007 - 08:19 AM

You may want to do what David suggests by getting a neutral look and then doing a final tape tp tape supervised session when editing is done.

But talk to your films post people and the post house to make sure that is a possiblity with whatever workflow you are using.

If they try to hard and give you a look that they think you want, they may go to far and won't be able to pull back trying to color correct again for a tape to tape correction.

But all in all, David is right on with mentioning there is too much taste involved to get it right on without being there.

Best

Tim
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#11 Patrick Cooper

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Posted 17 April 2007 - 09:22 AM

That is an interesting workflow option, Tim. I actually hadn't considered that potential problem before....about the operator colour correcting the footage to the extent that it can't be corrected back. However, there is one problem....it is not definite but I am considering MiniDv or DVcam as transfer options...though this is not definite. Ive heard that with DV, colour correcting is a bit nasty to the image. Though still, a supervised tape to tape correction in a local place sounds like an attractive option. So is that what it sounds like - the company transfer your footage from one tape to another tape and colour correct as they go?

George, your approach is a good one too. Though I don't trust myself with colour correcting! I leave that to the experts. For example, when I have my slides scanned, I let the lab colour correct the images.

Edited by Patrick Cooper, 17 April 2007 - 09:24 AM.

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#12 Patrick Cooper

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Posted 17 April 2007 - 10:33 AM

Ive just done some research on this forum's posts on tape to tape colour correction and it looks like there may be some problems with this method. Here is an interesting quote from Adam Frisch FSF: ?A master grade (tape to tape) can never compare to that, since all the info simply isn't there.? I believe that Adam is referring to the original poster's option of going back to the neg with an EDL to do another transfer. And another poster on a different thread has said that there may be a loss in resolution in the process. So would there indeed be a compromise in quality with tape to tape colour grading? I don't really see why this would be so if one did a 'best light' or 'technical grade' telecine in the first place.
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#13 timHealy

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Posted 17 April 2007 - 01:15 PM

I wouldn't transfer film to DV if I were you. Technically one can do it, but to go through such an expense and effort to shoot in film and then transfer and post on a DV format ... it doesn't make sense to me. It is just something personally I wouldn't choose to do. I'd probably shoot DV at that point.

Now if one were shooting film and using DV burned in dubs to do a rough offline edit, then that can be a great option. As long as you were going back to do a higher quality online version.

As far as transferring tape to tape, I was talking about a higher quality format than DV. I think DV is a great format considering what was available before desktop editing became all the rage, but it is a "entry level format" (if I can use that term) with it own inherent issues.

Best

Tim
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#14 Patrick Cooper

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Posted 17 April 2007 - 02:42 PM

Obviously, DV wouldn't be a viable option if I was doing tape to tape colour grading as I have heard that colour correcting DV footage can have some unpleasant effects on the images. I have seen some beautiful looking Spirit 16mm transfers to DVcam but I don't want to start another one of those endless threads about the pros and cons of telecining to DV. The end product for my project will be a DVD. Digital Betacam is certainly a high quality telecine option but probably out of my budget. Even if I could afford just a transfer to Digibeta with an edl on DV (eliminating the costs of renting out digibeta editing decks) I have heard there are quality issues when creating DVDs from files that originated from a Digital Betacam master. I don't know the technical details but I have heard from some people on this forum that there can be some degrading affect on the image in the conversion process from DigiBeta footage to DVD. The only other option that I can think of is transfer to external hard drive (Ive heard those are extremely pricey so i only hope that I can afford it.) Ive also heard that particular service is extremely rare here in Australia. Even if I did manage to get a transfer to hard drive, I would have to get a post house to do a hard drive to hard drive or hard drive to tape transfer (if there is such a thing.) Can anyone suggest other tape formats that won't cost a small fortune to transfer to my computer for editing and won't have any quality issues creating DVDs from? I guess if worse comes to worse and I can't afford to rent the equipment to transfer the footage to my pc, I could get a post house to transfer the footage from the tape to hard drive.

Now back to my other query - I'm trying to get to grips why there would be a loss in quality when doing a tape to tape colour correction. People seem to be saying that not all the detail from the negative will be available. Though surely, if you did a 'best light' or 'technical grade' telecine initially, you would get the optimum amount of detail in that transfer which would be beneficial in a later colour grading during tape to tape, right? Or would I be wrong?
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#15 Dominic Case

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Posted 17 April 2007 - 04:40 PM

I'm trying to get to grips why there would be a loss in quality when doing a tape to tape colour correction.

Remember that any digital image recording format has to store the range from black to white as a range of numbers. If it's a 10-bit format for example, you can go from 0 to 1023. The extreme ends tend to be unused for various reasons: but (without going into questions of linear vs log) that isn't very many steps when you consider the ability of the eye to detect small differences.

When you colour correct, you are most likely to be squashing up one range of values and stretching another set at the other end of the range. Making a shot lighter for example, requires the low values to be increased -but unless you let the extreme blacks go grey, you will be stretching numbers. So there is a risk of those shadows getting "steppy".

Since film usually captures a greater range of tones than the video format is able to reproduce accurately, the initial transfer will have made one of two compromises: either the grader will discard extreme shadows or highlights (that is what happens when you colour correct) in order to get a good-looking video image; or else they will have given you a "flat" grade, which packs the entire range of the negative onto the tape: it will look flat, but when you tape-to-tape grade you will be making to tonal selection then and streching the range of numbers out to increase the contrast.

Tape-to-tape grading is excellent if you work in a high quality professional format with 4-4-4 images for example. If you work in DV or miniDV you have less colour information (so more opportunity for the images to break up as described) and also, because its a compressed format, you will have uncompression and recompression artefacts every step along the way.
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#16 timHealy

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Posted 17 April 2007 - 04:49 PM

Remember that any digital image recording format has to store the range from black to white as a range of numbers. If it's a 10-bit format for example, you can go from 0 to 1023. The extreme ends tend to be unused for various reasons: but (without going into questions of linear vs log) that isn't very many steps when you consider the ability of the eye to detect small differences.

When you colour correct, you are most likely to be squashing up one range of values and stretching another set at the other end of the range. Making a shot lighter for example, requires the low values to be increased -but unless you let the extreme blacks go grey, you will be stretching numbers. So there is a risk of those shadows getting "steppy".

Since film usually captures a greater range of tones than the video format is able to reproduce accurately, the initial transfer will have made one of two compromises: either the grader will discard extreme shadows or highlights (that is what happens when you colour correct) in order to get a good-looking video image; or else they will have given you a "flat" grade, which packs the entire range of the negative onto the tape: it will look flat, but when you tape-to-tape grade you will be making to tonal selection then and streching the range of numbers out to increase the contrast.

Tape-to-tape grading is excellent if you work in a high quality professional format with 4-4-4 images for example. If you work in DV or miniDV you have less colour information (so more opportunity for the images to break up as described) and also, because its a compressed format, you will have uncompression and recompression artefacts every step along the way.


Thank you Dominic for articulating what I was trying to get across.

best

Tim

Edited by timHealy, 17 April 2007 - 04:50 PM.

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#17 Patrick Cooper

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Posted 18 April 2007 - 09:40 PM

That was certainly a very detailed explanation, Dominic! It seems like a transfer to external hard drive would be the most convenient option. However, from the sounds of it, this service seems extremely rare (perhaps almost non existant) in Australia. The other thing is I'm not sure if many post houses offer a hard drive to hard drive or hard drive to tape transfer service with colour grading. As an alternative, what tape formats would there be that have 4-4-4 colour space, don't cost a fortune to hire equipment to transfer the footage to my pc for editing, and can be converted to dvd easily without loss of quality, unlike digital betacam? Additionally, are there any high end tape formats where you can hire equipment that utlizes firewire for easy transfer of the footage to a pc? I know with some formats like digital betacam, it's quite common for people to create an offline edit with dv (to avoid the costs of editing decks), create an edl and then get a post house to apply the 'cuts' from that edl to the digibeta tape. However, I could see that such a method could only be used for the cuts themselves. There would be no way to add titles or sound / music using that method. So somehow you would still need to transfer the footage to a computer for post production.
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#18 timHealy

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Posted 20 April 2007 - 10:39 AM

That was certainly a very detailed explanation, Dominic! It seems like a transfer to external hard drive would be the most convenient option. However, from the sounds of it, this service seems extremely rare (perhaps almost non existant) in Australia. The other thing is I'm not sure if many post houses offer a hard drive to hard drive or hard drive to tape transfer service with colour grading. As an alternative, what tape formats would there be that have 4-4-4 colour space, don't cost a fortune to hire equipment to transfer the footage to my pc for editing, and can be converted to dvd easily without loss of quality, unlike digital betacam? Additionally, are there any high end tape formats where you can hire equipment that utlizes firewire for easy transfer of the footage to a pc? I know with some formats like digital betacam, it's quite common for people to create an offline edit with dv (to avoid the costs of editing decks), create an edl and then get a post house to apply the 'cuts' from that edl to the digibeta tape. However, I could see that such a method could only be used for the cuts themselves. There would be no way to add titles or sound / music using that method. So somehow you would still need to transfer the footage to a computer for post production.


hey Patrick,

About a year ago Stuart Brereton posted a link to a comparision of transfer to hard drive companies here in the States. I think going direct to hard drive will be a great option for low budget filmmakers when the post houses put a little money into their systems. It would be great for filmmakers to not have to deal with renting a higher quality expensive deck to digitize their footage. But as the comparision showed, it wasn't great technically. See if you can do a search for it.

One thing that is important to remember. A transfer is not just something that's technically done. Much of the quality of a transfer is based on the skill and experience of the colorist. A night colorist is not going to be as good as the guy who does commercials and music videos all day long.

Best

Tim
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#19 Ryan C Emerson

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Posted 03 May 2007 - 09:35 PM

Speaking as a Colorist, I can offer some opinions on T2T color-correction from our side of the fence.

We perform what we call "flat pass transfers" to digibeta at our facility. During the original film-to-tape transfer we try to preserve as much information as possible (example: don't blow-out the whites and don't crush the blacks). We do a basic color balance and lay it off to tape...

Color-correcting from tape can be a quick and efficient way to work. But it can also cause problems. The latitude is not even close to that of film. You'd be amazed at what you can draw out of well exposed film negative -- that kind of information just isn't there in T2T mode. Many times we end up "hanging the negative" again and again (which can add time to a session). Also, keep in mind that any repos or blow-ups can not be done in a standard daVinci style T2T.

Hope that answers some questions.
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#20 Patrick Cooper

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Posted 11 May 2007 - 04:46 AM

Hello Ryan and thankyou for your knowledgeable reply. There is one thing that still puzzles me a bit though. I note that when doing tape-to-tape colour correction, not all the information from the negative will be there (in terms of dynamic range I assume?) - this does sound logical since I doubt that any video format could handle the range of shadow and highlight information from the original negative. However, when you initially transfer the film to tape in the first place, I see that you are doing a 'flat pass transfer' so that as much shadow / highlight detail will be preserved as possible. So if this is the case, I can't see why colour correcting later (going tape-to-tape) would be an issue since the maximum amount of visual information will be there from the initial 'flat pass transfer.' I guess I'm missing something here?
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