Of all the disasters that can happen on set and on location, perhaps one of the most hair-raising has to do with color. The cinematographer—hired because of his or her experience and skill in producing perfect images—labors to control and tweak a range of elements to create a painstakingly designed look. Later that night, a telecine artist in a post house transfers the day’s footage, based on nothing more than a few notes, a quick phone call or maybe a Polaroid. To add insult to injury, studio executives, producers and the director all watch the dailies on TV sets that are calibrated differently. Nobody is seeing the same thing, and nobody is seeing what the cinematographer intended. In an industry driven by images, one might call this a very unfortunate state of affairs. It also can be a nightmarish scenario in which inefficiencies cost money and time and drive everyone to distraction.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was some way to assure that the studio execs, directors and everyone else involved see exactly what the cinematographer sees? For years, cinematographers have labored to do just that, creating their own color-management systems with early computers, Polaroid cameras and gamma and density charts. With the advent of digital technology, these efforts became somewhat more sophisticated, with Adobe Photoshop and digital still images.
But the complexities of the film image and the necessity for communicating with the lab and the post house called out for a more systematized color manager. The Kodak Look Manager System, Gamma & Density 3cP and IRIDAS SpeedGrade OnSet are all systems created in the last few years to address this problem. HDVideoPro takes a look at how each system works and what filmmakers get out of using them.
The Kodak Look Manager System (KLMS) was most recently used by cinematographer Affonso Beato, ASC, ABC, on Nights in Rodanthe. Beato used the KLMS to communicate his intentions to the dailies colorist, Ed Twiford, at Los Angeles’ Technicolor, which handled the front-end lab work. Beato trained an intern to take digital stills of scenes with a Nikon D200 camera. The memory chip storing images was downloaded to a computer with a calibrated monitor. Beato corrected those images, and the corrected images were put on a Flash drive in DPX file format. They then were delivered by e-mail to the dailies colorist, who viewed them on a calibrated HD monitor.
“We received HD dailies over the Internet and watched them with a calibrated projector with the director and my crew,” Beato says. “The compression ratio was 20:1, so there was a loss in color space, but we could see focus and skin tones. Watching dailies together reinforced our enthusiasm, and the editor, Brian Kates, also saw the same images on a calibrated monitor.”
Other cinematographers who have used the system include Ben Kasulke and Gabriel Beristain, ASC, BSC, but according to a Kodak spokesperson, Kodak is no longer supporting the software.