The Desktop DI, Part I

The story of digital intermediate (DI)— desktop or otherwise–begins with the DP. If you ask a typical Hollywood director of photography about color correction, he or she usually will reply, “Shoot for the look you want and don’t expect the colorist to ‘fix it in the mix.'” If a DP fails to shoot a scene to the ultimate satisfaction of the director or producer, the court of last resort is the colorist, who’s employed to use digital technologies–either color correction or DI—to satisfy the muses and monetary masters.


On almost any serious location scout, therefore, the topic of lens filters arises. Tiffen, one of the oldest and most respected manufacturers of award-winning glass lens filters for still, cinema and video cameras, likely will be the brand discussed. Traditionally, DPs rely on their instincts to select the right filters for a shoot. But there are thousands of filters, and rare is the DP who can memorize all of them and their resulting effect—let alone keep up with new filters being developed yearly.

Tiffen, forever gently coaxing its clientele into the 21st century, realized that computers were the best tools to inventory all their filters and the effects of each and could emulate a filter’s effect virtually using color-correction software that was specifically calibrated to mirror each filter’s properties.

In a brilliant “starting-point” move, Tiffen partnered with Digital Film Tools to simulate its range of optical filters and special effects, plus a host of other features, with Digital Film Tools’ 55mmplug-in color-effects software developed for AVID, Adobe, Apple Final Cut Pro and, with limited functionality, Autodesk Combustion.

Tom Quick, who currently does color correction for the TV show Dr. Phil, recalls, “I first learned color correction on an AVID Symphony, but often, a freelance [non-Symphony] job would require me to use a standard AVID color effect. Then, I discovered 55mm, which gave me a sophisticated tool set in a low-cost solution.”

For the DP, Tiffen Dfx comes as a standalone application, as well as a plug-in for Adobe Photoshop or Apple Aperture. All of the still-image editions allow two activations, so you can have the same software installed on your laptop and your studio machine.

With an elegant graphical user interface, the standalone software imports RAW, TIFF, JPEG, DPX and Cineon files. This makes it a superb laptop pre-viz tool. The Photoshop and Aperture plug-ins offer the same range of filters, effects and user-friendly GUI. Instead of relying on the traditional tools of color correction, such as color wheels, Tiffen Dfx uses virtual lens filters—identically named after Tiffen glass filters. Also included are the entire range of GAM and Rosco gels and light modifiers (gobos), as well as other effects too numerous to mention here.

This same range of filters also are available as discreet plug-ins for Final Cut Pro, After Effects, Premiere Pro and AVID, allowing a DP and colorist to creatively work with both real glass filters and their digital emulations.

During a scout, the DP can shoot a digital 35mm picture of a set or location, show it to his or her team and easily demonstrate how that scene will look, using any one of thousands of Tiffen filters, singular or in combination. In fact, Tiffen even has two iPhone apps, Photo fx ($2.99) and Cool fx ($1.99), which are based on its Dfx software, though not as extensive, of course.

And while glass filters come in a limited range of grades, virtual filters can be varied to fine fractions, allowing the DP to estimate precisely the amount of filtering desired. With a low-cost approval of the desired look, the DP then can rent the appropriate filters and know, almost exactly, if and how much post correction will be required. This information, on most new digital cameras, can be added to the shot’s metadata, providing a cost-saving shortcut for the editors and colorists.