June 01, 2015

Mark Stevens, Autodesk: Next Generation Video Technologies Elevate Colorist Role in Delivering a Compelling Story

Marc Stevens, vice president of Autodesk’s Media & Entertainment Film & TV Solutions Group Marc Stevens, vice president of Autodesk’s Media & Entertainment Film & TV Solutions Group

To understand how color has evolved in helping to tell stories across a range of mediums and formats, The Future Trust caught up with Marc Stevens, vice president of Autodesk’s Media & Entertainment Film & TV Solutions Group.

With over 20 years experience in the computer graphics industry he leads a team producing the organizations flagship products Maya and Flame. Prior to this he led product management for the M&E portfolio guiding strategy across the Film, TV, and Games industries. He also led the creation of the Games Technology Group within the M&E division focused on delivering solutions to challenges faced in modern game development.  Here is what he shared with us about the constantly evolving state of next generation video technology and its impact on the role of the colorist.

TFT: How has the role of color evolved in the story/creative process over the last few years?

Stevens: Color has become more prominent and important in creating a look/mood and to help better tell the story. As productions become more aware of what can be done to support the story we are seeing new and interesting looks and techniques being applied to many productions. Modern production workflows, technological breakthroughs and more sophisticated equipment for acquisition through final post production allow the colorist and key stakeholders much more creative control over the look and quality of their story in ways that previous technology and workflows could not provide. Colorists have a range of new tools at their disposal to allow them to explore new innovative and often radical looks which can even be visualized on set, address many more issues and increase the color palette in the post production stage. The role of the colorist in delivering a compelling story is as essential to a project as the Director of Photography or Editor.[subscribe_reminder]

TFT: Has it evolved differently for TV vs Film?

Stevens: ‘Film’ has changed dramatically in acquisition and delivery - from celluloid to Digital in the past few years  – D.I. (Digital Intermediate) has largely become Digital Color Grading in an all Digital workflow.  TV workflows are similar – but with a tighter turn around typically – leveraging CDL and other look / template creation methods.

TFT: Where do you see technology going in the next few years to further develop the color experience for consumers?

Stevens: Delivering better pixels to the consumer in an efficient manner is the next major step to enabling a better viewing experience. Specifically, HDR with wider color gamut, higher bit depth/precision, improved chroma sub-sampling and more efficient compression we believe are the most dramatic improvements to the consumer viewing experience since the increased resolution from SD to HD. As an industry we also need to ensure that the consumer display devices give a viewer the experience and look the filmmaker intended when they mastered their story. Setting standards will be key to ensuring successful adoption of a modern end-to-end color pipeline. Color Management, the ‘art form’ of color grading and compositing for HDR are all essential to produce a high quality consumer experience.

TFT: There is a growing amount of buzz around technologies like HDR and WCG...what impact do you see these technologies having on the way colorists do their work?

Stevens: The standards for delivering HDR/WCG are still being worked on, however, it is clear that there will be more work for the colorist in order to generate the additional deliverables and/or metadata to best serve the new formats. Historically, two of Lustres strengths have been the integration of the product into a wide variety of facility workflows and the way the toolset has allowed the colorist to work very quickly and so these will remain priorities for us as we enter the HDR/WCG era. Very soon, content creators will take these new technologies for granted and so we anticipate the need to add to the grading toolset to allow the colorist to better monitor and manipulate colors in the new palette beyond what was possible in traditional video and cinema. Moreover, facility owners and operators will also require new monitoring tools and tone mapping techniques to enable efficient delivery on an increasing number of target devices.

TFT: How has Autodesks relationship with colorists evolved in recent years?

Stevens: Autodesk products attract the most creative and innovative colorists - our toolset is often regarded as the best for keying / isolation, masking and tracking / stabilization.  More and more of our users are able to blend the historical disciplines of Color grading and Visual FX Compositing to become hybrid ‘super artists’ that can highly influence the aesthetic of many shots in a project – quickly. Autodesk has maintained a high level of involvement with key colorists in the industry in order to deliver production proven features and improvements.

TFT: Tell us a bit about the Lustre Product? How has it evolved?

Stevens:  Given the increasing need for more VFX-type tools in grading, Lustres evolution has been to towards tighter integration with the Flame Family of products. Timelines may be easily sent from Flame to Lustre and core technology including color management, keying, tracking, and noise reduction are shared across the products.

In addition to keeping current with the latest camera SDKs, weve added performance enhancements such as Shot Reactor and collaboration tools such as our iPad app. Most recently, weve added HDR-related technology (including Technicolor’s Intelligent Tone Management plugin!) and support for the latest ACES 1.0 transforms.

TFT: What feedbacks are you getting from your customers about Technicolor’s Intelligent Tone Management plugin?

Stevens:  Fantastic!  The ITM plugin is being very well received – impressing everyone who sees it from consumers to colorists. It is clear that with this technology, legacy video content can be effectively remastered to take advantage of HDR displays. Technicolor’s Intelligent Tone Management solutionITM is smart technology with a very wide appeal and great potential.

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