July 16, 2015

Q&A with Technicolor’s Timothy Vincent - Advanced Technologies Help Colorists Deliver Enhanced Experiences in a ‘Painterly’ Fashion

Advanced immersive technologies like Higher Dynamic Range (HDR), Wider Color Gamut and visual effects (VFX) are rapidly gaining ground as tools colorists and content creators can use to enhance experiences in television and the feature/film world.  But the use of such game-changing technologies also is creating a paradigm shift in how colorists work – from preserving artistic intent to taking their craft to the next level. 

We recently caught up with Timothy Vincent, a senior color timer at Technicolor Hollywood, to discuss the impact of advanced technologies both on the colorist’s workflow and the process of creating more immersive audience experiences.

Timothy Vincent, Senior Color Timer, Technicolor Hollywood Timothy Vincent, Senior Color Timer, Technicolor Hollywood

New Technologies Like HDR Are Game Changers for Colorists

TCH:  How have major technological developments such as high dynamic range (HDR) affected the colorist community?

Vincent:  It’s about trying to honor the creative’s intent, but also take advantage of the expanded contrast and detail that is available in HDR so that we can create an experience in which the viewers have that “Wow” factor.  If you can create a similar feeling while adding to the experience...that is a terrific outcome that new technological developments can contribute to the art form.


TCH: Is there competitive pressure to harness these advanced capabilities and deliver that new ‘Wow’ factor?

Vincent: In technology, we’re always trying to expand…to push the envelope…to create new viewing environments – such as IMAX, for instance, or 3D.  On TV we now have a variety of environments to consider – from standard definition to high definition to UHD, 4K, HDR and so on.  We are always trying to take advantage of the technology – to ask: what does it really give you to help your project?

In some projects it will help more than others.  There’s always going to be a growth in the experiences we have.  Just like in sound, you wouldn’t leave something sounding mono when you could actually listen to it in stereo…unless there is a good reason.

People are always pushing sound technology so that everyone can have an otherworldly experience than in regular, day-to-day life.  In fact, part of the reason people go to the movies is to escape…and enjoy that escape.

As people continue to push those technology envelopes we will have new things that we are developing for the content creators to experiment with as they develop and share their vision.


TCH: How long does it take for the community at large to get fluent in some of these new technologies and how is the colorist community keeping up with that new language?

Vincent: It’s a fluid situation because the manufacturers of the color-creation tools have to develop technologies while we still need to work.  As new things become available, we learn to use them.  It is a trial and error process…which actually works best.

We quickly learn which show lends itself to an easier transition to HDR, for instance.  And as you work on more shows that use HDR, it gives you the experience to isolate and work with certain portions of the picture that were just not available in standard dynamic range (SDR).  We can go in and make the choice to just leave it out creatively or bring it back in and let the viewer have more information.   We’re always learning on the job…hour by hour…shot by shot.


TCH:  Do you see these new insights as something that you should share broadly with the community, or do you view them as a competitive opportunity that must be guarded?

Vincent:  At our facility here in Hollywood, there are only a few of us working on some of these next generation technologies.  I get stopped constantly by other operators in the hall, so I have an opportunity to share what I have learned with them.   I’m really involved in trying to communicate with everybody else that’s working on it.

We really do try to help each other grow in this new world.

But there is a balance.  There are some things that we’re not allowed to share outside of Technicolor.  That is why it can be good for folks to work with a larger company in which a lot more people can get hands-on experience with new technologies in the context of current projects.  In those situations, we can openly talk about technology that is proprietary that we can’t otherwise share.

Then there are other parts of the technology that we can talk about with colorists outside the company. Mostly, I am not worried about competing, because there is an overall culture of sharing in the colorist community. There have been websites where colorists have gone as a community and shared experiences, questions and answers.  But at times, there is a line between what you share and what you don’t share in those forums.


TCH:   Technology has allowed you to push the envelope of creativity.  Where do you think the next frontiers lie in terms of expanding your areas of control using technology?

Vincent:  There is a big opportunity around using technology to develop better ways of handing off projects.  Instead of handing a finished piece that is locked in -- and that is difficult to alter afterwards – the coloring process can be part of a more dynamic work flow.  We already have situations in some areas where I will get an open file and I’m able to go in and get access to different pieces without having to send it back in a manual manner.  This allows the film makers to come in and make some note changes without having to go and come back.   I think there will be more of that.


TCH: So we’re talking about using collaboration technology?

Vincent:  Yes.  It’s about having a shared, open platform of files around working projects.  I think we are getting better and improving our ability to collaborate.  But it really depends on the project. Shows have different controls based on whether they’re broadcast or features.  Every one of them is unique.  You have to ask: Are they highly secretive…Are they independent…etc.?

I’ve done some lower-budget projects where -- if you’re willing to work with us on more of a shared workload -- it will be easier for us at Technicolor and we can help you out cost-wise.  The more collaborative we can make it the easier it will be to cross over…and the better it will be for all of us.


TCH:  As a colorist, how have you seen your ability to be creative evolve given some of the new tools that are available in the marketplace?

Vincent: You can isolate so many different things now to help take images to another level.  For instance, if the lipstick on a character really comes off as neon on the capture – and it sure didn’t look like that on the set – instead of being sent to visual effects, we as colorists can now go in and isolate that aspect and follow it through the scene and address the issue.  This was not a thing that we could do before. In the past, when you just had the ability to grab that color, you grabbed everything in the frame.  Now you can actually go in and in a very isolated, painterly fashion, fix things.


TCH:  As you upgrade projects after the fact, have you heard a lot of concerns about preserving artistic intent as new technologies like HDR, Wider Color Gamut and these other technologies are applied to projects that have already been completed and have been on the market for a while?

Vincent: Honoring the original or current creative intent of the filmmaker is always a key component of any discussion about somebody’s work – whether it’s a brand new show or something from a hundred years ago.

The key question to address is: How do we use the new technology’s advantages, so as to honor the creative intent?

If we can get the creators in to be a part of it, that’s always the best choice to get them involved and make sure they feel good about it.  That’s to avoid the reaction of: ‘Oh my God, I saw my film in this new element – what did they do to it?’

Instead, we want them to say ‘They were able to take the project and move it into this new world – and it still feels like my movie.’


TCH:  Over the course of your career, have the fundamental skill sets of the colorist changed as a result of these new technologies?

Vincent:  The basic identity of a colorist is to take in all the information – the elements, the photography, the points of view of all the disparate clients (the directors, the producers, all the different voices) – and create a final image that appeases everybody.  But we also have to bring in our own creative input.  That portion of it has not changed.

On the other hand, how you exist as a colorist has changed because of technology. If we as colorists do not evolve with the technology, if we do not continue to evolve with the technology to learn the tools – even if you choose not to use portions of the tools-- we risk totally falling behind…and becoming obsolete as colorists.


TCH:  What is the relationship between HDR and colorists and how will it change the way you interact?  

Vincent:  Right now it’s in a growth phase with a lot of feedback coming from engineering, from colorists, from clients.

I – along with all of the other colorists -- are always wanting to make sure our voice is heard because we’re the ones executing the task and taking the elements from what they were…to create new elements.

My hope is that all the communities creating elements of HDR continue to reach out to colorists, so that HDR can turn out to be this amazing new technology and viewing environment because all the different elements are taken into account.

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