[tig] White balancing, DVDs

S. T. Nottingham nottinghams
Mon Apr 5 05:56:15 BST 2004


The question you pose is one of the most basic in our line of work. Proper
understanding marks the difference between an excellent colorist, and
...well, I think you get the message. On the film side of things, one filter
pack is used overall to correct the entire image. Although changes occur in
both the Dmin and Dmax, because of the nature of release prints whites and
blacks do not exhibit these corrections to the degree of the midranges. It
is a good thing too because many mid range corrections would grossly over
correct the blacks and whites - if you could see them.  Such is the nature
of timing in the lab.

In the early days of television, film chains were set up to a chip chart (a
black & white slide). The engineer would balance the whites and blacks using
a sequential display, and often film when out at this setting with no other
correction. Of course, we know now that even amongst release prints, there
is a great variation of color balance that was acceptable (or not - as often
was the case). Television projectionists would often "color correct" on the
fly by adjusting the gamma or mid range controls, and thus Telecine was
born. I got my start in this business by adjusting on air quality in this
very fashion in my first job in Broadcast TV - I just couldn't stand the
ugly color that most projectionists would permit. Management was not
thrilled that I screwed with the controls, but they could not argue with
results so I was left to my own resources.

In 1980 when I was finally driving my first Rank Cintel Mark III B with
TOPSY, the use of original negative and intermediates began creeping into
the business. These film elements resolved much greater color fidelity in
the whites and blacks than corresponding print material. It was clear that
the old methods of setting up to a chip chart would no longer fly.  It also
became obvious that white balance and black balance were just as important
as gamma and colorists learned to look equally in each of the three zones.
This process was difficult because the operator could not examine the film
for some visual guide on color balance. So how to correct when you haven't
got a guide?

The greatest mistake made under these conditions is choosing something as
white or black that is not. For example, a white shirt in shade is not white
but blue because it is reflecting skylight - even on a sunny day. If a
colorist balances a white shirt accordingly, the rest of the image will take
on a yellow cast. Similarly, a dark blue suit (such as a policeman in
uniform) balanced as black will make the blacks in the rest of the scene
yellow. But anyone with a sense of color understands these facts.

A new colorists must learn to train themselves to "see" what they are
looking at!  No amount of technical aids will overcome a "blind" colorist. I
have seen far too many people attempting to color correct by adjusting to
the scopes - while never looking at the monitor. But Duh, what it looks like
on the monitor is what matters. I am not suggesting the scopes don't
influence - because they do. But everything has its place and level of
importance. Equally poor is other extreme when the individual just moves the
controls until they "like" what they see, but don't have a clue how they
arrived at such a decision. That is because color correction is as much an
analytical process as it is an emotional experience.

But the emotional procedure can only begin after the analytical process has
concluded. If you understand that shadows on a snow covered mountain are
blue and not black because that is what you see when you look at a snow
covered mountain, then you are on the road to success. A colorist must draw
on personal experience of looking at what they see, and then applying these
principals in the Telecine suite. Yes it is that simple - but sadly some
people never learn this.

Yes, I know many of you on the TIG might consider this far too basic and a
waste of bandwidth. But for new people just starting out, such mundane
affairs can be the source of much confusion. Most of us with far too many
years behind us have often been placed in the position of teaching these
principals to others just starting out - so your very kind forbearance in
respectfully requested.

Tom Nottingham
Retired Colorist

 -----Original Message-----
From: 	tig-admin at tig.colorist.org [mailto:tig-admin at tig.colorist.org]  On
Behalf Of jeffh
Sent:	Thursday, April 01, 2004 2:28 PM
To:	tig
Subject:	[tig] White balancing, DVDs

All right - I probably should know this, and I think I do,
but I am going to ask anyway (uhh, no such thing as a
stupid question, right?  lol)  What exactly is the "art" of
white balancing; how is it done

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