[Tig] "Memory Colors"--Link to ProLost blog post by Stu Maschwitz

Alexis Van Hurkman hurkman at me.com
Tue Feb 23 19:40:36 GMT 2010

On Feb 22, 2010, at 12:50 PM, Matt W-J wrote:

>> It's an interesting exposition he's made.  I think most colorists with  
>> a few years under the belt know these things without having to refer  
>> to the theory. 
> Maybe so but a valuable blog entry nonetheless. I find it's not colourists or postproduction people one has to explain this stuff to but clients. They often don't really understand why they are in this fancy darkened room with a sofa. (Or much else for that matter) ...  One oscar winning production I worked on the producer had actually asked 'Is grading important?' .... (ie: 'Do i really have to spend money on THAT as well?!')
> So I would recommend printing up a blog entry like this and pinning up in whatever area you shunt clients through before the session begins - an accessible little article that can be understood even by those with brains inversely proportional to the size of their heads. 
> A while back there was a thread about the 'G.A.S.P!' button that some of us have no doubt incorporated into our suites. Something that I failed to bring up in my comments on that thread was that: 'It helps the client understand what they are paying for'. Images are images and most people accept them as being what they are - until you see how much better it can look. 
> Put another way: You can't sell gold for half price if nobody knows what it is. 
> So for a greater understanding of the work we all do, and thus a more appreciative client - I highly commend blog entries like S.M.'s and thank T.L. for the posting. 
> Matt Willis-Jones Oslo Creative Director / Post Production Artist  

I agree that Stu's blog entry is a nice overview of the topic of memory colors. Three years ago I stumbled upon a body of research in the imaging science world on memory colors while researching the IPT color space for another writing project, and it's led me on a long and interesting road of research papers surrounding the subject of audience color preference and color correction decision-making.

There's a great article identified as having been presented at the IS&T/SID Twelfth Color Imaging Conference (coauthored by Clotilde Boust, and too many others to list) titled "Does an Expert Use Memory Colors to Adjust Images," citing experiments tracking how a number of professional photoshop artists in controlled environments identify which regions of a series of images to isolate for specific correction, and the direction in which the colors were adjusted. Correlating data from their work on four specific images, consistent preferences for the color of skin, foliage, and sky were found to overlap, with all the test subjects adjustments pushing those colors into the same directions when their individual adjustments were plotted with vectors on a u'v' graph. It's an interesting paper.

Digging deeper, I found a great study by C. J. Bartleson, in the January 1960 issue of the Journal of the Optical Society of America, titled "Memory Colors of Familiar Objects." The goal of that study was to identify, based on fifty observers (with percentages of "technical" and "nontechnical" people alike), what colors were most consistently associated with specific, highly familiar objects (I'm paraphrasing poorly). This paper found 10 objects with consistent preferences across the group (plotted as a close cloud of points on a hue vs. chroma graph) that includes Red Brick, Green Grass, Dry Grass, Blue Sky, Flesh, Tan Flesh, Green Foliage, Evergreens, Inland Soil, and Beach Sand. A long list!

The earliest paper I found related to this subject is by J. P. Guilford, from the December 1959 American Journal of Psychology, "A System of Color Preferences," testing 40 observers (20 men, 20 women) on their general preferences of colors, irrespective of object associations. Color chips were rated from 0="most unpleasant imaginable" to 10="most pleasant imaginable." I've not digested the entire article, but while the tested subjects make it very region specific (all subjects were in Nebraska), I've been curious to see if the paper identifies any preferences I've observed in my own client sessions.  I'd also be curious to see if an identical study done today would reveal changes in color preference over time (in Nebraska).

This is a topic I've been researching for an upcoming book I'm writing on color correction, in which I'm planning on siting these sources and others to try and provide a framework for discussing why we make the kinds of adjustments we do.

As Rob mentioned, so much of the professional colorist's work is intuitive, based on years of experience grading many programs for lots of different clients. Personally, I find that it's comforting to see a body of research that investigates how our audience perceives the image, and that backs up many of the things we do every day. I also think it's extremely useful as a starting point for discussing how to start going about making color adjustments with people who are new to color correction, and it's a nice rationale to offer to clients that want a specific adjustment made that one might consider ill-advised.


ps. I used a draft of this email as the starting point for an even longer blog entry about academic research surrounding memory colors. Anyone interested in these papers or more should go there, I've provided links to all the papers I mention (http://vanhurkman.com/wordpress/?p=58). Many are freely available on the web, some require purchase.

www.alexisvanhurkman.com | www.correctionforcolor.com | 646-620-6218

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