Career Paths: from VFX to grading

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Recently Christopher Stack began a thread on the TIG mailinglist from which the following text is excerpted.

hi all,

per rob's suggestion im polling this group for advice...

im the data-manager/colorist for a vfx house in santa monica, ca. my entire experience has been at one company - i started out as data manager four years ago and assumed the colorist duties two years ago when the contract colorist left. all our work as been on features.

i'd like to pursue a career as a colorist. unfortunately all my color work is done with shake. although im able to achieve great results, i don't have experience working on any of the industry platforms and i have very little knowledge of the di or colorist industry, only tangentially as it impacts us in vfx.

so my question to the group is: what should be my next step? are there colorist-assistant positions? or are there di facilities willing to take on a talented and hard-working individual to train them? is there anywhere to get time on an industry standard color platform? i have access to apple's color and iridas' speedgrade and have begun exploring them.

any advice or information is greatly appreciated!

cheers christopher

Christopher Stack wrote: any advice or information is greatly appreciated!

Hello Christopher

Here's a few observations and some background. I work at a facility that has a large VFX division, DI grading facilities as well as a commercials department (with HD video TK grading).

I'm guessing that on the VFX side you'll be used to grading short VFX shots. Your client will probably be your VFX supervisor who sits with you a while and then goes off on other duties to return later. The equipment and software will be low-to-mid range (in monetary terms that is - this is no criticism as it is most suited to a large, distributed VFX workflow) and the ambient lighting is probably controlled but not as controlled as in a DI suite. Finally, the shots you grade will subsequently be reassessed - and probably regraded - either digitally in a DI session or chemically at the lab. Finally you won't have been asked to edit and conform your VFX shots.

(I'm making a lot of assumptions here)

On the DI side you'll be grading the whole movie. You'll sit in a suite that costs millions, with a top-of-the range DCI compliant projector. This will be checked and recalibrated on a daily basis. The ambient lighting will be carefully controlled. You will have more than one client attending - director, editor, producer, hopefully the DoP - and they will be with you all the time. You will be grading the shots for the final look - no regrades later. You may have assistants to conform your shots from an EDL - or you may have to do that yourself.

These two scenarios are clearly different. But you have some things going for you already, that another person trying to become a colourist from scratch won't have.

You know about colour, how it works, how to describe it. And have some appreciation of different colourspaces and their limitations. You'll know about data and data formats and you'll know how to manage and move this data. You'll know about VFX shots. This is very important as VFX shots are now getting dropped straight into the DI session as data without having to hit film first. You'll understand about deadlines too.

What will be different is the length of the project. The number and importance of the clients - and the fact that they are with you all the time. The fact that you are at the end of the chain and not the somewhere near the beginning. You'll also have to get your head around conforming from an EDL rather than a scanning sheet. And you'll have to deal with audio (as a guide if nothing more).

The grading side will be more advanced and I guess that you'll be doing a lot more secondary colour correction as well as windows/shapes/masking for selective grades.

So what you need is a break. If you play up your data, VFX and what grading experience you have, then some knowledgeable person or company out there will give you that break. And try and hook up with a manufacturer as they should always have one eye on the VFX side.

I wish you all the best


Martin Parsons Head of Imaging MPC Soho, London, England

On Jul 12, 2007, at 12:34 PM, Christopher Stack wrote:

so my question to the group is: what should be my next step? are there colorist-assistant positions?

There are, and that is probably the best next step for you to take.

You should know though that the assistant position generally doesn't involve a lot of actual color correction. It is a support role for the colorist in the suite (and sometimes a night-shift position). It can involve setting up and organizing shots for the colorist station, database entry, roto, render watching, QC, and occasionally preliminary grades if the colorist trusts you.

The advantage of the position is that you often get to sit in the client sessions and see how the colorist handles the clients and that, in the end, is one of the more important aspects of the colorist's job. You also get plenty of time on a version of the software.

Good luck..

Jim Houston Starwatcher Digital

to all who have responded both privately and on the list with suggestions and advice, thank you very much! your input is greatly appreciated and has quickly given me new perspective on all this.

martin, you were spot on with your observations. couldn't have (and didn't) say it better myself. in fact calling our ambient lighting "controlled" would be generous at best! but as you observed, we're not doing front-line corrections. even the more critical cc'ing of balancing to match clips so our film output could be cut in for chemical timing has been eliminated as all the work we do now goes to DI. at the beginning of this year i dropped filmout operator from my job description as we got rid our lux film recorder.

so thanks again to everyone for the advice. i'm very grateful i stumbled upon this mailing list resource! it's exactly the type of source of information i was looking for.

cheers christopher