When many people hear the term “Colorist,” they think of that talented person at the hair salon who can hide the onset of grey, or add some dandy highlights. As important as this type of Colorist may be to those of us concerned or protective about our looks, the role of the Colorist is even more crucial in Post.
On a film set, the Director of Photography spends hours preparing each shot so that the light is perfect for the actors and scenery he’s about to capture on camera. A DP can control some elements, but certainly not all. When we’re shooting outside during the day, for example, there’s not much a DP can do about the sun!
In real time, a scene usually plays out over the course of a few minutes, but in the reality of filmmaking, it may take all day to capture that footage. Not only will the sun make its move across the sky, changing the nature of light and shadows along with it, but also, clouds may come and go, creating even more light variations from take to take.When you have a series of scenes scripted to take place during the course of a single day, these natural variables become even more challenging. It’s the Colorist that evens out all of these shots so that you, the viewer, can buy into the reality we’re creating without getting psychologically pulled out by unevenness of light.
Another important task for both the DP and Colorist is to help make the actors look their best. The makeup department begins that process by evening out skin tones, but then that work is complicated by how the light hits the actors’ faces. I’m not saying there aren’t times when you want a gritty or raw look, but usually, you want to improve upon what’s been captured in camera. If a character’s face is slightly under lit, for example, the colorist can create a feathered field around the area and open up the light.
On Bored To Death, our three talented stars each have varied skin tones that read quite differently on camera. Jason can sometimes read as pale, Ted tends towards tan, and Zach can come across as reddish. In an episode filmed recently, we added an Indian character to the story, making our skin tone color wheel complete!
Using special layered “power windows,” our Colorist, John Crowley, can isolate each of the actor’s individual skin tones, and adjust them independently of one another. Beauty comes in all shades, so it’s not about making them all look the same, but rather, helping each of them to look their very best.
And of course, at the end of the day, if we’ve done our job properly, you’ll never know we were there. That’s the beauty of Post!