Want an Interactive Master Class with Legendary Spielberg Color Timer? There's an App for That
Is it possible we're losing something through the non-destructive way in which we decide the final look of our shots? The answer, quaintly enough, is absolutely yes -- but what, exactly? Simplicity. True finesse in color timing is something Dale Grahn (Saving Private Ryan, Gladiator, Munich, Apocalypse Now: Redux) knows a lot about, and in a true chemical timing sense -- which says a lot about the power of bold and minimal control over imagery. Lucky for any of us looking to learn from the experience, Mr. Grahn is asking you to match his own color grades by way of a new iPad app -- and in the process interact with the very essentials of color grading.
No one can tell you how far to push a grade in terms of artistic choice, even while things like skin tone can be technically gauged (and separately maintained) as correct -- but the ability to emulate someone who has accomplished both, at the same time, and with a comparatively minimal set of controls, is surely an experience worth the price of half a movie ticket.
The press release:
As the color timer for Steven Spielberg, and with hundreds of major film credits, Dale Grahn shaped much of the look of modern cinema. But when cheaper digital tools appeared, Dale's art - the art of the color timer - was largely lost. Until now. Can you match the master? See how Dale shaped the image, and then try to recreate the look yourself. Learn to "think color" using the same simple controls that Dale used... Can't quite figure out how Dale did it? Look over his shoulder as he describes, step by step, his approach to the image and why he did what he did. It's an unusual opportunity to watch a craftsman at work.
Unusual is right -- this is a truly unique opportunity for filmmakers as far as commercial apps go. It's one that utilizes the try and try-again nature inherent to digital correction even while it demonstrates a simplicity of creative controls we don't necessarily have an incentive to often subject ourselves to. The story of the app's creation:
When we first sat down with Dale Grahn, over lunch, we weren’t sure what to make of his idea. “All you need is six buttons,” he said. “We can revolutionize the industry.” It was a bit hard to believe. Color grading was a highly technical, semi-mysterious science. Power windows, HSL keys, tracking masks, eyedroppers, scopes, giant control surfaces in dark suites – our understanding was that you needed power tools to even play the game. A lot more than six buttons.
Over the next many months of working with him on Dale Grahn Color – it all began to make sense. Dale’s method – the method of the color timer – was very, very different from what we were used to. Dale doesn’t immediately slice up the image and start tweaking it. As a color timer, you don’t have those tools. You have to look at the image as a whole, and work with it on its own terms. It’s an absolutely, fundamentally different way to look at an image. Sometimes, that’s a lot more limiting than working with digital tools. Power windows are handy.
But more often, Dale’s approach is liberating. With all the tools and gizmos gone, you have to focus on fundamentals. What does early morning light look like? What does it look like when it’s a cold day, and the subject has a darker skin tone? How does that connect to the feeling of the story at that moment? Often, the best way to approach these questions is to get back to basics. With, for instance, just six buttons. “The goal is to learn how to think color,” Dale had said when we first met. It makes sense to us now.
I can't think of a time when so technical a skill was spun into an accessible mobile app specifically so that filmmakers and imaging enthusiasts alike could not only learn something from a master -- but also attempt to match a master at his own game by a very quantifiable set of standards. It's all proportions and numbers (of either chemicals, or, well, numbers) after all -- but you could do at lot worse in learning how to use them than by practicing against the man with a repertoire like this.
Who out there will be springing for this app, just for the experience? What value do you see in a reduction of color controls down to the basics -- and do you prefer the eternal-tweaking digital capabilities, or the simpler, bolder approach of classical timing?
Thanks to Patrick Donohoe of the dev team for the heads up. Thanks for the app, guys!