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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!



We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

Description image 31 COMMENTS

  • I think this is a great idea and well worth the price. It’s things like this that push me one step closer to buying an iPad.

  • Anthony Marino on 01.17.13 @ 7:40AM

    Sold! Thanks for the info Dave K. And a big thanks to Dave G too, hope its a big success and more seasoned professionals breakout to share their knowledge. Even if its in an app, I find info extremely valuable. I really do love this site, thanks guys!

    • Anthony Marino on 01.17.13 @ 7:42AM

      Sorry I meant Dale G. If only there was an app to get people’s names right I’d be set. Ha

  • If I had an iPad, I would definitely be buying this. Unfortunately I don’t, and can’t really justify buying one just for this!

  • Make one for Android!

  • Android version then I’ll be down

  • I’m buying this as soon as I get home. I’ve always wished for something that broke it down to the fundamentals like this. In my mind, getting a better grasp of the fundamentals will help me exponentially when dealing with the extra features available in a digital workflow.
    So glad I got an ipad for christmas now!!

  • Looking forward to downloading this, easily worth the money, what a wonderful App for Dale to help put together.

  • andriod pls! This is definitely a Got-to-have.

  • Bought it! I’m travelling and didn’t bring my ipad, but when I get home will be all over this.

  • Amazing! More apps like this please!

  • on 01.17.13 @ 10:38AM

    I don’t have an iPad, but I feel blessed that this is available on the market. Interactive learning in an area whose subtleties are more important than throwing a template on some footage and being done with it. I really hope people find this and make good use of it.

  • claude riban on 01.17.13 @ 11:30AM

    I just bought the app. It’s nice to have a dedicated color photo correction app for $4. Don’t have time to try the tutorials until later, but already fixed the colors on a few pix from my ipad camera roll. Very different feel and results than what you’d get from a quick pass in photoshop. I like.

  • jordan carr on 01.17.13 @ 11:42AM

    Android and ill pay to play….other wise no sale.

  • Clayton Arnall on 01.17.13 @ 3:14PM

    $3.99 sounds like a great deal for this. Just picked it up.

  • Do they have controls like this for Final Cut Pro X ?

  • to exclusive, sorry.

  • Ugh, I was excited about downloading this but I’ve found it’s not available for first generation iPad :(

  • But can I give everything the orange/teal grade that I love so much from modern cinema?

  • I downloaded it and spent half the day playing with it. It’s a brilliant way to start learning about colour timing. You have a go at correcting the image towards the target image, get it as close as possible, then you get a video Dale Grahn explaining his approach and adjusting the image to get a perfect match. Once you’ve seen his approach, you can go back and try again.
    It seems a that colour timing is a subject well suited to this style of learning; I hope to see more opportunities to learn like this. Maybe audio mixing and processing with George Martin?

  • Marc Wielage on 01.19.13 @ 7:09PM

    I’m saddened that anybody is trying to do color correction on a stupid iPad. They look like total crap. They’re the *last* thing anybody should be using to judge color. I have no problem with people using them to judge performance, framing, or focus.

    I agree with Dale that sometimes, simplicity is the key, but much of his thinking is very “1990s.” Directors and DPs push the envelope a lot more nowadays and have very high expectations (sometimes very unrealistic) about the necessity to change and push images and portions of images. Even simple jobs nowadays wind up needing a couple of power windows, which were never possible in photochemical color timing. Once they find out they can literally change the look of every character standing in a scene, often they feel the need to do just that. Good or bad, the colorist’s job is to make the filmmaker happy. Six knobs will generally not do that in 2013.

    • Nick Hiltgen on 01.20.13 @ 9:50AM

      I think maybe you’re misunderstanding the reason behind this app. It’s not intended to be a replacement for davinci or honestly even a replacement for color correction (except maybe some photo’s you have on your phone/ipad) it’s designed to be a series of tutorials giving beginners a good starting point and intro to color correctrion and the intermediates and experts a couple of more tricks to throw up their sleaves.

      Personally I do a lot of on set live color correction where I’m limited to the same six buttons (or thereabouts) and I have enjoyed these little lessons and challanges emmensely. Of course people will still use power windows and multiple nodes etc, but this is a great starting point.

      Also It’s a $4 app with some good tutorials on it, I think if you just learn or develop one technique as a result of the tutorials and challanges then it’s totally worth the time and limited money you put in.

      • Marc Wielage on 01.23.13 @ 2:04AM

        Nit Hiltgen commented: “Also It’s a $4 app with some good tutorials on it, I think if you just learn or develop one technique as a result of the tutorials and challanges then it’s totally worth the time and limited money you put in.”
        I think users would be better served just to learn DaVinci Lite (free) or Photoshop to absorb the basic technology. Alexis Van Hurkmann’s book “Color Correction Fundamentals” goes a lot further in terms of teaching the fundamentals.

        I would agree that getting a basic look on a set (just a best-light transfer for editorial) could be done fine with 6 controls. Heck, we did it for 20 years with fewer than that. But this approach won’t work for final color today, and I think it’s important for novices, D.I.T.’s, and cinematographers to understand the real-world tools that are out there.

        I again say that getting a monitor you can believe in — not an iPad — is a fundamental step in being able to do any kind of color correction. Without that, you’re just digging yourself into a hole.

  • You are SO missing the point…

  • Just found out, the hard way, that this app does NOT WORK ON the iPad 1.