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Report on Panel: The
Future of Color: Creativity
and Technology


by Ben Wyrick
8/15/01

An about-face is slowly taking place in the world of color for
motion picture films. Since color was introduced in film, a
process of using cyan, magenta, and yellow pigments has
been the norm.

Looking into the future of color film technology, four panelists
spoke of the increasingly important role of three different
colors: red, green, and blue.

Joshua Kolden, an independent digital effects supervisor,
moderated the panel, which included cinematographer Allen
Daviau, Beverly Wood of Deluxe Laboratories, and Neil
Robinson of Industrial Light + Magic.

The panelists explained the advantages and disadvantages
of traditional photochemical filmmaking versus digital
filmmaking and how the two processes affect color.

With traditional film, a movie is shot on a certain brand of
film, called stock, usually manufactured by Kodak or Fuji.
The film stock has inherent characteristics such as a warm
or cool color, graininess, and contrast. The lab which
processes the film stock can influence the characteristics
further in the processing.

Digital filmmaking offers even more creative possibilities for
color than traditional stock, yet digital is also problematic. It's
expensive, not highly standardized, can introduce artifacts
into the image, and can lose detail due to quantization
errors.

THE PALETTE
Daviau explained how a film's color palette is chosen. Two
individuals are mainly responsible for giving the director the
look he or she wants: the cinematographer and the
production designer. The cinematographer decides what
types and colors of lights will be used, what filters will be
placed on the camera, and the stock the film will be shot on.
Color decisions for the set and props are made by the
production designer. It is common for the cinematographer
and director to look at other films and art books when
deciding upon a color look for a film.

Daviau also delineated the traditional film pipeline. During
any stage of the pipeline, color can shift away from the
desired result. The pipeline includes daily prints, work prints,
an answer print, and release prints. Maintaining a consistent
color reproduction throughout the pipeline is a major concern
of filmmakers, a problem which may or may not be mitigated
by digital technology and a sort of holy grail called the digital
intermediate print.

And the kicker is that even with the most painstaking color
matching and labwork, a faulty lamp in a movie theater's
projector can ruin everything, no matter what the quality of
the film.

While digital technology can't fix human error at the end-user
level, it can expand creativity and help keep color consistent.
Digital filmmaking allows pixel-level operations, while
operations are less precise on traditional film.

According to Robinson, computer generated imagery is
usually "slotted in" to the image flow. Extremely high quality
CG shots eventually get written out to analog toward the end
of the pipeline, reducing their quality and sometimes making
them easy to distinguish from the neighboring analog
content.

An all-digital pipeline featuring the digital intermediate print
would allow CG shots to retain their original detail and also
preserve the film for the future--similar to a monaural-era
musician recording in stereo, even though consumers don't
have the technology yet.

Robinson gave several costly caveats to an all-digital
approach: the process must be real-time, data must be
uncompressed, the playback rate must be fast and
sustained (250-300 Mb/sec.), and voluminous archiving
facilities must exist.

LABWORK
Wood noted the contributions of young filmmakers,
accustomed to the creativity and flexibility of video, to the
world of color film. Increasingly, directors are willing to
experiment with special processing techniques such as
silver retention, which has the effect of creating rich, velvety
blacks, and increasing contrast.

"Sleepy Hollow" was one film which used silver retention. As
a consequence of the process, colors lose saturation, which
is sometimes desirable to directors wishing to avoid the
"jelly-bean" colors of some films.

Wood agrees that photochemical manipulation of film does
not offer as many possibilities as digital manipulation, but
she points out that it is cheaper. She notes that nothing has
yet completely replaced the silver halide chemistry of
traditional film.

GAMUT WOES
Kolden posed the question of how to digitally represent the
large amount of data found on a film negative. An accurate
representation requires the collaboration of computer
scientists, filmmakers, and software developers.

An encoding scheme such as red, green, and blue (RGB) is
flawed because of its incomplete gamut: humans can see
and record more colors than can be represented by an RGB
format. If digital prints are able to capture the entire range of
color, compositing and editing software needs to be
full-gamut compliant.

CONCLUSION
The consensus reached by the panelists is that digital
technology has much to offer. At its current state it will not
replace analog film. The possibility of a well-implemented,
all-digital production pipeline signals a rosy future for color.

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This page is maintained by YON - Jan C. Hardenbergh jch@siggraph.org All photos you see in the 2001 reports are due to a generous loan of Cybershot digital cameras from SONY