Telecine colorists use technology to turn the images on film into images
for video. Using workstations that translate film into electronic signals
they can manipulate, they make it possible for film to be shown on TV. The
colorist is fighting the degeneration that happens each time a film is copied
or transferred -- the idea is to match the color quality of the first-generation
Colorists are also responsible for establishing the color of that first-generation
film. The challenge is to set the desired mood of a scene, then match the
colors within it between takes filmed in changing light.
"A lot of [the coloring process] has no basis in reality," says Tim Gatena,
a telecine colorist for a large post-production house that has colored films
like Titanic and TV shows like Law and Order.
"You have separate controls for different colors and influence them according
to the mood you're looking for," says Gatena.
"For instance, if it's a cold winter day, you'll use more blue than red,
because red looks more like a hot, sunny day. So it's all subjective.
"When you're filming outside, or you're in a room and the light changes
a bit, the colorist has to change with it," says Gatena. "As the sun goes
down, the light temperature and color temperature shift dramatically. You're
constantly counteracting it."
Today, most of the work is done in digital format on computer workstations
that help speed up the once painstaking process. But the work remains highly
technical and exacting, requiring both artistic flair and technical know-how.
And colorists and industry groups see job growth for people who have both.
More telecine colorists are finding work as independent contractors or
freelancers. These workers usually do not receive benefits from their employers,
but instead work for the duration of a specific project for a lump sum or
a weekly or hourly fee.
Telecine equipment is extremely expensive, so the technology is concentrated
in relatively few locations. A state-of-the-art studio can cost nearly $2
million to build and equip, according to industry groups.
"We got our scanner [a machine which analyzes and manipulates the film
data] for $1.4 million," says Gatena. "That was a sweet deal, because it was
a demo. You're also looking at between $30,000 and $40,000 per year on upgrades."
Because of the high cost of equipment, many production companies have fewer
studios than colorists. As a result, shift work is often the norm.
"We're open 24 hours a day almost seven days a week to keep up with client
demands," says Kathryn Plousos, a telecine colorist.
She notes that in order to pay for the cost of the equipment, colorists
must make the best use of it around the clock. "Rotating shifts mean sometimes
you'll have to work from midnight to morning."
Most telecine colorists work a standard workweek, but rush projects can
force artists to work late nights and weekends from time to time. And colorists
working on industrial or commercial video projects may have to travel to the
remote site to complete the work more quickly.
The work does involve a lot of repetitive motions -- clicking on a keyboard
and turning dials. It can also be a strain on the eyes, as most colorists
work with screens about the size of a computer monitor and are scanning each
inch of videotape for minor color flaws.
"You've got a TV monitor within five or six feet of you, and you're looking
hard through scopes all day," says Gatena. "So it can cause a lot of wear
and tear on the eyes."