Monday, October 19, 2009

Alex Bickel - Colorist

Alex Bickel is a Colorist for Outside Editorial. He recently spoke at a joint meeting of the Boston Final Cut Pro User Group and the Boston Avid Users Group.

Wearing a bright yellow Steelers cap [inserted for color – Ed], Alex’s talk was primarily about going from Avid to Apple's Color application, but he spent most of his time on the Color application, and really it was a talk on color grading. As well as talking about the process, he offered several tips and tricks.

The demo featured material from an ad that had been shot in four different acquisition formats; a 35mm film camera was used for ease of use in low light, while a Red Camera, a Sony EX3, and the Canon 5D Mark II were used for other material. Interestingly, he noted that the footage from the EX3 was slightly sharper than the Red, and had to be softened a bit to match.

Color's interface consists of Primary and Secondary rooms that are used to apply effects and adjustments. The rooms are applied in order and he stressed that it’s important to remember this; if you make strong contrast adjustments in the Primary room, you can’t “bring back” something in a Secondary room. So Protect your blacks!; don’t brick them down in the Primary room, because you won't be able to bring them back in a Secondary room. He also noted that if you later have to go back and change something in the Primary room it will effect the rest of your adjustments.

Alex said that there are a lot of edit houses in New York that are starting to use Apple’s Color inhouse, replacing more expensive options. Color might not be as good as a daVinci, but it is, he said, almost as good, and a lot cheaper, and Alex believes that it’s more important to know what you are doing, than which tool you're using.

Since the talk covered going from Avid to Color and then back to AutoDesk’s Flame the workflow he presented used Apple’s Animation codec because that’s the only one that Autodesk will recognize. However he has been using the ProRes compressor for some projects, notably a Nike ad he’s working on was supplied in ProRes (ProRes Regular, not 444).

Typically, he said, it takes about 6-8 hours to grade an advertisement.

Alex is a big fan of the Nattress plug-ins, particularly G Blend which he demonstrated with a couple of techniques, adding that he hoped everyone wouldn’t be copying the effect, though I think unless you were already comfortable using Color, it’s unlikely that you’d remember what he did!

Canon 5D Mark II
I was interested to learn that Alex did the color grading for Vincent Lafort’s Reverie, which he said he got involved in through his relationship with Apple. Reverie was the short demo movie that first got everyone excited about the 5D Mark II's video capabilities. He spent about half a day on that project, but added that "we were just kids playing."

Evidently he had a lot of trouble with that first project because it kept breaking down; particularly in the blacks. This might have been due to a problem that existed prior to QuickTime 7.6 with H.264 and how it was handling the colorspace and placing the luma at 16 instead of 0. The 7.6 update fixed that problem.

The Nike ad was also shot with the 5D, and he said that was really good to work with, so he felt the problem was solved. After his talk, he took out his iPhone and was showing before and after images from the Nike ad.

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