Last month, FotoKem named Joseph Slomka VP and Principal Color Scientist for digital post-production and creative picture services. That's a heady title. In post-production, color science is everything. Digital techniques bring with them the potential for perfect image reproduction throughout the post process — but also new opportunities for misinterpreting, mismanaging, or otherwise mishandling data and metadata in ways that can frustrate cinematographers and directors.
Slomka brings with him a master's degree from the Munsell Color Science Laboratory at the Rochester Institute of Technology as well as a six-year tenure as color scientist at Sony Pictures Imageworks, where he managed color pipelines for more than 30 major studio films and other facility projects. He also worked with the AMPAS Science and Technology Council to develop the Image Interchange Framework (IIF) and the Academy Color Encoding Specifications (ACES), which are meant to provide a common basis for working with digital cinema cameras on the set and in post-production. He has also been involved with the ASC Technology Committee and was a main contributor to the Sony Imageworks openColorIO project. Among his tasks at FotoKem will be standardizing processes at FotoKem's affiliates Keep Me Posted, Margarita Mix/LA Studios, and Spy.
We asked Slomka to talk about his day-to-day assignment at FotoKem, the state of color management across the industry, and what can go wrong.
StudioDaily: You're becoming the color-science guru at FotoKem. That sounds like an impossibly vast job description, but can you break down a few of the ways you'll get your hands dirty on a day-to-day basis?
Joseph Slomka: Every day, I’m working with clients and facilities to communicate color science data throughout the pipeline. At FotoKem, we are always advising filmmakers on the particular cameras, technology and output they want and need, and how to get it through post production in the most efficient and simplest way. I also work with the lab people who are processing the film and the programmers on our nextLAB system to ensure the latest information is up to date. And each day, these activities include color science education — a different solution may solve their problem, cost less and look better. We are here to advise them on how to make the each project as good as it can be
The industry increasingly works in an all-digital environment. Why is it so difficult to design a pipeline that keeps color consistent from acquisition through exhibition?
The main challenge is addressing the various ways that each manufacturer is doing things. With digital, there are infinite “negatives” and “stocks” to achieve a look, just like choosing a film stock only much more varied in formats. At FotoKem, we strive to have a rigorous definition of color and detailed asset management and information sharing – it’s what keeps the pipeline consistent. In a real world situation, when something doesn’t work, the filmmakers switch immediately to another tool to keep things moving along. Everyone needs to understand what that decision changes in the process, and how to integrate it.
What complaints do you hear from cinematographers when a color workflow isn't up to snuff?
The simple complaint is, “That isn’t what I shot.” The DP is on the front end and by the time you hear feedback it’s nearly complete.
And how much awareness do you think there is of the importance of good color science in post?
Now, there is a great awareness of color science in post. The color-science discussions are occurring before production begins. This shows that studios are beginning to understand that color-science decisions have a big effect on the movie long before the camera arrives on set. This is a good thing.
What are some of the most common mistakes in production and post that result in the loss of useful data and/or a compromise in image quality in a digital workflow?
The most common mistake is not having the camera color setting on the camera reports. When filmmakers use the run-and-gun approach to shooting with a digital camera, they really need to understand all the settings need to be tracked and transferred. Furthermore, all vendors should be involved in the color discussion before the first day of the shoot.
Can you name a widely held misconception in our industry about color science?
That it’s magic.
You collaborated with AMPAS on the development of the IIF ACES workflow, and you contributed to the open-source OpenColorIO project. Are we doing a good job of implementing those initiatives?
We are doing a good job as an industry in far as developing ACES. Parts of the ACES project are done and it’s meant to be used as a framework . It’s getting on set, and all major studios have buy in, and are invested in working together. As far as implementation, it's not 100% set in stone – it’s an AMPAS working group versus a SMPTE spec.
And what do you see as the next steps for the industry as a whole?
Over the next five years, the industry is headed towards an open color IO in pipelines and ACES in all areas of production.
Crafts: Post/Finishing Shooting
Sections: Business Technology
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If anyone has some questions I’d be happy to try and answer.
Can you recommend any books to read that give a really good overview of color science…especially in regard to motion pictures in the digital age?
Looks like mt reply got lost.
I recommend a few books on color science and motion picture color.
As a general introduction to color science
Billmeyer and Saltzman’s Principles of Color Technology, 3rd Edition
This is an accessible introduction to color vision, color naming, color measurement and the math. It is well laid out and explains all of the concepts simply with the math in the appendix.
Filmlight scientist Richard kirk wrote the documentation to filmlights truelight and that is quite a worthwhile read.
I also like Joseph Goldstones entry on color in the VES Handbook of Visual Effects.
Let me know if any of these are what you are looking for. There is a lot more to read but these are good starting places.
Thank you so much for the article. As a colorist working in today’s post it is so important that the clients and the entire production pipeline have access to accurate information and training. I also teach color grading on systems from Avid to Quantel Pablo and I am always looking for a resource to teach my students as well as my co-workers. Any information on gathering more education would be great.
Keeping up on color technology is always a challenge. I have been lucky to work on many cutting edge projects and technologies.
Technology is quite stable for now. The major camera manufacturers are a good source of the newest color information.
The AMPAS ACES working group is the most active in setting future technology. You can look there for information on what will be happening.
You can look at the resources I posted about to Tom. Those are solid references.
Good luck on your teaching,
What resources have you found that are helpful?
I really hope that as an industry we can move grading away from output referred grading(P3 and Rec709). There is a lot that can be gained in terms of latitude and creative control by working on high dynamic range log encoded source material. As far as longevity and studio asset preservation(archival) there is a lot to be gained in a log workflow.