| By Dale Grahn, CSI Fellow
Part 1 of a 3 part series.
In the early years of color, the job of the color timer was very specialized and supported by several film laboratory departments all working toward the final product.
Each department had its own set of standards and goals. This, of course, meant that training in each department was needed to reach that standard.
A color timer required a considerable skill set in being able to predict correct exposures.
Unlike digital color grading, color timing could not be performed in real time. This meant the color timer required a timing assistant to call out the corrections for color and density to the Color Timer while the print played on screen. My career started as a timing assistant at MGM Labs, under the Timing Assistant program.
In order for a color timer to color correct a single roll of film or an entire movie for the first time, many steps were needed. If the project dailies were done at our lab then the Daily Department would supply the approved lights to the timer's assistant who would incorporate the lights into the file created by the Negative Assembly Department to form a printing tape for the printer.
Next, the Control Department needed to keep the Printing Department machines balanced to the print stock being used by keeping the LGG clean or colorless by hitting LAD standards (Laboratory Aim Density). This required the Developing Department to keep their solutions in line with the standard set by the Control Department's LAD aim.
When all the departments were in line the timing assistant would then order, collect, and view the print for errors, then set up the theater by making sure the projectionist had the projection screens matching in color temperature and set at the industry standard of 16 foot candles.
At this point, the color timer would enter the picture, expecting all parts to be exactly correct before they started. In short, it was vitally important that the timer knew that what was up on the screen held true to the industry standards with no lab mistakes in the print. Otherwise, his corrections would not work.
The timer needed to know that when he added a point of red and two points of density that he will get back exactly that. Not 3/4 of a point of red and 2.3 points of density. The timing process would never end if all or any of these parts were off.
A highly skilled color timer would have heavy experience in all of the support departments for timing and would have been an accomplished assistant. He had to know visually what he was looking at by comparing all the aspects of the image affected by all those departments in order to make the changes needed.
The timer's standard or golden rule was simple: keep the blacks black, the whites white, and the flesh tones normal to the lighting.
Ok, so now that you know all that let’s use our imagine and suppose that you are the timer, and you are about to make the first print of your new movie.
You sat in on some of the dailies a few months back and you just recently viewed the work print with the Director, the DP and the Editor and have all their comments on the look of the film. So where do you start?
You could make your first correction off of the work print by starting from the daily lights and thereby save making an extra print off the original negative. If you trust what you are looking at and it's close to where you are going then, yes, you could do that.
You know that some corrections might come back funky or off, but saving the pass on the negative is a key to saving time and money, so you go for it. Your assistant takes down your corrections, converts them numerically and then applies them to the printing file.
As you can see, a great deal of training and understanding in the many aspects of the process needed to be reduced down to the smallest set of tools in order to master a single task, timing the film. As a color timer, your timing tools are: RGB & D.
The above scenario is a perfect world situation and does not include the timers own vision for the project. Not to mention the hurdles you’ll have to overcome in order to have your ideas incorporated to the Director’s visions.
You might wonder what all this has to do with the title, “Is "Color Timing" A True Form of Art?”
The word “art” is a noun, meaning the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power."
If color timing can be clearly proven to be a true form of art then it can and should be rewarded as such.
Seems to fit pretty well, but it's not clear proof that color timing is truly ‘art.’ So the color timer might need an additional set of tools to be considered a true artist. Hmm, I wonder if they did have an additional set of tools and what they were?
The answer next month in, Part Two of ‘Is "Color Timing" A True Form of Art?’