Managing Color During Post-Production

The way you manage color in your program depends on whether your source video was transferred from film or shot on tape. There are several ways to color correct a project. The one that works for you depends on how you’re finishing your program, as well as your project’s post-production budget.

Telecine Color Correction

If you shot your project on film but you’re editing on video, you must first use a machine, called a telecine, to take the images from your negatives and convert them to the videotape format of your choice prior to editing. Any colorist running this first telecine session will be performing some level of color correction as the video is transferred, to ensure that the editor has the most appropriate picture to work with.

The goals of color correction at this stage depend on the length of the project.

  • Short projects, commercials, spots, and very short videos may get a detailed color correction pass right away. The colorist will first calibrate the telecine’s own color corrector to balance the whites, blacks, and color perfectly. Then the colorist, in consultation with the cinematographer, director, or producer, will work shot by shot to determine the look of each clip according to the needs of the project. As a result, the editor will be working with footage that has already been corrected.

  • Long-form projects such as feature-length films and longer television programs probably won’t get a detailed color correction pass right away. Instead, the footage that is run through the telecine will be balanced to have the best blacks, whites, and color possible, and left at that.

In both cases, the transferred tapes are then edited the same as any other project. Once editing has been finished and the picture is locked, a list of selected shots called a cut list or pull list is created that details exactly which shots were used during the edit. (The shots used during the edit are matched with the original shots using edge code numbers that are transferred along with the video.)

Using the cut list, the post-production supervisor has the option of pulling only the film negative that was actually used. Because this is usually a minority of the footage that was shot, the colorist now has the time to perform a more detailed color correction pass only on the selected footage. This is accomplished during a second telecine pass.

Although this might seem redundant, performing color correction directly from the film negative has distinct advantages. Because film has greater latitude from black to white than video has, a colorist working straight off the telecine has greater control of color and exposure than one working only with videotape.

After the second color correction pass, the color-corrected selects are reassembled to match the original edit, and the project is mastered to tape.

Figure. Diagram of the telecine process.

Other Advantages of Telecine Transfers

In addition to color correction, a colorist working with a telecine has many other options available, depending on what kinds of issues may have come up during the edit.

  • Using a telecine to pull the image straight off the film negative, the colorist can reposition the image to include parts of the film image that fall outside the action safe area of video.

  • With the telecine, the image can also be enlarged optically up to 50 percent without distortion.

  • The ability to reframe shots in the telecine allows the director or producer to make significant changes to a scene, turning a medium shot into a close-up for dramatic effect, or moving the entire frame up to crop out a microphone that’s dipped inadvertently into the shot.

Tape-to-Tape Color Correction

With projects shot on videotape, the color correction process tends to be a little simpler. There is not usually much attention paid to fine-tuning the video being digitized for an offline edit. Once you begin your online edit on a nonlinear editor (NLE), each tape is calibrated to match the color bars at the head of the tape whenever you’re recapturing your footage at its highest quality for final output, to ensure that the colors are correct. If you’re doing your online edit in a tape suite, the online editor takes care of this step.

Once the edit has been locked and the final master tape created, the tape can be taken to an online suite capable of tape-to-tape color correction. The master tape is run through a color corrector, and the colorist uses the tape’s master timecode to set up color correction settings for every shot of every scene. Once this setup is complete, the entire tape is run through the color corrector and rerecorded to another tape.

Figure. Diagram of a color correction pass performed before output to a new master tape.

Color Correction in Final Cut Pro

With as much control as they afford, telecine sessions tend to be expensive, especially for longer projects. Tape-to-tape color correction can also be expensive, but in both cases you’re paying to work with a professional colorist who has years of experience. Color correction requires a practiced eye and careful attention to detail, because it is this final step that really differentiates the look of low-budget video programs from professional broadcast TV.

With Final Cut Pro, you have professional color correction tools at your disposal. Controls that allow automatic adjustments of blacks and whites give even the beginner a basic starting point from which to proceed. With patience and practice, you can learn to work with these tools to achieve sophisticated color correction right on your desktop. With a fast enough computer or a third-party capture card with real-time processing, Final Cut Pro color correction filters can even operate in real time, eliminating the need to render every color-corrected clip.

You can also color correct your footage using the sophisticated features of the Color application. For more information about transferring your footage to Color for grading, see Color Correction with Color.