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The Color of Science & VFX with John Frith, Imaging Architect

November 14, 2022

Hi John, talk us through your role at Technicolor Creative Studios? 

My job title is Imaging Architect, and I report into the GSA team (Global Systems Architecture). We have built up a global team of Imaging engineers within TCS. Imaging as whole looks after technical image quality to help ensure the company maintains the highest image quality standards expected by our clients. The most important aspect of this is color management.. 

Tell us about the science of color management & VFX. 

Color science is not rocket science – it’s much harder! Jesting aside, it can be very challenging – it’s a rather niche subject but it’s very important. The Technicolor brand is famed for a long history of being at the forefront of color science in moving images. It’s important that we are able to demonstrate to our clients that we still have expertise in this field in digital age. 

The Technicolor brand is well known for its involvement in the development of color film – the very bedrock for color images projected on a large screen – that is a legacy to be proud of. Nowadays, it is all about digital imaging. Digital capture, digital delivery, and everything in-between. Color science for celluloid film is a complex topic and has not entirely disappeared. Some high-profile projects are still shot on Film, and we must retain knowledge in-house on how to handle the technical intricacies of working with Film scans in a digital environment. 

Moreover, as digital imaging has become more widespread the color management challenges have increased. Today we work with a growing variety of digital capture devices and a growing variety of display technologies. Once upon a time it was all about capturing on film and displaying images in theatres using film projectors and on old-fashioned CRTs. Now we have many different cameras to handle and a multitude of display standards and display technologies to manage to deliver to for both theatrical and TV audiences. The main delivery mediums are: Conventional TV, HDR TV, digital cinema, and high dynamic range cinema is emerging as we speak. 

Furthermore, there are many ways to skin the cat. Our clients handle color managed workflows in a variety of ways. It is necessary for us to work closely with clients and DI facilities on a project-by-project basis as the requirements always vary. And often require ingenious solutions. 

All of this means that all our projects require custom color pipelines. There is an industry term that sums it up quite well. The studios in US sometimes refer to ‘Snowflake workflows’ – no two color workflows are ever the same. 

Technicolor Creative Studios is working on a vast number of projects globally for Film and Episodic TV. All of which means we require a formidable team of Imaging Engineers to handle the throughput and meet today’s ever evolving technical imaging challenges. 

What is your favorite project from Technicolor Creative Studios, and why?  

There are too many to choose from. For some recent examples of stunning images produced by Technicolor. Nope is a good one – much of this was shot on 65mm film, which can still produce some remarkable images. On the TV Episodic side one show that deserves more publicity is Prehistoric Planets’  

What do you expect the future of color & VFX to look like? 

Fads come and go. Like stereoscopic for example. What is next – greater resolution? Greater dynamic range? Greater color space (ability to display more saturate colours)? Higher frame rates? Greater use of headsets/VR/AR. I am a fan of HDR display technology – it is here to stay. If used well it can reproduce more lifelike images than is possible with conventional SDR. It really does give artists an increased pallet to play with. A light pallet that offers an extension to what one can do with conventional SDR displays. HDR is not new – it has been with us for many years now, but one challenge in VFX is very few artists have access to HDR displays at the desktop. This is beginning to change – there are recent technologies emerging that mean we will be able to provide affordable HDR display solutions for all artists directly at the desktop. This is not a radical change, but I think it is important and will impact artists directly. 

Are there any trends in the industry and changes you expect to see in the next five years? 

Currently the main emerging technologies that are of great interest to us in Imaging Engineering world are: continuing developments in HDR, and on capture side Virtual production and use of LED walls for in camera VFX. 

New HDR displays are emerging all the time, both TV and theatrical solutions. HDR in theatres is particularly challenging – I think we will see some interesting solutions arriving in this space in coming years 

LED walls for VP (Virtual Production). This is an emerging area that still has some technical challenges to overcome. Not least, color management – there are some fascinating color management challenges to solve here to ensure the material produced for display on the LED volume looks correct on set (on HDR-capable LED walls), and resultant images shot by the camera look correct when displayed on the final output device, and all the needs to work in a variety of lighting conditions.

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