Dado Valentic, chief colourist and managing director of MyTherapy D-Cinelab, discusses the musicality of colour and the new possibilities digital technology offers to independent filmmakers.
Born with a condition that gives him “a great sensitivity to colour,” digital colourist Dado Valentic is “almost genetically predisposed” to do this as a job.
“I have synaesthesia,” he continues, “so for me the colours have chords and sounds, and for me there is a melody in a colour.” Thus he sees a strong link between his day job (“in layman’s terms, basically a Photoshop artist for film”), and his night job as a DJ (under the monicker Tito Heron). “I almost approach colour-grading as if I were writing music or a soundtrack for a film. Sometimes you are looking for a very soft underlying effect to support the story, and sometimes colour takes a more important role_just like when music accentuates drama in a scene. It just kind of helps put all the elements together to create a story, to create the illusion.”
It is possible to make a film on a relatively low-budget camera and, through very clever colour-grading, we can make it look like a 10-million-dollar Hollywood movie
Valentic set up MyTherapy D-Cinelab to ensure that, as digital cameras evolved, there would be a parallel development in the technology required to process the data. “In the same way that you used to have a film lab that would take the camera negatives and apply processing and chemicals to make it look correct, there had to be technology or techniques put in place for the digital camera, because we found that if we do certain things to the images, it will make them look much better.” If digital images were promising to revolutionise cinema, they also “needed therapy, needed someone who was going to take this raw footage and turn it into something that looks beautiful and amazing”.
To Valentic, colour-grading is “the single most value-adding factor to film”, with important ramifications for independent filmmaking. “It is possible to make a film on a relatively low-budget camera and, through very clever colour-grading, we can make it look like a 10-million-dollar Hollywood movie. At the same time we help solve many problems that happen throughout the filming. It is impossible, sometimes, to light the whole set the way you want to light it, if there isn’t enough equipment, light and time available. Sometimes the weather changes or you have two shots that are in the same scene, but one’s very cloudy and the other is very sunny. We can fix all those kinds of issues.”
Valentic also sees digital solutions for the distribution problems facing most independent filmmakers. “You can master and create digital film prints for a cinema at less than 10 per cent of what it used to cost for 35mm. Last year something like 80 per cent of films which were made in the UK never got theatrical distribution. There are many reasons for that: one is that people still didn’t embrace the digital technology as such, and second, they are still trying to approach the traditional routes of going to a company that would market and distribute to theatrical cinemas for them. However the independent distributors don’t necessarily want to take a risk with small films any longer. So my approach was to encourage DIY, where filmmakers would be able to book their films not in a chain of cinemas, but in just a few. We have several clients that have placed their film in not more than 10 in total, and sometimes would be able to schedule only one screening a week, or just odd screenings on days that are usually low. By then using social media for their own marketing and networking, they would be able to create enough interest to sell out those screenings and, out of that small amount, cover the cost of theatrical distribution.”
MyTherapy has “probably the largest experience of all post-production companies in the UK when it comes to 3D”, offering stereoscopic error corrections, convergence adjustments and optical effects, and is working closely with IRIDAS on a new real-time, render-free 3D colour-grading application. Until recently, “the very high cost of production” for 3D has been prohibitive to all but the big studios, but Valentic believes that the format is becoming affordable to independent filmmakers as well. “The technology has moved forward; there is a wider availability of equipment, and there are now more people and crews using that equipment than there were in the past, so it is possible to find people that know how to do 3D, and to find rigs_or even buy rigs for some productions, which is sometimes cheaper than renting them.” And thanks to recent R&D work, 3D post-production_once “a very, very time-consuming and expensive task”_has also become cheaper. “For the last six months we have invested a lot of time and money in making that process of stereoscopic post-production automated as much as possible, so that we can reduce the cost, and also improve the workflows.”
With the costs of 3D production now greatly reduced, Valentic hopes that independent filmmakers will start taking an interest. The potential rewards are undeniable, as Valentic’s recent experience on StreetDance 3D (2010) demonstrates. “That movie was made for something like £4.5m, and I know for a fact that that film made_only in the UK—£9.5m, and we have created something like 15 international versions, so they’ve sold it to more than 15 territories. The international sales for stereoscopic films are so much better and higher than they are for 2D films, because there is great demand for 3D; not just in this country, the world wants it, especially in Asia, in parts of Europe. Someone with a quirky and interesting story_not just big VFX or animated films_can do really well.”
“And funnily enough,” Valentic adds, “investors are actually prepared to go for 3D, thinking it is a safer investment than just a low-budget 2D flick.” In short, then, fully embracing the available digital technology really does give independent filmmakers a better chance of seeing the colour of money. • www.mytherapy.tv