What Does A Digital Colorist Do?

"I want to work in the cutting-edge field of digital animation. One of the cool jobs that I’ve seen advertised online is that of a digital colorist but I’m not really familiar with it. What does a digital colorist do?"

asked by George F. from Savannah, Georgia

If you’ve seen Angelina Jolie’s modified but still seemingly realistic look in the movie Maleficent, you’ve seen what digital colorists are capable of doing. They have the power to totally transform a film into something totally different. Without their artistry and technical know-how, it would not be possible to create fantastic worlds or odd characters in movies.

The primary task of digital colorists is to provide color to various parts of a movie. Scenes of the film are edited to provide the kind of tone or mood that the director and director of photography want. If they want the moon to appear bigger or an accident to look even bloodier, they will call on digital colorists to do the necessary retouches. If you’re an avid fan of Photoshop, the task is similar except this time you’re working with videos and not just still photos.

Digital colorists typically step in only during the editing stage to do their magic. They may be involved during the entire production too.

For example, they usually do research on the film that they will be working on early in the production process. Obtaining background information will help them decide on how best to color the movie. In the case of Maleficent, the team had to study the skin of the actors under numerous light conditions and even how blood flowed to their faces in order to create realistic versions of the actors’ digital doubles.

Digital colorists also improve how actors and actresses look in a movie. They remove flaws in the appearance of these leading stars so that they will look blemish-free and as close to perfect as possible in close up shots. This process of digital “airbrushing” is even enshrined in the contracts of some actors so that they will never appear in movies with spots, uneven skin tone or even the slightest hint of flab.

The work of digital colorists goes further than merely making the scenes and the actors look good. They are actually responsible for setting the tone and look to the entire project that the director has conceptualized. If the idea that the filmmaker has in mind is that of olden times and there are shots that somehow depict a very sleek and modern scene, digital colorists are responsible for applying the correct colors to bring uniformity to the story.

Correcting mistakes is also another job of digital colorists. If a scene was shot in low-light conditions and the director wants to brighten the atmosphere or vice-versa, it is the task of digital colorists to get the job done. It’s a very exciting career that offers a different set of challenges with every new project and the chance to improve a film for the enjoyment of the viewing public.

Career Spotlight: Digital Colorist

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