What does a Colourist do?
Colourists contribute to the mood and look of a film by defining its colours. They work with the Director and Director of Photography to decide the palette; whether it’s restrained or hyper-coloured, whether it uses milky colours or primary ones. Colourists are able to contribute to these looks by changing the luminance levels (brightness) and chroma (colour).
Film and TV dramas are usually shot on digital cameras in a raw format, which means the information about the colour is captured in the data but can’t be seen until the colour is applied. If shooting on film, the rushes are taken to the lab where they are processed and then scanned into a digital workflow. It’s the job of the Colourist to perfect the way in which the colour is put into the picture. This is known as grading.
When Colourists receive the files in the edit, they stylize the colour in line with the vision of the director and director of photography. They match the shots, balancing colour saturation and luminance to maintain a consistent look from shot to shot. . They also offer creative solutions to picture-related problems. They might know what to do with under-or over-exposed images, or provide day for night corrections, for example.
Colourists are also responsible for ensuring the film complies with the scientific law and theory around luminance levels and chroma.
What's a Colourist good at?
Know how to use colour to enhance a story, appreciate the psychological effect of colour, have a good eye, know what look fits the style of the drama
Knowledge of digital and film process
Understand how best to get the creative look from the raw camera negative
Knowledge of film production
Be aware of the whole process of making a film or TV drama
Adept at using colour editing software, such as Adobe Premiere, Baselight or Davinci Studio, keep up-to-date with software developments and know the best tools for the job
Work well with the director, understand the vision of the director of photography, share the process with the edit assistants and the script supervisor
Attention to detail
Be patient, work with tiny changes in colour and tone, keep attending to detail when under pressure
Who does a Colourist work with?
The Colourist works closely with the Editor, Director and Director of Photography. It’s quite a solitary job as much of the detailed work is done alone.
How do I become a Colourist?
Programs in post-production for film or media are available. You can also develop your workflow and build your portfolio by working on small-budget or passion projects in your area. Learn how to use colour-grading software, while studying colour theory and cinematography, which will teach you about how light and colour are related. A background in art or photography is helpful. Most Colourists start out as post-production edit or tech assistants or runners and get to know the post-production process well over several years.
Here are some more tips:
Get a degree: It’s not essential, but having some experience in post-production or editing software from film programs can be helpful when searching for a job position.
Build a portfolio: This is essential for impressing collaborators and people in the film industry. It’s also one of the best ways to learn about editing, seeing what works and what doesn’t.
Look for post-production companies: Try to connect with post-production companies to gain a network and possibly find some with entry-level positions.
For more tips on finding job opportunities, lists of training programmes, and other great resources, check out our Career Resources page.
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