Ian Vertovec is the co-founder of Light Iron Digital and the Supervising DI Colorist behind 2010's feted drama "The Social Network". Ian joined us on the Quantel booth at NAB 2011 to give a couple of presentations and kindly let us also interview him for our blog about his work, what he was looking forward to at NAB this year and his sense of where the role of colorist is developing.
Hi Ian - first of all, can you give us a brief potted history of yourself and Light Iron Digital?
Ian: "I've been a full-time Digital Intermediate Colorist for about six years now. Following film school I worked as a freelance visual FX artist for a while before Michael Cioni and I helped found PlasterCITY Digital Post (PCDP) in 2003. We left PCDP and founded Light Iron Digital together, where I am the Digital Intermediate Colorist and Michael is the CEO."
"Digital Intermediate (DI) probably started to become widespread in about 2000 and in the last five years we've started to see really high quality digital cinema cameras such as the RED cameras and the ARRI Alexa. These cameras provide raw data acquisition - they don't go to tape and they give you a purely data workflow."
"In the last few years DI has become increasingly popular and now that 3D is becoming a much bigger thing the use of all those cameras for major studio pictures has really exploded. They are so much more practical it's become much more reasonable to shoot these films in 3D on a data-centric camera."
"Our focus at Light Iron has always been to specialise in this data-centric DI and workflow. We've done a lot of digital camera acquisition - really concentrating on mastering for digital acquisition and digital distribution. Light Iron do still work with film, but really it's that data-centric workflow that is our specialty."
So what major trends do you expect to see this year at NAB?
"I think that for the last couple of years 3D has been the major trend, and 4k has been kind of straggling... However I think that 4k will be one of the big things that I'm looking forward to this year, especially for the larger screens. Movie theatres keep getting larger and larger in every major city around the world - there are 100ft screens out there nowadays! They're really gigantic, but not a lot of people have seen 4k on those giant screens and it really does make a difference. So, although 4k has been around for a while at the show, I think that this year it will be much bigger."
"In terms of specific products I'm looking forward to... I'm really looking forward to seeing some laser illumination source projectors. They're definitely on the horizon - I don't know if they're going to be showing them this year, but sometime soon we're going to see laser-powered projection."
How do you think that tools for colorists are going to develop in the next couple of years?
"Well already there's just so much more that colorists do beyond just color, and this has been growing for a while now. There are all sorts of interesting filtration effects and texture effects that colorists can add to the images, not to mention noising, de-noising, de-focusing... All of this goes beyond just contrast and color and increasingly it's a creative compositing role."
"Something new that I'm very excited about is HDR motion pictures - I think this is going to be really really big for colorists over the next year. RED has its new EPIC camera and one of the modes allows you to shoot HDR motion images. "
"What the camera does - it actually photographs two streams at different shutter speeds, and it's then up to the colorist to combine those two streams back into one image. The advantage of shooting in HDR is that you get ultra extreme latitude - because of the two streams you actually get between 2 and 6 extra stops. The colorist then has this completely creative process of combining those images back together - there's no easy or simple way to do this."
"Primarily it gives you a little more range on highlights. For example, rather than having a flame in a scene blow out lights, if you film in HDR mode you can shoot the majority of the scene much closer to primary exposure. At the same time you can also simultaneously film a second exposure at a stop that is appropriate to just expose the flame. This means you can basically go back in and comp the fire back into the scene and it won't clip out the light."
"I've been testing this for quite a while and it's all done right in the DI system so you have to use your keying tools very creatively to mix the images back together. However you can get some really stunning results - I'm seeing at least 17 stops of dynamic range."
What are your feelings about 3D?
"I don't believe that 3D is just for action movies - there's no reason you can't do a drama, or a period piece... There's some really beautiful 3D content out there. Recently though, I've seen a lot of bad 3D - what I would call "last-minute conversions". It can look fine if you don't know what you're looking for, but if you do know you can see some really bad work."
"I'm not sure that audiences necessarily know the difference between really good 3D and rushed last-minute conversions. However, like a lot of people I'm afraid that if too many films are converted or made poorly then audiences will start to turn off and not want to see it anymore. At the moment I do still think it can go either way."
As a colorist, do you have any favourite techniques or tricks you like to use?
"I like to spend a lot of time making sure that practical lights are always at a good level. I try to key them and bring them down a lot - as much as I can, really. Sometimes practical lights in a scene can go very hot and so if you have a relatively low key scene (and you have a practical in there), the practical can sometimes appear very bright relative to the level of the faces. If you just leave it as it was photographed, that ratio can be very high."
"So if it's a low key scene I really try to keep my ratio down and I really spend a lot of extra time (when I have it) to bring the levels of practicals down. I definitely spend a lot of time there - sometimes you can bring a practical down a lot and it can still feel like a bright light. If you really focus on keying directly from your input rather than on top of your look, it's startling sometimes just how much nicer and how much more tied together a scene can be if you bring a practical way way down. It's actually very surprising how much you can bring them down, if you think you can get away with it."
What other recent work has impressed you for the coloring?
"I think Dave Cole's work on "TRON: Legacy" was really amazing. That movie really looked stunning - it had such a unique look, as well as featuring some really good 3D. It was very true to the original while simultaneously remaining completely updated and modernised. Obviously the production designer and the costumes and the whole production team played a big role in all that... but in terms of just the look I think that "TRON: Legacy" was a really great film last year."
Where can we next hope to see some of your work?
"We've just finished working on "Atlas Shrugged" which is based on the Ayn Rand novel and will be coming out in mid-April."
Article first appeared at http://blog.quantel.eu/2011/04/ian-vertovec-from-light-iron-digital.