J im passon has color timed dozens of blockbusters; Avatar, Titanic, Star Wars, Jurassic Park , Spiderman to name a few. In this post Jim explains how color and density was balanced with the old color timing process.

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Thanks for that concise article on film timing! 

I've had a while to ponder the difference between traditional film timing and digital color grading and would like to add a few observations myself.

Traditional film timing depended upon a lot of up-front experimentation and decision making prior to shooting, more modern productions tend to put the emphasis on post production shaping of the image with an eye toward maintaining maximum flexibility to shape the look in post.

For good or bad, you are locked into a gamma/stock response when traditional film production began and it is the duty of post production technicians to make that vision happen with the guidance of the cinematographer. 

Yes you can vary the initial gamma development of the negative but you are locked into a fairly rigid set of constraints that have very definite limits of variation in post.

Most of the determination of image quality occurred at the time of shooting, through the skill of the cinematographer to shape the image within a proscribed and per-determined set of filmstock, developing and release stock parameters.

Unlike most modern digital productions, the gamma of the negative image could only be varied slightly, the density range of the print only manipulated withing a certain range and the release print certainly proscribed its own limitations without resorting to highly unusual processes, fraught with peril and potential disaster.

So, sounding like an old man here, I say that "filmic looks" are difficult for modern filmmakers to emulate digitally because every parameter is potentially variable in a way that doesn't necessarily contribute to a unified gamma response of the presentation media. 

If you can vary the lift, gamma, gain, and independently vary the relationships between primary and secondary colors, in the post production period, it will not resemble a medium that constrains you to work within those limited parameters and could appear less cohesive.

If anyone would like a rough idea of what it is like to time film, Try this:

import a series of log-based files into Resolve with one being a test chart or representative shot of the whole project. 

Next, on the timeline, edit the sequence as desired.

Then, switch to the color tab and using only the luma curve and the sole representative shot within the timeline mode, create a 21 point curve on a parallel node to normalize the dynamic range of the footage; When satisfied, switch to clip based mode to continue.

Next, switch to the Primary Bars grading interface and USING ONLY the Primary Bars offset controls, time each shot by varying the RGB component of each clip to color balance and adjust the density ONLY using the ganged-wheel of the Primary Bars Offset to adjust for density.

You will quickly realize why on-set filtration, lighting and contrast manipulation are so terribly important to shooting film the traditional way.


Edited by Frank Wylie
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8 hours ago, Nicolas Hanson said:

Hi Jim, thank you for this introduction to color timing. Is it possible to affect only lift, gamma, or gain with printer points?

It is possible to apply a simulated 50 printer point scale to the lift, gamma and gain controls in digital grading but this would not be the same as printer point corrections on film where there is no separation for lift, gamma and gain, only density and color balance. 

Jim Passon

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Thank you for this in-depth article! How is printer points different from lift, gamma, gain when it comes to balance an image? Is it a more organic correction because it's global controls that affects the whole image?

Edited by Amada Daro
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You basically answered your own question. Printer point corrections for film affect the whole image with no separation of lift, gamma or gain. There are ways to adjust "lift" or black levels and "gain" in the photo chemical process by using flashing techniques, different print stocks or film processing adjustments but this would be a global correction to a full roll of film and would be difficult to apply shot by shot.

Jim Passon

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