By Sarah Priestnall
Over the last few years, the ACES standard has been used on a variety of successful and big-budget films. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 is a prime example. But it’s not just for film studios, big post facilities and blockbuster movies. It’s also being used all over the world by small post houses.
Portland, Oregon-based ChromaColor is one of those smaller houses. Jordan Snider, a supervising colorist, opened ChromaColor in 2015, bringing with him years of experience working with stills and motion photography in Hollywood. Despite being a young company, ChromaColor draws upon the years of experience from Snider, as well as from CEO Alex Panton, a 25-year-plus industry veteran with a vast network of contacts worldwide. He recently relocated to Portland from England, where he ran 4K London, an agency for Digital Imaging Technicians (DITs).
ChromaColor offers end-to-end support of film and TV projects, managing the recording, archiving, color grading and mastering of moving pictures as an integrated service. Panton and Snider to offer high-end services to more limited-budget productions. “Without compromising essential quality, we have emulated, but streamlined, the expensive studio model, making a simple workflow available to the much wider independent film market,” explains Panton, adding “we recently opened a facility in Echo Park in Los Angeles, providing a portal to our Portland facility.”
Snider has parlayed his expertise and experience in still photography into the world of moving images. “I fell in love with the craft of photography through my involvement in action sports as a semi-pro BMX rider,” he explains. “At the beginning of the digital photographic revolution I took an apprenticeship with a prominent and traditional analog photographer. Learning to assist and run the darkroom taught me the fundamentals of color science. From there I found my way onto sets in camera and lighting departments. I fell into working in a DaVinci Resolve suite and never looked back. I always regarded color as the perfect intersection of my work in stills and motion. When I was younger I wanted to be the DP, but I found myself doing well helping other artists craft their images. It’s been a good fit!”
For those who might not be familiar with ACES, here is The Academy’s official definition: ACES (Academy Color Encoding System) is a standard for managing color throughout the life cycle of a motion picture or television production. From image capture through editing, VFX, mastering, public presentation, archiving and future remastering.
Incorporating ACES on ChromaColor’s projects seemed like a natural choice, and it didn’t mean any drastic changes to the workflow that Snider had already set up and tested on many commercials. “ACES is brilliant because it’s a total rethink of how to treat the data in the visual pipeline, all without reinventing the wheel” he explains.
With ACES, balancing different cameras is easy. “As a colorist, I have more control over the manipulation of the color information,” explains Snider. “This helps me maximize the time I can spend on creating the best possible composition for my clients. On the back end, it makes mastering and exporting to multiple formats and/or color spaces much more streamlined, and with HDR on the horizon everyone will be mastering to both Rec. 709 and HDR 10. For our clients, it saves time and money in addition to future-proofing their assets, making it much easier to create an HDR version or even a version for some future display that doesn’t exist yet. What’s not to like?”
ChromaColor recently used ACES to great effect on a documentary about the Symbiosis Eclipse Festival (see our main image), an Oregon-based music and arts festival that coincided with August’s solar eclipse. At first South African-based production company NV Studios was just looking for a local Portland-based DIT with a RAID and hired ChromaColor for those tasks, but Snider quickly realized that the multitude of cameras being used (from Red Helium to Sony A7 and many more) and the sheer amount of footage being shot meant that ACES would be a great benefit. By designing a smart ACES-based workflow, ChromaColor was able to provide an on-location digital lab to fit the limited budget. And, of course, it was far easier for the editor back in Johannesburg to successfully cut between all the different formats and for the digital intermediate finishing to go smoothly.
Like others before him, Snider also appreciates the openness and availability of ACES. “The best part about ACES is that it doesn’t matter if you are a student or a senior colorist in Hollywood, it’s available for everyone and integrated into the software packages we use every day. In our case it was Resolve, but it’s found in other software, such as FilmLight Baselight. It’s really a gift for independent motion pictures that can take advantage of the contributions of Hollywood’s leading color scientists on this open platform.”
Other ChromaColor clients include Nike, Adidas, Google, AirBnB, Harry & David, Beats By Dre and AT&T.
Sarah Priestnall has worked in entertainment technology and post for more than 25 years, working for both manufacturers and post production facilities. While at Cinesite, she was a member of the team who pioneered the use of DI technology on the groundbreaking O Brother Where Art Thou. She most recently served as VP market development at Codex.