In living color

The decision list is opening up the spectrum in post houses, but there still are shades of gray.

The list, at long last, is done. Three years after then-American Society of Cinematographers president Richard Crudo sparked the idea of a codified standard list for exchanging color decisions across different platforms in the production and post pipeline, the DI subcommittee of the ASC's Technology Committee released its specs to the manufacturing and post world this past July.

Evidence of how that Color Decision List (CDL) is working can already be found at LaserPacific and Technicolor. LaserPacific's accurateIMAGE (aIM) service uses the CDL to pass the cinematographer's color decisions from production dailies, through the editorial process, to previews.

"Studio executives, directors, editors, everyone sees the same picture from the beginning of the process," explains vp and general manager of feature film services Glenn Kennel, a member of the CDL subcommittee.

Among the four films that have utilized aIM is New Line's forthcoming "Harold & Kumar 2," shot by current ASC president and cinematographer Daryn Okada.

"It's gratifying to see the ASC-CDL benefiting cinematographers in real-world applications such as its use in the LaserPacific aIM system," says Okada. "Digital dailies finally represent the cinematographer's artistic intent, and we can build from that look all the way to the big screen."

At Technicolor, vp imaging, research and development Josh Pines, who co-chaired the DI subcommittee with Post Logic Studios' senior colorist Lou Levinson, describes the Technicolor Printer Lights, an on-set color-correction tool that implements CDL. "We used it on-set for several movies that have done digital acquisition," says Pines. "Digital Printer Lights can also be used for film telecine dailies."

There are benefits, as well as limitations, to the CDL. "When calibration is being handled well, the CDL becomes a powerful piece of look management," Levinson says. "But the CDL is not a magical look-management tool that solves everyone's problems. It's a small but critical part of the problem."

The first step now that the CDL is codified is for manufacturers to incorporate it into their DI gear. "In the next six months to a year, vendors will implement it," Levinson predicts. "Over the course of the next year, they'll be proving that we got it mostly right, and in two years, it'll be an assumed fact."

But there are plenty of new issues related to look management left to tackle. First of all, the CDL doesn't cover windows (custom-defined areas of correction), secondary color correction or any other more exotic features.

And Pines points out another potential limitation: "The CDL empowers facilities like Technicolor and LaserPacific to make robust in-house systems," he says. "But that won't work between facilities, and that's the next thing we'll attack."