INSIDE THE MIND OF A COLORIST
4th October, 2019
The mind of the colorist is a place where art and technology converge to create amazing images. Dado Valentic is a prime example of this. PIX got the chance to ask him a few questions about how he got to where he is today and what he sees in the future.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
My uncle was a well-known actor in the former Yugoslavia. What he was doing seemed more fun than being a lawyer and politician like my father. So when I was 8, I decided that being an actor was the way to go. However, my uncle did not think so and asked me to make him a promise never to be an actor and give up on that dream. Next time I remember taking my destiny in my own hands and choosing my profession was when I was 14. I have started my first business, a company making games for ZX Spectrum. I was hacking and reselling popular games through a small advert at the back of Computer Magazine. When business took off, and my orders became frequent, my father got interested, and after figuring out exactly what I was doing from a legal perspective, he made me shut down the company. Following that episode, I somehow fell into the world of electronic music and after moving to Germany was in the middle of an underground techno movement. My love for music became my job as a DJ, producer and an engineer through my twenties.
Where did you grow up and how did you arrive in Los Angeles?
I was born in a small Croatian seaside town and later moved to a bigger city to attend school. Then I studied in Germany, and for the past 20 years I have lived and worked in London. Last year I came to Los Angeles on a mission to start a new company that develops digital image processing systems using AI and Machine Learning. LA was an obvious choice considering the concentration of industry and talent. And living close to the ocean was a huge plus.
Tell us about your path to becoming a colorist.
As I mentioned, I was a DJ and producer and was very well known for my mixing skills. So when I discovered grading almost two decades ago, I fell in love with it and felt that this is what I should be doing. I had to work hard to change my career path and become a colorist, and it took a tremendous amount of dedication and risk-taking. It involved starting at the bottom again, remortgaging my house to buy my first grading system and starting a boutique post facility in London’s Soho.
Is there a particular type of project that you specialize in or enjoying working on most?
For most of my career, I have worked incredibly well by positioning myself between art and technology and being a buffer between these two sometimes opposing worlds. Art is the essence of what we do, but technology is an enabler, although technology can make art boring and sterile. At the same time, for art to stay relevant, it is impossible to be created without the involvement of technology. My specialty is bringing the latest technology to artists and making the impossible possible. I was responsible for the UK’s first movies shot on digital cameras; then I graded the first BAFTA award-winning Stereoscopic 3D production. Also, I have delivered a legendary natural history documentary for IMAX from Producers Attic and created an overnight dailies workflow for Game of Thrones. I work incredibly well with directors and cinematographers who like to push the boundaries of what is possible like Brian May from Queen but also I am successful in lending my skills to fine artists like Jeff Koons, Marina Abramovic, Ai Weiwei and Anish Kapoor.
What does a colorist do?
The colorist is playing with human perception to awake and enhance viewers’ emotions. A colorist is using his/her instincts and experience in manipulating image, look and feel to help tell the story. We are also responsible for protecting the cinematographer’s and director’s vision and ensuring that at the end the viewer is going to have the best possible experience, no matter how they choose to enjoy the show, on an IMAX screen or a mobile phone.
Tell us about a typical day when you're working on a project.
My day starts with my morning routine that involves meditation. I have become increasingly aware of how much my inner mood can affect my decision making in the suite, and I try to calm my mind before entering the grading theater. Once in the theater, I create a zone that is a mobile phone, e-mail and interruption free and so dive deep into the world of colors and emotions. I usually build a rigid schedule at the beginning of the project that allows us to stay focused on the result and to complete the project on time and the budget. My approach is always to paint with a broad brush first and then to gradually attend to details that go beyond simple color balance and manipulation. I tend to work with a team of assistants, colorists and VFX artists. Throughout the day I schedule 3-4 breaks that allow me to reconnect with my team, producer and the outside world. My days can be long sometimes as inspiration could come unexpectedly late at night, but this is more an exception than a rule.
What’s your favorite project that you’ve worked on and why?
There are many favorite projects as somehow each new project tends to be more challenging and inspiring. Most recently I have worked on a commercial for Panasonic that involved a fantastic team that made me that much more inspired to give my best. Ben Davis BSC shot it (Doctor Strange, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), directed by Roar Uthaug (Tomb Raider) and Stefan Sonnenfeld of CO3 delivered the final grade.
What trends do you see affecting the colorist's job? How do you think it's going to change?
Our job is closely linked to technology, and in the last decade with the development of new software and hardware, we have seen our profession changing completely. Our ability to manipulate the image and the level of precision by which we can do so has never been so good. Movies have never looked better than how they look today and this trend is going to continue as the demand for better images is continuously growing with the improvement of TV screens and mobile devices.
This development is going to accelerate now with the arrival of AI and Machine Learning. Inside our lab, we are already playing with tools that make me scream with joy. We will see many tedious tasks that took hours and days become automated and instant. We are entering an era of Generative Image Manipulation and Computational Cinematography. I could foresee our job by making a big turn soon.