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Colour Me Pretty

Digital Intermediate technology transformed the world of motion pictures from a sequence of colour reels to a rich and nuanced visual experience. Go Tech explains

What’s common between films like Kaante, Zinda, Musafir, Sarkar, Nishabd, Aamir and Dum Maaro Dum? Or for that matter, the vibrant and colour-rich Yash Chopra and Karan Johar films. Well, a copious amount of Digital Intermediate (DI) work was used to give these films an enhanced look.

Hindi films have undoubtedly come a long way from the mundane black and-white era that was transformed by visionary director, producer Ardeshir Iraniof Alam Ara (the first Indian talkie film) fame. Interestingly, Irani also made the first colour film in Hindi, Kisan Kanya in1937. However, colour did not become a popular feature until the late 1950s. At this time, lavish romantic musicals and melodrama were the staple fare at the cinemas.

But technology soon seeped into the visual medium of cinema and DI helped in enhancing the look of a film, there by carrying Irani’s legacy forward. Colour effects, light details, shadow and the radiance of a shot thus can now be digitally mastered during the post-production phase of a film. In fact, treating a film to DI work has almost become imperative.But how much of creative inputs go into making and incorporating DI into a film?

Cinematographer Jitan Singh says, “If the director gives you freedom, then you can go all out with the DI work on a film.But in case the director’s vision varies completely from the look I have envisioned,we have to try and find a middle ground. It’s almost like a child with his colouring book. You have to limit the usage of colours or else you could end up with a nasty looking picture.”

Films shot on the digital medium enable a far better usage of DI than those shot on 35 mm film. While the latter offers only four basic colour components  of red, green blue, and yellow (RGBY), digital leaves the filmmakers spoilt for choice.

Singh says, “I prefer working on the analogue medium which has only four colour components of RGBY and while DI has 50 other components, the more choices could sometimes play havoc on a shot.”

But shooting on digital cameras definitely saves various costs especially the cost of stock. Manish Hariprasad,Creative Director at UTV Motion Pictures mentions, “Internationally filmmaking is moving towards the digital platform but not many Indian filmmakers have adopted the digital medium completely yet. If the film is shot on the digital platform, the cost of DI could be as less asonly 15 to 20 per cent of the entire post production budget and can sometimes be as low as even 1 per cent depending on how much DI work is required for the film.”

Directors usually incorporate DI work based on the genre and the budget that the filmmaker is willing to invest in the project. Shooting a film under certain weather conditions also determines how much of DI work is required.

Hariprasad avers, “A film is a director’s vision but the look of a film is decided by the DoP or cinematographer. No one goes to a shoot blindly and sometimes despite sticking to the look of a film,the weather may play truant and this is where DI comes into play.”

So if a scene is shot in a cloudy weather, the director can heave a sigh of relief as the DI technician and colourist can brighten the dull shot to a warmer tone.

Genres like action, documentaries, dramas and tragedy can be given a dull grim look with DI while comedy, romantic films can be brightened to add a touch of colour. Ram Gopal Varma’s films like Company and Sarkar as well as Neeraj Pandey’s A Wednesday and Rajkumar Gupta’s Aamir, all used a de saturated hue. Anurag Kashyap’s films also have a lot of DI work done on them. Most of his films like Dev D, Gulaal and Black Friday all had an interesting look, thanks to the DI work.

Also sometimes a film with heavy VFX might need the same amount of DI work too. So VFX heavy movies like RA.One and Robot needed a lot more DI work.Certain cinematographers often refer to DI as the digital plastic surgeon for films. Mainly since scenes like enhancing human skin, making characters look older by incorporating wrinkles, removing blemishes and scars can all be achieved through the process.

Hariprasad also explains how VFX and DI work for a film are entirely two different things. “VFX is mainly used to get rid of cables and harnesses that are used by actors for an action sequence. We also use it to remove the camera rigs. But DI focuses more on the finer details of a film, mainly to do with intricate points including colour gradation and creases on clothes.”

Rahul Purav, Director of Digital Imaging and Chief Digital Colorist at Futureworks says, “Almost 85 per cent of the mainstream commercial films use digital processing in them. DI work is needed for almost every film these days. As weare rapidly moving towards the digital platform, films have to be treated to digital imaging.”

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