The Grading Panel
When walking into a colour correction suite for the first time and watching a colourist working the controls, it can be somewhat of an interesting experience. Watching in the darkness it feels as though a bizarre language is being played before your very eyes. I have always joked grading suites are like the bridge of the Star Trek Enterprise and from an outsider's point of view, I can only assume it very much looks like that? It certainly looks like a black art from an outsiders perspective, as a colourist expertly manoeuvres around the desk or controlling interface, watching the images gradually change and visually take shape.
Compare the controls to a normal computer interface, it certainly looks alien and the fact many do not even have keyboards or recognisable interfaces, you would assume they indeed are difficult to control but once an understanding has been achieved, jumping between interfaces and different correctors is not that difficult.
Think about the differences between internet browsers, they do the same job just in a slightly different way. The interface has a slightly different GUI, there may be a few different tools between Chrome and Firefox but they are not that alien. What you will discover is that many operators will be a champion of a particular panel or piece of equipment though because they are used to the interface and shortcuts. Just like computing in general, are you Apple or Microsoft?
Many software oriented colour correctors use percentages or sliders to control colour within the image. For example to removing red you select the red slider and effectively reduce red, in effect you are adding cyan, sound familiar?
Hardware solutions remove the technical protocols from the correction process, they allow it to be far more tactile and intuitive, allowing a number of corrections to be undertaken fluidly and together. The panel usually consists of three balls separating the low lights or shadows(left ball), mid tones (middle ball) and highlights (right ball). The ball is pushed physically to add or remove colour, depending on direction while the image updates inreal time on screen.
Below the three main balls is a graphics tablet allowing for pointer control, selecting pixels or areas to colour correct. With this the creative can create and animate shapes across the scene or timeline. These can be part of the panel or separate. A fourth ball was familiar on some control interfaces, which was effectively used as a mouse or pen.
Grass Valley RIO Panel
To initiate a colour change you simply push the balls, pushing north (0°) the image will change red. South east (120°) will change the image blue and south west, green (240°). Therefore the opposites, south will be cyan (180°); north east, magenta (60°) and north west, yellow (300°). Different equipment will allow the colour of the balls oriented in different directions. (The colour wheel below is the accepted configuration)
In essence if your image is slightly blue, by removing blue you are in effect adding yellow. Thus when removing red, adding cyan and ultimately removing green adding magenta. The basic wheel above is to demonstrate the orientation in 60° increments. If you compare that to the full RGB colour wheel (above right) you can see the whole colour spectrum can rotate through 360° back to the original colour. Obviously the tactile nature in which the colourist controls the colour with balls is a lot easier but looks on the whole a lot more complex because subtle control can create vast imagery changes.
There are a plethora of solutions and manufacturers that work within the Digital Intermediate. Two of the biggest and possibly most accomplished players in the colour correction realm are Black Magic (formerly Da Vinci) and Pandora. They have been using their specialist skills to colour correct film using telecine suite's for many years. Many different solutions and ways of working are favoured by individual colourists because it is the way they entered the industry and these two are historically favourites but new systems are edging in on their popularity.
Personally I worked at Quantel (now Grass Valley) and helped develop its first ball based colour correction solution (qColor). The colour tools were comprehensive but what qColor did was utilise its comprehensive effects toolset already in the iQ and allow total control via the interface. Bringing together all of the disparate sliders or colour correction buttons to your finger tips. Bring colour to iQ I believe spearheaded the Digital Intermediate, as the system was the first in the world to play back 2K material in real time.
I was part of the team who helped develop it and as we took it to my fellow colourists, both telecine operator and traditional optical timers, there was a deep mistrust from my brethren. I understand why, the concept of using a computer, pen and tablet to colour correct was simply alien. Even the telecine his the computer workings behind the ystem and panel, the computer initially frightened them. Fortunately the resistance was short lived, as they realised how much more control and creativity they had using this methodology. Thank God they did.
The present incarnation colour corrector is now called RIO, as pictured above.
Quantel merged with Snell in 2014 becoming SAM (Snell Advanced Media) but sadly was acquired by Belden in 2018.
After being acquired, SAM was merged into Grass Valley, a Benden brand who continue to develop the system.