WARREN EAGLES is a globetrotting Colorist. Having started his career in London in the mid-eighties, he's been living in Australia for 15 years, running his own grading facility in Brisbane. He's also renowned for his DaVinci Resolve training courses, providing online tutorials for FXPHD since 2007 and classrooms sessions with the International Colorist Academy, which in the past 5 years led him to Japan, China, Singapore, USA, UK and Australia giving over 100 classes for more than 800 students.
We met and started this informal conversation in London, at an ICA course I attended, (as he just released his famous video defining the role of a colorist), resumed it in Amsterdam where he organized the 1st IBC Colorist Mixer, to finally complete it remotely between Paris and Tokyo where he was grading a commercial.
Among the various topics addressed, we find out how Warren became a colorist, co-founded the ICA and started to teach colorgrading. More specifically aimed at future and young colorists, he describes the qualities and skills needed and gives first-hand advice on the different softwares available to start training. Thence continuing on the technical side, Warren gives his opinion on the latest all-in-one solutions that combine editing and grading tools, providing helpful tips. Ultimately, he develops on the evolution of the profession and its processes to open up on the need to leverage our professional networks.
I'm very grateful to Warren for the moments he kindly spent with me sharing his experience and knowledge. There's no doubt his pragmatic guidance will benefit many aspiring and young colorists.
- How did you come to color grading?
I started in photography, in Rathbone Place London, from there I went to film cutting rooms and also worked as a film projectionist. My ambition was to become a director so I moved to Visions Post House as runner. I made tea and coffee, then started editing till somebody said to me "do you want to do color grading?". I started working with two colorists; I was their assistant which meant I cleaned the film, laced it up on the Telecine machine then recorded the images to tape. When everything was ready and my work done I asked if I could stay in the room and watched what they did, I did that at least a year or 18 months. Then I started on small jobs with no clients. And 25 years later, I am still grading!...
- How did you start to teach and create the ICA?
I first started to teach when I did something for DaVinci in 1997. I went to Athens where they had bought a new machine and I taught color grading. I quite liked this and I started to do some more teaching as it fitted very well with my grading commitments.The ICA started in 20091. Kevin Shaw who is the co-founder at ICA, and myself got together and said why don't we combine our resources to create an International Colorist Academy? He was in London, I was in Australia, since then other colorists have joined the ICA from the US, France, London and Germany to widen our skillset2.
- Why is it so important for you to do both color grading and teaching?
It's essential because I don't want to become what I call a "white coat trainer" who just teaches and hasn't done a job for 10 years! I really like grading, doing big jobs like commercials with 10 people in the room, or spending 2 weeks on a movie. As long as I can do both it's good because it keeps me up to date on all the new formats and software updates.
- Tell us the difference between the different courses you provide
In a classroom, you work with other people which means you're collaborating and that's what you do when you're a colorist (you work with DPs, directors, producers, VFX supervisors). In a group you ask questions, others might ask questions you might not have thought of. In a typical ICA class you have different demographics, you can interact, start building a network which is important as we live in a pretty tough world, we need to rely sometimes on the connections that we make (for the machines, the jobs, functionalities…). That's the advantage of the ICA live classes compared to books or online and DVD courses: the interaction! The online tutorials I make with FXPHD (the Resolve 11 Beginners & Advanced versions was released a few weeks ago) are good too; people tell me "I always have Warren in my pocket and I pull him out when I forget something!" I really enjoy doing those but the live classes are obviously premium.
- Which skills are necessary to become a colorist?
A mixture of 4 things3: you have to know what you like yourself as an individual. Have an opinion, you need to look at images, in magazines, photographs or something on TV and know what you like and don’t like. Be creative and imaginative, maybe take some ordinary images and look at what you could do to make it more interesting for a film, a commercial, or music video. Be technical, there are lots of camera formats to work with, different codecs, you've got to understand them. Know the software you're using very well, you've really got to understand it and be able to use it fast so when someone asks you to do something you're not afraid to do it. Be a bit of an entertainer, especially if you get a few people in your room: you've got to be able to work, converse, tell stories, all the time you're doing your job you're still entertain your people, because when they're coming to you they want to have a good time, during the 6-7 hours of the booking. It's a whole range of experience, you can be the world’s best grader but if you don't chat or cannot converse next time they might go somewhere else!
- What are your advice for starting with?
Start to collect images you like (magazines, clippings, jpegs, trailers, films,) to build your own library of material from directors, DP's you follow, photographers even) and then try to match it in your color grading software. Try and get a complete project to play with, better than using the same 3-4 clips. Work on it as if it was an actual job, take the movie of a friend or get a movie already graded and match the rushes with what they did but always try to do something that's as close to reality as you can.
- Which software would you recommend for practicing?
If you're a beginner and the budget is an issue I'd say start with the color corrector you already have in Premiere, Final Cut Pro or Avid. Most NLE have a simple color corrector tool. Look at Photoshop if you have it, the tools may be slightly different but look at them. Investigate the software you already have. Then if you want to get in something more serious and specialize then Resolve has a Lite version which is free. With the Adobe Suite, you have Speedgrade without any extra cost. Baselight has a plugin at a reasonable price, it is worth exploring. When you have learned a little bit of all those software then maybe decide which one suits you the most for your workflow.
- What do you think about the grading functionalities in the Adobe Suite: transfers between Photoshop, Speedgrade, Premiere and even After Effects?
You do the grading in Photoshop, grab the still of it, bring it and it matches with the sources. That's ok but the problem with that is "how did it match?". It's a bit like using a look LUT: it looks great on one shot and then you go to the next shot, or a close-up, where you apply the same thing and it doesn't look quite so good! Then you need to understand how you got there and what to adjust to make it match. The only way you're going to do that is by analysing how they made the LUT then learn how to make it with your own tools. People who just drag in presets all the time are like taxi drivers who always use a GPS: you get there but you'll never remember how, so next time you'll have to use a GPS again! it's the same thing with grading. It'll get you there and you'll get paid but next time you'll have to do the same, you're not actually learning anything, the only way to learn it is to do it yourself. The more experienced you can become is how you match things and how fast you're at it.
- What do you think about the use of Speedgrade with Premiere?
I think the best feature is that you don't have to render out of Speedgrade. When you've cut your documentary in Premiere, sent the timeline to Speedgrade, grade it, then sent back to Premiere, it updates the timeline and all your grades are there. That's a big advantage because sometimes you don't want to be rendering again. If you edit in Resolve the same applies, no conforming headaches.
- At this point, do you think it's a tool for colorists or rather for editors/colorists?
It's probably still the person who does both. We have this new position called "Editor/Colorist". When I started, colorists were colorists, editors did editing and VFX were made by specialists, that's all we did. But now everything is more open, and if you're an editor and someone asks if you want to grade the show and pay you 2 days money for it, you’ll go for it. So I don't mind those guys doing half editing half grade but at least they'll keep us on our toes! And hopefully if they're not interested in it they'll be giving it to someone else who is.
- So, now Resolve 11 is officially a whole "real-time media management, video editing, color grading and finishing system" don't you think it's about the same than the Adobe combination?
I would say Premiere is a more mature editing product for editing and Resolve is a better option for grading. I don’t think many people are using Resolve to cut feature films, likewise not many are using Speedgrade to color them. The remote grading option in Resolve for both editing and grading is something I am personally going to be looking at more in 2015. I get lots of grading requests from all around the globe, grading remotely with my machine in OZ could open up more opportunities. My favourite v11.1 feature is the ‘Trim Clips’ option (called 'Consolidate Clips' in v11.1.1). This allows the user to conform from a clients drive then copy just the media used plus handles onto their fast storage. I am using it all the time.
- What is your idea on the future of color grading?
We're in a time now with more shows (on the internet, reality TV…) being graded than ever before, and by the widest spectrum of operators ever. Hopefully, in the future they'll be color graded with better equipment, better calibrated monitors, and slowly the people will become more experimented and the shows will look better too. I don't think the equipment will get cheaper, it can't be any cheaper than free!!!
- Then now you can choose what you want to work with and who you want to work with…
Pretty much the gear all does the same thing, we're not tied to the best telecine or who's got more shapes or windows on a machine, it's more like "I want to work with that person cause he/she cares and makes good images", which is good for individuals!
- How important is it for you to organize The Colorist Mixer?
You used to spend $300,000 on a Color Corrector and the manufacture threw a party and they bought the beer. Now the Color Correctors are free and you buy your own beer! How times have changed. The Colorist Mixer is about getting people together and inviting all manufacturers to chip in a little for drinks and maybe a raffle item. This 1st European meeting gathered over 120 people! I enjoy getting together with other graders, swapping ideas. The guys from Mixing Light felt the same so the Mixer was born!
- To conclude, could you tell us about your latest most challenging job?
William Kelly’s War, a 120 minute movie on World War 1, shot with RED One, Epic, Scarlet, Canon 5D… over 5 years. I had 10 days to conform, add VFX and grade it on DaVinci in Brisbane. The director wasn't with me all the time so we communicated with stills before he arrived for the last 3 days. With the looks already set we then went about matching and sculpting the film. I really enjoy grading period films, there is an added challenge making everything fit the period of the film.
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Since we started to talk about this…
1 Warren evoked more about The FXPHD Resolve History on the ICA website
2 Colorist Tom Parish podcasted an interview of Warren on The Evolution of Teaching Color Grading at ICA
3 Warren developed this topic in The 5 Top Tips for Colorists, an interview he gave to Matt Aindow for RedShark