SHADE SHIFTER

Colourist Tony D’Amore tells Justin Burke about his role in de­ter­min­ing what we see on the screen

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Profile - Justin Burke

In a semi-dark­ened room in a San Fran­cisco of­fice block, a small group of ob­servers gath­ers to watch Tony D’Amore demon­strate his craft. He sits with his back to his au­di­ence, look­ing up at a large im­age of a dragon, the kind you might see op­er­ated by dancers in a Chi­nese New Year pa­rade.

In an in­stant, and with a few swift move­ments, he turns the pre­vi­ously golden crea­ture a bright green colour. But D’Amore is not some avant-garde painter; he is a film and tele­vi­sion colourist, and this is a scene from Marvel’s Iron Fist, which pre­miered in March on Net­flix.

The 20-year vet­eran finds that his job ti­tle of­ten causes con­fu­sion for those out­side the in­dus­try. “I usu­ally have to ex­plain that I do not turn old black-and-white movies into colour — and oc­ca­sion­ally have to ex­plain that I def­i­nitely do not colour hair,” the 43-year-old says.

“But that is slowly chang­ing. The gen­eral pub­lic is start­ing to re­alise the fi­nal im­age doesn’t just come out of the cam­era the way they see it on TV.”

Born and raised in ru­ral Illi­nois be­fore mov­ing to Cal­i­for­nia at the age of 10, D’Amore grew up with at­ten­tion deficit hy­per­ac­tiv­ity dis­or­der. He be­gan as a colourist in 1995 at Encore, now part of Deluxe, where he works to­day, and says the role re­quires a blend of artistry and tech­nol­ogy.

“I stud­ied film and tele­vi­sion at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Los An­ge­les; I also have a pho­tog­ra­phy back­ground and used to be a home the­atre sys­tems in­staller. But most of my skills come from on-the-job ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Be­fore he sets to work on a piece of equip­ment that re­sem­bles an enor­mous key­board — the DaVinci Re­solve from Black­magic, which pro­duces video in high-dy­namic-range Dolby Vi­sion — he re­ceives a de­tailed brief­ing from the rel­e­vant di­rec­tor of pho­tog­ra­phy, in this case Manuel Bil­leter.

“A lot of it is match­ing the cam­era an­gles, and dif­fer­ent cam­era tech­nol­ogy — from RED cam­eras to GoPros; there’s even iPhone foot- age oc­ca­sion­ally — or it might be they are shoot­ing at a cer­tain time of day and a scene drifts from cool to warm and I gotta make sure I main­tain that colour tem­per­a­ture,” he says.

D’Amore’s demon­stra­tion con­tin­ues, show­ing how raw footage gets edited to dim ar­eas that are draw­ing fo­cus, and to heighten colours and bright­ness where au­di­ences are sup­posed to be look­ing.

“So I can draw unique shapes on to the frame here, and I can now lower the light on the fore­ground. So we go from not be­ing sure where to look, to look­ing right up at her (Colleen Wing, played by Jes­sica Hen­wick).”

At other times, for in­stance dur­ing a fast­mov­ing fight scene (“run­ning and gun­ning”, as he puts it), con­sis­tent light­ing is im­pos­si­ble on set and must be reme­died in this post-pro­duc­tion process. “You have the gen­eral light set for the lo­ca­tion they’re at; but they’re not gonna be able to light ev­ery sin­gle hit and punch or get light on the ac­tors in ev­ery frame.”

At the more artis­tic end of the spec­trum, D’Amore is con­cerned with the “colour pal­ette” of a se­ries, or the ex­plic­itly cho­sen colours meant to re­alise the cin­e­matog­ra­pher and di­rec­tor’s artis­tic in­tent.

Iron Fist is “a more clean white and you’ll see some cyans and cleaner colour tem­per­a­tures”. It forms part of a Marvel tele­vi­sion fran­chise, which in­cludes Dare­devil (“lemon-lime”), Jes­sica Jones (“the ex­act op­po­site of that, which was like a blue-colour pal­ette”) and Luke Cage (“70s Har­lem with or­ange and yel­lows, more like a vin­tage colour pal­ette”), whose char­ac­ters will unify for a se­ries called The De­fend­ers, which pre­mieres in Au­gust.

D’Amore says the depth and breadth of changes colourists are now ca­pa­ble of mak­ing to raw footage is chang­ing the way pro­duc­tions are planned.

“Di­rec­tors and DoPs are now choos­ing lo­ca­tions with the new tech­nol­ogy in mind. They know, for ex­am­ple, how well neon lights are gonna hold up in Dolby Vi­sion or in HDR,” he says.

“One of my clients once said, ‘Wow, this part of the process has changed so much re­cently, in­stead of colour cor­rec­tion, they should call this colour cre­ation.’ ”

Like all pro­fes­sions, colourists have their in­dus­try le­gends, and D’Amore counts among them his men­tors. “Some of my early colourist men­tors are still on top of their game: Philip Azen­zer, Steve Porter, Randy Starnes.

“They’re all great colourists and they all have a unique style, and they have each in­spired me one way or an­other over the years,” he says.

“Though my fa­ther is the one who piqued my in­ter­est in broad­cast­ing — he has been my ‘Yoda’.”

D’Amore says if not for this call­ing, he might have been a photographer or elec­tri­cian (“or prob­a­bly both”), as they are ana­log equiv­a­lents of what he does now.

“I have al­ways had in­tense fo­cus. Peo­ple born with ADHD of­ten find some­thing they are good at and stick with it. Luck­ily I found colour cor­rec­tion,” he says.

“This busi­ness is con­stantly evolv­ing, there is al­ways some­thing new to fo­cus on, so I can’t imag­ine ever get­ting bored of it.” of Net­flix. trav­elled to San Fran­cisco cour­tesy

Tony D’Amore, who worked on TV se­ries Iron Fist, above

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