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