Working In the Shadows: In Recognition of Colorists
Laurence Daumas-Torrens (Lou Daumas) is a colorist living and working in New York City. She grew up in southern France and graduated in Psychology and Cinema Studies. Lou’s color work includes short and feature documentary, music videos, interviews, documentary series, narrative shorts and features, and commercials.
“I’ve always been passionate about color. My grandfather used to be a photographer and introduced me to his universe. My father also used to photograph and I learned how to manipulate color and the digital image on a computer. Eventually, I discovered how color is used in the audiovisual industry so I decided to make a career out of it! I feel like I’m living full time in a dark room now, but it was the best choice of my life! I guess that’s how you know you’re truly passionate.”
Lou Daumas works as a colorist at a post-production house in NYC named Magic Lantern. Located in the center of Chelsea, the company is known for its high-end documentary and branded content finishing work for clients like Netflix, HBO, Facebook, CNN, and National Geographic. They recently worked with Academy Award-winning Little Monster Films for the new global ad campaign with adventurer Jimmy Chin and the drone company DJI.
“From the moment I met Lou during her initial job interview, I noticed that she was going to make a valuable member of our team. Her talent and passion for the art and craft of color grading is an inspiration and a clear sign of a bright future to come. We’re lucky to have her.”
Zachary Halberd – CEO and Senior Colorist – Magic Lantern
Founded in 1927, the first Academy Awards happened two years later, in 1929 and introduced a new standard for the film industry. Of the twenty-four award categories, post-production is currently limited to: Original Score, Original Song, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Film Editing and Visual Effects. The recent 92nd Academy Awards prompted a puzzling question for Lou and her colleagues: Why aren’t colorists recognized?
While cinematographers might feel ownership over the visual qualities of the film they shoot, colorists are the digital (and often analog) alchemists that bridge the gap between creative vision and machine. Not unlike editors, VFX artists, and sound designers; colorists often work directly under the director of the film, forming a close creative relationship that provides a wide range of creative tools that are used to enhance the story. Colorists have the uniquely difficult task of translating the director’s vision from a subjective qualitative interaction to an objective quantitative environment. Spanning both the scientific and the creative, colorists live deep in the visual medium in order to repair, manipulate, and master out the visual experience of a motion picture. Colorists aren’t just augmenting what is already there by simply pushing buttons and twirling a wheel. They often have to create a look from scratch, utilizing their own creative vision and style. In this autonomy, colorists are certainly given a lead creative role, not unlike other post-production positions awarded by the Academy.
Outside of the film industry, people rarely understand the role of the colorist. Colorists aren’t just copying and pasting an Instagram filter over a film and calling it a day. Colorists create and engage in highly technical work that involves color science, strict quality control, customized workflow management, and the superhuman skill of knowing how to maintain visual consistency across hundreds or even thousands of individual shots, all the while supporting the narrative of a story. At the very tail end of the filmmaking process, colorists are under the added pressure of final quality control and review to master a project before it’s distributed to the public on millions of digital devices, televisions, and theaters. The stakes are high and reputations are built or burned on attention to detail.
It might seem difficult to judge the quality of a colorist’s work for an award. Again, not unlike the other categories at the Academy Awards, this judgment can be made by a group of professional peers. To illustrate an example, we have interviewed several colorists to find out which 2020 Academy Award nominees deserved an award and why between those films:
THE IRISH MAN | JOKER | 1917 | THE LIGHTHOUSE | ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD
“I think that “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” gets my vote as the winner. Legendary colorist Yvan Lucas worked closely with Tarantino and the DP Bob Richardson to maintain the integrity of the celluloid characteristics throughout the entire process. Even the dailies were projected with film for Tarantino! I’m still studying the workflow of this film and trying to understand everything at a more fundamental level. They shot on film and used a Scanity for the 4k DI. There are a lot of steps in this process that are critical and I believe the colorwork is masterful. I love the depth in the shadows and the sunny California light on the skin. It’s a soft surreal dream-like glow that oozes nostalgia. They also worked with color scientist Matt Tomlinson to create a LUT for the film beforehand. The entire color process was given meticulous care to support the director’s vision. The appreciation of the craft and art of filmmaking serves the film beautifully.“
Zachary Halberd – CEO and Senior Colorist – Magic Lantern
“I would say that “Joker” would get my vote. Jill Bogdanowicz really brought the film home. The rawness of the city intertwined with the warm tone scenes did it for me. She gave the film an original element that became the film’s own character to help with the storytelling. “
Ben Perez – Senior Colorist – Magic Lantern
“As much as I loved the work of Greg Fisher on “1917” I would also choose “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”: from the saturation to the skin tones that have that dimensional aspect that we are losing in more recent movies – to the strong, solid blacks of this look, Yvan Lucas really enhanced everything that we love to see when shooting on film.”
Lou Daumas – Colorist – Magic Lantern
While some festivals are introducing colorist awards like the HPA (Hollywood Professional Association), it’s still mostly for Hollywood Budget productions. While some independent festivals like the Queen Palm International Film Festival in Palm Springs now offer a colorist award, they are by far an outlier.
At Magic Lantern, we are encouraging colorists to volunteer their time to film festivals and honoring the work of the colorist by sitting as a judge for the colorist category. One small step for the industry, one giant leap for colorists around the world.
Colorists and filmmakers, Unite! for better recognition of the artists who work in the shadows.