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Deluxe's Martin Zeichner on HDR

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Martin Zeichner, a colorist at Deluxe's Encore Post in New York, was kind enough to answer our questions and provided more valuable data than made it into the "Blackest Blacks: Ten Things to Know About Producing HDR" article. Here are our questions and Zeichner's responses.

Streaming Media:  Tell us a little about your experience and background.

I've been a colorist for 30 years, four of them at Deluxe's Encore in New York. I started in the days of SD video when telecine work consisted of taking film prints made for distribution and transferring them to 3/4-inch tape so smaller stations could broadcast syndicated shows. Fast forward to 2015, and I had the privilege of mastering what we believe was the first full series season where post-production was planned for Dolby Vision HDR, the second season of Netflix's Marco Polo. The changes in the TV industry between then and now have been extreme. People have asked me over the years, "What do you have to do to get a job like this?' The answer is that you really just have to do it. Things change so quickly that it's tough for schools and instructors to keep up with the latest gear and techniques.

For me, it has really been a case of trying to bring all of my interests in technology and aesthetics together. I have a degree in theater. I've done a lot of reading about famous photographers of the 20th century. The job can accommodate anything you care to bring to it. If you have a talent for working with people, that's part of it too. I tell people interested in this field to look at what people have done to express themselves in visual media—bring all of that to your work.

Describe your coloring setup (CPU, graphics card, RAM, OS, Monitor, software)

My color correction software is Blackmagic's DaVinci Resolve running on a Linux workstation. I use a Dolby Pulsar monitor—the only monitor in the world currently capable of displaying 4,000 nits—and a Sony X300 monitor.

How has color grading for HDR changed the grading process? Does it take longer now? More exacting? Or the same with multiple outputs?

Every time new technology is introduced into the grading process, it can take longer at first—because there are more things you can do. What HDR introduces is an extension of the color palette. If you're working with a DP (cinematographer) who's used to the luminance range of film prints and projection or video, they may experience the extended luminance range in HDR as "too much." Many DP's are used to seeing Rec. 709 dailies because HDR monitors are extremely rare on or near set. The first time they see HDR is typically in the color suite. When they start the HDR grading process DPs can be fairly conservative in their requests to extend the luminance range, then gradually start wanting to do more HDR highlights. I make sure to set up a grading structure within Resolve that allows me to accommodate that path, because while DP's may start out being conservative, they eventually fall in love with HDR.

Describe the process for HDR color grading, including output for Dolby Vision, HDR10, and Rec. 709. Are these completely separate and different outputs or just one output with multiple metadata files? Either way, what's the output format(s) to send to the encoder?

The processes are different depending on whether you're grading for HDR10 or for Dolby Vision HDR. With HDR10 the recommendation is generally to grade for Rec. 709 first, then grade the HDR version. If you set the intent in Rec. 709 where the palette is limited, it can limit the creative options. What Dolby envisioned is that the colorist would work on the HDR image first, then Dolby Vision software would create a metadata file – much smaller than the rendered image, that would map that HDR color grade to any nit value that any TV has. It's genius. It lets you create any deliverable you want from the HDR master.

My understanding is that with HDR10 the streaming provider needs to have to have both 4K Rec. 709 and HDR versions, which can be 3-4TB each typically for one-hour show. With Dolby Vision you just have the HDR version and a smaller metadata file to create any version that you want. We work on both HDR 10 and Dolby Vision HDR regularly so it's just a case of putting the right workflow in place for the project.

In the end, even automated solutions require some human creative intervention to guide how much to apply on a given shot, and Dolby Vision allows for that intervention. That's one of the things that has changed as technology has advanced in the process. The role of colorist has grown. 

Anything else about the HDR color grading experience we should know about?

I'm thinking more about the impact of HDR itself on the viewing experience. For so long, what was regarded as the top-of-the-line experience was going to a movie theater and seeing a film print. The TV experience was second rate. That may have been true with SDR, but now that the TVs people have at home are HD, and with more people getting 4K and HDR TVs, the resolution they see is comparable to what they might see in a theater. I believe HDR will become the standard at home because the viewing experience is so dramatically superior.

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