Friday, October 13, 2006

Color Correction & Mastering

I haven’t really found much on this subject, so I thought I’d share this for those in a perhaps similar quandary.

I spent seven years as a mastering engineer at a fine audio duplication facility in Fairview Park called A to Z Audio. A mastering engineer basically takes audio mixes from studios, bands – anyone really - and equalizes, enhances, and compresses the mix so that it will sound as nice as it can for the client. One of the challenges of mastering is keeping in mind all of the possible ways that the mix might be played – car stereos, home systems, radio airwaves, walkmans, etc.

Most clients would come in and immediately want to boost the bass and treble because that’s how they like their music. I had to often explain to them that if I boost it mastering, and the listener boosts it on their stereo (as most people do – - as do the radio stations) it’s going to have twice the ‘preferred’ bass and treble. Mastering, therefore involves the unsung art of allowing a person to crank up the bass without turning their woofers to confetti.

So last week I’m working on color correction for HERO TOMORROW, and on a nicely calibrated video monitor I boosted the color and brightness so everything looked really sweet. I rendered it out, burned a DVD, took it down to the TV, and was quite bummed to see how over-saturated and bright the whole thing looked. I spent the better part of a day puzzled until I started remembering my days at A to Z. Applying the 'audio bass and treble' boost to the 'TV saturation-brightness' boost, I figured out the source of my problem. TV manufacturers want their sets to look more colorful and vibrant than the 90 other sets on display at Best Buy, so they calibrate their TVs with far more color volume than what is recommended in a professional viewing environment.

So color correction, like mastering, is really not only a matter of making the film look great in a monitor setting. It’s also making it clean, safe, and workable for all systems. A bit of a setback - yes, but another great lesson learned.


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