Interview, Kevin Shaw, International Colorist Academy

Various film professionals from Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia and Slovenia last week in Belgrade had a chance to attend world renowned colorist courses from the International Colorist Academy, based in London. In the round of two intensive courses on Colorist Startegies and Advanced Color Design, some of the best practises and latest technology in this field were shared. The courses were organised by Film in Serbia and thanks to them, we had a chance to talk to Kevin Shaw,  one of the co-founders and an instructor at the Academy.


  • Who is Kevin Shaw and how did he become a colorist?

I am a geek who loves to travel and loves photography. I did a BA(Hons) degree in Photography Film and Television, which took me to photography, then post production and from there I quickly found my niche as colorist. A darkroom without chemicals was my dream job and I have never looked back.

  • Could you tell us more about International Colorist Academy, how it all started?

In 1998 I joined daVinci systems as Director of Training and opened the daVinci Academy, the first training program for colorists. In 2009 daVinci Systems shut down and the Academy went with it. BMD bought the company assets but dropped the Academy. I was not running it at that time, but I was sad to see it go, and felt that there was very much still a need for it. Warren and I got together, failed to get daVinci/BMD support and decided that there was no reason that we should limit it to any one system – I was using Nucoda Film Master by then anyway. We set  up the International Colorist Academy, registered the domain name, and took the idea to NAB. There was such an enthusiastic response it would have been hard to not do it after that. Each year we invited colorists from different systems or specialties to join us and we are now 10 strong. Each instructor must be a working freelancer, have a direct relationship with at least one manufacturer, and have demonstration or teaching experience. I believe we set a high standard.

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  • Beside the colorists, who are the people who attend ICA courses?

We attract colorists and everyone who has any contact with grading or colorists. So that includes cinematographers, DITs, Editors, VFX artists, directors and producers. I have had research engineers, games programmers and university lecturers attend too.

  • What is your grading system of choice and why?

I prefer to use Digital Vision Nucoda Film Master. After my time at daVinci I wanted to focus on software grading. Resolve was not yet ready and it pretty much came down to Film Master and Baselight. The Nucoda engineers were very receptive to my suggestions and I like the way it was built around a multi track AAF timeline and had an interface very like photoshop. For me it was much more intuitive than any other system. Since then I feel the development has been and still is very innovative and I like to use it in my colorist theory classes because it has the widest range of available tools and it reveals their characteristics quite openly.

I am now very involved with film and tape restoration as well as regular grading, and of course the Digital Vision restoration tools have always been the best available. Managing automated and manual restoration as well as color enhancement on the same timeline is an ideal workflow and no other system can do that.

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  • What is the secret of a great Colorist?

We’d have to find a great colorist to know that ☺

My own “secret” is to continually seek better techniques and always aim to make the best pictures I can. We should judge ourselves on how much we improve each project, not how big the budget is.

  • What do you think about merging grading and compositing/finishing? Tools like Mistika and Film Master are already established and recent Blackmagic acquisition of Eyeon Fusion will eventually add oil to fire, or we should say Flame?

I have always thought that it is the role of the colorist to “finish” It makes sense, the grading room usually has the biggest best calibrated monitoring, why would you make final judgements anywhere else. Feature films and episodic television have always been finished by the colorist it is the only workflow that makes sense. Often the colorist is the last person to work on a project so naturally any problems remaining have to be sorted in the grading. Resolve clung to the old telecine/commercials workflow for a long time but clearly BMD get that the colorist should be last touch and they have been steadily developing both the editing and VFX capabilities in recent versions.luxmedia 18-Z36C

  •  As a witness of so many changes in the industry, especially in “telecine department” what are your thoughts regarding the future of color grading?

The future is bright. Quite literally. I think 4k monitors has met with the same damp reception that stereoscopic displays had, though the difference is that we will all end up on 4k displays like it or not – there wont be a choice, just as there was not a choice to stay with CRT technology. But HDR monitoring such as Dolby Vision and others with screens brighter by an order of magnitude, gets 100% support in all consumer feedback. And that means that all the favorites we have mastered and re-mastered in HD will need grading again to get an HDR master. I do not believe that such an opportunity to sell more products and media will be left to automatic conversions.

There is also the promise of rec 2020 color space from laser projectors (about 40% more colors than HD rec 709).

On a more practical note I hope that the ACES workflow gets easier and more commonplace, and that .exr replaces dpx as the standard format for high end post production.

  • What is necessary for a colorist to step out from technical role and to be perceived as an artist?


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  • What is the best possible scenario for a colorist for starting the project?

Get involved at the design stage, and to be consulted through shooting and production. Making movies whether it is a 30 second spot or a 3 hour epic is a team effort. The closer the team work together the better the results are in all respects. I believe that working as a team from the start really can save time, save money and still increase quality. If you don’t do that – well then as they say you have to pick two out of three

  •  Biggest difference between working on film and commercials?

Commercial colorists might work on up to 1-2 minutes of screen time in a day, a feature colorist might aim for 10-20 minutes. There are usually more clients in a commercial grade so it is important to manage the room well. But honestly I’d say there is no difference. It is always my goal to make the best images I can.

  • Biggest difference between working as a freelancer and working for a salary?

I think you know which one you are. If you can take the stress of being freelance you like the freedom to choose jobs and seek out new opportunities. If you like the comfort and stability of salary you get to build your own perfect surroundings, team and atmosphere. There is a lot to be said for both, but usually colorists are one or the other and they know it. Or they are unhappy. Actually I don’t know any unhappy colorists- we are all passionate about what we do, so yes, we just know!

  •  What do you think about your first visit to Belgrade?

I had a great time in Belgrade and was very impressed with the standard of work. We were lucky to have a very diverse group including Cinematographers, VFX, Editors and of course colorists and this bought a lot of knowledge and experience to the room. That’s why I like classroom training over internet classes. Each class usually keeps in touch afterwards.

  • What would you say that is the most important thing that you learned through your international career and experience?

There is always so much more to learn.

  • Favourite color? 🙂

Red. And black, but everyone loves black.

  •  What is the best advise that you ever got about color grading?

I wont say exactly what it was, but it was wrong advice. From that  I learned not to take anything for granted, to try everything and decide for myself what works for me. That first lesson took about 10 years I think!

VFXSerbia says thanks to Kevin Shaw and hope to see him again in Belgrade.

More information about Kevin can be found on his linkedin, twitter, imdb, showreel, iColorist


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