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Pro Insights from Colorist Colin Travers

The professional color work of Colin Travers can be seen in everything from TV spots to full-length features. Here’s his take on the industry.

Images via Colin Travers

Colin Travers colors a range of material, from traditional spots, web content, music videos and short films. Recently he colored Here Alone, a feature that won the audience award at Tribeca Film Festival. Watch the trailer below:

Colin’s a good buddy of mine. Being a freelance colorist in New York City like myself, we’ve worked in some of the same trenches over the years, but have never gotten competitive. Maybe it’s because there’s enough work to go around, but it’s also because Colin is a chill, unpretentious guy that doesn’t let something like ego get in the way.

He was quick to tip his hat to colorists — Patrick Inhofer, Robbie Carman, Dan Moran, Warren Eagles, Alexis Van Hurkman, Steve Hullfish, and Larry Jordan — who were instrumental for his learning the craft. We first met through a mutual client of ours and the immediate kinship was mutual. To this day, we regularly talk about the industry. It was my extreme pleasure to put one of our recent conversations on the record.

Pro Insights from Colorist Colin Travers: Coca Cola

Have you been working a lot these days?

I have. It’s been a mix of studio work and unsupervised stuff which I complete at home. Occasionally I’ll have the rare supervised session at home, but much less than in previous years because the relationship is already established and there’s a sense of trust with the client.

What percentage of your jobs are at studios versus at home?

I work 70% at studios, whether supervised with a producer or a client, and 30% at home, a majority of which is unsupervised. A lot of those latter jobs are for big agencies.

That’s interesting. I think I’ve transitioned into more of a 50% studio/50% home situation. Give me your take on the whole client experience.

Dealing with a lot of different personalities over the years, I’ve learned to deal with the room, whose voice to listen to and how to roll with the punches. Some places are really good with printing out names of everyone in the session, letting you know who to watch out for, who’s calling the shots. My dad’s a therapist, so maybe I’ve learned how to navigate personalities through him somehow? (laughs)

Color is a language. For clients who haven’t been to many color sessions, it’s about getting the verbiage down. “Too hot” might actually mean “too bright.” “Too grey” could mean “not enough contrast” or “not enough saturation.”

Pro Insights from Colorist Colin Travers: Airbnb

Who are you working with these days?

Mostly post houses in New York, but also agencies, VFX facilities, and directors directly. I have some clients in Boston, Detroit and Atlanta which involves traveling there. At this point I’ve done remote work for studios all around the world.

Talk about where your career is heading.

In terms of future goals, it would be nice to keep working on features like Here Alone that people will remember and be impacted by, in addition to commercials which are a colorist’s bread and butter. Most of the time that would mean going staff, which means losing the freelance lifestyle. I’m open to staff, the right opportunity just hasn’t presented itself. I spend a lot of time wondering if it’d still make sense to be freelance decades from now. I think it would, with the speed and connections of the Internet growing. I’m trying to position myself for longevity, whether staff or freelance, keeping up on the tools and workflows, and constantly building on my connections.

A lot of people understand what color grading is because they use Instagram and Resolve is free, and they know their project needs coloring. Some of those people don’t have the time or money to come to New York to supervise. Once uploading 4k material onto the Internet becomes less of a barrier, I could work remotely from the mountains or the beach. The other side of the argument would be that there would be thousands more people like myself doing it for less.

What’s one of your biggest hurdles as a freelancer?

I’d say scheduling, which is a challenge for any freelancer. You’re your own scheduler, producer, and client relations. It’s just a hustle, even though there are less freelance colorists in a large city than other freelance professions. It’s also important to keep our rates to a certain standard to avoid a race to the bottom.

Pro Insights from Colorist Colin Travers: Carbon

I know you’re on the Lift Gamma Gain forums quite a bit, but not really pushing the social media aspect of your brand, which for me is the opposite. It’s kind of funny that we’re pushing different aspects of our businesses.

I try to read the Lift Gamma Gain forums once a day or three times a week. If you want to get more into the tech side of things, that’s on the Blackmagic Design forums where you can see stuff like crash reports.

Any Resolve 12.5 features you’re excited about?

Being able to move more than one point on a shape at once. I like the Grain OpenFX. There are a couple of keyboard hotkeys I’ve started using, like Show Current Clip with Handles and in the keyframes, to go from All to just Color. I do both of those constantly. I find the Spatial Noise Reduction is better.

People in the forums are saying the log controls feel a lot different in Resolve 12.5, that they feel more natural, not so narrow. Even though I typically don’t use beta releases on paid jobs, there was just too much good stuff in 12.5 for me not to use it.

Any features you wish were in there?

I’d love to be able to point Resolve to a folder of XMLs and have them all import simultaneously, or drag-and-drop XML import. I also want to be able to add all the timelines in my bin to the render queue in one step.

Pro Insights from Colorist Colin Travers: MTV

What do you see as the future of color grading?

In the future, the lines between color and VFX will blur. Resolve’s integration of Fusion will make paint, rotoscoping and sky replacements more common and expected of a colorist. I’ll probably start some Fusion tutorials, but then you’ve got to start telling people that you’re capable of VFX. As these lines between color and VFX blur, you have to ask yourself how much of that work you really want to be doing. I could see Blackmagic adding a Fusion tab in a later version of Resolve.

Speaking of learning, any advice for colorists just getting into the game?

Staying relevant has always been the thing. My advice is to know your sh*t. Don’t get on forums and ask how to import an XML. There’s plenty of documentation on that. Look that stuff up. Read the forums and the books, do the tutorials, and of course get hands-on experience. That’s how I learned. There’s so much more stuff out now, much more than ten years ago. My advice is to take it all in, especially if you’re not learning from another colorist.

Watch Colin’s recent AirBnb spot below: