The Color Timer Interview With High-End Episodic Colorist - Rory Gordon

The Color Timer Interview With High-End Episodic Colorist - Rory Gordon

Hey there, welcome to the Colour Timer

podcast. I am your host Vincent Taylor.

This is a podcast where we speak to professionals who work

with colour every day to tell stories.

Today we're going to be speaking to Aurora Gordon or her,

that's what her paperwork says,

but she goes by Rory Gordon. Rory is an incredibly

accomplished colourist for film and television,

having worked on, oh my gosh, one of my most favourite

shows, Lovecraft Country. She's also

an incredible painter and very experienced in working with

HDR, which is something I want to

chat to her about. And yeah, let's get started. Also, don't

forget, we're going to use our little

colour timer and try and keep the... this is 15 minutes,

that's all we've got, so we've got to

make it work if I remember to use it. Let's go.

Take your seats because the hourglass is about to

turn. We are entering the world of the micro podcast.

Explore the craft, creativity and science

of professionals who use colour to tell stories. Welcome to

The Colour Timer with Vincent Taylor.

Hello, welcome. Hi Rory, thank you for

joining me.
- Hi, thank you for having me.

No, it's my pleasure. We managed to get

our schedules lined up, which is incredible.

I know, the stars align.
- Yeah, it's true, it's true. I was

going through, I was stalking you,

I was going through your resume, looking

at your site and all the rest of it. And I,

because this is a 15 minute colour timer thing, I'm going,

oh my God, there's so much I want to

ask you. But anyway, that's the bed I made. All right, let

me, before I forget, I'm going to start

my, start my colour timer. So it's all official. And then

I'm going to jump straight in. I was

going to, I was going to start talking to you about your

profession as a colourist and HDR and

all of that. And I still want to get to that, but I want to

jump into painting. Because you're a painter
- Yes.

- Tell me about that.
- Well, as you know,

we spend so many hours in a day and a

week and a month and a year on the computer. And really,

for me, it's just being off of a device

feels really, really good. And what we do is...

We're taking away, right? Like we're working

on somebody else's material and refining it and making it

better. So in that sense, it's a

subtractive art. So for me to have an art that's additive,

that like I'm starting with the medium,

I'm the first one that adds to it. It just feels really

good. It just really changes the way I

think. And then also speaking of additive and subtractive,

right? Like you're working on

additive colour on a display and I'm working with

subtractive colour on a piece of paper or a piece

of canvas with paint. So I just think, and I also, I like

to study, I really like to study and the

type of painting I do, I'll do plain air, you know, going

out into nature, you know, what it doesn't

have to be nature, I do urban cityscapes too. But going

somewhere and just sitting and thinking and

observing or being in my art studio and just if it's an

abstract thing and working on paint,

I just think it makes my brain move a little slower. And I

think that's when I start to do

really interesting things is when I move a little slower

and make less decisions, but really

thoughtful ones. I really love it. So yeah, I have a

project called Colour Time, too, where I take the

runtimes of films and TV shows too, I'll divide them into

60 and then I'll paint a square for each

of those intervals of time. And then I end up with a colour

script that goes from the beginning of

the film to the end of the film and you can see how the

colour changes. And then because I love

puns, the reason I started doing this was because of an art

show that was looking for submissions.

And I was like, well, colour time is a funny pun. So I'll

paint colour scripts on clocks so it will

be colour time and you'll actually see that, you know. But

anyway, like it really truly started as
- That is amazing

like a pun joke. But they're really cool. Like they're

really watching the colour move. And I've

noticed some patterns too, like around nine o'clock and

pretty much every like movie, TV show, whatever

doesn't matter. And I've done some animation too. You get

dark, like you see the palette will get

darker. And I think it's because that story structure wise

is the point where it's like the

long dark night of the soul. And it's like physically the

long dark, you know, like light

is also the dark night of the soul right about that point

too. So I always just kind of, I just

think it's fun to study. So that's why. That's why...

That's incredible. You've just blown my mind

that that is amazing. And it's, how did you learn to paint?

I don't know that I have any formal training in painting. I

liked art and, you know, as a kid.

And my partner is in animation. So they know a ton of

concept artists and a lot of our friends are,

you know, through the people that my

partner has worked with in animation.

I've watched them. And honestly, I think following people

on Instagram and like watching,

watching painters there, it was always something that was

like tangential to my work. But I like,

again, I like to study and I like to try. I have a very

deep but narrow interest set. So like color

and light, like these are the things that my dad's a

jeweler. So like he works with

- oh, wow,
- that kind of runs in the family. And we're like,

three generations of jewelers that

grading diamonds and like looking at light and color, like

it's it's something that I think is

like very, very deep in, in, you know, who we are. But I,

you know, painting is another way to do

that. So I am because I, you know, there's, there's, I

could very easily, I could very easily just

took it because I find this really fascinating, especially

because as a wannabe painter, I just,

I just bought, I just, I'm not joking,

I just bought a paint by numbers cactus.

I love that. I think it's because that's study too, right?

Like you're studying like where,

you know, they tell you to put the paint

and then you look at it later and you go, wow,

that looks really good. How can I do that on my own? And,

you know, I love that stuff. It's awesome.

And look for anyone who wants to look up

Rory's website, she's got her paintings

on her site and they're, they're great. I'm looking at them

right now. Got, got some out here and

they're really cool, man. Thank you.

How big are they? How big are they?

Small usually because when I go out,

I take a four by little four by six

cards, like cold pressed paper, because I like, you know, I

like to be compact. And even when I've

done largest, they're small. I did a calendar of unnameable

colors a couple years ago. And even

those are probably, I think they were nine by nine. So small.

Wait, wait. Unnameable colors?

Yeah, it was. So they're like, I've wanted to do another

one because I got a lot of people were

like, this is so cool. And I was like, really? No, I think,

I think I have synesthesia or a form

of synesthesia where, you know, when you when your brain is

like, oh, I get so anyway, like a lot of

times I get it with taste. Like, I don't know if you get

that when you look at a vectorscope,

I very much see different different tastes as you're kind

of moving around in a circle. Like,

you know, red is kind of salty, yellow is like oily and

fatty, and then green is a bitter. And

then depending on the shade of blue, it's tart or sweet.

That is so cool. So the calendar I did was

like, there was like a magenta shade for one month, and it

was like a jar of jam that has burst on

your floor and you will never clean it up all the way or

something like that. So although all the

months were like color, they were colors, but they were

names. Not that it's not about the color,

- it's about the experience.
- That's wonderful. I have in my

brain, I have colors for days of the week,

it changes sometimes. But like, like a Thursday is always a

kind of a deep red for some reason.

Anyway, I've got to I've got to keep going because I'm

going to run out of time. I'm not going to

ask you all these amazing questions. I got to ask you.

You've worked on so many wonderful shows.

I'll wait for your image to come back. It looks like

there's a little dropout. This is the joy.

This is like live TV. There you go. It's great. Because I'm

not editing this, you know, because

it's real, it's real time. Yeah, go for it. All right. All

right. Let me go. Which question shall

I ask you? Let's talk about - so you've done research on

applied color science and practical

color workflows. Tell me about that. What is that?

Yeah. So...

to me, color science is the creative of

the big picture and color as my work as a colorist is

creative of the micro. So it's like macro level

systems versus micro level systems. And what I do in the

research that I've undertaken in the color

science world, it's all about trying to measure things,

right? That's what I love about science

is that it is really the trying to figure out how to

measure things and communicate them. And when

you're talking about color, which is not - I mean, something

may emit certain spectra, a light source

may be emit certain spectra, or, you know, a thing may

absorb certain spectra. But color is context,

color is a perceptual experience, including the viewer and

the display, it's like such a long chain

of places, there can be variables. And certainly with

humans, there's like an organic element to

it, right? So like your vision, as, as it was, when you

were 18 years old is different than it will be

when you're 68 years old. So knowing that the whole

experience is ephemeral and temporary.

I think my goal and all the different topics I've

researched has been how to communicate how things

are changing and describe the relationship, which is like,

another reason I think, like calculus is

so beautiful, for example, it's like trying to describe

these nonlinear relationships. You know,

our relationship. Anyway, so the specific I'm also trying

to be like, how do I get all the things in

the 15 minute window? I know, I know, I know the pressure's

on. So specifically, the areas I have

researched are HDR - and how - so my the first paper I did

the I did was, by the way, I have not

really no formal training in math or science. I just like,

I love to, like I said, to study things.

So the first paper I did was I think in 2018. And I took

set the time we had three first season

shows that were all in HDR, and they all use the same color

workflow. So I what I did is we had the

all of them had standalone HDR deliverables and SDR

deliverables. And we had, you know,

are obviously suite of color management. So we had the same

the same creative part of the, you

know, same same grades, and then our ODTs would change

depending on the the container that we were

delivering for. So Rec.709, P3, P3 in a

2020 container. So I measured in SDR, the

contrast ratio between the key side of the face and the

fill side of the face in the SDR version

and the HDR version. And we did very minimal trims. Really,

this was a because, again, the

workflow was so strong, but I wanted to see what how the

contrast ratio would change in SDR and HDR.

And the main conclusion that I came to was that when you

have a transform like that, it's basically

a math machine that takes 1 in and gives you 1 out,

right. But depending on the content that

you're feeding in, you're going to get a different

relational result at the end. So if you fed a very

low key image in that had a really dim key and a really dim

fill, it could be that both sides of

the face would actually get darker because remember HDR

also depends on blacker blacks to

get to that very, very high contrast ratio. Yeah, you know,

if you had a really high contrast image,

the key side of the face could increase, and then the fill

side of the face could decrease. And so

you would end up with overall higher contrast in HDR. And

then there I would find some examples,

really, really bright examples, like I had one was The Tick

with a character flying through the sky.

So both sides very, very bright. And then in the HDR

version, both sides of the face were

were brighter. So that that the most interesting

observation was that, yeah, guess what, depending

on the content that you're putting into your your transform

or your LUT, if you're working,

you know, everything concatenated, a LUT based workflow.

And this is a log based workflow,

by the way, it, it, the content that you're putting in is

going to change the effect of the

color science decisions. So it is worth it to make bespoke

decisions on a show by show basis.

That's right. I tried to run through this as fast...
- And my brain's

already going, yeah, but what about

what about what about this is the thing I'm quite enjoying.

When I first started this idea of just

having this 15 minute chat, I went, is this is this silly?

Is this gonna, but I quite like it,

because it keeps it keeps you going. All right, let's just,

you know, and who's got time,

who's got time to listen anyway? All right, all right, I'm

gonna get how much I've got, I've got

time for a couple more questions. What do I got?
- Good. I'm having fun, this is fun.

get? What do I get? Also, so anyway,

these articles got got published in the SMPTE journal. So I

guess, I guess my question is,

tell me about SMPTE. Who's that for? What is that? Yeah,

that's the Society of Motion Picture and

Television Engineers. And that is, they do

conferences, let's see, I think I have an

mission statement, I thought you might ask, "The mission

of the journal is to drive the quality and

evolution of motion picture television and professional

media through our global society

of technologists, developers and creatives, by setting

industry standards, providing relevant

education and fostering and engaged membership communities."

So the big thing that they do is

standards. So you know, standards, in terms of file

formats, in terms of display, like it

everything, when you think of SMPTE bars, those originate

from the Society of Motion Picture and

Television Engineers. And the big thing is, for me anyway,

about the journal is a peer review

element of it. It's not, you know, when you when you

publish a book, or you publish an article on

a blog or something, it doesn't need to go through peer

review. When you publish with a journal, it

has to go through a committee of people that all say like,

this methodology makes sense, this person,

you know, their their controls are all in the right place.

And that's very, very attractive to me,

is the opportunity to be in a peer review situation and

have community because what we do

as colorists, we're so isolated. And even I think post each

post facility can be isolated, and you

get like, well, this is the way we do it, because this is

the way we do it in this facility. But I

really enjoy being a part of organizations like that, where

you're, you know, you're, you're

looking at like the, like I said, the macro creativity of

the macro versus creativity of the

micro. And people are looking at like, okay, well, what

makes the sense the same sense? And I think

it's really helpful, especially considering how many

different display options people have, how

many and sheer number of surrounds in which people watch

things. I mean, people watch things on the

Metro on their phones. And, you know, ultimately, they find

a way to view it and see it. And, you

know, there's, there's, there's so many different ways an

image can look in an end user situation,

I think being aware of the process, the engineering to get

it to them, the psychophysics of the

displays, it's all

- Psychophysics.
- Yeah.

That's such a great phrase.

You know, because it is, like I said, you know, colors of

perceptual experience, it's not just,

it's not just one measurable, you know, Pantone value,

it's, it's the combination of the surround

person, the display, the choices made, you know, everything

from the camera to the lensing.

Because, you know, lensing, that's a huge, that has a huge

impact on coloring as well. I think

about that all the time, like, when we're when we're

matching, we don't, you know, like, we don't

know, we don't know which lens and a set is a

DP's favorite. So, you know, we're

matching everything, take out all the seams, but

like, that's a, that's a huge critical

choice, like, of like, which lens in that set was that DP's

favorite. I mean, you know, they'll

travel as a, as a group and obviously, similar optical

qualities, like for, for a whole lens

package, but, you know, just this tiny choices, they just

ripple so far out downstream. And

every time I have clients that are like, they get nervous

because they see it in the color bay,

and it's like, oh, that's beautiful, but it looks a little

different on the mix stage, you have to,

I think my ... working with SMPTE and being

aware of the standard - what I always say is

like, it's standards are important, because it's important

to know where the standard is that you

deviate from. So when we calibrate everything to standards

in the color bay, but then that way,

you know, like, things could deviate in a lot of different

directions. But we know that we started

from the ground, the ideal point at which

everybody else is measuring things. So yeah,

it is going to deviate in the real world, but it's going to

deviate in a lot of different directions.

And what we're going to do is we're going to start where we

know the deviations also begin from.

So it ... it amazed me. And as you, because I

realized my, my sand time is right now.

Oh, I'm breaking the rules. No, but, but it made me think,

because the idea behind this podcast

was to do like a 12-part first season. And if you, if

you're up for it, can you be on season two?

Because there's so much more, there's so much more I want
- Well sure!

to, I haven't even started and, and I,

and I would love to love to keep going.

There's more, I wanted to speak to you

about HDR specifically and about that world as well.
- Yeah, yeah.

Yeah. Another world with a lot of

decisions. Rory, thank you so much. Thank you. It was

amazing. It was really, really fantastic.
- Thank you, Vincent.

That's such a pleasure. Thank you. Thank you.
- Thank you for

joining me. I've started doing these,

uh, I was originally when I started doing the interviews, I

started to try and introduce the

guest, speak to the guest, do the thank yous, do it all in

the one thing, but my, my brain,

it just doesn't work. So, so that's why I'm doing these

bookends before and after the interview.

Uh, but, uh, thank you to Rory for coming on board. And,

and I think, yeah, if we, if we end

up doing a season two, uh, I'll definitely have to get her

back because there's so much more I want

to speak to her about. Um, uh, thank you to Mixing Light,

uh, for, for, for hosting the show and,

and having me on board. Uh, if you're listening to this on

the Mixing Light site, you already know

what they do, but if you don't check them out, look,

they're, they're, they're all things kind

of to help you as a, as a colorist and, and everything

from, uh, the software into talking

about color. Uh, and thank you to FilmLight, my friend of

the show. Thank you. And Kayla,

my producer, uh, and thank you for listening, like,

subscribe to all that kind of stuff.

All right. Cheers. See ya.

The Color Timer, a micro podcast experience.

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