Soho-based Dado Valentic is a colorist and digital image workflow expert. His facility, MyTherapy, provides clients with on-set supervision, including look development, color grading and finishing, and digital distribution, with a specialization in stereo 3D.
While much of Valentic’s work is on independent feature films, such as Inbred -- the latest work by director Alex Chandon -- the facility also delivers commercials projects, music videos and television shows.
Traditionally colorists have not been involved in distribution, but Valentic takes a larger view. “I believe that it is our responsibility as colorists and post artists to push digital technologies forward. While camera manufacturers are creating better sensors and more refined tools, our mission is to learn how to process these images to ensure they look their very best once they reach the viewer.”
We spoke recently with Valentic at his facility in London.
Tell us about your most recent project, Inbred.
I think this is, so far, my best work. Things just came together really nicely for this project. I had just got an upgrade for my DaVinci Resolve system. It was shot in 4K, so I had these beautiful images to work with. I had an amazing director, Alex Chandon. This was his comeback project after 10 years away and he was so passionate about the film. We had a great time and everything just came together: my equipment was working great and the film was great, and when I look at it, I am very proud. I think it’s the nicest job I've done so far.
Did you do digital cinema mastering for Inbred?
Yes, because that is the way I work. I never just grade something and then hand over the hard drive. My job is make sure that when the film is out there in the cinema, it looks exactly the way we wanted it to look. I never take a project on without delivering it in the format that they require. I make a version for digital cinema, and then I make a one for DVD, and another for BluRay and for the internet as well.
What are some of the differences to watch for with different deliverable formats?
Cinema is different from watching a movie at home. A movie theater is much darker. The images are bigger, so my vignettes are a different size in a cinema than they are in a DVD. I make my blacks different for the cinema than for a DVD. The same thing applies for iPads. The iPad looks too dark if you put a normal cinema grade onto it, so you have to really embrace the medium you are delivering to get the best possible picture.
How much of your work is in production, or near the set?
I am getting more and more involved in set work. Postproduction is starting earlier and earlier now. I am often consulted on jobs when they are in the planning stage. My clients come to me with the script and talk about how they can make it happen best.
How did you get into digital cinema mastering?
When I was working for Sony I saw one of the very first prototypes of a DLP projector and the moment I saw those images, I knew that this is going to be the future – the images were so stunning. So even before digital cinema had become a standard, I had already started looking into ways to do it. I did a lot of research on how to get into digital cinema. That's when I discovered this company called Qube.
I found that their approach was actually the best of all, in terms of the architecture. In 2006 I bought one of the very first mastering systems in the UK from Qube. And I became just the second or third facility in the UK to provide digital cinema mastering services. I've been making DCPs ever since.
What makes Qube's DCP mastering architecture different?
The early specifications for how DCPs should be made were written by people who worked with films, so they basically took the 35mm processes of filmmaking and transferred those processes into the digital world. But digital is different. I never agreed entirely with the process that was being advocated. I felt that they were complicating things too much and that there were too many conversions. There had to be a better way to approach this process, especially when it comes to what source material to use, and how to manage color and the image size, etc. This is exactly what Qube had already figured out.
What is your approach to making DCPs?
Even today other companies force you to use specific image files as your source material for mastering DCPs, but it is much better if you can take your RAW master image, buffer it in the computer memory and do the conversions on the fly, reading the buffer and encoding into a JPEG 2000. This is what QubeMaster does. They wrote the software to be more flexible, and along with that, they introduced color management right in the beginning, which is actually the key.
You really can't encode something without having total control over the image and color, especially if we are talking about a larger color space like P3.
You do a lot of work in stereo 3D. How is that different?
I've done four feature films and lots of commercials in stereo, but I still think that I have a lot to learn about stereo. We all do. It is so interesting what you can do with depth if you apply different amounts of brightness or saturation. It's amazing how sensitive we are to even 2D clues about depth.
I've done a lot of 3D work in terms of brightness, which, as we all know, can be an issue with stereo projection. There is only so much light you can use in the projector, but what we can do is change theperception of brightness in the image.
How do you change the “perception of brightness?”
I found an incredible theory about light from Helmholtz, who describes the importance of local contrast for the perception of brightness. For example, if I put a black box next to white box, I would have a certain perception of brightness. If I put the same white box next to a gray box, the perception of the white will be different. Perception is subjective, but we can get so focused on the measurable aspects of light and color, we can overlook the importance of the subjective experience.
I've been working with a developer to write an algorithm, which we are deploying now, to apply a better perception of brightness in films. There are eight or nine color anomalies that humans have which we always need to consider during grading. We need to stop trying to measure the image and start just looking at it to see how we feel about it.
What are the challenges of mastering stereo 3D for digital cinema?
I did the very first stereo feature film in the UK called Streetdance 3D (released in 2010). Those were the early days and the biggest challenge we had then was the compatibility of servers. There are some servers out there that are so old that their hardware and software struggle with 3D content. Because you have double the frame rate in stereo, you need to reduce the bandwidth of the encoding without maxing out the server, or it starts dropping frames.
You have to be really clever with your compression to make sure you still get a good image without compression artifacts. I have seen some masters out there made by big facilities that suffer from the problem of artifacts, simply because they had to produce the DCPs quickly, or just because of carelessness. 3D mastering is tricky and it takes a lot of testing.
How does QubeMaster Pro help with stereo 3D?
QubeMaster allows you to really dig deep into your files and adjust them exactly. You can go as far as you want to distribute the bandwidth exactly the way you want to. You can actually tell the encoder what detail level you want. You can also tell it to ignore certain parts of the image because they are only noise. All these little things are important.
On the surface, all of the DCP mastering systems may look the same, but when you really need precision, when you really need access to specific parts, it is so important that you can get in there. And that's what QubeMaster gives you.
What do your clients like best about your work?
I think they like my passion the best. I love what I do, and even if it's just a short movie, I'm still going to try to get the best out of it. And that's why people like to work with me, because I am totally engaged in a project.
Dado Valentic’s facility, MyTherapy is based in London. QubeMaster Pro is part of the QubeMaster family of digital cinema applications, which also include QubeMaster Xpress 2.0, (which offers easy DCP mastering on Windows); QubeMaster Xport, (a plugin for mastering DCP with Apple Compressor on Mac OSX), and QubeMaster Packager for creating new versions of DCPs without having to re-encode the entire file.