We are excited to introduce you to Shaley Brooks, a colorist and workflow specialist based in Los Angeles. He works in episodic television, advertising, music videos, and feature films and has recently restored the 2003 feature film, Perth.
Los Angeles Post Production Group: It sounds like you grew up with a father that was a broadcast engineer. How did that influence you and can you talk about the path you took that got you interested in pursuing a career as a colorist?
Shaley Brooks: I did grow up with a father in broadcast engineering. One of my earliest memories in life is walking into Studio 6A at KRLN (now KLRU) in Austin, Texas. This was the original stage for Austin City Limits. ACL was a new show at the time and we had no idea it would become the event it is today. But it wasn’t the music that intrigued me, although Willie Nelson is a national treasure! The video cameras on large pedestals and a master control room with a switcher and about a million buttons hooked me. I spent the next decade imagining myself operating master control and sending TV programming out to the city of Austin. My dad moved to California in the early 80’s. I followed him after I finished high school and started to navigate my way towards being a colorist, although I had no idea that was where I was headed. I also had a lot of exposure (pun intended) to photography. We had a dark room at home and could process black and white film. I got my first 35mm SLR at age 8. I photographed anything I could whenever I could get my hands on an unexposed roll of film. When I found myself working in the engineering department at Anderson Video building telecine bays I figured out what I was going to be when I grew up. Film and video together was a dream come true. It didn’t hurt that I love movies and TV too! It has been an incredible experience watching our industry evolve. The most exciting aspect is how technology has developed and now allows individuals to create incredible programming with off the shelf equipment. Accessibility to tools like Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve allow the next generation of filmmakers to create content unlike any other time in history. It is an exciting time to be in the post services business.
LAPPG: How long have you had Iris Digital Post and what services do you offer?
SB: I have been doing small projects in a bay I built at home since 2009. My first system was built using Final Cut Studio 2. This was always a research and development endeavor and allowed me to keep my education going and help independent filmmakers at the same time. In 2020 I got the opportunity to finish ABC’s Home Economics and Iris Digital Post was formed. We provide all of your post needs. We have finished many independent films and a lot of short form work. I think of it as “concierge post services” supporting productions throughout the entire process. IDP supports filmmakers from pre-production to dailies, conform, color, and deliverables. For Home Economics I provided final color services and collaborated with DigitalFilm Tree. DFT provided the rest of the post production services including dailies, conform, and VFX. This relatively new approach to providing color services is a wonderful way to go in my opinion. By separating color from the rest of your post services we can focus on the creative aspect of color. This allows the EPs and DPs more access than ever and ensures the images look brilliant all the way through the chain. At IDP we work closely with the editorial team and the above the line creatives to deliver a look that exceeds your expectations. We follow that up by working with the finishing house to guarantee a successful delivery.
LAPPG: It sounds like you are also a workflow specialist. How do you stay on top of the latest workflows since the technology is always changing so fast?
SB: I am indeed a workflow specialist. My experience in this business gives me a unique perspective that allows me to bridge the analog world with the digital world. I am constantly reading about new products and trying out anything I can get my hands on. One of the most important tools I have is my vast network of colleagues that I have worked with over the years. Sharing information with each other and discussing new ideas is a key component to keeping fresh in our industry. Fortunately the information available via the Internet is vast. When I started working in telecine I had the good fortune to join the Telecine Internet Group, created by Rob Lingelbach, one of our industry’s pioneers. I was one of the original 100 members. Having access to the world’s top post professionals via the TIG was crucial in my early education. My years spent reading the posts from that group formed my continued approach to educating myself.
LAPPG: A look at your IMDB reveals that you’ve worked on so many great shows. Do you have one in particular that you are most proud of and what about the work or your experience on it made it so special?
SB: I have worked on many top shows! It is hard to choose one but my experience on Now Apocalypse was a stand out. Working with Sandra Valde-Hansen is a professional treat. Sandra is an incredible photographer and human. Sandra is Gregg Araki’s DP and working with Gregg is an incredible experience. This was a creative team that set the bar high. We finished 10 episodes but treated it more like a giant feature film. Using a RED camera we embraced the IPP2 color management system to allow for consistency from our on-set monitoring through dailies. I really appreciate what RED did with IPP2 and feel like it gives filmmakers a framework to control your images from the beginning. Ultimately the bold contrast and color on Now Apocalypse is something I am very proud of. This is a collaborative field so I am really aware that none of us do this alone. When we all come together under strong leadership we can make some really cool stuff!
LAPPG: You have had a collaborative relationship with the director Djiinn who directed the feature film Perth in 2003. Can you tell us what you were up against when restoring this film that was originally shot on Super 16mm film?
SB: Perth was a challenge. The elements available for restoration were limited. We only had a 35mm answer print. This was created from a 2K scan of the 16mm footage. This was not the best place to start for a restoration! We were immediately limited by the print. This lacked detail and had a lot of dirt and scratches. Using the color tools in Resolve I was able to keep the detail in the blacks and minimize the contrasty nature of an answer print. I used ACES for my color pipeline and feel like this helped me get more detail in the lowlights. We were very limited due to our nonexistent budget. The tools inside of DaVinci Resolve made this work possible. We did our best considering the source that was available. Ultimately this film has a new life in our new digital delivery system we use today.
LAPPG: Can you elaborate on the tools and workflow you utilized for this project?
SB: I used DaVinci Resolve for the entire project. I also used the Blackmagic Cintel Scanner! With the help of my friends at DigitalFilm Tree I was able to scan the 35mm print to files. I used the .CRI image stack to create an intermediate DPX stack. I did DRS, noise reduction, and some Fusion paint work at this stage. I also converted the image into an ACES format when this was rendered. This became the “clean-ish” archival master. Using the DPX stack I then color corrected the feature. Once I had things ready to review, Djinn came in and added the parts that are the most important in my opinion. We adjusted color to make sure the original intention was satisfied. We improved it when possible. Restoration projects are neat because when the filmmaker comes in for the final review I get to participate in the discovery of an old cherished artifact. It is like when you go through a box of stuff and find an object that brings you joy. All of the memories that go with finding items like this reminds me of watching a filmmaker view their film after two decades. The pain and joy of filmmaking brings a lot of emotion and the people that create these works carry these memories with them. Viewing a film you made 20 years ago is like reuniting with an old friend. There is so much to say and feel! I always like my work more after the storyteller gives their input and directs the images to look like the world they see in their minds.
LAPPG: Did your knowledge of Fusion inside DaVinci Resolve come in handy?
SB: Invaluable! I started really using Fusion about 2 years ago. I am very happy to have Fusion in my toolbox now. I use Fusion in TV to do light VFX work like painting out actor’s marks on the ground or easy object removal. For Perth I used Fusion paint to paint out the scratches too large for the Dust Buster and Automatic Dirt Removal. It was a thoughtful blend of all of these tools together that got us to a finished product that was acceptable.
LAPPG: How has the evolution of DaVinci Resolve impacted your work?
SB: This is a great question. I have used DaVinci products since they were da Vinci products! The early tape to tape systems were incredible works of engineering. When Blackmagic purchased da Vinci Systems, Resolve was already a product but it wasn’t anywhere near what it has become under the ownership of Blackmagic. Resolve allows me to provide post services at a level equal to large facilities of the past with a much smaller crew of people. With this software you can support any type of production. The skills required to use Resolve comprehensively include what used to be 6 or 7 separate jobs in a world that used videotape. The tape room, telecine bay, online edit bay, tape to tape color correction suite, titling system, and video effects all live in one place. This is truly remarkable in my opinion. Notice I am not even touching on audio because I am a picture guy but it does that too!
LAPPG: What advice would you give to colorists just starting out?
SB: Download DaVinci Resolve today and start using it. I also like using Photoshop, it inspires me to try new things. You can always use GIMP for free and it will definitely help you build skills that a colorist uses. Also, learn as much about lighting and photography as possible. You need to communicate with DPs and in order to do that you need to understand their job. There are a lot of good books and websites out there that can help you educate yourself. I would also add always keep learning. It never ends and honestly, learning new things is the most exciting part of my job.
LAPPG: Living in LA and working on so may different projects there is always the need to create work/ life balance. How do you best do that? Are there any hobbies or activities you like doing when you have some downtime?
SB: My family is my rock. We are very close and my wife and two sons love to travel, near and far. I also love to hike and take advantage of the hiking trails in Southern California as often as possible. Making sure you have some time away from the console is a must!