Setting Up a Grading Environment

All grading suites need to have a correctly calibrated monitor for the colourist; what does that mean?. There are technical standards (see SMPTE RP 166-1995- for guidelines) and these following measurements for light out-put come from a wonderful broadcast engineer that I worked with for many years.

COLOUR_BARS100% white is measured at 35 foot-lamberts, IRE100 or 700mV video range. Some digital display manufacturer recommendations may specify ideal peak luminance varies between 20-30ftl (69-103cd/m2) The light out-put of the white patch at the bottom of ‘bars’ is measured with a probe to check the monitor.

An automated LUT generator and a monitor that has a LUT input capacity is usually required to balance a monitor. A technician with a probe will run a number of tests through the monitor to calculate any discrepancies and adjust the monitor accordingly.


Viewing distance should be 3 x the height of the monitor for the colourist. So selecting the size of the monitor may depend on the size of the room and depth of the desk.

There are many different broadcast quality monitors on the market. Choose the highest resolution affordable and ideally, ensure it is future-proof by selecting one that can monitor 4K Ultra High Definition and High Dynamic Range.

  • OLED Monitoring (expensive and small), self illuminating,

  • Dolby LCD Monitoring – peak luma measured in cd/m2 (candela per metre squared). Equivalent of 35ftL is 119.92 cd/m2 (also referred to as ‘nits’)


Suite Lighting:

  • The room needs to be painted in a neutral 18% grey to ensure there is no colour bias introduced in the environment that can reflect on the screen or impact on making colour decisions.
  • If there are windows, they need to have complete black-out capability to stop external light filtering into the room.
  • Monitors need to be placed in a position to ensure no reflections from an opening doorway can hit the screen.
  • Neutral lighting with a colour temperature of 6500k will balance with the light output (D65) of the screen.


Ideally light controls should be within reach of the colourist so that they can adjust levels according to requirements (brightening up when someone comes into a dark room with a hot coffee for instance!)


Recommended Light levels in different areas of the room:Color-Grading-Suite

A backlight ‘bias light’ is ideal to reduce eyestrain. Surround lighting 3.5ft Lamberts

Client area 2-10ftL

Colourist area 3-4ftL



Desk height and depth need to be carefully considered to suit a variety of requirements:

-Neutral or dark coloured bench top that won’t scratch as equipment is moved around on it and have a surface that can be easily wiped clean

-Height and reach of colourists (we come in all shapes and sizes)

-Adjustable, ergonomic, comfortable seats that can fit under the desk

-Knee/leg room under the desk

– Height of desk, with panels on top, need to be low enough to allow a 90 degree angle of arms and thus ensure correct ergonomic posture for colourist

– Size (height, width and depth) of colour grading panels –leaving room for the panels to be swapped around for left hand/right hand operators


– Room for all peripheral equipment; keyboards, pen and tablet, note pad, etc

-Elbow room for client to sit alongside (potentially with laptop or notebooks)

– Standing desks are now very popular in edit suites and could be possible in grade suites too – (may need to think about how the monitoring would be changed along with the height of the desk if it is wall mounted)


– Viewing distance for clients monitor needs to be considered

– Sufficient space in the room for required number of clients

– Comfortable seating, (with cushions for those who are shorter)

– Coffee table(s) within reach of all clients for cups, laptops, notes

– Decent wi-fi connectivity

– Adjustable air conditioning/heating controls

– Coffee/ Tea facilities within walking distance

– Bathroom facilities within hop-skip and jump distance (!)

– Coat hook(s) on the back of the door perhaps*

– Drawers or small cupboard to stow incidentals (bags, pens, cables)*


*As the environment is usually very dark, tripping hazards such as bags, backpacks, satchels need to be placed out of the way.




Vincent Dee

Pod Cast with Vincent Taylor

A delightful chat with fellow colourist Vincent Taylor, (currently residing in New York and working at MPC) has been made into a podcast for your listening pleasure. We talked about how we got started in the industry, how curiosity can be a great way to get started and how adaptability is now the essence for continuing in the industry, especially with changing technology, expectations and of course the pandemic.
Here is where you can check it out:

Where it all started in TV & Film Industry


NFUJust chatting recently with a fellow colourist about where I started my career and what inspired me to get into the film and television industry. Then low and behold, I came across this incredible promotional film that was created the very year I started with the New Zealand National Film Unit in Avalon, Wellington. So many departments to choose from as I learnt to process print film first then moved ‘up’ to the negative film processor. Finally the colour grading department allowed me to come and play and learn. How magnificent to take images and make them really shine. It has been my passion ever since. Huge credit will always go to Johannes Kornigstorfer and the kindest teacher Lesley Fisher-Robson who does actually feature in this short film:

Studio Tour | Short Film | NZ on Screen:

So, what can't you do as a colourist?

So, what can’t you do as a colourist?


That might sound like a backhanded complement, but while a great many amazing things can be achieved in the grade suite, in the edit room or by a VFX team, there are limitations.

A brave, thoughtful cinematographer asked just recently, “Are there things we do that you’d prefer we didn’t do and are there things that happen in camera that just cannot be ‘fixed in post’?”

Here is the short list that I can share from my dark grading suite;

Focus – if it is soft, it will remain soft. There are some tricks to enhance edges and give a false sense of sharpness to some images, but out of focus is definitely OUT.

Underexposure – if the image hasn’t got sufficient exposure to register on the camera sensor all you get is noise as the sensor cannot create something out of nothing. Nor can a colourist.

Overexposure – that beautiful highlight detail and subtle range of bright exposure that you saw on the day may have been clipped out completely by the camera sensor if the exposure setting was incorrect. Sadly there is just no getting that back. Like under exposure, the highlight detail hasn’t made it to the sensor and all you get is a flat white where there should be detail.

Exposure adjustments mid shot sometimes cannot be avoided, but these shots (or part of the shot) might be left on the cutting room floor during the edit. If the shots do make it into the final timeline, a bit of extra time might be needed to disguise the in-camera adjustments once you get into the grade suite.

Rolling shutter distortion – warped images often caused by a rolling shutter or certain shots captured via a camera on a loose mount (for instance attached to a car or helmet cam) cannot be corrected enough to look stable. Certainly the tools at my disposal in the grade suite are not yet that advanced. But who knows, maybe out there somewhere there are clever people with software, hardware and skills to fix this issue? Happy to stand corrected and be informed, so please feel free to educate us with your wisdom!



Silver ACS for Drama Series ‘Playing for Keeps’ Series 2

Very pleased for Director of Cinematography Marty Smith for the Silver Award in the 2020 Australian Cinematographers Society Awards.

This was awarded for the drama series ‘Playing for Keeps’. Congratulations!

It was an absolute pleasure to work with Marty as his colourist.

Here is a link to his post on Facebook:

It is really lovely when a Cinematographer acknowledges their colourist:

Dee McClelland- thank YOU! As DP’s we’re nothing without colourists – you took care of, and then elevated my images



Virtual Sets happening in Melbourne soon

26 July – Clayton Jacobson of Dreamscreen Australia received seed funding to begin building Melbourne’s largest Virtual Production Studio. Testing at The Dockland Studios was scheduled to happen over the following weeks.

For more information about this new technology here are some links


Run TV Series



chef antonio

“Chef Antonio’s Recipe for Revolution” Australian-Italian Co-Production



It was a delight to work on this project with Producer Lisa Wang and Director/Writer Trevor Graham. The cinematographer, Jenni Meaney and I managed to squeeze in a couple of days together in the grade suite at Soundfirm between Covid lockdowns here in Melbourne. Observing all the protocols of distancing and sanitisation, she joined me to review the grade and sign off on behalf of Trevor who was unable to join us from Sydney.  Some of the biggest challenges, as is often the case these days, is matching different cameras to keep the grade as seamless as possible.  Fluorescent lighting in the kitchens and incandescent lighting in the dining rooms also made for some crafty colour work. It was gratifying to get this comment from Trevor when he eventually got to see the finished resul

The grade is fabulous. Well done Dee you have done a beautiful job.

We saw the grade on the big screen in the mix theatre yesterday. The picture grade looked superb. You did a brilliant job and Lisa and I are very very happy with look of the film. I’m sure Jenni will be too when she eventually gets to see it projected.
Dr Trevor Graham
Yarra Bank Films Pty Ltd
Dee, I went to SF to sign off on the DCP last week and have been meaning to say how BEAUTIFUL the pictures are! Those shots of Asti made me almost want to cry, so rich and inviting. Thanks again for your incredible eye and instincts. 
Lisa Wang
Black Sheep Films


An article written in ‘If’ Magazine about the lovely chef antonioTrevor Graham who directed, produced and shot this great documentary.

It was a delight to be their colourist and a wonderful insight into the kindness of Chef Antonio who is making a big difference in the lives of these young aspiring Chefs….

Chef Antonio’s Recipes for Revolution is the first feature documentary to be granted the status of an Australian-Italian official co-production. Since a special treaty with Rome was signed in 1993, there has been only one previous Australian co-production with Italy – the 2015 drama, The Space Between. But our project didn’t start out that way. All film financing is like a roll of the dice. You never know what numbers will come up.

For more:




“The Masked Singer” Season 2 – Behind the scenes at City Post

There was a whole new set of challenges on this project; being flexible and adaptable not the least of them. Schedules and timelines changed constantly to fit in with the changes happening on set. The team at City Post were the ultimate jugglers, getting everyone working together and apart, to get the job done.

The grade schedule was really tight with last minute changes to edits there was a lot of running back and forth between the conform department and the grade suite. But we did it! Phew.

Terrific team work all around. For more information here is a recent post on the City Post website:

Post production facility City Post in Australia is more than used to dealing with dramas, having been the post house for shows like “The Dr Blake Mysteries’, “My Life is Murder” or BAFTA-winning and Emmy-nominated “The Cry”, but when the second wave of coronavirus swept across Melbourne in June, they weren’t expecting the real-life drama that was about to unfold.

TMSCity Post’s offices in Melbourne’s CBD already had their COVID-save protocols in place after the first lockdown struck while they were working on the popular ‘’Dancing with the Stars”, and they had to adapt quickly to extend their remote-editing and delivery capacity, and carry on.

Soon they had 25 post-production personnel working on-site, with five editors and one post producer working remotely to manage the fast turnaround, next water-cooler hit; being Season 2 of “The Masked Singer” (Australia). They were only a few weeks into production when the second wave of coronavirus began to take hold, and NSW abruptly closed their boarders to Victoria.

“All of a sudden we had three post producers and two offline editors with only a 48-hour window to pack everything up and get back home, while they continued to work on the show” says Wayne Hyett, Emmy-Award winning editor and Managing Director of City Post.

The first episodes of the second series were just airing and audiences were abuzz with speculation and predictions – was that the unmistakable voice of Kate Miller-Heidke, behind the Queen? But in the background, City Post was working closely with Warner Brothers and Network 10 to fast-track a whole new way of working. So as the Sydney folk were heading home, the Melbourne folk were self-isolating until their COVID test results came in, and the show continued going to air two nights a week.

“Suddenly we had to accommodate another five editors and post-producers to work from home, sometimes literally from their own computers. We were extending servers, expanding editing and production workflow capacity and communication channels with very short notice. Thank goodness we were running a gigabit connection out of City Post.” Explains Nadia Diggins, City Post’s Operations Manager.

“Normally on a reality TV show, you might have a six-week turnaround, on this show though we sometimes had six days. That’s to offline, edit, grade, integrate FX and graphics, mix and master.” Nadia adds. “They’re not simple shows to put together.”

“I’ve been in the business for 30 years and this was certainly the most challenging thing I’ve ever been involved in.” Says Wayne.

So, with all the pivoting and flipping having been pivoted and flipped, the show’s pipeline was once again ticking along efficiently, although more remotely than anyone had ever experienced before. It was now hours away from the filming of the episode finale – when several crew members tested positive for COVID-19. The show was immediately put on hold and everyone, including all the judges: Dannii Minogue, Urzila Carlson, Jackie O, Dave Hughes, and host Osher Günsberg had to head into two weeks of quarantine, and City Post had to lay their tools down again while everyone re-tested.

the-masked-singer-full-jduges“The Masked Singer” finale was rescheduled to record with many feeds streaming in from different locations, and with only five days to turn it around – it went to air on Monday 14 September. Done. Remotely. Ratings peaked at 1.191m and Twitter was a buzz with congratulations, as people came to realise that Osher wasn’t actually standing on the stage with the contestants, and that the four judges weren’t actually seated together but rather were beaming in from different states and even a different country.

The masks may be laid to rest for the end of the season, but production continues on other shows at City Post, such as weekly episodes of the kids animated series “Monster Beach”, (which just won Best Animated Kids TV Programme at the ConnectAsia Awards 2020) and new production ramps up on a big scale, yet-to-be-announced TV series drama as well as three feature-length documentaries –  and with producers, directors, editors or post-producers working off-site. No problem.

“The biggest thing we learned through this process, is that remote workflows on such a large scale, with such tight deadlines worked so well. We were able to continue without missing a beat and there’s a great confidence that comes from that”. Wayne concludes.





Katie Milwright

Katie Milwright receives a Golden Tripod for “Guilty” at the ACS National Awards 2019

blog“I was so delighted to receive a Golden Tripod at the ACS National awards last night for feature documentary film “Guilty”.  Well done to the ACS for the “Online” awards ceremony last night and congratulations to all the nominees and winners.  Thanks to Director Matt Sleeth, 1st AC Grant Sweetnam, Gaffer Jared Fish, Key Grip Tim Delaney and Colourist Dee McClelland 2nd Unit DP Sherwin Akbazadeh and all the cast and crew who made this film happen.  It’s a film and story I was so proud to be part of.  Thanks!!!” Katie Milwright ACS

To watch the official trailer:


The Colourist & Cinematographer Relationship

The Australian Cinematographer Society ran an online webinar with a panel of three colourists. CJ Dobson CSI, Deidre “Dee” McClelland CSI, and Fergus Hally CSI. Hosted by Warwick Field ACS. The aim was to answer questions from cinematographers about our role as colourists and how we can be of assistance to them before during and after a shoot.

You can find the recording of the session here with many questions answered beneath:

Dee’s Answers to some of the Questions from

ACS Colourist Cinematographer Relationship online panel – 25 June 2020


Q.5 & 10  Operator vs Collaborator:


When you have a professional colourist on board for your project, you are getting a skilled creative person with years of experience. Essentially a specialist who will help craft your images to look the way you had initially envisioned. When you allow a colourist to collaborate and suggest some options that you perhaps hadn’t thought of, you get even more than you had expected. Fresh eyes, a new perspective, a different insight into where the images may improve are the added advantages of having a professional colourist. If on the other hand a colourist is treated like an operator, given specific commands only without any input for the colourist permitted, you may find that you’re really not making the most of the opportunity to refine and polish your images to their best potential.


Q.6 & 7. Information required by the colourist for a grading session. LUTs & Reference material.


Information is always greatly appreciated, so here are some things that help me:

-who the Cinematographer is and their contact details if possible

-what camera it was shot on

-which LUT was used for rushes (provide it if you can)

-reference material (other movies, photos or shots in the timeline/offline that  best demonstrate the overall direction).

-the story or mood that you’re hoping to engender

problem shots that didn’t work for one reason or another – what were you hoping to achieve, how can I help you get there?

– scenes that are intended to be silhouette and have been shot that way

– shots that are purposefully shot ‘hot’/bright.

– time of day/night or any day for night scenes etc

– issues with actors regarding blemishes or complexion – if I can, I will help with these in the grade, if I cannot in the time permitted I can discuss other options.

-deliberate changes in colour (for e.g. to depict different country/mood/characters)


Information that I don’t necessarily need (to save you time typing these requests) is which shots are under exposed/over exposed, mismatched camera’s/lenses/filtration and all the reasons why…. There is never any need to apologise for these issues; Cinematographers are always under the pump to get so many things done in the short time they have – so I do understand! Usually I can see immediately which shots aren’t quite sitting at the correct exposure or colour temperature and my first task is to balance the timeline so that they all flow cohesively. That first process naturally, goes without saying.


Q.8 & 9. Power grades or LUTS as reference for colourists.


A LUT or Look Up Table, brings an image values from the source footage (camera original) closer to the desired output value, for editing the colour space is Rec709; a properly balanced broadcast monitor. This LUT is only ever a rough guide for the final look.

It is always good to understand what the editor and director have been viewing over the previous weeks as they cut the film/series.

When I am given a LUT for the grade in Rec709 colour space, I get an understanding of what has become familiar to the director. However, as a LUT can skew colours and change the range in ways I’m unable to discern, I am inclined to create my own similar look, knowing how it was made allows me to control the outcome best. This is especially pertinent when grading in P3 or XYZ colour space in a theatre where the Rec709 LUT really does restrict the potential range for colour and contrast.

For more information on colour space please take a look at the chart here:


  1. Entry level for a colourist.


This is currently a very difficult question to answer with most companies relying on freelancers and the lack of infrastructure to mentor a new person through all  the processes of post(also Covid has limited the number of people going in to post houses). We briefly spoke about it during the panel. My suggestion was to keep at it; shoot your own material if you have to, work with an up-and-coming cinematographer or fellow media student to just hone your skills as a colourist.


Start a ‘look’ library of your own footage

  • shots you have graded (perhaps some ‘before and after’s).
  • Challenges that you overcame with a grade – difficult lighting/weather/exposures
  • Experimental grades

How about downloading footage that you think would look better with your magic touch!?


Ask experts for help or tips – most people love to talk about their experiences and feel honoured to be asked.


There are links to tutorials (including fxphd tutorials from Warren Eagles – mentioned during our session), different ‘looks’ and styles on my resources page as well as guilds and groups in the film industry that can help:


Here is further information regarding the role of a colourist that might help too:



  1. Workflow for VFX


Because by the time the grade is scheduled, almost right at the end of the process, having a chance to pre-grade the VFX plates and return them to the VFX vendor is almost impossible.  With series work, I am usually given a background plate in my timeline to grade. The ungraded version has already been sent to the VFX house prior to my session for them to get the VFX done and returned to me as soon as possible. Once the VFX arrive back (in the same colour space as it was sent out to them), the grade should copy across to the new shot without any problem. There is often a need for a bit of a tweak to ensure it sits well with the surrounding shots.


In a feature film, any pre-grade I give the VFX team is not usually the final grade and the look may change drastically as I work further with the DoP. A grade change on the baked-in graded VFX plate, will likely compromise the image and be restrictive.


My preferred way of working (due mainly to time constraints) is to have the VFX created using the camera original raw media. The VFX house can apply a viewing LUT to see how the shot may look with a grade and also to discern how well the VFX is sitting in the background plate. They then send back the shots in the original ‘raw’ flat looking format, allowing me to adjust the VFX image in any direction within the PS/XYZ colour space.


  1. Time Management in a grade session


There is only a limited amount of time to get a grade completed.  If I find myself getting stuck on a shot and spending too much time on it, I will move on and come back to it. The priority is to get a balanced grade, then a pass to service the look and feel of the story, ensuring that the DoP and Director are getting the results they require. Once the essentials are covered, go back and spend more time on the difficult shot(s).  Often coming back the next day with fresh eyes and new ideas can make the difference.


It may be that the shot cannot be fixed in the grade (within the time constraints) and it may be wise to seek advice from perhaps a VFX expert or the person who will be doing the online and mastering – there may be tools in their system that can tackle the problem more efficiently than the grading system.


Containing expectations of your clients – letting them know what is and isn’t possible in the time frame is key. Often I have to be quite firm and explain the time allotted and the amount of work that we need to get through. Mentioning that you may need extra time to persist with something that is low on the priority list will have them reconsidering the situation.


Also, allowing yourself to let go of things you cannot fix and managing your own expectations is very important. We all want to give our best to our clients and will work hard to give them the result they want, but if it is to the detriment of their budget, delivery date or quality, be brave enough to discuss the issue and always seek wiser people to help! Offer up alternatives instead of just saying ‘it can’t be done’.


The way I run a feature film grade session:

Take a look at the locked cut (offline) prior to grade

-Note which areas look like a challenge and any other questions that arise

-Discuss the cut with the DoP and/or director and get a brief from him/her

-Commence the ‘balance’ grade (perhaps using a bespoke LUT that emulates the look they have become used to during the edit as a starting point)

-Bring in the DoP/director and perhaps work on the scenes that they’re most worried about to set their mind at ease.

-Set the look for each scene (perhaps selecting a wide shot) and save reference stills

-Go through and commence the actual ‘look’ grade using the stills as references.

-Bring back (DoP and) director for final tweaks and official sign off.


For a TV series time is even shorter;

  • Commence the ‘balance’ grade (perhaps using a bespoke LUT that emulates the look they have become used to during the edit as a starting point).
  • Talk with the DoP/Director regarding the look_ they are often still shooting so it can be an email or phone call. We may have had discussions during make-up wardrobe tests, LUT creation.
  • Apply the look scene by scene through out the time line. Often I send reference stills to DoP as I go and get feedback overnight.
  • Review with Dop/Director – make tweaks and render final episode.