Forecast for colour
Colour is coming, and the February 1969 staff magazine asks four department heads what they’re doing to get ready
The Television Industry is going through a revolution — a colour revolution. Just how the coming of colour will affect us no-one is quite sure. Some people, particularly in the field of Engineering Research, have been concerned with colour developments for a considerable time. But for many the difficulties — and the excitement — are about to begin. Bringing colour to the screens presents much more scope to departments other than the purely technical. We cannot hope to go into it all here. This feature looks at colour through the eyes of four people intimately concerned with the ultimate product of the company — the programmes as they appear on the screen: Technical Operations, Design, Production and Outside Broadcasts. While these may not be completely representational what they have to say is relevant to us all.
Senior Supervisor (Vision)
For Bob Simmons (below) and his team of Lighting Directors and Vision Engineers, colour technology brings the excitement and problems of using new and complex equipment and developing new techniques.
“The whole industry is going through a revolution and manufacturers are gradually catching up with our demands for new and better tools. In the field of lighting equipment there is still room for improvement. Smaller and lighter units, and consequently lighter suspension systems must come and our problem here is to order only the minimum number of units absolutely essential for the next stage of development, hoping a better unit will be available before the order comes through. In some cases we are ordering lamps still on the drawing boards.”
But Bob is optimistic about the future:
“There are no problems which cannot be solved and if present progress is anything to go by, solved quickly.
“For instance, in Studio One at Teddington which is now fully equipped for colour, we know we have got the best colour camera available – the EMI 2001. It has the two vital essentials: good engineering and good colour imagery. It is also very stable and has easy access for maintenance.
“We’ve got the right cameras, we’ve got the best available lighting: I know we’ve got the right people, and the right people have got and are gaining the right sort of experience. Already they are producing very exciting results.
“Because our team is relatively small and we have regular meetings to discuss all aspects of the operation, our rate of progress is very fast and our expertise is growing daily.”
As part of Studio One’s conversion a completely new area has been built at control room level – the Colour Set Up Area. Bob was photographed here and part of the new equipment can be seen. It looks very neat and deceptively simple in the photograph, but the job it performs is highly specialised. It is here that the electronic line-up and matching is done, and the one set-up area will eventually service all studios. It is centralised in order to keep to a minimum the lengths of cable handling timing pulses which demand a very high order of accuracy.
“Our past experiences have that shown the contribution which lighting can make to the finished product is even more significant than before and often overlaps the sphere of design,” says Bob. “This merging of areas of effectiveness leads to the necessity for close collaboration at all stages of preliminary planning and with this in mind the Lighting Directors have been rehoused in an area next to the Design Department.”
As a final sobering thought, though, he adds: “We must never lose sight of the fact that the large majority of our viewers for many years to come will see our product in black and white. Everything we do must be considered from that view-point.
There are no problems that cannot be solved – and if present progress is anything to go by – solved quickly
Many beautiful colour effects may have to be modified or jettisoned for the sake of the compatible signal.”
Head of Design
According to Patrick Downing (below), the Design Department is well prepared to move into colour, for. obvious reasons: “Colour isn’t new to designers – initially they are all trained in colour. Although for the past few years Graphic Designers have got used to working with black, white and grey because it’s cheaper. Set designers haven’t because coloured paint costs the same as white paint.”
As far as he is concerned, colour is here already – “what we have been doing in the way of preparation for the past three months or so, is designing all our Armchair Theatres and one-hour dramas as if they were in colour.”
What he sees as the problem area is not the practical problem of colours coming out differently – “basically colours on the colour camera come out more or less as you would expect them to”, but – “aesthetically, it is going to be quite different.
“For instance in the ‘Armchair Theatre’ I am currently designing now with Voytek as Director (himself an ex-designer) and Louis Bottone as Lighting Director, we are working with a minute set – a hairdressing salon, itself quite a colourful set, but by the end of the play we make it less and less colourful, to make a dramatic point.”
A central problem of interpretation for Designers is that colour is emotional. There has been a lot of research on this point and the results can be seen every day in advertising and packaging. And there are social and cultural overtones. Patrick’s Departments are well aware of these.
“What you do at the moment if you are designing a flat for Vanessa Redgrave, say, who is playing a painter living in Central London, is to find objects and forms which simulate the contemporary London scene. With colour you will have much more freedom; the environment can be decorated to express all the emotions that she will want to express in that setting.”
Where once we might have tended to walk into the studio and done a lot of handwaving, we now have to be a lot more precise
This means that designers will have to start working much earlier than before, because they will have to consider the colour of the costumes and sets related to the emotions and actions of the play.
“Scenic Artists in particular will have a tougher job. Whereas before we might have given them a rough sketch or a photograph and said this goes outside this window on the ground plan, now we have to be more specific, and we now give them coloured drawings, not necessarily naturalistic, depending on the mood of the programme.
“The Design Buyer’s job has also become more involved. Now one must be precise and specific about the colours and the props we hire.”
Pat also sees closer ties with the technical side: “We have in fact become much more involved over the last few months. Where once we might have tended to walk into a studio and done a lot of handwaving, we have now to become a lot more precise.
“Again, whereas in the past one could always ‘wing it’ a bit in the studio – you can’t now have a standby painter slosh over a step or something like that because it’s a bit too dark. That will have to be decided beforehand.”
For Director/Producer Reginald Collin (below) the coming of colour means excitement. “It means that Producers and Directors are re-thinking their whole approach to television,” he says. “For us at Thames the light has changed from Red to Green, and what a beautiful colour that is.
“There will be problems; after all we will be new to the game. And there will be occasions when we will fall flat on our faces. But even that will be splendid, because I sincerely hope that we will not adopt an attitude of safety first.”
Reg echoes one of the points that Bob Simmons makes: “We have here at Thames, probably the best engineers in the business. They will deliver the goods. They will, I am sure, want us to experiment; they will want us to use their equipment to the fullest, and what is more important they are on our side. I know that we will try to produce superb programmes as much for their sake as ours. And we have the people who can do it.”
So much for the credit side, enthusiasm and talent; what are the problems?
“First of all there is the question of producing colour programmes that will, initially, be seen by the majority of viewers in black and white. What attitude do we take? In my view, we go bald-headed for Colour. Black and white is going to become extinct. The thinking must be colour, colour, colour.
“We cannot compromise. Then there are problems of matching film to studio and the speed with which colour film can be shot and processed and put into programmes. It would be foolish to dismiss these lightly, they are severe question marks: but they will be overcome. I know that the Film Department have been working on the subject for some little time, and their efforts will succeed.
“Finally, the universal problem, TIME. More time at all stages will be needed for colour. It may only be a matter of minutes here and there, but it will add up. It may mean that we all have to work just that much harder, but I believe the spirit is there, at all levels, to do just that.”
Apart from the enthusiasm and the problems, what about the challenge? What sort of programmes are we going to make and what colours will we use?
“Imagination will have free rein. For example, are we going to make programmes that look like our holiday slides, slightly larger than life; or are we really going to use colour to create atmosphere.
Think of ‘Callan’, a sort of downbeat, grotty, gritty series and you think of dirty browns and greys, not much colour knocking about. Then think of ‘Frontier’ and immediately the rich sparkle of military uniforms and the bright landscapes of India spring to mind.
“And it’s not just to make things look different or pretty. Colour will add to the emotional enjoyment of programmes; we may even be able to make people laugh or cry at home in a way that is almost impossible in black and white. And again, we will be able, on rare and subtle occasions, to use colour for its own sake; and why not?”
Colour means excitement. The Industry is ready for this shot in the arm
We are lucky to be in at the beginning, Reg concludes. “In a few years colour will become commonplace, but for us we have the joy of trying to make it work. This is what I think is exciting and why I think colour is exciting. I think the industry is ready for, and needs, this shot in the arm.”
Technical Manager, Mobile Division
At the present moment the mobile division at Hanworth has ‘Unit Four’ which is equipped with two Mark VII colour cameras and they are hoping in the near future to start some form of operational training programme using this Unit. They are also waiting to receive from Ampex a delivery of a 1200E colour capable video tape machine, which will bring to the Unit colour recording capability.
The scheduled date for the completion of the first major OB Unit in colour which will be equipped with four camera channels is 1 April. The conversion of this Unit is taking place at the present moment at Hanworth. It is envisaged that by November Thames will be the possessors of two four channel Units and a two channel Unit.
Getting this equipment ready does present problems of course, but for Fred Atkinson (above) the exciting prospects of colour outweigh the headaches: “For instance, viewers will no longer have the problem of distinguishing one soccer player from another in almost identical grey jerseys, now they will be seen in true colour.”
And: “Horse racing in colour means being able to identify your horse before they get far enough down the field for the commentators to start to speak about it.”
OBs are very different from studio productions and they present their special problems.
“The difficulties are based on the requirement for long term stability of equipment necessary to guarantee consistent colour pictures, this within the limitation imposed by the required mobility of Outside Broadcast equipment. Unlike the studios the camera channels cannot be left on for 24 hours of each day. The warm up time and setting up periods needed on OBs will invariably cause a prolongation of the involvement of each unit in any OB. If we are to meet the load currently undertaken by the Mobile Division when colour arrives, the vacant days at present found between OBs will probably disappear altogether.”
Lighting on location also differs from studio conditions. “When an interior programme is considered the light level will be higher than that currently used in black and white, and since at present we are taking very near to peak load from the various supply connections used, the survey planners are going to have to look deeper into this matter to find more power.
“Colour also requires special handling: The human eye reacts to a very small area of action in the scene in front, whereas the television camera takes in a large area – an area which could, in the case of soccer or horseracing, go from brilliant sunshine to shadow in a very short space of time. So what might tend to occur is that one scene appears half sunshine and half shadow. And the two halves will appear in slightly different colours. When this occurs a compromise must be reached to present a viewable picture. The eye is much more discerning and reacts automatically, the TV camera needs fast, accurate controlling.”
Fred also points out that colours will be affected on OBs if they are taking place during early morning or late afternoon, since the colour of the sunlight at these hours is much different from that between 11.00 and 16.00 on a summer’s day.
Let the colours do some of the work and decrease the number of cameras needed
Fred does not see these as anything but temporary limitations. “The future holds a lot of possibilities for outside broadcasts. The present idea of holding a camera still and letting the subject move can now be extended to read: ‘Let the colours do some of the work and decrease the number of cameras needed’.
“The increase in subject interest created by colour television can overcome the need to decorate the picture with a multiplicity of cuts and mixes in an attempt to hold the viewer. If this can be accepted, the size of outside broadcast units can be reduced and the number increased, so giving way to more mobility and flexibility.”
Photographs by Gerald Sunderland
About the author
Martin Robertson was editor of Talk of Thames, the staff magazine of Thames Television