Gallery Halls - Analog Feature


By David Torcivia

My work lives in the digital world. When you watch a show on Netflix, pull up a music video on your phone, or play a viral video on your feed you're seeing my work. I'm a colorist, which really means I sit in a dark room all day, surrounded by very expensive, carefully calibrated equipment working hard to make the videos you watch on your broken phone screen look as beautiful as possible. It's a highly technical, overwhelmingly digital job, but each project begins with something decidedly more physical.


I try to visit on Mondays while the tourists are elsewhere. The galleries of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art are empty beyond the spare usher reminding you to hold your pack close. My footsteps reverberate off the hard gallery floors as I pass centuries of priceless works of art. I've done this enough times that I can finally navigate the labyrinth lined with the works of great masters long gone. I'm here because I have a video and we need to nail the look.


Another museum goer gives me a curious look as I squint at a landscape by Dutch artist Meyndert Hobbema. I'm working on a music video for electronic duo Purity Ring and need to find the perfect shade of green for a scene. The video, directed by master of aesthetics Young Replicant, is a medieval period piece set in a foreboding castle and is already stunning, but needs that extra something special to be perfect. We'd been going back and forth for days now trying to find the right tones for the forest, looking at other videos, color palettes, and photographs. 


It turned out that the missing element would be found here in this physical gallery among these paintings. The video is peppered with dramatic windows casting beams of light across dark castle interiors. This chiaroscuro lighting captured on set by cinematographer Steve Annis has brought me to Rembrandt. As I walk from masterpiece to masterpiece, I'm careful to note the tones he uses, what shade of brown hides in the shadows, the particular warmth in the skin tones. I snap a photo (making sure to include a color reference card) to save the look. I move towards the work of Vermeer and admire how the light falls off perfectly from the windows he loved to paint under. 


I take another picture. I walk slowly through the European painting wing taking bits of paintings: the perfect green of a tree, a dark blue cloak of a nun, the neutral beige of a wheat field. Each painting has a morsel of sublime color, a section of perfect shadow that I can capture and use to bring this video to life.


I return to my suite and transfer hundreds of years of masterpieces from my camera's memory card. A little photo editing to ensure colors are accurate and I load the paintings into my color  correction software. I now have the knowledge of hundreds of years of great art at my fingertips and in no time we've brought the world of these medieval paintings to life. What was a sharp digital piece now feels organic and alive.


My work is well on it's way to a billion views - something that's easy to follow thanks to the pervasive tracking of our digital spaces. Along the way, the projects I've worked on have won prestigious awards (VMAs and the like), become viral sensations (Too Many Cooks ♫), and (hopefully) entertained hundreds of millions of people. Few realize that all of these entirely digital experiences were been born from decidedly analog paintings hanging peacefully in quiet gallery halls.