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DI Colorist Tashi Trieu Scores a Career Milestone with James Cameron's Avatar: The Way of Water


Denver-born Tashi Trieu already had a boat-load of post-production credits, including Bombshell,' Titans, Stranger Things and Alita: Battle Angel, when he began work as DI Colorist on Avatar: The Way of Water. His artistic skillset and deep technical knowledge have enabled him to forge a career as an in-demand visual finishing artist, industry consultant, and lecturer at Chapman University and Taipei National University of the Arts. We caught up with him to learn more.

What was your career path to becoming a colorist/visual finishing artist?

I had learned a lot of basic compositing, rotoscoping and paint by the time I was in high school and became interested in editing and camera work as well. I studied cinematography at Chapman University in Orange, California and while I enjoyed a lot of aspects about being behind the camera, I didn't think the on-set life was for me.

Color grading is a wonderful fusion of visual effects technologies and techniques and the artistry of cinematography. Having a background in cinematography and photography has made me a better colorist and collaborator with the directors and cinematographers I've worked with.

You were a member of the HPA's 2016 Young Entertainment Professionals (YEP) program. Why did you apply, and what was the experience like for you?

I learned about the program from Brandie Konopasek, another 2016 YEP, whom I was working with at Technicolor. We had both been working for Steve Scott for several years, principally on the Marvel films, but also Gravity' and Birdman.' I think we found out about the deadline with a day to go and rushed our applications, and Steve graciously provided recommendation letters for us.

YEP sounded like, and was, a great way to meet other people my age in a variety of areas in the industry, not entirely limited to picture post-production, as well as to learn from mentors. Garrett Smith and I became friends through the YEP program and have stayed in touch ever since. I really value the insights that stories and mentorship provide. There's a lot to be learned about navigating this town/industry and very little is intuitive.

Have there been any key turning points in your career?

After graduating from Chapman University in 2010, I worked as an owner/operator colorist for a few years, almost exclusively on indie shorts and features and occasionally on commercials and music videos. I freelanced for small post-production boutiques from time to time, mostly as a Smoke editor, Lustre assist or VFX artist.

My big break into the studio feature world happened in early 2013. On a recommendation from a good friend and mentor, Jeff Olm [colorist of Journey to the Center of the Earth,' How To Train Your Dragon', Puss in Boots', and more ], I was hired by Technicolor to join Steve Scott's team as an additional DI Editor on Iron Man 3.' This put me in an environment where I could learn from some of the best colorists, editors, producers, engineers, and visual effects artists. I worked alongside DI Editor Bob Schneider for several years, learning a great deal about studio feature workflow and the processes and technologies employed by big facilities. I also learned a lot from Josh Pines and Chris Kutchka, who've been phenomenal mentors and supporters in my color science education and the technical writing I've done over the years. I owe a lot to the friends I made at Technicolor for their support and making me feel instantly like I was one of them and worthy of that sort of attention.

How have color grading tools evolved and changed in your time as a colorist?

When I started, I was using Autodesk's Lustre platform. It was expensive and exclusive everything was at the time. You needed to work somewhere that had one and sneak in nights and weekends to learn it. I was really fortunate to have 24/7 access to Lustre at Chapman University where we built a professional DI workflow from film scanning to digital cinema exhibition for student films. Aspiring colorists at post-production facilities probably didn't have the sort of unhindered access that I did.

Fast-forward 15 years and Blackmagic Design's DaVinci Resolve is available on Mac, Windows and Linux starting at the low price of Free. So there's really no excuse not to learn it if you want to. The tools that were only available to elite post-production facilities are now on everyone's laptop, and color grading and professional post-production finishing tools are available to every market, even ones that never would have had the budget or time to work with a big Hollywood facility. This means more content, worldwide, has the opportunity to look better. It's just up to the artists to learn it.

How did you become involved with Avatar: The Way of Water ? What was the process for a film that's essentially a visual effect?

I worked on Alita: Battle Angel as DI editor and color assist for Skip Kimball, whom I'd worked with since 2016 at Technicolor and then through our move to EFILM/Deluxe in 2018. Working on that film, I got to know Geoff Burdick and Jon Landau and must have impressed them!

I wasn't involved much early on in Avatar: The Way of Water. Since it's a mixture of performance capture and live action and so much of it is 100 percent CGI shots, traditional dailies didn't have much application to the final DI. Dailies color on blue screen plates isn't always that impactful or useful and major creative color grading decisions can't start to be made until the environment is filled by VFX.

So, I began pre-production DI work in early 2022, testing workflows and ironing out the bugs. I worked from Los Angeles and coordinated with Park Road Post Production in Wellington, New Zealand, our host facility there. Between Tim
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