More Colorful—A Closer Look

NBC’s catchphrase gave me a chuckle, not the least bearing in mind that the Peacock logo was originally intended to promote the “new” color programming available back in 1956. This title appears at the end of a Law and Order promo that I saw on Vimeo (thanks to Graeme Nattress for pointing it out on Twitter).

First, I just want to get the fact that it was shot using the RED Epic out of the way. Yes, the Epic is a new and wonderful camera, and yes, it captures fantastic images with lots of latitude for grading etcetera etcetera and so on…

That’s not what I want to talk about.

What I want to talk about are the decisions that the DP (Rhet Bear) and colorist (I don’t know who) made while crafting the look of this piece. As with many promos, a bold look was created, but there are a lot of elements at play that immediately struck me as a good opportunity for discussion.

So, watch the video, and then read on.

It’s a very nice promo, visually interesting, with great lighting and effective grading, which is what I’d like to talk about. Now, as is typical for a visually beautiful piece, it’s difficult to know where the DP’s work ends and the Colorist’s work begins, so I’m just going to discuss the look of the piece as a whole. If by some happy coincidence the original DP and/or Colorist stumbles across this post and wants to comment, I’d be very happy to learn more.

Let’s take a look at an early frame, medium on the actor with a wide expanse of background.

There are some bright, soft highlights going on here, both in the blown-out background, and a hard rim light on the man’s face. I dig it, and in fact I’ve never been one to be afraid of softly blown-out highlights (for the right situation). However, the key word is softly.

Battlestar Galactica (the new series that is) also indulged in hot, blown-out highlights, but again, the overexposure was a smooth “blooming” effect, rather then the harsh digitally aliased crap that you end up with if you simply overexpose a digital signal. When you overexpose film, light bounces among the different emulsion layers and causes halation, which lends a soft blurry glow to blown-out highlights that can look quite nice (who doesn’t like a bit of glow). This is the quality we associate with “good” overexposure.

Another aspect of this shot that we can also see in the following shot is the willingness to allow a bit of overexposure on the face. Granted, this is a bit inevitable due to the shininess of a bald scalp, but still, since it’s motivated by an already high contrast ratio, and since the majority of the face is still well-exposed, letting a bit of rim light or forehead shine blow out won’t kill anyone.

I don’t know how many times I’m asked to do something to “patch up” a bit of overexposure on the face, when a) it may not be necessary since it looks just fine, and b) the fix can sometimes end up looking worse then the original bit of overexposure. Here’s another shot with high-contrast light on the face and bright highlights.

Even though the actor’s complexion is clearly darker, the highlight on his cheek is really quite hot, but that’s okay, because the lighting in the shot justifies it (more or less, it’s a promo after all), and there’s still plenty of detail in the midtones and shadows of the actor’s face. Now, I’m not saying this is how you should always grade faces, I’m just saying there are times when strong face highlights are perfectly fine.

The key is to make sure that the edges of the blown out areas roll off smoothly and softly into the rest of the midtones, which depends on two things. First, the original shot needed to have been exposed carefully so that the bright highlights aren’t clipped, because that will make the job ten times harder or virtually impossible (RED footage seems to have a softer knee at the highlights then lower-end digital camcorders, so that helps).

Second, you need to control your overexposure adjustments so that YOU don’t end up introducing harsh clipping. Granted, you’re going to need to push your highlights up beyond 100 percent to get the blowout, but you need to make sure that you compress the highlights as you do so, rather then simply clipping them past 100. There are a few ways you can do this.

  1. You can roll off the top of your YRGB curves (if you have them) so that the very top end of exposure is squeezed before clipping, which will give you some softness.
  2. You can use something like DaVinci Resolve’s Soft Clipping controls to compress the clipping at the highlights.
  3. You can selectively blow out the highlights by using HSL Qualification to isolate the top highlights, blur out the resulting matte, and push the entire keyed region up to, but not beyond, 100 percent to simulate a soft roll-off.

Another interesting thing about these shots is the selective use of saturation. Skin tones retain a fairly high degree of saturation, while the background saturation is a bit muted. This has the function of drawing our eye straight to the actors (the folks they want us to be looking at). However, the following shot shows another interesting use of selective saturation.

Yes, the actor’s face still has visibly higher saturation then the surroundings, but there’s also a fair amount of color ringing the light hitting the brick wall in the background (and it’s even an analogous color, no orange/teal going on here). Even though the overall image has fairly subdued saturation, the existence of an additional pool of color that’s of a distinctly different hue then the flesh color of the the man’s face increases the perceived colorfulness of the image, while keeping the viewer’s eye on what we want them to be looking at via the stark color contrast between the face and the rest of the scene. (If you’re wondering what colorfulness and color contrast are, there are a few sections in my book that explain)

Here’s another fun thing, and this I suspect was a bit of serendipity that the colorist was able to capitalize on. The alley scene has a lot of silhouette. Stark, striking, I love this kind of thing.

However, it can be tempting for clients to wimp out and say “I wish we could see the guys’s face a little.” Well, check out a few frames later.

Some flaring from the police car lights wraps around his face, providing a great excuse to see a bit of facial detail every other second. By carefully adjusting those blown-out highlights, we’re able to have both the stark silhouette, and short glimpses of the character’s tense expression.

Let’s take a look at one more shot; this time a wider, more colorful image.

There are a few things going on here. For one, we can clearly see the upper left/right corner vignette that’s been applied throughout the spot to give a bit of style, and focus our eyes towards the center of the image. Also, here we can see a lot more color, but what I want to point out in particular is the role that the costume department has played.

The clothes of the main players are all dark and muted (except for the purple tie). This choice of attire makes it easier to pull a high contrast look, easier to have the faces stand out amongst a pool of neutrality, and easier for the red and green of the background signage to stand out (although I suspect there was more then a bit of HSL qualification used to tune the tie and sign colors to be just right).

Beginning directors and cinematographers should never underestimate the impact that art department decisions will have on the final image. Sure, we colorists have all kinds of tools and toys for selectively playing around with individual colors in the frame, but a) color needs to be there to begin with, and b) it’s a lot faster to choose dark suits during a wardrobe meeting then it is to have a colorist rotoscope the actors in a shot to try and selectively make beige suits dark blue if you change your mind later.

Disclaimer—No, I don’t have permission to reproduce any of these images, so hopefully NBC’s lawyers don’t throw me into the pokey. Hopefully, as I’m saying nice things and, frankly, promoting their show, they’ll cut me some slack. And once again, my complements to the Cinematographer and Colorist who worked on this. Very pretty indeed.


Color Correction Handbook 2nd Edition: Grading theory and technique for any application.
Color Correction Look Book: Stylized and creative grading techniques for any application.
What's New in DaVinci Resolve 12.5: Covering every new feature in Resolve 12.5 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve 12 QuickStart: A 4 hr editing and grading overview from Ripple Training.
Editing & Finishing in Resolve 12: 9 hrs of tutorials from Ripple Training.
Grading in DaVinci Resolve 11: Comprehensive 13 hr grading tutorials from Ripple Training.
Grading A Scene: Watch a short horror scene graded, from start to creative finish, Ripple Training.

I’m Moving; And Going to NAB

I’m moving! Those of you following me on Twitter saw my announcement a couple of weeks ago, but as my wife Kaylynn and I are closing on our new house next week, it seemed appropriate to mention it here.

Specifically, we’re moving to St. Paul, Minnesota. A place where snow freely falls during long, long winters (as evidenced in the picture above). Fortunately, I originally grew up in Wisconsin, so winter doesn’t really bother me that much (although I anticipate more March/April vacationing then usual). Also, I love cross-country skiing, so I expect an abundance of opportunity to improve my skills.

The reasons are varied, but mostly relate to work. New York has been a wonderful home for the past 6 years, but new opportunities beckon, and the St. Paul area is really a wonderful midwestern metropolis.

I will obviously be moving my color correction practice there with me, building out a new and improved home-based DaVinci Resolve suite for my personal clients, and doing other freelancing as opportunity permits. This move is also strategically planned to allow me more time for writing (not that I’ve exactly lacked time for writing, but apparently I want to do even more).

So, if you’re a filmmaker/documentarian/video artist working in the midwest, I’ll be available come June (who knows, I may even update correctionforcolor.com by then).

In other news, literally the same week as a truck will be hauling our stuff to the new house, I’ll be attending NAB, and I’ve got all kinds of activities planned there what with a class on Color Management for the Digital Facility, a short presentation at the NAB Supermeet, and a book signing (likely at the NAB Store), all of which are listed on the sidebar over at the right. I may even be appearing at the Blackmagic Designs DaVinci booth, I’ll add that if it ends up happening.

Perhaps I’ll see you there.


Color Correction Handbook 2nd Edition: Grading theory and technique for any application.
Color Correction Look Book: Stylized and creative grading techniques for any application.
What's New in DaVinci Resolve 12.5: Covering every new feature in Resolve 12.5 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve 12 QuickStart: A 4 hr editing and grading overview from Ripple Training.
Editing & Finishing in Resolve 12: 9 hrs of tutorials from Ripple Training.
Grading in DaVinci Resolve 11: Comprehensive 13 hr grading tutorials from Ripple Training.
Grading A Scene: Watch a short horror scene graded, from start to creative finish, Ripple Training.

DaVinci Resolve Control Surface Unboxing

You may have noticed I’ve not updated in a while, due to an unexpected (yet delightful) spike in my workload at the moment. However, in between gigs, I managed to put in an order for the full-blown DaVinci Resolve control surface. Yeah, the expensive one.

When it arrived (at my home, as I’m getting ready to move), my first thought was to simply get it set up as quickly as possible in order to try it out. However, it occurred to me that I might share the vicarious thrill of the moment by offering that most blogerly of posts, the “unboxing” photo series.

In the process, you can see how the DaVinci control surface is connected, as well as the surprising amount of thought and care that has gone into packaging and delivering all 70 lbs (30 kilos) of hardware goodness.

So, here we go…

The box, as it arrived on my doorstep. My cat (Sieben) appreciated the sturdiness of the box, as well as how intact it was after the long trip from Australia, where they’re manufactured.

As I mentioned, it’s 70 lbs worth of kit, so I had fun carrying it up to my 4th floor walkup apartment.

Upon opening the outer box, a packaging extravaganza awaited me within.

As a result, I just had to pull the inner box out to fully appreciate the design that had gone into it. While this isn’t the kind of thing I’d expect to see sitting on a store shelf, it’s gratifying (if a bit of overkill) to see such a nice box enclosing something you’ve just dropped $29,995 on. Practically speaking, I was also glad to see something this expensive getting double-boxed.

Opening up the inner packaging revealed the cables, power supply, and software, each with its designated spot. Nothing loose and rattling around here.

This control surface connects via USB, so three USB cables are supplied, two to connect the side panels to the center panel, and one to go to the CPU. However, power is supplied via a set of seriously engineered cables, with distinct three-pronged male/female plugs.

The actual power supply is external, a brick-type supply that plugs into the wall via a standard CPU power cord. Interestingly, the cord wasn’t supplied, but I figure since they deliver these internationally it would be too much of a hassle to keep track of all the different socket types, and since anyone buying one of these likely has a box of these stashed in their gear closet (I do) this wasn’t a big deal.

Finally, the software itself comes in a DVD-style box, with the DVD-ROM and dongle inside.

Putting the cables and software aside, it was time to pull off the top styrofoam. My dog (Penny), who often spends time with my clients and I in the grading suite, appreciated the new upgrade.

Pulling the center panel out of its plastic bag and inspecting the back, it was immediately obvious how all the plugs are meant to be installed.

  1. The power supply plugs into the middle, with the left and right panel power pluggins into either side.
  2. A standard type B USB plug next to the center power supply connection goes to the CPU, while two standard type A USB plugs next to the two side-panel power supply plugs connect the data to those panels.
  3. An additional two type A USB plug allows the connection of accessories (and the dongle, if that’s where you want to put it.

Next, it was time to lift the center panel’s cradle of styrofoam, revealing the two side-panels cleverly nested underneath, within their own styrofoam cradle. I’m definitely keeping this set of boxes for future moving and transport.

Pulling the side panels out of their plastic bags revealed the logical set of plugs in the back of each; power daisy-chained from the center panel in the middle, and a standard type B USB plug to daisy-chain data from the center panel.

So, with everything unwrapped, it was time to set up the panels. My home office is a bit cramped for a set of panels this big, and the first thing I noticed after placing them on my desk is that the panel displays, angled as they are towards the user, obscured my monitors. This will be a consideration for anyone setting up a Resolve suite using these panels.

Ergonomically, this design makes sense, and it’s nice to be able to clearly see all of the labels without having to constantly look down, but you’ll need to position your other monitors and displays accordingly.

Needing to temporarily elevate them in a hurry, I used the one thing I have in abundance…

Since the power and USB plugs are so clearly positioned and strictly gendered, connecting the panels to one another and to the computer is a snap, and took me all of three minutes.

Plugging the power supply in, the panel displays light up with the Blackmagic DaVinci logo, against a pleasing cloudscape. A funny thing, these panels lack an on/off switch. If you want to turn them off, you pull the plug. Very “big-facility” (just like my Harris video scopes).

Looking closer at the DaVinci displays on the center panel. Interestingly, the three vertical displays corresponding to each set of four knobs are actually a single LCD, the push-for-detente knobs sit on a bracket floating on top. The result is that, in normal use, everything is labeled so that you’re never lost whenever you change modes (and despite the generous number of controls, you still have to change modes from time to time). I’m a big fan of dynamic labeling, so I’m happy with how much panel real-estate this functionality is given.

Starting up the Resolve software, here’s my temporary home office setup, a mere half-hour after opening the boxes. Honestly, the thing that took me the most time was clearing space on my desk, and finding something with which to elevate my monitors. Bear in mind, I’ve no actual grading monitor connected at the moment, this is simply a temporary setup to make sure everything on the panel works (and, let’s face it, to have fun with my new toy).

And now, the control surface as it appears in the dark with all the buttons illuminated. Incidentally, the color of button illumination is customizable from within the Resolve settings tab; they’re lit with red, green, and blue LEDs, so you can make them any color you like…

I’ve just started getting used to this surface. Even moreso then other surfaces I’ve used, the abundance of controls now available to me will require some practice to use efficiently; it’s like learning to play the piano, and I’m going to have to do a little bit of grading every day to develop the muscle memory I’ll need to use this to full advantage.

That said, having this at home is incredibly silly. I’ve been likening it to having a Lamborghini in one’s back yard, just for tooling around the patio.

I’m not going to even attempt any kind of formal review in this post, other then to say that, in the three days I’ve been casually using this, the build quality feels exceptional. The contrast wheels and trackballs feel large, easy to manipulate, smooth, and solid to the touch, and the buttons all depress with a satisfying “click,” soft enough to not be irritating, but firm enough to provide positive feedback. Lastly, the displays are bright and clear, and I really like the push-for-detente rotator controls.

Overall, I’m happy with my purchase so far, and looking forward to using these in a client situation after my move is complete (more on that later).

A DaVinci Resolve at home. Who would’ve thought?


Color Correction Handbook 2nd Edition: Grading theory and technique for any application.
Color Correction Look Book: Stylized and creative grading techniques for any application.
What's New in DaVinci Resolve 12.5: Covering every new feature in Resolve 12.5 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve 12 QuickStart: A 4 hr editing and grading overview from Ripple Training.
Editing & Finishing in Resolve 12: 9 hrs of tutorials from Ripple Training.
Grading in DaVinci Resolve 11: Comprehensive 13 hr grading tutorials from Ripple Training.
Grading A Scene: Watch a short horror scene graded, from start to creative finish, Ripple Training.

What (Inexpensive) Display Should I Buy?

Not a week passes without my getting an email that is some variation on the following:

I’m setting up a new computer for color correction, but I don’t know which monitor to buy for grading, and your book recommends broadcast displays that are out of my price range.

Sometimes folks are asking for recommendations of affordable color-critical monitors because they’re trying to set up a budget suite. Other times the request is for a learning workstation that’s good for getting started.

Whatever the reason, there are a bewildering array of monitoring choices currently available, and many of them are incredibly expensive. However, there are some affordably priced solutions that are available (relatively speaking) that will do the job, and here are three of the ones that have risen to the top over the last couple of years

HP DreamColor Monitor—In my opinion, the most economical monitor that can do Rec. 709 accurately is currently the HP DreamColor monitor, connected via HD-SDI (out of whatever video output interface you’re using) using Blackmagic’s HDLink DisplayPort adapter (HD-SDI out of your computer, DisplayPort into the DreamColor). The panel is 10-bit, and if you’ve set it up correctly it’s color-critical with blacks that are decently deep enough (at least for an LCD-based display). You will want to get the optional calibration probe to keep it on the straight and narrow. I know at least one professional colorist who’s using this as the monitor for his home system who quite likes it. Link.

Flanders Scientific LM-2461W—For a couple thousand more, you can also get into a Flanders Scientific broadcast monitor, for even higher quality monitoring. It’s got HD-SDI built in, so no signal conversion is necessary, and these monitors come pre-calibrated from the factory with impeccable settings; it’s the favored monitor of several of my grading colleagues, and I’ve been impressed overall. It also has more settings that make it appropriate for a professional broadcast suite, however it’s still quite affordable. Link.

Added 3/20/11—Just got wind that this model is about to be upgraded to the LM-2461W, with even better calibration from the factory, built-in 3G HD-SDI, remote control software, and other cool enhancements. Check out Walter Biscardi’s interview.

Panasonic Viera TC-P50VT25 (since superseded by the TC-P55VT30 VIERA)—The other possibility is to use a THX-rated Panasonic Plasma display. In fact, externally-calibrated Panasonic plasmas have been appearing in many professional grading suites. While there are many Panasonic models available (and the comparable models are updated every year), the previous year’s model was a recommendation from my colleague Robbie Carman. Forget about this monitor being 3D capable, what’s important is that it has both a THX mode and ISFccc rating for calibration. This just means all the controls are there for accurate calibration to the Rec. 709 HD standard. If you’re on a budget, you can have it calibrated using the services of a qualified THX video calibrator, running a signal to it via an HD-SDI to HDMI convertor (such as the BlackMagic HDlink Pro or the AJA HI5). Make sure the calibrator has references, though, because an unqualified calibrator will simply make a hash of things. You want measured Rec 709, not “uncle joe’s home theater settings.” The more professional solution to calibrating your plasma would be to buy a probe and calibration software to generate a 3D LUT of your own to load into either an HDLink or Cine-Tal Davio (either of which can apply a LUT transform to the video signal for calibration), but that will cost more. Link to the TV. Link to my article about 3D LUT calibration.

So these are the most budget-friendly monitoring options that I can wholeheartedly recommend. Please keep in mind that these aren’t all the options that are available, technology marches on and new monitors appear every year, so I encourage you to continue doing your own research.

Just remember, you get what you pay for. When it comes to color-critical monitoring for color correction and grading for broadcast or cinema, if you can’t accurately see the signal you’re adjusting, you can’t do the job. Do yourself a favor and get a good monitor.

Another Added NoteI’m amazed that folks are still referencing this article, as it’s going on two years old now, which is ancient in the fast-moving world of color critical displays. Check the comments for some interesting updates and back and forth, and check my more recent article about What Display Should I Buy which, while not making more specific recommendations, suggests how you should go about evaluating what type of display is best for your needs.

Updated 3/24/2013


Color Correction Handbook 2nd Edition: Grading theory and technique for any application.
Color Correction Look Book: Stylized and creative grading techniques for any application.
What's New in DaVinci Resolve 12.5: Covering every new feature in Resolve 12.5 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve 12 QuickStart: A 4 hr editing and grading overview from Ripple Training.
Editing & Finishing in Resolve 12: 9 hrs of tutorials from Ripple Training.
Grading in DaVinci Resolve 11: Comprehensive 13 hr grading tutorials from Ripple Training.
Grading A Scene: Watch a short horror scene graded, from start to creative finish, Ripple Training.

Keeping it Reel

All that's old becomes new again...

I’ve been grading Persona Films’ debut feature, Cargo, and I originally thought I’d see how well it would work to load the entire 86 minute timeline into DaVinci Resolve at one go.

A classic case of user error.

Having been shot on RED, I conformed the project to the original R3D media, and I took the shortcut of adding all the media from the shoot to the media pool, thinking it’d make conforming a snap. That was a bad idea. The resulting colossal project database ended up taking forever to save (and I do like to save frequently), and was a bear to manage.

At the advice of those who are wiser then myself, I went back to my previously standard operating procedure of working in reels (something I always do when working in Apple Color). Furthermore, I was more judicious about what media I added to the media pool.

I had the original Final Cut Pro sequence for the feature broken into four sequence “reels” approximately 20 minutes in length (with each reel starting and ending on whole scenes). EDLs were then exported from each.

After creating separate DaVinci Resolve projects for each reel, I did the smart thing and used the “Add Folder and SubFolders Based on EDLs” command in the Browse page to add only the R3D media referenced by each EDL to the media pool of its corresponding project. That saved me a boatload of hassle right there.

Once that was done, it was a simple thing to open each project and import its corresponding EDL in the Conform page. With less media in the media pool, and a shorter list of events in the timeline, saving is once again snappy, and everything is generally faster and easier to manage. Once the grade is finished, I’ll be exporting a set of four .mov files that will be stitched together back in Final Cut Pro, with final mastering to tape from there.

Moral to the story? If you’re grading a feature in DaVinci Resolve, divide the program into separate project reels, and only add the media you need to each one. Guess it just goes to show that reels never go out of style…


Color Correction Handbook 2nd Edition: Grading theory and technique for any application.
Color Correction Look Book: Stylized and creative grading techniques for any application.
What's New in DaVinci Resolve 12.5: Covering every new feature in Resolve 12.5 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve 12 QuickStart: A 4 hr editing and grading overview from Ripple Training.
Editing & Finishing in Resolve 12: 9 hrs of tutorials from Ripple Training.
Grading in DaVinci Resolve 11: Comprehensive 13 hr grading tutorials from Ripple Training.
Grading A Scene: Watch a short horror scene graded, from start to creative finish, Ripple Training.

Oh Yes, We’re Listening

Thanks, Dictionary.com!

While having dinner with fellow colorist Joe Owens in December, we got to talking about the grunts and interjections that sometimes pass for communication in the suite.

When not in a rush for time, I generally ask a client “so how do you like it?” before moving out of a scene or a shot that I’ve just graded. However, I’m listening to the tone of the reply as much as the words. If a client says, “Great!” then I’m done and we move on. However, if the response is “Uh, fine?” then my impression is that there’s something not quite right, it’s hard to articulate, and the client is trying to convince themselves that it’s all in their head.

My response to this is usually some variation on “so how can we make this shot better?” If I get an answer, then I try and take care of it. If I don’t, then the shot or scene is probably a ripe candidate for revisiting at a later time, when fresher eyes will have a better chance of spotting the necessary improvement. Never underestimate the power of simply walking away.

However, when I’m in the middle of an adjustment, I’m also listening for any little verbal sign of what the client thinks at that moment. My suite is set up with the clients sitting behind me as I work, so if I hear “Ahhh!” then I know I’m doing something right. If I hear “huh…” then I’m inclined to stop and ask what they think of the current state of the image, just to get a sanity check.

I don’t always do this. Some grades are like haircuts, and nothing is going to look good until I make the final adjustment. In these instances, I let folks know when the shot is ready for an opinion. Until then, I encourage them to enjoy the free Wi-Fi.

I remember one gig where the client, a lovely fellow, tended to grunt, noncommittally and often, and usually when I was in the middle of an adjustment. It worried me a bit, and I started checking in with him more and more frequently; “what do you think of this adjustment?” “Oh, it’s fine!” he’d reply enthusiastically, and after the sixth instance of this I simply bit my tongue and hoped for the best.

The session ended up going swimmingly and he was very happy with the result, but it’s worth knowing that, even when our backs are turned, all of us colorists, editors, and post people are paying attention to every syllable you utter.


Color Correction Handbook 2nd Edition: Grading theory and technique for any application.
Color Correction Look Book: Stylized and creative grading techniques for any application.
What's New in DaVinci Resolve 12.5: Covering every new feature in Resolve 12.5 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve 12 QuickStart: A 4 hr editing and grading overview from Ripple Training.
Editing & Finishing in Resolve 12: 9 hrs of tutorials from Ripple Training.
Grading in DaVinci Resolve 11: Comprehensive 13 hr grading tutorials from Ripple Training.
Grading A Scene: Watch a short horror scene graded, from start to creative finish, Ripple Training.

Two Ways to Highlight Keys in DaVinci Resolve

Here’s a small but useful tip I put up on Twitter, but given how ephemeral Twitter is, I thought I’d elaborate here. It’s about highlighting keys in DaVinci Resolve.

As of Resolve 7.1, there are two keyboard shortcuts for showing a highlight with which to evaluate the isolation you’re doing with either an HSL Qualifier (a key) or with a Power Window (shape), or even to view the interaction of the two. Shift-H for a regular highlight, and Control-H for a high-contrast highlight (both key shortcuts toggle the highlight on and off).

In this example, I want to isolate the highlights of the water in the following shot:

The original, ungraded image.

Assuming a sunny day, and a camera angle that’s near the surface of the water, lakes and ocean scenes tend to be two-tone, with highlights reflecting the color of the sky, and shadows reflecting the quality of the water (I plan on talking more about the color of water in a future post, it’s actually quite interesting).

By isolating the water highlights using an HSL Qualifier, I can manipulate the water color while at the same time keeping some interesting color contrast and interactions with the original color of the water shadows.

While I create and adjust my secondary qualification, there are two ways that I can preview the key I’m generating with a highlight. The default highlight that Resolve uses can be toggled on and off using Shift-H (this is also the default highlight you’ll get if you use the button on a WAVE) and shows the selected portion of the image with the original colors, and the unselected portion of the image with a flat gray:

The DaVinci Resolve default highlight.

While this view took me a bit of getting used to at first, it’s grown on me, and I now find it really useful to get some perspective on how the isolated portion of the image looks while I’m fine-tuning the key.

On the other hand, by pressing Control-H you can also show what’s called a “high-contrast black and white” highlight (so named via a checkbox in the Settings tab of the Config page that lets you change the default highlight that’s turned on via your WAVE button):

A high-contrast highlight in DaVinci Resolve.

This high-contrast highlight should be familiar to you if you’ve used other color correction applications and plugins; it’s a more typical display wherein the selected portion of the image is white, and the unselected portion of the image is black.

I find this high-contrast highlight is useful in situations where I’m trying to eliminate holes in a key, or evaluate how “chattery” a key is since irregularities are easier to spot when divorced from the original image. For example, the black & white highlight makes it easier to see the unwanted top portion of the man’s head that’s gotten selected along with the water. I’ll want to do something about that…

The great thing is, via either keyboard shortcuts or macro remapping to a multi-button mouse or other device, you have the option of easily and quickly switching between the two, or turning them off, as you see fit. It’s really handy!


Color Correction Handbook 2nd Edition: Grading theory and technique for any application.
Color Correction Look Book: Stylized and creative grading techniques for any application.
What's New in DaVinci Resolve 12.5: Covering every new feature in Resolve 12.5 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve 12 QuickStart: A 4 hr editing and grading overview from Ripple Training.
Editing & Finishing in Resolve 12: 9 hrs of tutorials from Ripple Training.
Grading in DaVinci Resolve 11: Comprehensive 13 hr grading tutorials from Ripple Training.
Grading A Scene: Watch a short horror scene graded, from start to creative finish, Ripple Training.

My Book Made It to Korea

Thanks to colleague Warren Eagles, who sent me a picture of Korean colorist and author (of a Korean-language book on Apple Color) Wonju Park, whom I’m told likes The Handbook.

Guess my book's got some competition in Korea!

All I can say is, awesome! If you happen to read this, thank you Wonju. I’d follow you on Twitter, but alas my Korean is nonexistant, and attempts at automatic translation were humorously tragic. I hope we cross paths someday!


Color Correction Handbook 2nd Edition: Grading theory and technique for any application.
Color Correction Look Book: Stylized and creative grading techniques for any application.
What's New in DaVinci Resolve 12.5: Covering every new feature in Resolve 12.5 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve 12 QuickStart: A 4 hr editing and grading overview from Ripple Training.
Editing & Finishing in Resolve 12: 9 hrs of tutorials from Ripple Training.
Grading in DaVinci Resolve 11: Comprehensive 13 hr grading tutorials from Ripple Training.
Grading A Scene: Watch a short horror scene graded, from start to creative finish, Ripple Training.

Eliminating Video Waste

It's Oscar season again...

My wife is an actress and member of SAG, so every year around this time she gets a handful of SAG screening discs. For those of you who know, this is not quite as exciting as it sounds. You see, these discs are watermarked—to prevent piratical distribution—with sentences of text that appear over the picture every fifth scene or so reminding you it’s a screener. So the excitement of “free movies!” is moderated by the downfall of getting kicked out of one’s suspension of disbelief every so often by an irritating subtitle.

The only reason I bring it up is that this year, for the first time that I’ve seen, my wife has received a postcard offering a free iTunes rental of the movies that studio has for Oscar consideration. This is brilliant, primarily because the “free” DVDs sent out in the past weren’t anything we’d want to bother keeping. If it was a movie we’d want in our library, the last thing we need is to see those annoying subtitles during every viewing, I’d just buy a clean copy once the Blu-ray version came out.

By using iTunes rental distribution, the studio can keep their bits secure, my wife can watch the movies she might care to vote on, and I don’t have to feel guilty tossing unwanted DVDs into a landfill. I consider this to be very forward thinking, and I must applaud the studios who are trying this out. The only disadvantage is that, for typical home viewing, one has to get an Apple TV (or possibly have a Mac Mini or other iTunes-outputting CPU hooked up to one’s TV). At $99 this isn’t a massive imposition, but it’s still a drag if you’re an underemployed actor struggling to make ends meet while fulfilling your dreams. However, there’s always the option of renting on your iTunes equipped computer.

It’s also been brought to my attention that Withoutabox.com has been allowing uploaded, online screeners (used by select festivals) for some time. I used Withoutabox.com in 2006 when I was submitting my feature Four Weeks, Four Hours to festivals around the world, and at the time I was crowing about being able to send a DVD instead of a VHS tape. However, the thought of how many hundreds of thousands of DVD submissions from indie filmmakers found their way into the trash makes me quail. The waste saved by online video submission ought to be tremendous.

Of course, one can only hope that the festival reviewers who are evaluating these submissions aren’t tempted to catch up on their review queue using their iPhone on the bus…


Color Correction Handbook 2nd Edition: Grading theory and technique for any application.
Color Correction Look Book: Stylized and creative grading techniques for any application.
What's New in DaVinci Resolve 12.5: Covering every new feature in Resolve 12.5 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve 12 QuickStart: A 4 hr editing and grading overview from Ripple Training.
Editing & Finishing in Resolve 12: 9 hrs of tutorials from Ripple Training.
Grading in DaVinci Resolve 11: Comprehensive 13 hr grading tutorials from Ripple Training.
Grading A Scene: Watch a short horror scene graded, from start to creative finish, Ripple Training.

Fun With Television Framerates

I got a question from a friend of mine, and I thought it might be worth sharing my answer with a wider audience. He asks:

“What’s the short answer for why new 120hz screens make films look like video? I don’t know if you have had a chance to observe this yet, but it will effect you because it makes everything look like the ‘behind the scenes’ footage on a dvd, or raw dailies. People seem to love it.”

Well, I can attest to the fact that not everyone loves it, in fact the cinemaphile/home theater boards are filled with invective regarding how this feature despoils the cinematic experience, and I completely agree with them. I’m all about respecting the filmmaker’s intent regarding how they wanted the film to look, so whatever framerate they created their program using, that’s the framerate I want to watch it at.

The reason for the difference in “look” between 24p video viewed natively and 24p video that’s been converted via 120hz digital magic is virtually identical to the difference between 24p film and 29.97 video frame rates. We’ve all grown up with juddery 24p frame rates looking “cinematic,” even though the motion sampling is, strictly speaking, pretty crude compared to what is now possible.

On the other hand, since the motion sampling of interlaced 29.97 video is effectively 60 fps, “video” motion has traditionally looked much smoother, more “real life,” or more like a TV newscast.

The newer 120hz displays use motion estimation to generate/interpolate new frames in-between the original frames of the 23.98 image stream on a DVD/Blu-ray, and so the “cinematic” motion of 24p is changed into the “non-cinematic” look we generally associate with video, all because of the introduction of a smoothness of motion where there was none before. The result, to my eye, is that classic motion pictures end up looking like a shot-on-video sitcom.

Incidentally, speaking for myself I find that the reverse can also be distracting. I’m increasingly seeing 24p-acquired video used in programs like the PBS newshour with Jim Lehrer, the result being a somewhat “cinema” look within traditionally interlaced video programming, which I confess looks a bit odd. I’m just not used to it, and I believe this effect is solely based in what we’re used to.

It’s entirely possible that, someday, the next generation may get so used to 60p that 24p will be looked upon as quaintly as silent film or black & white, (at least, if James Cameron has his way). However, there are so many advantages to the low-bandwidth of 24p that I suspect, similar to interlacing, 24p motion sampling will be around for a long, long time. (And I’m not even going to get into the debate over the “intrinsic” cinematic value of shooting one’s projects 24p and 24p only, this particular article is about watching movies, not making them.)

My friend went on to reply:

I can see that showing the same thing 5 times would look different than showing me the thing, and a thing, then a half a thing mixed with half of the next thing. [My note: this is a fantastic description of 3:2 pulldown insertion] I just wasn’t expecting it to change the character of the images so much. Seems like the old way is closer to what it looks like in the theater. I wish my dvd-blu-ray player could just do 24 frames without the pulldown. You kids, give me back my vinyl 78s!

I suspect most of you already know what my reply is, but for those who don’t, I’ll enlighten you.

If you’ve got a good flat-panel display (television or projector), and especially if you’re using HDMI (and really, who isn’t anymore), you should be able to set up your player/display combo to play back actual 23.98 right now.

You usually have to enable the settings manually within your gear’s menus, but the DVD specification (and now Blu-ray) has always allowed distributors to author a DVD with an encoded 23.98 video stream—all players are supposed to do 3:2 pulldown insertion when necessary in order to display content on a non-24p-capable TV. If the TV can handle 23.98, then the player can send it directly via Component or HDMI.

So there you go. If you get a new TV and your movies look like television news, do yourself a favor and disable that pesky 120hz interpolation mode. You’ll be surprised at the difference.

Added 1/12/11—There’s an interesting thread in the comments. Nothing is ever simple! Also, it was pointed out to me that Tom Lehrer, the mathematician, songwriter, and satirist, does not in fact host the News Hour. That would be Jim Lehrer. Would have been funny if I could, in fact, use a strikethrough, but alas I for whatever reason cannot, so I’ve resorted to simply making the correction.


Color Correction Handbook 2nd Edition: Grading theory and technique for any application.
Color Correction Look Book: Stylized and creative grading techniques for any application.
What's New in DaVinci Resolve 12.5: Covering every new feature in Resolve 12.5 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve 12 QuickStart: A 4 hr editing and grading overview from Ripple Training.
Editing & Finishing in Resolve 12: 9 hrs of tutorials from Ripple Training.
Grading in DaVinci Resolve 11: Comprehensive 13 hr grading tutorials from Ripple Training.
Grading A Scene: Watch a short horror scene graded, from start to creative finish, Ripple Training.

Anticipation of a New Year


Thanks to everyone who sent me their book "unboxing" photo!

Those who know me can attest that 2010 has been a year of significant change. One project in long-term development declined, other long-term projects ongoing, contracts altered, my video suite moved, months in seclusion writing my book, some fantastic travel, and new interesting projects emerging. Of course, as any freelancer will tell you, this is par for the course, but even so, this year has felt like a sea change in the way I go about my business.

It’s probably no surprise that the professional highlight of my year has been finishing and shipping my Color Correction Handbook. I’m trying not to make this the “all book all the time” blog, however this has been a big deal for me, and from the numerous emails, tweets, and posts I’ve seen around the web, it’s being well received.

While I’ve written many other books prior to this, what’s different now is the amount of actual direct feedback I’ve gotten. Prior to the Handbook, I’d write a book, send out a few review copies, and it would all sail into a black hole as I awaited my next quarterly report, wondering if anyone was buying or reading it.

Thanks to this blog, Twitter, and a more direct connection to other folks in our industry via both NAB and IBC attendance (a first time in years for me), as well as other more professionally oriented social networking sites such as LinkedIn, I actually have a much greater sense of who’s reading my book, and what they’re getting out of it. It’s really quite nice.

So a huge thanks to all of you who’ve made the purchase and shared thoughts with colleagues. There’s nothing better for book sales then word of mouth from professional peers, especially when shared via an online forum such as an Amazon.com review (one of which has been written already, I’m looking forward to more!).

But enough about the book. Moving forward, my recent vacation throughout Belgium, Germany, and the Czech Republic has given me much food for thought regarding the link between medieval, renaissance, expressionist, and even art nouveaux works, and the artistic component of what we colorists do. Now that the Color Correction Handbook has nicely summarized my investigations linking human vision, video engineering, viewer preference research and color theory, to grading technique in theory and practice, I’m turning my mind to the link between artistic visual representation and color grading adjustments. This blog should, in coming months, reflect some of these new investigations.

It’s also my goal to finally conclude a certain animated science fiction pilot, as well as to initiate some brand-new fiction-writing that’s long overdue, keeping in mind that all work and no play, well, you know the rest.

So Happy New Year to one and all! I hope your reflections on the past year are charitable, and that your anticipations of the coming year are filled with hope.

Special thanks to @ryan_connolly, @markusrytilahti, @coolHandLucas, @ayumash, and others who’ve shared their “book unboxing” photos with me on Twitter.


Color Correction Handbook 2nd Edition: Grading theory and technique for any application.
Color Correction Look Book: Stylized and creative grading techniques for any application.
What's New in DaVinci Resolve 12.5: Covering every new feature in Resolve 12.5 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve 12 QuickStart: A 4 hr editing and grading overview from Ripple Training.
Editing & Finishing in Resolve 12: 9 hrs of tutorials from Ripple Training.
Grading in DaVinci Resolve 11: Comprehensive 13 hr grading tutorials from Ripple Training.
Grading A Scene: Watch a short horror scene graded, from start to creative finish, Ripple Training.

Happy Merry Holiday

Whatever your religious persuasion (despite an alignment with secular humanism, I’m a Merry Christmas wisher myself), I did want to wish everyone happiness however you observe this time of the year. Frankly, it’s my belief that any holiday that discourages people from being assholes for at least a week or two deserves a shout out.

In the spirit of the season, I wanted to share a documentary short that my wife, the actress/stylist/filmmaker Kaylynn Raschke, produced and directed a few years ago, called “Give the Gift You Hate.” It’s a fun look at giving, receiving, and the holiday season that’s sure to make you chuckle and reflect on all the stuff we give each other this time of year.

It played at the Big Apple film festival last year, and this year Kaylynn decided to distribute it online for free. I hope you enjoy it!

[vimeo video_id=”18148734″ width=”500″ height=”375″ title=”Yes” byline=”No” portrait=”Yes” autoplay=”No” loop=”No” color=”00adef”]

Click through to see the movie via Vimeo.

(And in case you’re wondering, I edited it and did the grading.)


Color Correction Handbook 2nd Edition: Grading theory and technique for any application.
Color Correction Look Book: Stylized and creative grading techniques for any application.
What's New in DaVinci Resolve 12.5: Covering every new feature in Resolve 12.5 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve 12 QuickStart: A 4 hr editing and grading overview from Ripple Training.
Editing & Finishing in Resolve 12: 9 hrs of tutorials from Ripple Training.
Grading in DaVinci Resolve 11: Comprehensive 13 hr grading tutorials from Ripple Training.
Grading A Scene: Watch a short horror scene graded, from start to creative finish, Ripple Training.

Can You Hear the Words Coming Out of My Mouth?

Well, maybe not right this minute, but thanks to Patrick Inhofer and Tao of Color, you can if you click the following link to his blog:

Link!

I was pleased to sit down with Patrick a few weeks ago, with the result being a three part interview series (nobody ever accused me of running short). The first two parts are up now, with the third yet to come. We talked about a wide-ranging series of things, and it was interesting.

Things we talked about—Starship Detritus. Monitors. Client communications. How we see color. Why I write manuals. What colorists do. My new book. Stuff.

The feedback I’ve gotten on Twitter has been pretty positive, so check it out; and check out Tao of Color. There’s some good info there, and Patrick is a good guy for sharing it (I also understand there’s a podcast series with not just my interview, but interviews with other interesting and insightful folks, all about color correction).


Color Correction Handbook 2nd Edition: Grading theory and technique for any application.
Color Correction Look Book: Stylized and creative grading techniques for any application.
What's New in DaVinci Resolve 12.5: Covering every new feature in Resolve 12.5 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve 12 QuickStart: A 4 hr editing and grading overview from Ripple Training.
Editing & Finishing in Resolve 12: 9 hrs of tutorials from Ripple Training.
Grading in DaVinci Resolve 11: Comprehensive 13 hr grading tutorials from Ripple Training.
Grading A Scene: Watch a short horror scene graded, from start to creative finish, Ripple Training.

Rippling Grades Using Groups in DaVinci Resolve

Since I’m going on vacation later this week, I wanted to post one last article for the year, and I wanted to make it a good one. Grouping is one of DaVinci Resolve’s more powerful features. However, keeping control over changes you’re rippling among shots within a group can be a bit confusing.

In this post, I’m going to try and sort out the dos and donts surrounding grouping and rippling on Wave-equipped Resolve setups (if you’ve got the full-blown DaVinci control panel, you’ve got more options, and you probably know what you’re doing already).

I apologize in advance for the lack of illustrations, but this article is a big one, and I’ve had enough requests for this information that I judged it better to get this out the door a little faster for people who will benefit from it in their next few sessions, rather then to procrastinate until I have the time to screenshot everything lavishly. I think the content should be fairly clear, even without images. So let’s get to it.

Careful Grouping Workflows

In the following examples, I’m advocating a workflow of:

  • First, balance all shots in a scene to match using an identical number of nodes.
  • Second, create a group and add all shots in the scene to it.
  • Third, add more nodes to any shot to create a stylistic look for the whole scene.

Once grouped, changes made to one shot in the group are automatically applied to the entire scene. This is powerful, because it means when it’s time to make a revision, large or small, you don’t have to track down every single shot using the same grade so long as they’re in the group.

You can create (as far as I know) as many groups within a single project as you need. You can add or remove shots from the current group, and the current group is defined by the last shot you’ve selected (if it belongs to a group, that’s the new current group).

The result of following the very careful workflow I outline above is that your grouped scene starts out with one set of (balancing) nodes with varied settings relative to the other shots in the group. After grouping, you add a second set of (stylistic) nodes with settings that are identical to every other shot in the group. Both sets of nodes can coexist in harmony so long as you follow a few simple procedures and rules.

The Simple Case –
Grouping Graded Clips so that Changes Are
Rippled Relative to Each Clip’s Original Correction Settings

Let’s begin simply, by balancing all the clips within a scene together so that they all match, and then grouping them so that they’re still balanced, and any change we make to one member of the group ripples the settings of the other shots in the group so that the relative offsets are maintained. Let’s consider a two-shot example first.

  1. Adjust node 1 in clip A to create the desired look.
  2. Adjust node 1 in clip B so that it visually matches clip 1, using different settings.
  3. Right-click clip A and choose Add Into a New Group, named FirstScene.
  4. Right-click clip A again, choose FirstScene > Change Ripple > Relative.
  5. Now, Right-click clip B and choose Add to Current Group.

Here are the important parts of this procedure. First, each shot you group together must have the same number of nodes. If you attempt to group two shots that don’t have the same number of nodes, you’re presented with a dialog box that asks if you would like to do one of two things:

  • Overwrite the shot you’re adding to the group with settings from the group
  • Save the current grade as Version 1, and then create a new version in which to overwrite the current grade with that of the group grade

The second important part of the procedure is that we changed the ripple mode of FirstScene to Relative.

After following these steps, any change you make to a correction node of one clip will alter the same correction node in the other clips, by adding or subtracting the difference of your adjustment to the same node within every clip in the group.

In other words, if you lower Saturation by 5 in node 1 of clip A, saturation will also be lowered by 5 in node 1 of clip B, so that the relative difference in saturation between node 1 of each of the two clips is preserved. The practical result that the clips stay matched despite any further tweaks.

If you like, steps 3 and 5 can be consolidated by selecting each shot you want to add at once, to group them all together at the same time. Multi-select can be done using Cmd/Shift keys. If you change the group ripple mode to Relative last, however, you want to make sure you DON’T MAKE ANY CHANGES TO THE GRADES UNTIL AFTER YOU’VE SET GROUP RIPPLING TO RELATIVE.

Making changes while the group’s ripple mode is set to either Absolute or Static will result in you losing the relative offsets that you’ve worked so hard to create, and this is NOT UNDOABLE. I’ll repeat that, you cannot undo mistakes you make when making groups, so be VERY careful.

A More Complicated Case –
Adding More Corrections to an Already Created Group

Once you’ve created a group, and after you’ve set that group’s ripple mode to Relative, you can add more correction nodes, as many as you want. Each new node will be copied to all the other shots in the group, and any changes to new nodes will be rippled identically to every other shot in that group, since they were already identical in their initial state.

For example:

  1. In this same group, we add a second serial node (node 2) to clip A.
  2. Adjusting node 2, we push the highlights of the shot towards blue.

Node 2 will also be added to clip B, with an identical blue adjustment. Any further adjustments you make to node 1 continue to ripple, relatively, to the other clip in the group, so that the offset between node 1 of clip A and node 1 of clip B remains. However, changes you make to node 2 are identical.

REALLY, REALLY IMPORTANT CAVEATS

Using undo or applying a saved grade eliminates all relative offsets!

When making adjustments to clips in a group (with Ripple set to relative), using Undo after making ANY adjustment to ANY node eliminates all numeric offsets in all shots within that group, making the grade of every shot in the group identical, and losing all of your careful balancing. That’s just the way that it is, so be careful.

Also, if you apply a Saved Grade to one shot in a group, that grade will overwrite every single node that was originally applied to that shot, and this total change will be rippled to every clip in the group, making them all identical. In this case, it doesn’t matter if Ripple is set to relative or not.

Introducing or Widening
an Offset Between Two Clips in a Group

If you want to introduce (or widen) a difference between two clips in a group by altering a node while the group ripple mode is set to Relative:

  1. Right-click the clip you want to grade differently from the other clips in the group,
    then choose Remove From Group.
  2. Make the necessary change to any node of that clip, but don’t add new nodes.
  3. When you’re done, Right-click the clip again and choose Add Into Current Group.

The new offset between the clip you’ve adjusted and the other clips in the group is preserved, but all changes you make from now on are rippled, relatively, across every clip in the group.

Eliminating Offsets
Between Clips in a Particular Parameter

If you change the group ripple mode to Static, then any change you make to any node parameter will be automatically and identically applied to that parameter of that node in every shot of the group, overwriting any previous offsets. In other words, if the saturation of node 1 of shot A was 20, and the saturation of node 1 of shot B was 50, then changing the group’s ripple mode to Static and readjusting the saturation of node 1 of shot A to 30 sets the saturation of node 1 of Shot B to 30 as well.

Even with Ripple set to static, previously existing offsets of parameters and nodes you don’t adjust retain their offsets.

Eliminating Groups

Lastly, to eliminate a group completely, breaking the group relationship among all shots that are members of that group, you need only right-click a shot belonging the group you want to eliminate, and choose “NameOfGroup” menu > Delete. This clears the group, while preserving the last applied grade within each shot.

That’s All, Folks

But that’s really enough. Groups will make your life much easier, but you need to handle them with care lest they make your life unwittingly more complicated. Good grading!


Color Correction Handbook 2nd Edition: Grading theory and technique for any application.
Color Correction Look Book: Stylized and creative grading techniques for any application.
What's New in DaVinci Resolve 12.5: Covering every new feature in Resolve 12.5 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve 12 QuickStart: A 4 hr editing and grading overview from Ripple Training.
Editing & Finishing in Resolve 12: 9 hrs of tutorials from Ripple Training.
Grading in DaVinci Resolve 11: Comprehensive 13 hr grading tutorials from Ripple Training.
Grading A Scene: Watch a short horror scene graded, from start to creative finish, Ripple Training.

How to Talk to a Colorist

Funnily enough, this last week I’ve had three conversations about the importance of communication in the grading suite, two with different colorists of experience, and a third with the audience of the Dec. 2nd AENY user’s group during my Q&A. I’d already started writing this article (months ago, actually), but now seemed an appropriate time to get it out the door.

Preamble

Over the years I’ve worked with a variety of clients, both experienced and inexperienced. In the process, I’ve come to realize that it’s not enough to know how to evaluate an image, read scopes, make clever adjustments to enhance the talent and environment, have an awareness of the history of film and contemporary trends in cinematography, a knowledge of color theory,  an artistic sensibility, and the know-how to work quickly and efficiently so as not to waste the client’s time and money. These skills are all vitally important, but unless you only work on your own projects, there’s one thing missing.

The most important part of my job as a colorist is interpreting just what the heck the client is asking for.

The truth is, most people don’t spend their time talking in great detail about color. Color is such an experiential thing that unless you’re an artist, designer, cinematographer, or you work at an ink factory, you probably don’t need to articulate anything more detailed than to point at a loud shirt shirt to say “that’s ugly.” In our daily lives, we know what we like when we see it, and that’s probably the beginning and end of the conversation. “Does this tie go with this shirt?” No. “Does that color look good on the kitchen wall?” Maybe. “So what do you think of my new shirt?”

I don’t blame anyone for sitting behind me in the suite and saying something to the effect of, “I can’t tell you what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it.” I’m the one who decided to pursue this arcane task we call color grading, and as a specialist it’s my job to provide options and recommendations—that’s the whole point. So I see it as my job to bridge the gap between the image as it sits on my display, naked and quivering, and the inner vision of my client, longing for the visual greatness they know should somehow be there.

And yet this can be challenging. An anecdote I like to tell is of the client who insisted “you need to make the image brighter.” Now, since I’ve always tended to equate “brightness” with what is technically a “lightening of the luma of the image,” I raised the midtones a bit. I was wrong. “That’s not right, make it lighter.” Momentarily disarmed, I tapped my chair arm as I tried to think of what else he could mean. On a lark, I raised the saturation. “That’s it!” he exclaimed. “Perfect, it’s much brighter.” And so the session proceeded.

The point is not that the client was perhaps not using the terminology as I would have defined it. The point is that the client clearly articulated their need, and it was my job to interpret that need, and translate it into an adjustment. That’s fine, but in that vein I’ve often wanted to offer a sort of crib sheet, breaking down the fundamentals of image evaluation, in order to provide a glossary to help bridge the gap a little bit faster.

That said, here is a client-friendly image analysis primer, intended to provide a quick orientation prior to any grading session for folks who are looking for a bit of insight.

Brightness is Lightness

Top: The original, dark image. Bottom: Made brighter by boosting the midtones only.

The foundation of the image is whether things are darker or lighter. Most folks correspond “brightness” with how light something appears, although this isn’t always the case.

Usually when people talk about lightness, they’re talking about the midtones and highlights of the image. The way we colorists look at things, every image can be divided into three regions—the shadows, midtones, and highlights. The shadows and highlights speak for themselves. The midtones, as the name implies, include everything in-between the darker shadows and the ligher highlights (for example, people in the frame often fall into the average midtones).

Most color correction applications have a lot of control that can be exercised over the lightness or brightness of the image. Hilights can be made darker, shadows can be made lighter, and the image can be darkened or lightened either overall, or within specific regions of lightness or brightness. For this reason, it’s also perfectly fine to ask for a specific part of the picture to be darkened or lightened.

Here’s one other thing to think about: While the shadows and highlights are (usually) broad regions of the image, the black point represents the darkest thing in the picture and the white point represents the absolutely lightest highlights. It’s possible to brighten the lighter shadows while leaving the black point deep and dark. The result is a limited adjustment to Contrast (covered next).

With this in mind, the following are very useful requests:

  • “The image is good, but the shadows look washed out, could you make them darker?”
  • “I like everything, but could you brighten the highlights so they’re really strong?”
  • “I like the deep blacks, but could you lighten the shadows a bit so we can see her face?”

Image lightness and contrast are intimately linked.

Contrast Is a Stretch

Top: Original, low-contrast image. Bottom: Higher contrast by dropping shadows and boosting highlights together.

“Make it more contrasty” is a common request. It’s also a good request. Contrast is a measurement of the difference between the brightest and darkest parts of the image, so it follows that raising image contrast involves either brightening the highlights, darkening the shadows, or (frequently) both. The result of a reasonable contrast boost is often a more striking image that appears cleaner and crisper. The result of boosting image contrast too much can be clipped shadows, blown-out highlights, and increased noise in the middle of the image (but hey, some people like that too).

Of course, it’s not all more. Lowering contrast is often appropriate if the goal is to create a more subdued look (lowering the light levels to make it appear to be evening, for example). Day-for-night adjustments often benefit from compressed contrast.

Either way, don’t be afraid to be specific about contrast, since contrast can often be tightly controlled within specific regions of the image.

Here are comments that would make me perform a contrast adjustment:

  • “Could you make the image pop more?” (contrast is the first thing I’d try adjusting)
  • “Could you make the shadows darker and the highlights brighter?” (expand contrast)
  • “Could you lower the highlights to make the image dimmer?” (lightly compress contrast)
  • “The shadows are too black and chunky.” (raise the black point to compress contrast)
  • “Could you make the background more contrasty without affecting the actor’s face?” (make a targeted contrast adjustment)

Saturation Is Intensity

Top: A muted, low-saturation image. Bottom: A highly saturated image.

Saturation refers to the intensity of a color. Pale, pastel colors are less saturated, while vivid, rich colors are more saturated.

So, if an image looks a bit dull, it might be a matter of raising the saturation. Conversely, if an image seems busy or distractingly colorful, lowering the saturation is a good fix. As with all things, targeted adjustments to the saturation of specific elements within the image are possible, and in fact this is one of the most frequent types of  targeted corrections I make.

Here are requests that would make me reach for the Saturation knob:

  • “The image is a bit mute, could you make it more colorful?”
  • “I don’t know, it looks kind of, gray…”
  • “Whoa…that image is out of control.”

Comments that would make me try a targeted saturation correction include:

  • “Could you make the red car pop more?”
  • “Can you subdue the woman’s blue sweater?”
  • “The actor looks a bit pasty.”

Hue Is Just a Name

All available colors distributed around a standard video color wheel.

This is the one thing I don’t need to explain. Hue is simply the name of the color you’re referring to.

There’s no need to get tricky with fancy color names. Even though there are a zillion of ’em, I personally tend to stick with the ones that were used in the small box of crayons (I could never remember all the ones in the big box). The truth is, at this point in my career I often find myself thinking in terms of the Vectorscope’s angular distribution of hue, but you probably didn’t want to know that.

Hue is a great way to identify specific elements within a scene. Hue is also a great way to describe a colorful transformation you want made to an image, such as:

  • “I want to emphasize the orange in the sign.”
  • “Can you make the plants look healthier?”
  • “The sky is too sunset-like, could make it bluer?”
  • “I’d like their skin to have a nice orange glow.”
  • “Do you see that yellow in the lighting? Could you get rid of that?”

Cool and Warm Are Important Descriptions, Too

 

Top: A “cool” blue treatment. Bottom: An orangey “warm” treatment.

Describing an image as “cool” or “warm” might sound artsy, but don’t worry about sounding like a cliché. If you’re describing naturalistic lighting, the physics of the light sources all around us dictates that lighting actually does range from warm reddish-oranges to cool blues, relative to the temperature of the illuminating light source (the illuminant, if you like 25¢ words). Candlelight is considered warm, noon-time sunlight, especially on an overcast day, is considered cool.

  • Sunrise, sunset, candlelight, interior incandescent lighting, bonfires and sodium-vapor streetlights are all variations on reddish-orange, warm lighting.
  • Noon-day sun, overcast days, properly filtered fluorescent and compact-fluorescent lighting, and computer/TV/cell phone displays are variations on white-blue, cool lighting.

Nearly all natural and many man-made light sources fit along a sliding scale from red-orange at the warmest, to blueish at the coolest, so describing a “temperature” actually makes all the sense in the world. If you describe a shot as being hot, warm, luke-warm, cool, cold, or icy, I’ll get what you’re saying.

Along the same lines, there’s a question I’m fond of asking in the suite; “what time of day is it?” Whether an exterior or an interior, the time of day the audience is supposed to perceive gives me a valuable clue as to what quality of light will elicit the desired response.

On the other hand, don’t feel the need to limit yourself to the colors of nature. Even though artificial fluorescent lighting appears white to the naked eye, it can lend a “greenish” cast to a scene recorded to film or video as the result of being improperly filtered or white balanced. While technically that’s an error, many directors and cinematographers have also used this as a creative choice. So, even though it’s distinctly unnatural, greenish lighting has entered the repertoire of the contemporary colorist, as well.

What, Exactly, Do You Want Me to Change?

Top: The original grade. Bottom: selectively making the man’s shirt more vibrant (nothing else is changed).

This last point is a good one. Don’t be afraid to identify simple, specific things you want changed:

  • “Her face is too dark.”
  • “The yellow shirt is ugly, is there something you can do?”
  • “Her red sweater is distracting.”
  • “There’s a little purple in his blonde hair, could we get rid of it?”

Honestly, you don’t even need to articulate why you don’t like something; the important thing is that if there’s a visual element that’s bugging you, tell me, I’ll figure it out. And I’ll be sure to let you know when there’s something that I think needs addressing.

All modern color correction software has the technology to make specific, isolated changes like these. While there are a variety of tools with which to do so, all you need to do is tell me what needs fixing, and I’ll figure out how to get it done.

But Wait, There’s More…

However, those are the basics. While there is obviously much more to the art and science of color correction, in terms of general communication, this is a great foundation to start with, and I hope this helps you to identify individual specifics of images that you want manipulated when working with your friendly neighborhood colorist.

If you want to know more, you can always check out my new book, “Color Correction Handbook: Professional Techniques for Video and Cinema.” While it’s written for the practicing or aspiring colorist, there’s something in there for everyone who wants to know more about how color grading works. Furthermore, I’ve put together a great list of other books and DVDs at Amazon.com that address the art and science of color that you might also be inclined to peruse, available in the sidebar over at the right. As they said in the old G.I. Joe cartoons, “knowing is half the battle!”

Special thanks to Yan Vizinberg, Abigail Honor, and Chris Cooper for images from Cargo, Lauren Wolkstein for images from Cigarette Candy, and Bill Kirstein for images from Osiris Ford.


Color Correction Handbook 2nd Edition: Grading theory and technique for any application.
Color Correction Look Book: Stylized and creative grading techniques for any application.
What's New in DaVinci Resolve 12.5: Covering every new feature in Resolve 12.5 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve 12 QuickStart: A 4 hr editing and grading overview from Ripple Training.
Editing & Finishing in Resolve 12: 9 hrs of tutorials from Ripple Training.
Grading in DaVinci Resolve 11: Comprehensive 13 hr grading tutorials from Ripple Training.
Grading A Scene: Watch a short horror scene graded, from start to creative finish, Ripple Training.