Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Color Grading

All right, so originally I had planned to write my color correction and grading posts together but I realized they might become to lengthy and that it would be too much info to process. Anyways, hopefully breaking them up helps.

Color Grading. Generally a stylized coloring added to the movie to give it a certain mood or feel. Grading can make a you feel the scene is warm, or cold or find yourself in a bleak future or an action film with stars that resemble oompa-loompas (ech-hem the second Transformers movie...).

Originally, when film was shot on actual film and was processed, the end result and product were planned from the beginning. Each step of the journey moved towards the director’s vision. The film stock, lighting, filters, colors used on set were all picked very carefully. And after all of that, a colorist took it and finished the films look with his own processing.

Now a days, with so much of filmmaking becoming digitial (a lot of films are still shot on film but edited digitally), a lot of the finer moments put into development are lost and replaced with the frightening saying “we’ll fix it in post.” Software like Colorista and Magic Bullet are designed to give you high end stylized and popular color grades to add to your film. Adobe After effects is really good for completely removing any undesirable colors or problems found in post. Final Cut Pro can also be sued for Color Grading. However, I don’t feel it’s as powerful as some of the other options.

All this to say that the need for filters and a knowledge for planning your style in preproduction is quickly becoming antiquated. And someone who can do all this is now rare (like… nearing the endangered species list.). I don’t think using film or the need for colorists will go away completely, but it will become extremely uncommon.

Sorry… I’m here to teach you color grading. Not rant about the days of celluloid or the romanticize the silver screen. Ok… so you have a good white balance between your cameras. Contrast and levels are Kosher? Cool. What kind of film are you making?

Recently films have really been laying it on thick with color grading styles to help audiences quickly understand what kind of movie they’re seeing. The Matrix (1999) has green, blue and a red tone depending where in the films universe they are.

Terminator Salvation (2009) and the Book of Eli (2010) and other apocalyptic films tend to bleach out the highlights and tint green the dark tones.

Here, from the opening scene from the Book of Eli, you'll notice that the colors are tweeked so far from the norm that it instantly sets the mood for the rest of the film, letting the audience know that nothing in this world is what we would call "Normal."

The Transformer films (2007, 2009) are well known for over grading the films
I mean Megan Fox has one gnarly spray on tan.

How can you use these to help your production.

Figure out what style you want (preferably before filming).

Keep in mind: Blues give a cooling effect.

Reds/yellows give a warming effect.

High Contrast/De-saturating colors/Bleaching give a sterile or depressing look

Skin tones should still look like Skin tones. The audience will forgive a lot… but make someone the wrong color and people will be upset (again… look at the Transformers films.)

Websites like Kuler can help you determine your color pallet. And often you simply do what’s called a color split. Which looks like this (or what the color split might have looked like for transformers....)

Some examples of how I’ve used color grading (Original shot on the left, graded shot on the right.)

Click the link to see the finished DART trailer.

For the Diaries Trailer, I shot an additional scene with my friend Joel, from Male From Australia.

But the most heavily Color Graded of the 4 Diaries films was Part 3: Quarantine. Which I tried to emulate the Dark Greens and bleach lighter tones for the same type of feel found in several of the action films listed above.

I really recommend taking some time to watch movies new and old and see if you can recognize what style of grading was used, and how it makes you feel. The next post will be about picture styles. I’ll try to shoot a video to demonstrate how that can benefit your color grading. Any questions or comments? Feel free to post below or email me at

All of the above pictures from the films, "Terminator Salvation" "The Matrix" "The Book of Eli" "Transformer Revenge of the Fallen" we're simply used to demonstrate and educate my audience. I have no implied Copy right or claim to any of these film's or their properties. If you're still reading this, and a lawyer or someone who worked on these films... please don't sue me.

The other films and images created by, and belonging to Intense Entertainment are our property. However, I don't mind you using our stuff for educational purposes. Just please give credit where it's due. :) The End.


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