Many colorists will approach a film in different ways. David’s approach comes from what he learned over the course of 25 years. Hopefully, there are some small nuggets you can use for your own approach to color correction.
|You’re going to learn:
THE DP / COLORIST RELATIONSHIP:
This is where your relationship with the DP comes in handy. They can ask how to make your life easier, the production might develop key art, reference a photographic style, etc.
Say a cinematographer mentions that they are inspired by the work of Gustave Doré, who is known for a lot of contrast and heavy vignetting where the image is pushed into a little frame. Then, you know you’re doing fall-offs, dark vignettes, and isolations.
This doesn’t mean that this is exclusively all you do, but it provides the inspiration and motifs you are trying to achieve. Remember, you can do essentially anything on a single frame, but making that work over the course of a shot and scene requires artistry.
OVERVIEW OF THE COLOR GRADING PROCESS:
From a colorist’s point of view, the process can begin as early as pre-production or as late as when the film is cut in post. David’s approach varies based on his starting point. At the very least, David likes to get a version of the film once it is cut, even if it’s a director’s cut.
He watches it so he can understand the nuance of the movie and what it is trying to say, in addition to learning the tones and beats. For example, if it’s a fantasy film, does the film wish to go full fantasy? Or, are there moods and swings that inform your decision? Are there day-for-night scenes? Are there emotional scenes or funny scenes?
It’s important to know where the performance ebbs and flows, and the storytelling should inform where you take the color grade.
Much like music swells up or falls silent in emotional moments, color grading should complement the mood and tone.
TEST TO FIND THE COLOR:
If Dave joins the project in pre-production, he will design lookup tables (LUTs) and have a good idea of what the project will look like. This of course would also be the result of numerous camera tests. Like the cinematographer, the colorist tests cameras, lenses, focal depths, and wardrobe. These tests inform the LUT creation.
LUTs are basically a prefixed color correction. While you can make a particular shot look great with a LUT, it doesn’t mean it will work on any of the other shots. A LUT helps in a general sense with the testing process. For example, during test photography, you can make sure that the light is robust enough to work in varying exposures and lighting conditions.
Learn about LUT theory and creation!
CREATE A COLOR BIBLE/LOOKBOOK:
If the production has the time and money, Dave is a strong advocate of creating a color bible or lookbook for the film. This would take place after the film has been shot but it doesn’t need to be fully assembled as a director’s cut.
With the help of an assistant editor, the colorist goes through the process of selecting key shots from each scene – i.e. a wide, medium, close-up, or key points pivotal to the scene. Then, they string them together. The shots don’t need to be full length, they could just be one or a few seconds. So, overall, the color bible is a condensed version of the assembly and may only be between 15-40 minutes.
The benefit of a color bible means that you can creatively lean in the direction of the intended vision, and open the collaboration between the director of photography and director. Plus, the bible can inform editorial and visual effects. However, just note that this is a rough idea that may get you 80% of the way. You never know until you get the final cut because shots around each shot will inform the colors and the DI suite.
For example, if there’s a shot that will be Day-for-Night, production will leave lights on and put them through external windows, and things of that nature. When Dave darkens it up, he may still find bright points in the frame.
LEARN THE RULES BEFORE YOU BREAK THEM:
Since you are often constrained by time, budget, and creative tool sets, you must learn how to be as efficient as possible.
There are rules with every craft but it doesn’t mean that you necessarily always follow them. However, it’s good to understand the rules so you can pick and choose what to embrace and how it affects your work.
Color theory is useful for how to separate a face of a foreground character from the background character. Hopefully, the DP shaped the lighting to create separation in color between background and foreground density shifts.
You can also enhance it from the color bay. But there are some things that you should consider. Do you drive the colors further apart? Do you make them a little more saturated or will it cause a dilemma down the road?
It’s all well and good if you have an image but don’t want to make it overly poppy and contrasty and crush the blacks. However, when you’re watching the film on a big 60-foot screen in a darkened theater, watching an image like that for potentially two and a half hours can be very fatiguing to the eye.
Understanding why things do what they do on a psychological level is very important and is part of the skill set acquired over years of experience from the colorist. Just remember, the more you do, the more you learn. And the more you collaborate, the more you learn.
OPEN YOURSELF TO COLLABORATION:
Dave always says, if he graded a movie how he felt, it would look one way. If the DP graded the movie, it would look another way. And if the director graded it, it would look a third way. But, together through collaboration, it combines all of the best perspectives.
The ultimate win is when you get a fantastic-looking image on the big screen that tells the story you want to tell.
Color Grading: From Concept to Creation
Learn the principles of the Color Grading Pyramid and how to draw your audience’s focus!
- 7 Lessons
- 1+ hours of instructional videos
Color Grading: From Concept to Creation presents an in-depth view into the color grading process with master colorist David Cole. From the points of conception to execution, you will learn how to approach color grading based on the Color Grading Pyramid.
From color balancing to establish continuity to creating mood to polish and manicure the image, David reveals how to support the story for perfection! You will learn how to work with simple and secondary tools, including shapes, tracking, and keyframe animation. Then, David demonstrates how to enhance color contrast and separation with tools like curves and tones.
- Detailed Written Breakdowns
- English Subtitles
|01 Module — The Color Grading Pyramid
02 Module — Color Foundation
03 Module — Color Balance
04 Module — Color Contrast
Access the entire course and learn from master colorist David Cole!