ASK THE COLOURIST: PART 2 – Featuring “Magenta”, “Warm it up” and “Softer”

In Part 1 it was explained how this series of blog posts would aim to unpack some colour grading language and turn it into easily understandable terms.  I had some great feedback about “Crush the Blacks? Split the Diff? and How to make something Fluro?”.  Reminder to email me at angelacerasi@gmail.com if you have any terms or questions you would like me to decode or answer.  Here’s the next instalment!

MAGENTA?

Magenta is basically a fancy pants word for the shade between red and blue.  A purpley-pink.  This word is often thrown around in a grade suite if the skin tones look too pink or red, someone might say “it has too much magenta”.  Poor magenta gets a bad wrap… no one likes magenta!  As a colourist when you pull magenta out of the image you are increasing the green, (decreasing one colour increases the complimentary colour) so often when you pull the magenta out you do it just slightly because no one wants a green image either.  Pulling magenta out of skin tone and going toward green will make it less red and more yellowy instead.  No one wants a ruddy skin tone and often too much magenta in an image can be very undesirable.    

Image with a lot of magenta in it
Image with less magenta in it

WARM IT UP?

All images are basically on a scale of warm through to cool.  A warm image is literally in the realm of red, orange and yellows.  It is probably lit by tungsten (artificial lamps) or candlelight.  A cool image on the other hand is in the world of blues.  It might be lit by natural daylight which is actually blue compared to artificial interior lights.  In advertising warm images can be more appealing and pleasant so being directed to “warm it up” is quite common.  Skin tones are warm by nature and it’s really important to get warmth in the skin tones in most cases so the character looks healthy and well.  As a colourist who needs to warm up an image, depending on the image you are working on you can add yellow/orange to the midtones (which will usually affect the skin tones), highlights (skies, brightest parts of image) or shadows (blacks).  The most common thing to do would be to warm up the midtones/skin tones, and increasing yellow/orange means decreasing blues.

Image which would be considered ‘cool’
Warmed up

SOFTER?

Making an image softer has nothing to do with focus and should not be confused with soft focus.  We always want sharp images (unless you are doing a drunken POV for example!) and the sharply focused image can have a soft feeling to it.  You can make an image “softer” a few different ways.  In practical terms it can be executed by decreasing contrast, lifting blacks, rolling off highlights.  You could also desaturate any jarring colours so they were not so bold and strong.  Also slightly blurring the picture or a part of the picture if the pixels looks too sharp.  Often Go-Pro’s are too sharp and will need to be softened to match other shots in the sequence if they are not Go-Pro.  The effect of ‘softening” can make the image more pleasant, feminine, flowing, cozy and “nice”.  The opposite of making an image softer is making it more “punchy”, hard, harsh or crisp.  Examples of commercials that feel soft are usually baby-related ads, life insurance ads and ad’s for fabric softener!  

A harsher image
A softer image

ASK THE COLOURIST: PART 1 – Featuring “What is crush the blacks?”, “Split the diff?” and “How to make something fluro?”

Hello and welcome to my first Q & A post!  Shout out to my girls at the ‘Free the Bid’ workshop last weekend who submitted the content for this post and some of the future ASK THE COLOURIST posts.  If you have a piece of terminology or a phrase that you have heard thrown around in a colour grading session and you have no idea or a vague idea what it means, feel free to email it to me at angelacerasi@gmail.com.  No judgement here and all will be anonymous.  The goal is that next time someone geeks out about LUT’s or codec’s in your session, you can have the confidence and knowledge to know exactly what they’re talking about and why it does or doesn’t matter to the actual story at play!

 

Disclaimer: I will try and decode any jargon in my answers!

 

CRUSH THE BLACKS?

This is often used to describe a style which is heavy on the blacks (read: dark blacks, deep shadows) and you will often see this look in an action film or gritty, grungey work.  If the luminance (brightness) in your image is made up of whites through to black and all the colours in between, the bottom end of the luminance channel (the “toe”) which means the light shadows, the shadows, the dark shadows and the black would all be crushed down to a black level. Often some details in the shadows can be lost but perhaps those details aren’t important.  The overall effect of crushing the blacks is often a hard look.  Sometimes it can feel cinematic because in the cinema there is the scope for the picture to be darker (dark environment means our eyes just and we can see more in the shadows).  The opposite to crushing the blacks would be to pull more detail out of the shadows and sit the shadows up.  The image will feel lighter and not so heavy.  Examples of works which do not crush the blacks are commercials for baby related products like nappies, hygiene/cleaning products and romantic movies!  Examples of works which often crush the blacks are action films, horror and hard hitting drama.

This still from Narcos Mexico has “crushed blacks”. The shadow areas have been crushed down to black and detail has been lost. However the overall effect which is gained is that the scene looks gritty, the room looks dingey and the emotion that you can see in the lit part of the character’s face is emphasised as it’s the only part we can see.

 

SPLIT THE DIFF?

Splitting the difference between one look and another is literally going half way between the two looks.  In our colour grading software there is an option to set the output to 50%, but if we don’t want to get so technical about it the colourist can just do it by eye.  An example may be adding a heavy sepia look to the image, splitting the diff would be reducing that look back by 50% to where we were before and not going so hard on it.

 

HOW TO MAKE SOMETHING FLURO?

I wonder if this question means fluro colour or fluro lighting?  Best thing to do is use fluro/neon coloured clothing or lights from the get go.  Failing that we would crank (increase) the saturation of the object but also crank the luminance/brightness.  You could twist any primary colours of red, green, blue to lighter/brighter versions.  Cool thing about fluro colours is you get those really unique candy pinks, apple green, off the chart yellows.  You could slightly desaturate everything in the scene to make the neon stand out even more.

 

Most peeps try and alleviate fluro lighting that may have been captured unintentionally on set.  It can be pretty nasty on skin tones and give an unwanted green cast.  If you want to try and make something look more fluro (ie. like a night time scene in a 7-11), you would increase the brightness and take the whites and top end of the luminance channel towards a light apple green colour.  If you can see the practical lights you could make them glow or make the entire top of the frame a little hazy (read: lower contrast, but sitting bright) because often fluro light is just so garish and bright.

Why should women in Film & TV get special treatment?

I think that every one knows someone who has asked this question, alluded to this question or maybe you have even wanted to ask it yourself.  That whole argument about giving women special treatment is reverse sexism and unfair for men.  Recently this question was asked (albiet anonymously) in a public forum in response to an advertisement about a weekend masterclass for female TVC directors. 

“Equality or Equity” said:  There are plenty of upcoming directors who could benefit from this. Why just women?  Sure there are not enough women directors. I don’t disagree. Get more in, by all means. But the way to do it is not to exclude males from learning opportunities. Don’t punish the next generation for the ignorance of the previous one.

 

I can see how one might think this. I just felt like it deserved a reply from someone who has worked in this male dominated field for the past 16 years, is speaking at said weekend masterclass and could answer the question direct from the horses mouth:  “Angela Cerasi” said:  Why just women?  This is why:  In uni, film and TV degrees are made up of 50% females and 50% males. In the industry, this becomes 15% females and 85% males (directors for example). I believe that it is essential that our screen creators (and politicians and CEO’s for that matter!) are diverse whether that be male, female, young, old, ethnic or LGBTIQ so that our ideas and interpretations are also diverse and represent the whole spectrum of society.  As a female we don’t want to be unique just for our gender and we don’t want to be just a tick in an equality box. We don’t want to be called a “female director” instead of a “director”. We want to be the norm and not mistaken for the make-up artist on set! We want to get the job based on merit. But first we need to get a place at the table.

 

So until the time comes that there are 50% females and 50% males in the bid, our whole film community should help raise up female filmmakers to level the playing field. Supporting these directors to get a place at the table does not punish the others. If you’re male, you’re probably already sitting at the table (and that’s just a fact), and pulling up more chairs should not feel threatening or unequal it should feel awesome that your industry has modernised and just awards the job to the best idea at that table.

 

At that point we can be done with all this boring gender disparity lark and we should all feel included.

 

And that was that.  Hopefully it helped clarify the question.  I guess if you’re not in the minority it might be hard to empathise and understand.  Here’s to rising up our women and giving them special treatment so that one day we don’t have to anymore!  If you’re an emerging or established female director and interested in attending the ‘Free the Bid TVC Masterclass’ at Fox Studios on 17/18 Nov 2018 email Jasmin@photoplay.co 

 

Would you like to know more?

 

Email Angela at angelacerasi@gmail.com

5 ways to get the best out of your grading session

If you are a director, producer, cinematographer or advertising creative, here are a few nuggets which might be useful for your next colour grading session!

1. Be prepared and think about what you want visually in advance. If you can't quite articulate what it is that you are after, are there any images you can bring to the session? What is it about these images that you like? If you can't quite put your finger on it then do not worry! Your colourist is an expert at imagery and deals with pictures everyday. They should be able to see a common thread. These reference images are a great place to start.

 

 

2. Know that the longer you look at an image the more it can normalise. Go get a coffee. Go to the fridge. You can begin the session exploring some really interesting looks and styles but for some reason after a while they don't look that interesting or stylish anymore. This is kind of like how when you walk into a blacked out room it looks really dark at the beginning and then after a while it doesn't seem as dark. Your eyes start to adjust and get used to your surroundings. This is similar to how your eyes start to normalise the image in a colour grading session. I think it's really useful to work on images briefly at the beginning and move forward rather than go into too much detail on one shot. Your colourist can save some key looks and then compare them side by side to give them context between one another. Your colourist uses electronic tools like a "vectorscope" (to measure hue/colour and saturation) and a "waveform" (to measure luminance/brightness) to keep their eyes in check and know how far away from the "normal" looking original they have taken it.

 

 

3. If you would like to know more about the colour grading process as it happens feel free to ask questions. Most colourists will be more than happy to talk about their craft and actually love talking about what they do! As they say, there are no stupid questions and giving a commentary of what you are doing can be really insightful and lead to new ideas about what is possible.

 

 

4. Provide your colourist with a copy of the final edit (an offline reference) before the grade session. At this point your could always email through some reference images too. If it is a long form project the colourist will have time to watch the project through in advance. If it is a music video or commercial then the colourist will be able to get an idea of what is involved and can start the session without any surprises.

 

 

5. A true collaboration can yield the best results. Come to your grading sessions with some visual ideas (either brief or detailed) and ask your colourist their opinion. They work with colour and images every day and this is their niche. It is also really awesome to be challenged in a session by questions, requests and suggestions. At the end of the day it is YOUR session, use it how you like!

 

Would you like to know more?

 

Email Angela at angelacerasi@gmail.com