colour grading language

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.