colour grading

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.

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

Colour-grading-image

5 examples of how colour grading can be used to enhance a story

“It’s easier to make colour look good, but harder to make it service the story” this quote by cinematographer Roger Deakins is spot on. I feel like there are infinite examples of how colour grading can be used to enhance a story but let’s throw five out for the fun of it. I think an important thing to remember is less is often more so that the “look” doesn’t have the opposite effect and jar you out of the story.

1. If a story is to feel soft, romantic, dreamy, ethereal, then the colourist can use some colour grading tools to enhance this feeling. Examples might be lifting the shadows to make the overall image feel lighter, softening contrast levels, slightly blurring the image to take out any over-sharpness, twisting or de-saturating hues to make them more pastel and less bold, sitting the midtones a little higher to make the image feel less dense and heavy, using shapes to create a sun flare effect in a portion of the image.

 


2. During the climax of a story, colour can be “turned up” a notch to reflect the intensity unfolding on screen. This could be done by slightly cranking up the contrast, or the saturation of all or selected colours. A “harder” or more “intense” look could be achieved by taking the current look and pushing it a bit further, for example an otherwise natural look could have some more stylised elements brought in. Examples of this might be blowing out the highlights, crushing the blacks a bit more, saturating the warm tones, making the overall image more dense in comparison to other scenes before or after it.

 


3. If there is a scene which is meant to feel off balance, off kilter, like something is not quite right, green could be used to mirror this underlying feeling. Often used in horror films or sci-fi, colours on the green spectrum can be used in the same way that a dutch angle might be used in cinematography. Green is often the colour of sickness and it can feel like an unnatural light source (as opposed to the natural colours in our atmosphere of cool overcast blue or warm sunny yellow).

 


4. The use of shapes to darken/brighten areas of an image can be a great tool to enhance the story. My personal favourite is vignettes (oval shapes) and I pretty much use these in some capacity in every work. If a character in a story is feeling bogged down or oppressed in their situation perhaps their scenes could have a soft vignette covering the top third of the frame to darken it down a little, reflecting their mental state. If a work is trying to focus the audience’s attention in a direct way, maybe a vignette could be used to brighten this element or portion of the frame and then the inverse to let everything else be more dim.


5. Blue is a colour which can be experimented with to create feelings of sombre, sadness, endings, misfortune and unhappiness to name a few. If the mise en scene is not overly blue through costumes and set design or location, colour grading can still create a blue/cool look by reducing warmth in the highlights, midtones and/or shadows. Reds can be de-saturated, cyans can be saturated. De-saturating the entire image will also usually render it cooler and can reflect the underlying tone of the work too.

Would you like to know more?

 

Email Angela at angelacerasi@gmail.com

livingroom8125437

Free colour grading initiative for women – half year update!

Well what an awesome six months that was! Over 100 applications were received for my free colour grading initiative to support female directors and/or cinematographers. To converse with so many talented and passionate filmmakers everywhere from Melbourne to Perth to Arnhem Land has been a truly wonderful experience. I loved examining the applications with a glass of vino in the evenings!

 


I first had the idea for my initiative one day in February when I had a slow couple of weeks of work. It was around the time of the Oscars and the #metoo and #pressforprogress movements. I am a big advocate for the call to level the playing field in our industry so it got me thinking. There I was not busy, with some time on my hands and an itch to be grading and working with kickass emerging filmmakers. If I could spend my down days colour grading some projects to help women get their stuff made then I could be part of this inspiring global movement. Fast forward to March and I was all over our industry news platforms promoting this unconventional and slightly crazy idea I had. I was told that I would go broke and that I couldn’t/shouldn’t do stuff for free. Well I would just like to say that I have probably had the best six months of my 12 year colour grading career so far, and that giving away your time and expertise for something you are passionate about feels freaking amazing!

 


First up was “Theo and Celeste”, a 2min short film combining live action, stop-motion animation, painting and puppets. Hannah Doherty was the creator of this work… she wrote, directed, shot and even hand painted some of the animation. From her previous work I could see that she had a very hands on approach and it was pretty clear that this chick was uber talented in so many mediums! It was my pleasure to work with such a creative filmmaker and help bring her vision to life. “Theo and Celeste” screened at the TedX Sydney convention in July.

 


The next project I selected was Imogen Thomas’s debut feature film, “Emu Runner”. The story of this film is seen through the eyes of Gem, a spirited 8-year-old girl, who deals with the grief of her mother’s death by forging a bond with a wild emu, a mythical bird of her ancestors. Imogen’s journey to get this film made on a “micro budget” was both remarkable and inspiring. The screenplay was created in consultation with Indigenous members of the Brewarrina community, in north western NSW, over many years. Despite the challenges and hardships of getting a film like this off the ground, it was obvious that it had been the good will of so many people during the process which had moved it forward, especially the Brewarrina community. I felt like I could really elevate this film by providing a professional colour grade and by enhancing the story through the use of colour. The DOP Michael Gibbs flew up from Melbourne for the grade at ZigZag Post. I spent 7 days on it (plus some after hours fine tuning!) to get it to a place that felt really right for Imogen. Of course limited budget and resources meant that lighting and shooting conditions were sometimes not ideal so we worked on fixing these and making the film more cohesive. “Emu Runner” debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival and will have it’s Aussie premiere at the Adelaide Film Festival in October. I have my tickets and a babysitter booked – can’t wait to celebrate a job well done with everyone!

 


Jessica Barclay Lawton was the next successful applicant. Her 15 minute atmospheric and visually stunning short film “Living Room” was shot with a crew of four over the course of one week in Tokyo. Guerrilla and hybrid filmmaking at it’s finest! DOP Alex Cardy did a stellar job with natural light and one LED. Yes, one LED. I loved the opportunity to colour grade this film and work with this amazing director, out there creating even with limited resources! Every frame of this work could be a promo still, I love her aesthetic.

 


My 4th colour grading initiative project was a 5 x 7min web series for director/producer Laura Clelland called “Life of Jess”. Representing from Brisbane (total soft spot for my hometown), Laura was recently selected as one of Screen Producers Australia’s “One’s to Watch” and it was an absolute delight to meet her, Sandra and DOP Brendan Shambrook during our session.

 


“The Hitchhiker” was a proof of concept short for a feature film. It is the 5th project selected for my free grading initiative to support emerging female directors. The application won me on “an all-girl vampire road trip comedy (think Buffy meets Bridesmaids)”. Adele Vuko, Johanna Somerville and DOP Dan Freene all attended the grade. It would be awesome to see Adele succeed in directing her first feature film after a run of short film and web series success.

 


So I am taking a couple of months off and then will resume my initiative in November. Ladies, let’s do this (some more!)

Would you like to know more?

 

Email Angela at angelacerasi@gmail.com