TV-BAY January 2013

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Is it time to review your colour grading toolset? by Mark Brindle O ne important step for all budget levels of post-production is the colour correction or grading tools you use to match the colour of different shots in your edit, to give a consistent look and feel. You may already be doing basic colour grading without really thinking of it as a separate process in your edit, or you may be sending off your edited timeline as an Edit Decision List (EDL) to a finishing suite to have it professionally graded. How much time you can spend on grading will depend on your budget, but if you can perform more tasks in less time with better and cheaper tools, then perhaps you should be looking at your workflow? Colour grading is essential to give a consistent match between shots in any production from music videos to dramas and documentaries. In its primary form it’s called colour correction because you’re usually correcting for mistakes in the filmmaking process – fixing the white balance of some shots or correcting for the overall exposure level or contrast. You’re primarily trying to fix mistakes first, to stop any one shot in a sequence from jumping out at the audience and shouting ‘look at me... don’t I look out of place!’ After primary correction, which may include creating your ‘look’, comes the more selective secondary correction, followed typically by noise reduction or more radical compositing or effects. It’s common to use primary colour correction to first bring all your clips to a more neutral state whilst trying to maintain the dynamic range – i.e. trying to retain the sky and the shadow detail, before then starting to build the particular ‘look’ you want for your video. Most modern NLE’s give you plenty of plug-ins and filters for doing primary colour correction such as the classic 3-way colour corrector built- in to Adobe Premier Pro and Final Cut Pro (FCP). This filter allows you to adjust the brightness levels and the colour balance of the shadows, mid-tones and highlights all at the same time. In many cases this is enough to fix the white balance and improve the contrast of a problematic video clip and is as far as many people need or want to go with the whole colour grading process. In 2011 I was involved with grading a low-budget horror feature and I needed to add the trademark intense blue eyes to Rutger Hauer in the opening scenes and to intensify the eye colour of the leading man throughout the film, as even with contact lenses the eyes just weren’t right. At the time I wanted to use Davinci Resolve from Blackmagic Design for the grade as I had heard good things about its tracking features, but I couldn’t justify the cost of the Screen shot from ‘The Reverend’ showing before and after correction in FCP using multiple filters and eye mask tracking by hand. software and extra hardware needed to run it. So I ended up using my trusty FCP machine with mainly the Nattress S-gamma plug-ins and the 3-way colour corrector for primary correction and then manually key framed an elliptical image mask that covered both eyes and used the 3-way colour corrector to limit the colour effect to the original blue eye colour and then push the saturation and brightness. It worked fairly well although it took a long time to track all the shots by hand! Last year brought the announcement of the Blackmagic design cinema camera (BMCC) that ships with a full copy of Davinci Resolve software bundled with it. This made me re-visit my choice in grading software and consider Resolve yet again – especially when they started shipping a free version of the software in a ‘Lite’ format for both MAC and PC. I tested out the free version on a few machines in our office and found it worked ok on my old 8core MAC. So what can you do with Resolve that you can’t do easily or quickly in FCP? Resolve 9.0 has got a very similar 3-way colour corrector for primary colour correction although you need to switch into its ‘log’ mode for the familiar shadow/midtone/highlight 52 | TV-BAY MAGAZINE TV-BA073JAN13.indd 52 11/01/2013 14:17