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Is it time to review
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.
www.thereverendfilm.com 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
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