Join Mark Christiansen for an in-depth discussion in this video Create a color look with Curves, part of After Effects Compositing: 3 Advanced Matching and Looks.
You may never have had a direct comparison of the three basic color correction tools in After Effects, namely Levels, Curves, and Brightness and Contrast. In this lesson, I'll show you why it's difficult to recreate a set of adjustments made in Curves using Levels and why it's virtually impossible to do so using Brightness and Contrast. So, before I show you through this Curves adjustment, I'm going to copy it and reset it. And I'd like to give you a quick refresher on Curves.
If I want to increase contrast in this image, I move black and white in toward the center on the horizontal axis. If I move them vertically, I lower contrast. If I choose any points between them, I adjust the gamma. This time around, I want you to pay specific attention to these three corners that run right along the flat gamma line. So when gamma is flat like this, the line crosses right through those. But as soon as I increase the contrast using gamma, I might have a curve that passes right through the center, but is raised in the highlights and lowered in the shadows.
So now, I'll just paste my effect back in. I'll take a snapshot as a reference and turn it off, and open up Levels. Recreating this basic RGB adjustment in Levels is obviously pretty simple. This is just an increase in contrast in both black and white. So, all I have to do is come in a little bit on the black, down a little bit on input white, and I've basically recreated what I see right here. What's happening in the red channel in Curves is a little more complicated, so let's switch to Red.
Take a look at the reference. I can see more contrast in darks and in the whites, and I'm not sure what's happening with the gamma. In the curve, it looks like it's passing right through the center. And it comes down in the darks and goes up in the highlights. So, in Levels, I have really no choice but to kind of go maybe even the opposite direction. I'm going to try to pull the blacks in more like that. going to brighten up the whites. And that looks decently good, except that when I look at the detail, for example, under the board, in the reference, there's a lot less contrast.
I've increased the contrast to the image overall. There's really very little I can do about that. I can try adjusting the gamma and that does lower the contrast, but it also affects the black levels. So now, I'll come up on them, and I'm starting to chase my tail a little bit. I'm also seeing that it's looking a little too bright, so I'm actually going to go against the first adjustment and come down a little bit with the output white. Hm. Well, some areas of the image look like they're getting closer and others really don't. In fact, I think I'm just going to undo what I just did and call this good enough, move onto the next channel.
In Curves I made a much simpler adjustment in green. Above the midpoint is just a flat line, and below it, you can see the greens have been lifted a little bit, but then taking closer to flat line above that first hash mark there. So, to simplify things, in green. Let's just take a look. We're already pretty close. I can see that we can indeed lift the blacks a bit. And I'm still compensating for something. It's not looking quite right.
Let me see if any gamma adjustment will help me. Okay, where I need to go, yeah, that helps a little bit. It's really not the same as what I see in Curves, but it seems to look more like it, so let's just move on. Okay, here I can clearly see that I'm lifting the blacks and blue. Even though there are more contrasty in the reference, you can see that they're lighter, or are they? If we look at the wheels, which the blackest point, it's actually holding the black point. So now I'm confused. I don't really know what to do. Maybe I'll try a gamma adjustment. I can see that the gamma is a little bit raised right around the mid point, but again when I adjust the gamma using Levels, I'm just adjusting one point.
I don't have multiple points. This is just the midpoint of the gamma that's being adjusted up and down. I can try to flatten out the image like i see in the reference, but it also needs to be brighter so I need to use both of these again. Hm. Doesn't seem to be having quite the effect that I want. And when I look at the curve, I can see why. There actually should a lowering of the white gamma, but there's really no way to to do that. Now it's time to just see where we are, and this really isn't looking so hot compared to what I had adjusted before. Now for example, I can see there's a problem with the red. So, I can go in there and just try to kind of fix that, and I can make it look a bit better. But you see, it doesn't look quite the same as the adjustment I made very quickly before in Curves. So now you see how much more precise Curves is than Levels, let's take a look at Brightness and Contrast, which is even a good deal less precise than that. In this tool, all I can really do is make that overall contrast increase that I saw at the beginning. So if I check against the reference, mm, maybe I'm pretty close now, it's really hard to tell. Anything else I do though isn't really going to help me much. I'd say the reference looks maybe a little brighter, but notice I have no control over the individual channels. There's no mid tones at all. And when I adjust Brightness and Contrast, I'm just doing it overall. I'm not even being specific to the whites and blacks. For that reason, I pretty much never use Brightness and Contrast.
So now, perhaps you have a better idea why when I have to do an actual color grade using just the basic after fix tools, I go to Curves. Why Levels gives me a good deal of accuracy, but isn't quite so good for this artistic work that I can do with Curves. And why Brightness and Contrast really is a tool that I just never use.
- Advanced color correction with multiple objects and Curves
- Adding a light-wrap effect to composite into a backlit scene
- Compositing into lens distortion
- Recognizing and fixing rolling shutter
- Matching motion
- Working in HDR
- Create cinematic color contrasts with Mojo
- Customizing a film look with Looks