Join Simon Walker for an in-depth discussion in this video Understanding how cool color frames emotion, part of The Art of Color Correction: Color Grading for Locations and Times of Day.
As an audience we have an emotional response to different colors. One of the most evocative colors is blue. We perceive blue to be a negative emotion or to have a negative feeling for a variety of reasons. Overcast skies, especially in cold countries have a bluish light. And because it's cold we associate this blue with the discomfort of actually feeling cold. Also when we become cold the blood flow to our skin is reduced. So skin tone becomes less red.
We're used to seeing it all the time, which is another reason why we associate blue with feeling cold. In fact it's one of the ways we can tell the audience the temperature in the scene. We can demonstrate cool emotion in this shot here quite easily. I'm going to select this clip, go into the effects area and find looks, drag it onto the clip. And then in the Effects Controls tab click Edit Look to load up the looks interface. In general the color of light can be changed very easily with a three way Color Corrector.
The way the Earth's atmosphere filters the different wavelengths of light means that it filters them out according to their wavelength. Blue has the shortest wavelength and this is one of the reasons why daylight is blue. We can replicate this with the highlight control. In general the highlights contain the difference between the difference types of light. So if we make a highlight correction and push this towards blue then this is a more technically accurate representation of outside lights.
Here's the before and after. Just click on the tool button to disable it and re-enable it. This is a subtle difference between those two shots. I can push this out even more here, to give you more of an indication. So there's a definite cooler atmosphere in this shot. By the way, one of the things to look out for when you are adjusting highlights is to make sure that you don't go over the 100% digital line. Or in looks the 1.0 line, which is the same thing. It's just a slightly different unit of measurement.
So in order to bring these down what you can do is apply the Auto Shoulder tool from the post section. And it nicely rounds down the highlights. There are also clamping tools in a variety of different programs. Auto shoulder nicely rounds down the highlights there so you don't get any color banding or any odd colors in the highlights. We can exaggerate this cool look even more using the ranged HSL tool. And I'm going to put this just before the auto shoulder.
And this tool allows you to target specific colors and de-saturate them. You can exaggerate them, and saturate them by dragging them outside the wheel, but you can also de-saturate them by dragging them inside the wheel. So if I de-saturate these two, I don't do it too dramatically, that gives the audience an extra indication of the cool emotion in this scene. This is where we're starting to move towards a stylizing rather than a technically accurate grade on our clip. Because we're taking the original slightly bluish correction and then exaggerating it.
This is the difference or the balance that you have when making color corrections and grades. You want people to feel comfortable with what they usually see but then you also what to be telling a story. Just want to have a quick word about skin tone when you're adjusting these blue shots. I'm going to hit finish and jump to the second clip here. Here's our actress again but in a different location and she looks normal, she looks like she's sitting in a room and she's separated from the background. But I've already applied a color correction to this.
I have applied an instance of Colorista. And I've actually cooled down the highlights. So here's the before and after. This is the original shot which is nice and warm. And this is the corrected shot where I've just moved the highlights towards blue. The reason this is working is because the slight blue in the highlights is balanced with the darker, warmer colors in the background. But in grading it's a good discipline to keep your skin tones within an acceptable set of parameters. And you can demonstrate this by looking on the vector scope. I'm going to switch over to the color correction workspace. And if you haven't got vector scope already set up you can click on the Settings button, and choose Vector Scope here.
This gives you an indication of the sort of colors that you've got in your image. And this trace here represents all the colors together. If I diable Colorista, then the trace moves over towards the warmer area of the scope, because this is a warmer shot. What I want to do though is just check what the color is only on her skin tone. So I've applied an instance of the Crop tool here, to actually crop out the left and right elements of the image. You can find Crop tool inside the effects. Just search for crop and you can drag Crop tool onto a clip. So without the correction applied, her skin tone is much warmer, and it's sitting on this I-bar.
This is the bar in which you tend to put your skin tone. This is good practice, to make sure your skin tone exists along this line. If you move your color too much this way, then your colors become more green, and too much this way, they're more red. As a viewer we're used to seeing skin tone all the time and so keeping it on this i-bar means its more technically accurate. But it also depends on the scene at hand. It has to be balanced with the other colors in the shot. If I turn on the correction then instantly this looks a bit cooler. Here's the before and after.
But if I turn off crop it sits much more naturally in this shot because of the balance of colors. It's just something to be aware of when you're grading but so much of grading is subjective. You are communicating a story to your audience so it's okay to break the rules. And in general corrections to the highlights are more accurate for lighting conditions whereas corrections to the mid tones tend to be more mood setting corrections. So if I drag this over towards the blue here and I'm completely changing the mood of this shot from an audience's point of view.
We can see instantly that this is slightly stylized. Its telling a particular story that's showing us to pay attention to what's actually happening on screen. That's also an important part of grading the connection between the colors that you're effecting and the actual content. That is being portrayed or that is being carried out on screen. Lets just jump back to this first shot, and change my workspace back to editing. Blue as a color isn't inherently cold or negative, our interpretation depends on the circumstances. For example, a beautiful bright blue sky can be quite uplifting and give us a very positive feeling.
An important part of how color is communicated and interpreted is contextural, it references the content in the image. In this shot, although her skin tone has a bluish tinge, we don't associate it with physical temperature. It doesn't seem physically cold in this shot, just emotionally, because she's not exhibiting the sort of behavior we'd normally associate with being cold. She's not shivering. And she is not wearing cold weather clothing. These visual clues together with the blue in the highlights tell a story about what she is actually feeling.
Simon works with Adobe Premiere Pro and the Magic Bullet Colorista II and Looks plugins, but these lessons can be applied to any color correction workflow.
- How our eyes see color
- What colors tell the audience
- Making sure color is consistent
- Applying adjustments in the correct order
- Understanding how warm and cool colors frame emotion differently
- Isolating and adjusting skies
- Changing the time of day with color
- Designing interiors like an office, a hospital, or an interrogation room
- Creating fake depth of field