Color grading a project can seem a bit daunting. There is so much to accomplish and you need to do it in a decent amount of time. Is there a way to break up the process into easy to follow steps? Where do you begin? In this video, author Robbie Carman walks you through the six parts of color grading a project.
Earlier on the chapter about evaluating how much time and effort a project will take, I made the suggestion of thinking about a project as six separate actionable steps or parts, and by doing so, you avoid the temptation of thinking about a project as one massive task, but rather six smaller, approachable tasks, and I want you to take that same thinking to actually color correcting an individual shot, scene, or project. When it comes to any project or any color correction task you may need to do, I like to think about six separate steps.
Now of course, with twenty years of experience under my belt, I sometimes merge these six separate steps of color correcting an individual shot together. But if you're just starting out with color, or learning more about it and wanting to get better at it, I do think it's a good idea to think about six separate steps to actually color correcting a shot, scene, or project. And the thing about this is that if you think about a project this way, correcting shots, it helps you build a repeatable workflow, and a repeatable workflow is a key to being faster and more accurate with the work that you do.
It also helps you kind of figure out what works for a project and footage, and when to sit through different tools. For example, my tri-mount adjusting contrast with the curves, is it really gonna work with the shot or not. Right. It also forces you to stay organized, if you think about six separate tasks, you can do those six separate tasks, in six different nodes, six different layers, and so on. When you think about staying organized additionally, it helps you think about things you can do on the individual clip level, as well as overall in groups, or on the timeline as a whole.
So let's go through those six separate parts. Part one is always identifying hero shots. Key shots in a program, things like interviews, a camera, establishing shots. As I first start watching a project, I'm going through the timeline and I'm marking these shots, I'm finding what I think to be the key shots that are going to be present in the film or the show. I then kind of filter my timeline, if I can, and working in a tool like Da Vinci Resolve, or at least copy them over to a separate, kind-of selects timeline, so I've filtered the timeline to show me only those shots.
It's those shots I will start working on before the rest of the film, with the goal of getting the client to approve the overall approach to these shots, because when the client has approved the overall approach to those shots, I can then take those grades and the information that I have gotten approval on, and ripple the rest of my timeline. One of the worst feelings to have as a colorist or an editor doing color is that you go through the entire program and somebody says, yeah that's not really the direction we were looking for, and the hero shots workflow helps you overweigh that program by color correcting only the shots that you've deemed, and the client has deemed as hero shots, and then getting approval for those.
After you've identified hero shots, and gotten approval, I'm trying to ripple this look out to the rest of the shots, but more so, I like to think about, even when I'm the color correction on the hero shots, breaking down that process into separate steps, and I always start with brightness on a shot. I like to think about brightness is detail. When I set the white point and the black point of a shot, that allows me to expand the contrast of the shot or even narrow the contrast of a shot, depending of the time of day, the mood, or the overall creative feel that we need or want out of a shot.
And I always start first with brightness. And trying to get that contrast right on a shot. Once I've done that, that's when I'm moving onto color. Adjusting the overall saturation on a shot, adjusting the overall hues and balance present in the shot, is my black true black, is my white true white, does it need to be? I'm trying to go through the shot and try to message the color to help me tell the story. At this point in the grade though, I want to be clear about one thing. I'm not really trying to push an overall, kind of look and feel with color into the shots yet.
At this point in the process, I'm just trying to get my shots to a level of neutrality. Another way to think about that is as a good starting point. It's my personal belief that only when you have balanced shots, will a kind-of a heavy, stylized look work on top of it. After I've gone through color, I'm then trying to match shots together, both in brightness and in color. And I'm doing this in two ways. In the previous chapter I mentioned the importance in using scopes to help inform our decisions. But I failed to mention that scopes are a tool, you don't have to live by them.
In other words, use them for what they're telling you but also trust your eyes a little bit to the overall look and feel of a scene. So I'm trying to match shots together, starting with brightness, then moving onto color, and using my scopes as a guide. I'm not particularly worried about small details matching at this point in time. I'm more worried about the overall look and feel being consistent between the shots. If, you know, a piece of clothing a little more green in one shot and a little more red in the other shot, don't worry, I'll come back in another pass and fix that.
Once I've got my overall shot matching working in the scene, I'll kinda ripple my way out and work through that. But I have this over-arching, kind-of mantra that I tell myself. Just get to the end of the program. I want to be able to touch every single shot, because if I ran out of time, but I touched every single shot, I've improved every shot probably. And that adds a lot of value for the project and for your clients. I like to think about every time I touch a shot, I'm going to improve it, but I don't have to do it all at once.
I'm gonna think about grading in passes. And more so than not, I try to remind myself, don't go crazy. Don't spend, you know, five, ten, fifteen minutes on a shot. Because as you remember earlier, I told you the longer you look at a shot, you work on it, chances are the worse that you'll make it. So at this stage, I'm just trying to get to the end, I'm making what I refer to as big honking moves. Overall color corrections on a shot. And then I'm going back and refining in passes. Finally, at the end of this process, after I've gone through the entire sequence, I've adjusted, you know, brightness and color of individual shots, I've then rippled that out by matching my shots, I've gotten to the end of the timeline.
And now I'm starting on my passes approach. That's when I start to worry about details. Things like skin tone consistency, skies, clothing and so on. But I'm not worrying about this at first. I'm only worried about these details in subsequent passes. 'Cause you'll drive yourself crazy if you try to do this all at once on a shot. Think about in getting from the beginning of the timeline to the end, and then going back and refining. So these are how I like to think about these six separate steps. Now, let's go ahead and put these six separate steps into action, into a performance section of a music video that I worked on.
- How people see
- Creatively and technically evaluating a project
- Interpreting your client's direction for a project
- Estimating how long a project will take
- Six stages that happen in a color correction workflow
- Timeline level grading
- Building a correction and look toolkit