Video Color Grading and Storytelling

FCPX & DaVinci Resolve Workflow.

Color correction can be a powerful tool in video production. In fact, it can be one of the most powerful tools you have at your disposal. In this blog post I’m going to show you 3 things that can be used with nearly any video editing software, but are specific to our workflow which includes FCPX and Da Vinci Resolve:

  1. How powerful color correction can be
  2. How color grading can help tell story
  3. Our process when color grading projects

The images below overviews the process, which consists of multiple steps and advanced techniques. The first image is straight out of the camera, and you’ll notice that the colors are muted and overall the image is washed out. This is because cameras capture as much data as possible, allowing for more control in the color grading process. The second image has the color’s saturation boosted and contrast increased, this is closer to what the human eye would see and is considered “normal.” After this step is completed you can further create a look- which will further enhance and subject mood and/or feelings. The third image is the final product for this example. We isolated our character and removed all saturation from everything else. The final spot is embedded below and you can see why we chose the isolation effect.

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penny_onelight

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Color correction is a term that the digital production environments have borrowed the analog production process. In the days of film the negative was “corrected,” whereas in the digital environment it’s referred to as grading as the information is either there or not there in a digital frame. For the purpose of this blog post, I’m going to use these terms interchangeably because they each achieve the same goal.

Color correction let’s you shape the look and feel of your image. You can turn a scene into a cold eerily feeling, or warm and fuzzy, or just make it look better. Better is a relative term but there are a few tricks and tips to increase focus and attention. Look at the two images below and notice how the different color suggests different moods or environments. This can impact a story greatly.

BTS-Penny1-(1)

BTS-Penny2-(1)

Recently we had a shoot with a plot similar to the movie Pleasantville. We were in a stale, perfect world where nothing was fun nor boring, without a lot of life. In our story, skateboards are introduced with bright, saturated colors bringing life and fun into the town. Our black and white world had little contrast and no saturation. This was contrasted by isolated objects that were full of saturation and affected other elements as the skaters rode past them. If you were to watch this spot in full color, the story wouldn’t be nearly as powerful. It would be boring almost. But because we isolated some of the colors we were able to have our audience focus on what we wanted them to, not the other way around.

An important but often overlooked element of color correction is isolation. We have the ability to change or correct certain shades of blue, or specific parts of the screen. For example, if we are shooting an interview and our focus is on the subject’s face, we can put a mask around her face and darken the exposure elsewhere. The human eye focuses on brighter and more contrast areas of an image naturally, and this little trick helps the audience watch the part of the screen that we want them to. Color correction is as much about what we see as what we don’t.

Color correction is as much about what we see as what we don’t.

We edit all our projects in Apple’s Final Cut Pro X. FCP X has pretty decent, and fast, built in color correction tools. They are very intuitive and simple to use and for more basic grading they work just as well as anything else on the market. Final Cut Pro X has a lot of developer support which means powerful plugins with built in presets for different look/feel/moods to take your image even further.

The other advantage of Final Cut Pro X is the powerful round tripping to DaVinci’s Resolve, the gold standard in color correction. Recently, DaVinci released a free version of the Resolve which can do 90% of what the full version can. With industry standard tools DaVinci not only has a powerful feature set, it can get to a level of detail that the most demanding project require. DaVince also allows for 3rd party boards to be integrated into the software. Color grading is something that you feel, and using traditional tools to feel the grade is still common among the top professional and amateur colorists alike. The image below shows what a typical color board will look like.

On smaller project we typically do color correction as the last step in our post production process and handle this inside Final Cut Pro X. We do this for speed, efficiently and flexibility. Sometimes it can be advantageous to open your editing file and make tweaks as needed. For medium and larger projects we prefer to use DaVinci Resolve with a professional colorist. Professional colorist are not only faster, but they can also interpret looks and execute on them. For projects that require a lot of shot-to-shot matching professional colorists working in Resolve can achieve a level of consistency that provides a polished and professional look throughout your edit.

Best of NAB 2015

The Most Exciting Announcements from NAB 2015

Every April, the CES for video professional visits Las Vegas and top manufacturers announce their star products. The video world hones in on NAB and everyone marvels at the latests and greatest tech. We’re huge fans on tools and how they help us tell stories. We’re written about NAB before and how these products make their way into our toolkit. We’re going to break down the best product announcements from NAB 2015.

RED is used to shaking things up on the technology front. They have been the most responsible party for making waves in digital cinema camera technology since their inception in 2006. This year is no different and they continue to deliver on their promised upgrades. From Epic, to Dragon and now Weapon, RED is still leading camera technology. You can get into technological specifics here. The Weapon is a full-frame 8K camera built for the future. Japan is talking about covering their next Olympics in 8K, in a time when the most dominant economies are barely upgrading to 4K. More than increased resolution the Weapon offers the ability to stabilize and offer greater detail, even in the pixels you don’t see. The indie film world will undoubtedly clamor over Weapon. The picture should be improved over Dragon and if nothing else it ups the competition requirement and brings down barriers to entry.

4K is definitely here, and maybe even outdated.

Freefly, maker of drones and the iconic MoVI, is out with a new operating tool for their gimbals called the MIMIC. Some are calling this a game changer, which might be a little overstated, but it does make it easier for novices to obtain a shot as if you’re playing a video game. The downside is that it still requires two people to operate- one holding the camera and the other controlling the gimbal movement with the MIMIC. Here’s Chase Jarvis showing off this new tech.

Small HD makes big waves, again

Recently I was directing a shoot where I had a wireless Small HD monitor on set the entire day. It was so fascinating to see exactly what the camera sees in a portable unit. Our shoot was very mobile, so a traditional, stationary monitor setup wouldn’t work. Small HD is at it again, this time with a very high resolution, high color 5″ monitor. The beauty in this monitor is that it is really a 2-in-1, where you can hold it and be portable (since is small enough), or where you can mount it to your camera and use it as a viewfinder. In the later use, since it’s pretty large for a viewfinder at 5″, you have a lot to look at and can get a great idea of what the camera is capturing. The 502 packs more pixels than an iPhone 6.

Tim Ryan with wireless monitor

SmallHD 502 monitor

Lighting

Arri have long been one of the leaders in lighting. While it’s not the most appealing part of NAB 2015, it’s role in storytelling can’t be overstated. We’re huge fans of new technology and anything that makes our shoots happen more swiftly. Arri released a new LED panel for ultra soft light, which will work great in a number of situations (read: beauty). LED are low powered, so they can be taken to into the field and are very bright, so you can use next to a window or even outdoors in some situations. Arri claims the Skypanel has more than a decade of R&D behind the product.

Final Cut Pro X

Final Cut Pro X has been out for a number of years and it’s taken it’s fair share of heat from several people, companies, rivals… just about anyone. But the tide is turning, and more people are starting to warm up to the best editing program around, in my humble opinion. We’re exclusively a FCP X shop, and since Apple has just released a small update I thought I’d mention it here. I’ll repeat myself when I say that it’s the best editing program around purely because it allows us to focus on story and tell it that much faster. No more losing your train of thought during an edit.

Adobe Character Animation

Big news from the Adobe camp came out a week before NAB 2015, and it’s incredible: Real time character animation from Adobe. This will cut down on countless hours in post on animated video projects. All the keyframes are recorded, so adjusting animation and presets after the fact will be a breeze. This is just a preview but when it’s out look for it to have a big impact on animated post production workflows.

New Design

Modern & Clean.

We’re pleased to announce an all new website redesign. The culmination of months of work including research, reviews, positioning and design phases. When we re-launched TAR Production in early 2014 we quickly put a theme based WordPress site. For all intents and purposes it worked and got the job done.We received a lot of compliments and it was fun before it was trendy. But we always knew it was a temporary solution. Since our sincere focus as a video production company is storytelling, something that always takes a unique approach creatively to each project, we felt that our website needed to be unique as well.

We spent a few months taking notes on design and layout we felt would work well. I have always felt that our website should complement our work, not overshadow it; guide our users, not direct them and overall create a visually pleasing experience. We looked deep into our storytelling process and took ourselves out of our shoes and into prospective customer’s shoes. “How does this look from the outside,” we asked ourselves. “Does this make sense?”

We looked deep into our storytelling process.

We tried to present a guide that shows who we are, how we approach story and video production in general. This is meant to be top level, and only act as a guide. Taking a custom approach to each project means adapting our guide and leaving the flexibility to be creative.

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We worked with a couple of very talented people that made this project come to life. The site was designed by Nick Grygiel and developed by Peter Harlacher. They are both masters in their own right and together we were able to take my thoughts and turn that into a beautiful design that works, and ultimately build that into an interactive story providing a window into our world.

We plan to put this site to good use, too. We’re going to bringing you inside our operations. Showing you the in’s & out’s of what we do, how we do it and why we do it. Our plan is to post weekly to this blog. Subscribe to our newsletter now and get the updates instantly right in your inbox. Follow along with us on the road through video production, storytelling and see why we make the creative decisions we do.