Learning the Art of Color Grading And Not the Science

edited April 2013 in Filmmaking

One thing that I have noticed is that few people have a strong grasp of color correcting/grading, a lot of people have a working knowledge and even more people have no clue.  I wanted to fix this for myself so last year I went to FXphd.com and bought a series of tutorials on Da Vinci Resolve.  It was a great series because it breaks every part of resolve down and even as a Resolve lite user its very beneficial to learn the science of color correction.  When I open it up I am not intimidated any more by all these different buttons and options.  The problem is that while I know buttons purposes that did nothing to really teach me the art of color correction or grading. I recently found a video on youtube that presented a little more context help narrowing down how to learn a method of color grading.  I am a traditional learner and I am looking for traditional learner methods of color correction and grading. 

 A lot of videos I've seen on the subject end in well just play around but that's not the most effective concept for traditional learners.  A traditional learner may say I want to learn to violin and amazing at playing the violin, so they seek out teachers who will first show them the mechanics of how to hold the violin and how to make sounds from it.  After you can make a reasonable sound they keep walking you through practice sessions of other peoples work as you develop.  Part of the homework then is practice the lessons and then come back to show what you've learned through practice  Traditionally, it is only after you reach a certain middle to advance level where people start asking you to compose.  Some very talented individuals had a genius level skill for composing earlier on.  The rest of the violinists had to go through the traditional education that built them to the level where they could achieve the ability to compose. 
When it comes to color grading and I feel like in general for vfx and indie filmmaking in general is that the first couple steps happen and then the disconnect which prevents more people from really learning the art occurs.  After someone teaches you the mechanics they drop you back into the world and say practice or play around (which are important), but that does not lend to a traditional style of learning.  Does anyone know a good place to learn the art of color grading through a more traditional approach?  The guy that posted this video has a site that you can subscribe to but I'd rather see if there is a better (more free) resource available.  If there is not then I see this as a great business opportunity. 
To get a matrix like color grade is easy to achieve some semblance of that grade but I wanna know how they movies like The Bourne Identity, or really just the trilogy.  Now we always get wrapped around the axel when it comes to "what camera?" or "what lens?" but so often we forget where a lot of these shots really come together which I think is in post.  Youtube does not do films justice I know, but I want learn to color grade like the pros.  I have a wide movie collection and in the HD movie part of my collection I have HD DVDS and Blu Rays.  I understand compression rates are different and is a limiting factor but does anyone have any tips/tutorials/resources on this subject of color grading?  I feel as in color grading would help to yield that HD wow factor that  lets us watch Planet Earth or other content on tvs or computers in amazement.  SO the clarity and the color vividness is what I take away from Planet Earth.
Here is the Youtube Video with some strategies to help with color grading

Here is just some BBC Planet Earth Imagery


  • edited April 2013
    Being red-green color blind, I've always felt a little bit of a handicap in this area.
    But I just equate color grading to painting a picture.  The color helps convey the emotion.  As long as you know what you want the audience to feel at any given moment, you can use music and color grading to help reinforce that. 
    One of my favorite examples comes off the DVD extras for Smallville.  They pointed out that every scene at the Kent farm is always given a warm, golden grade because it's Clark's home and they want it to feel loving and inviting.
    In contrast, the Luthor mansion is always given a cool, blue-ish slightly desaturated grade to give the opposite feeling.  It's Lex Luthor's home, but there is no love or warmth there.  It's meant to feel cold and uninviting.
    We have certain natural feelings associated with color and I think that as long as you are aware of that, you can use the grade in an artistic way.  All it requires is some forethought for the scene and what you intend the audience to feel.
  • So I've been doing research on books that may help and one book that I wishlisted was by Steve Hullfish. The Book
    Well I found a page that had a Vimeo video with a presentation by Steve Hullfish.  This can be kinda technical but will help with learning RGB Wave form &scopes(even if you don't have a Tektronix monitor), but there are plenty of tips to help you in general.
    There was a second video that was on this website.

    The differences in what color wheels do in different software is highlighted here.
  • edited April 2013
    Here is a great, quick demo of what can be accomplished with color grading. You could pull this off in HitFilm using motion tracked points with the built in color grading tools.
  • That is a really cool video Null.
    I can tell some of his order of operations
    (based on the first part)
    1) Color Correct
    2)Increase exposure for 1 or more center points (to draw attention)
    3)Throw a color graded grade layer over it.
    4)Decrease exposure for the sky (to push exposure away the sky and unimportant parts)
    In some of parts he will use masks to shape out light
    I found an order of operations from a website
    1. Remove artifacts and de-noise.
    2. Balance your shots by adjusting BLACKS/MIDS/WHITES, SATURATION and WHITE BALANCE.

    3. Relight within a shot using power windows or masks.
    4. Add gradients, diffusion and other lens filters.
    5. Add vignettes
    6. Grade your images
    7. Simulate a film stock of your choice
    8. Resize and sharpen
  • edited April 2013
    The guys at Corridor Digital have a video talking about their workflow.
    At about the 9 minute mark they start talking about color correction and color grading.  They also get into some of the settings for using Avid's DNxHD codec
  • http://documentation.apple.com/en/color/usermanual/
    I found the Apple Colour user manual (not that I'm using Apple Colour, mind) to be a really good breakdown of colour basics. I used it for a tutorial with one of my classes that is just beginning to colour grade their work.
    I find this thread really interesting, and I am looking forward to trying DaVinci and looking through those videos. Great work, guys!
  • Wow that is a really neat manual that breaks down the order needed for color correction and gives some very indepth info.  Thanks Jma
  • jmajma
    edited April 2013
    Downloaded Da Vinci lite, got scared and ran away. Seriously, I wasn't having a lot of fun then, and needed to restart just to set my footage directory... where everything came up as a solid green screen (as opposed the to Roller Derby footage it should have been). Too complicated for my current abilities/sleep deprived state.
    I would like to see some pages on achieving specific looks broken down,
     with specific looks (Bladerunner look, superman look, Amalie look) rather than just finding presets for a look.
  • On that note, I've dug up this: http://liftgammagain.com/forum/index.php?forums/looks.49/page-2 whixh is a colorist forum where people are asking for how-to's on specific looks
  • Given my failure with Resolve, anyone got any free/cheap grading software that offers more than hitfilm, but is simpler than DaVinci Resolve? Hitfilm is the only editor we're using at the moment.
  • Up to learn Davinci Resolve?  I have access to a series which covers the main facts.
  • I'd like to, but there just seems to be too much I don't understand. I tried looking up online tutorials, but the screens didn't look the same, I can't seem to minimise or resize the work window. A step-by step on how to get started would be good.
    Oh, and I found a tute on the Transformers, Terminator Salvation and Where the Wild Things Are looks here: http://nofilmschool.com/dslr/color-grading/ it uses Magic Bullett, but  I assume these can be worked into other programs.
  • Wow I love that tut
  • This is a great topic, thanks for this Michael James (and everyone else)
    Looking forward to going through some of these vids as this is an area I've often wondered about how to master.  The extended bluray of Lord of the Rings has a really good section on Digital Grading which is worth a watch also as it goes into detail on how they used colours to convey warm in Hobbiton and also the cold and depair in Moria etc
  • @stopmotionman Watch that video JMA found.  It really breaks down the looks in major movies.  Want that super saturated Michael Bay look?  They break down transformers!  Want that super flat war look that was in transformers salvation?  They break down getting that look.
    Do you guys wanna know how to get a certain tone to be the focus while having specific colors act as the shadow or highlight?  https://kuler.adobe.com/#create/fromacolor  is a free web based application where you can mix colors and find out what color you would need to make certain colors highlighted.  IT was from that video.  If there was a color correction video as good as that grading video I feel like everyone would be set.
  • This is a really informative thread guys! I'm enjoying the way you document your research process, Michael James. It lets us follow you on your filmic educational path. Great stuff! 
  • Does anyone know if Gimp colour picker works with Hitfilm? I'll check it out myself later and let you know unless somene has already tried it, but also wanted to share this useful tool
  • I, too have Davinci Resolve Lite and am too afraid to use it. Adobe Speedgrade is what I have been using and, well... It's really not the best program. Hitfilm gives me equal results and better control, but its not compatible with my Premiere timeline D:
    I would love to see a tutorial where someone shows you, baby step by baby step, how to open a short timeline in Resolve, grade it, and then export it again. All the roundtrip tuts I have seen do a lot of confusing jump cuts that I get lost in!  :blush: 
  • edited April 2013
    I have a tutorial series but I think they will get mad if I start posting paid for things.  So i'll post some free ones that give a decent quick look.  The big thing that a lot of people have issue with is opening the media.  ITs not super intuitive but I guess its better then what it was.  You have to in the projects setting select where Resolve will find the media... even if its simple C drive.
    Heres  a demo of the training I bought
    Its informational but doesn't really help you learn the art of resolve.  It cured my fear of the software..,

    I wish I could help with the round tripping.  Im using Vegas Pro 12 and apparently that's the one problem child.  You can export your footage in most editors as XML to resolve.  Vegas Pro 12 does not seem to natively work.    It has the feature to export  but it doesn't seem to work.  I wish it did because then I could trim up my footage in vegas, do color correcting... add vfx from hitfilm and then color grade and out put very easy.
    Final Cut Pro round trip by warren.
  • I'm also using Resolve lite. I like it for the most part, but as others have mentioned, it can be a pain going back and forth between other programs.  One issue I've found is if your video is 23.976fps and you use a QT format to get footage to Resolve, it seems to treat it as 24fps, and can get off a frame here and there.  I've found DPX to be the best way to get footage to it when shooting 23.976fps.
    For my last project, for initial color correction, I exported the project from Vegas Pro 12 as Final Cut Pro/Divinci Resolve XML, then delivered each clip separately from Resolve and added them as takes back in to Vegas.  Easy going to Resolve, more work getting back into Vegas.
    For final color grading, I rendered from Vegas as DPX, which I brought into Resolve and used the scene detection to break it up, graded, then delivered as a single file.
    I know most people like video tutorials, but in addition, I'd recommend reading the PDF manual for Resolve. It's reasonably detailed and helped me a lot.   If I remember right, there are also some tutorials on their site.
  • 902902
    edited April 2013
    I notice Corridor Digital uses the Adobe applications:  After effects,  premiere,  and the color grading app.
    Has anyone had equal success using Sony vegas,  with Hitfilm?
    { I'm a little surprised they dont use hitfilm .  Arent  they the fxhome graduate, stars?   }
  • They also get into some of the settings for using Avid's DNxHD codec
    I was surprised by this.  I was expecting maybe Cineform.   Ive heard of some people using it,  but I
    thought it was the low end way to do things, with perhaps not the best performance.
     Whats the best codec combo to use in Hitfilm with perhaps Vegas, anyone?   does anyone recommend DNxHD codec?
  • They also get into some of the settings for using Avid's DNxHD codec
    I was surprised by this.  I was expecting maybe Cineform.   Ive heard of some people using it,  but I
    thought it was the low end way to do things, with perhaps not the best performance.
     Whats the best codec combo to use in Hitfilm with perhaps Vegas, anyone?   does anyone recommend DNxHD codec?

    I just started using DNxHD when I go from Vegas 12 to hitfilm to do effects. I like it a lot. Its runs well and doesn't bog down my mid-range computer. Its the best of the codecs that I've personally been using. 

  • So here is the order of operations which I like the most from my research from color grading central
    Working with Nodes Series

    Correction Stage

    Grade Management New!

    Looks Building


    Finishing Stage

    Here is a series of tutorials that should help demystify daVinci Resolve.
    Bringing footage into resolve
    Setting Exposure
  • Anyone have any clue as to how they color correction BBC Planet Earth and if they add any color correction?
  • jmajma
    edited May 2013
    I signed up to Denver Riddles colour grading newsletter, although I haven't had the time/been brave enough to jump back into Resolve (I'm using HF2 as a primary editor at the moment as it is sufficient for my current needs). However, the newsletter often sends out some interesting information.
    The following books were suggested in a recent email:



    Another couple books I recommend if you really want to

    dive in deeper into color theory to improve your grading





  • I found the color correction handbook at my local library and was not really inspired by it.  I've heard great things about the book by steve hullfish and have one of his books on my amazon wish list.
  • http://color.method.ac/
    Interesting tool for testing your perception of colour...
  • Interesting test... kinda hard to learn the placement on some which brought my score down but
    Hue 10
    saturation 7
    complementary 8
    analogous 5
    triadic 9
    tetadic 6
  • Here is an article pulled from one of the sites someone posted.  It goes in to how to replicate the Technicolor look using Da Vinci resolve because you can do parallel nodes in that program.  I think it shows a how to get some interesting colors
    The original picture.
    with saturation turned up

    Or the 3 strip method

    3 strip method with crushed blacks and some minor tweaks.finishedlook-605x340.jpg

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