Why colour grading is a critical part of post-production in the digital age | By Vanessa Haarhoff | Colour is a crucial way of conveying meaning beyond the screen in …
Why colour grading is a critical part of post-production in the digital age | By Vanessa Haarhoff | Colour is a crucial way of conveying meaning beyond the screen in visual storytelling. Colour grading is therefore a fundamental tool in video post-production to perfect colour, depending on the type of video production: whether it be a film; a documentary; or an advert, in a bid to evoke a desired response from the audience, he explains.
Leo Joseph, MD of the Dubai-based post-production facility Mile Studios, agrees that colour grading is a fine art, not only vital to induce a certain “feeling and ambiance” particular to a certain type of video genre, but to maintain a high standard of post-production video. “Colour grading carried out by colour grading specialists can either make or break a production,” he says.
Senior colourist and manager of film restoration services at the US-based independent media company, Olympusat Inc, Jim Wicks notes that if colour grading specialists don’t “listen” to the narrative or message of a certain video genre with their eyes before starting to colour grade, the results could be disastrous.
He explains that a client once assigned him to create a Technicolour look for a creative Indie film. Although it was a lovely look, the Indie film was shot with a lot of deep earth tone colours and dark lighting, so the colour graded Technicolour look did not fit this film. The colour pallet of Star Wars for example does not fit the colour pallet of Star Trek, or any other film for that matter, explains Wicks; “the look of a film is organic to that individual film.”
Joseph says that technological software advancements over the past couple of years have made a multitude of different video post-production colour grading software packages available within the market. Sandhar explains that the most popular colour grading software used by post-production professionals are NuCoda by Digital Vision; Resolve by DaVinci and Baselight by Filmlight. Wicks says the type of software that a colourist uses really depends on the type of production.
He notes that both DaVinci Resolve and Baselight have their unique advantages, but explains how he has utilised DaVinci Resolve to restore over 200 35mm classic Spanish-language films for broadcast and Blu-ray distribution in HD, 2K and 4K.
Colour grading specialist Azin Samar from the Dubai-based video and audio distributor MediaCast says the newly upgraded DaVinci Resolve 11 (as a software base solution) gives colourists an expanded and precise set of grading tools. “With the additional editing capabilities added it is a complete delivery powerhouse for video post-production for independent filmmakers all in a 4K environment, which is an important aspect when handling large files,” she says.
Joseph notes that despite the advancements in video post-production software the transition of film from an analogue to a digital platform has created some issues for pure colour grading practitioners as colour grading tools are now widely available in most video editing software programmes and accessible to anyone, making the quality of colour in many final projects questionable. “Anyone can technically correct the colour through video editing software, but it is not often appealing to the market”. Wicks notes that although this is an issue, at the end of the day it is a colourist with a trained eye for colour that will make the difference to any project. “The colour grading software is the race car but the colourist is the driver”.
Samar agrees with Joseph that the colour grading industry (as experienced in the Middle East) is challenged with a lack of colour grading expertise. Some common challenges among young film makers would be the lack of accessible sources of learning about colour grading and a lack of knowledge, explains Samar. “Film schools spend time teaching editing to filmmakers but not so much, even not at all about colour grading, so most colourists in the industry are self-trained,” she adds. Joseph explains that some of the most talented colour grading experts within the industry have over 30 years of experience. “Colour grading cannot just be learnt, it is a skill that takes years to perfect”.
Despite these challenges, Sandhar says that the changing nature of the technological landscape has benefitted the quality of colour grading in the video post-production workflow because it has allowed colour grading experts to work remotely from the “cloud”. The cloud connects a wide pool of creative talent in a post production environment in real-time.
Wicks emphasises that having the right people with the right chemistry is the key to creating great film, television, and web video. Finding and establishing that right relationship is absolutely crucial to the success of a film or television project, “so, when you do find it, you’ll do just about anything to keep the team together, even if it’s a virtual team”.
Wicks explains that although many of his clients may be located in Los Angeles, New York, or London, he does not need to be; “the cloud is like a virtual door to my colour suite, whereby my clients can virtually come in to use my services on their projects”. They can upload their projects to cloud storage, where I can access and download the assets to work on them in my colour suite, he explains. With the ability to remotely grade, his clients are able to watch his progress in real-time in their location as he goes through their projects from his Florida based colour suite, he notes.
Joseph adds that although the cloud has added value to the video post-production workflow, it can and has sometimes been observed to have affected the quality of some post-production work because colour grading specialist are not grading the files from the original RAW files because of their large capacity size. Colour grading from RAW files means grading from native camera footages, he explains. Each camera generates different types of files: RED cameras give r3d files, Alexa Prores give 444 files, and 5D H264 and Sony camera create MXF files for example, but because these files have such a high resolution making them bigger and difficult to handle, requiring more time to upload, download, copy, render and play. As results of this, most of the colour grading professionals confer the RAW files into lower formats to use for edit and then colour grade from the same, which is not good. “Each conversion will result in quality loss,” Joseph says.
Quality post-production colour grading and editing relies on the use of 4K monitors as opposed to HD or 2K, explains Joseph. As video types continue to transition to very high resolution digital format and in some cases computer graphic imaging, colour grading professionals need to use high resolution technology which accurately displays detail and RAW colour in order to edit and enhance colour quality. Dan Mitre, creative director at Mile Studios, explains how the lack of colour quality and feeling is apparent within a video production when colour is graded on an uncalibrated monitor.
Samar says that the order of “operation workflow” is the most important part of colour grading to achieve organization, time management and efficiency. She explains that often this order is not followed properly due to users wanting to achieve the results very quickly, which then results in one overlooking or forgetting important details. “In colour grading some of these errors cannot be fixed at later stages, which leaves the colourist with no other choice but to restart the project from scratch. Additionally, to achieve the desired look, every colourist needs to be aware of what is known as “Colour Grading Strategy”. Ignoring the strategy will cost the colourist more time and money, she explains.
Wicks says that another colour grading error comes from not collaborating. Colour Grading is not a solo activity; there must be input from the DP, the Director, and others on the creative team. Colourists interpret their ideas and help make them become reality. The focus on the art of colour grading is not on the talents of the people in it – but on the team as a whole. Mitre agrees that a lack of team synergy and direction can result in a poor production.
Despite the challenges that the industry is facing in a fast moving technological environment, the role of colour grading is really emerging as an important arena to invest in and acquire awareness and knowledge about, explains Samar.