So many tutorials on the internet regarding color focus primarily on the process of color grading from a post production standpoint perhaps because with things like LOG, technology has been shifting us toward making color decisions later in the filmmaking process. But this misses the point entirely… Having good color in your coloring suite begins at the art direction stage.
In preparing a demo for this lesson I wanted to recreate the famous scene from Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita, but put my own spin on it by fleshing it out in color. Because I wanted to emphasize the range of color, I went with a Tetradic color scheme using Blue, Green, Red and Yellow as my dominant colors - shooting indoors in the studio to create an artificial yet really bold colored look of Technicolor studio films from the past.
For the set I purchased recycled artificial turf pulled from USC and sold by a dealer - unfortunately it’s chock full of tiny rubber pellets which get all over the place - mountains of them. I flushed out the set with green fake plants from Salvation Army Thrift shop and put hung a blue patterned muslin for a backdrop. To keep my beautiful model Victoria Patton from getting covered in black rubber pellets I bought a blue and white striped beach towel which also serves to adds some blue tones to the bottom of the frame.
For costume we went with white and red stripes - because I just love stripes - and a three dollar novelty heart shaped glasses purchased on Amazon as a nod to Kubrick’s original.
Lighting wise, I used ikan’s IDMX1500B to light a blue backdrop, two ikan IB1000 LEDs to as fills for my model’s face and body. I placed a single 2K with a Color Temperature Blue Gel to blast my talent with a strong backlight.. Since I knew I was going to be shooting photos as well using strobe lights… I chose to set all these fixtures to 5600K - Being able to dial in the color temperature is a great feature of these ikan LED fixtures.
Using Blackmagic Cinema camera, I shot the scene in uncompressed 12-bit Raw Mode using a Sigma 12-24mm and a Nikon 50mm lens.
Working in Post
Working with RAW files adds an extra step in the post process but luckily DaVinci Resolve makes the process as painless as possible.
Resolve is a phenomenal color program used to color lots of well known projects and the free lite version Blackmagic has available is one of the most powerful free programs out there definitely worth checking out. But the folks at Blackmagic have added a lot of workflow tools as well. I used Resolve to open the RAW clips and render them out to lower quality proxies which I can use to edit inside Adobe Premiere Pro CC. When I’m satisfied with my edit, I export an XML and import it into Resolve having the program automatically relink the original RAW clips based on the proxies.
Now I must confess, when I first saw the images coming out of the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, I was a little bit stunned. Even shooting in LOG, the images fresh off the drive where beautiful.. I usually shoot studio work under tungsten balanced lighting but Shooting under the ikan daylight balanced LEDs created this extra punch to my images - a fuller and richer palette of colors.
Even though the camera recorded in LOG color, the attention I had paid to color and lighting on set meant that all I had to do in Resolve was just fine tune the image.
I started off with a basic first color correction - bringing up the gamma and gain in the primaries to make my image feel a little lighter. Next I wanted to punch up Red Green and Blue parts of my image. I created a new node and used the Qualifier tab to only select the blue parts of the frame and upping their saturation a bit. Since I only wanted the blue towel to pop and not the backdrop, I added a window mask to isolate just the towel.
Then I did the same thing adding another node this time focusing on the red - especially that red hat which looked a little faded. Using the Qualifier I tried to find just the red hat and darkened and increased it’s saturation. Then it was another corrector node, this time focusing on just the greens by adding green and taking out some of the reds in the green parts of the frame.
With the colors punched up, I wanted to add a little softness to the highlights - adding another correcting mode and using qualifiers to find the bright parts of the image. I three on a blur and then pulled back the transparency key to taste.
Finally, I added one last node to do just a little relighting. I created a circular window and placed around her body. Then using the automated tracker… and this part always blows my mind… Resolve actually tracks the camera movement and move the window so it corresponds with the camera movement. How cool is that?
By having made strong color choices ahead of time, using Blackmagic Design’s Cinema Camera and it’s flexible RAW recording format, lighting with ikan’s color temperature adjustable lights set to 5600K and fine tuning with Davinci Resolve I was able to create a bold colorful scene inside my studio that I’m just incredibly proud of.
Color is an extremely important and but extremely nuanced part of modern filmmaking. We’ve only begun to touch on the major topics of how color relates to filmmaking and how to manipulate color both in the art direction and in post production. As you become more skilled in the craft, you will begin to see how every decision in the filmmaking process carries with it it’s own baggage both positives and negatives - every choice has an impact on your final film. Even if you don’t have huge budgets for precise art direction and custom made wardrobe, you should still pay attention to the details of what you’re capturing on set. It can be as simple as choosing the red folder over the blue one.
Just because modern tools give us flexibility in post, it’s not excuse for lazy filmmaking. Think and plan for Color and then let these fantastic tools we have take you the rest of the of the way. Go make something great.