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Do it yourself Color Grading

In part1, DMN contributor Mike Jones discusses the importance of planning By Mike Jones

Color Grading is too often regarded as an arcane, exclusive science not fit for mere mortals. But the digital age is slowly starting to reshape this mentality and allow for a clearer perspective through the haze of hyperbole. Which is a good thing because the tools for getting great color grading results have never been better, cheaper or more accessible.

Any cinematic art can be complex, nuanced, detailed, scientific and specialized - editing, sound mixing, cinematography - but simply because these arts can be highly specialized shouldn't mean you have to be a Specialist to engage with them; they shouldn't be inaccessible or unapproachable.

Contrary to popular belief, Color Grading isn't that hard. It is nether arcane nor unassailable. You CAN color grade your own digital movie and get good results. You CAN color grade on a desktop computer without dedicated hardware. Anyone who tells you otherwise is simply out of touch or a technology snob.


Of course a colorist specialist in a dedicated hardware grading suite with specialized and carefully calibrated monitors will likely get better results than you at your desktop or laptop. But that's absolutely not the point. If we all followed that logic no one would dare pick up a camera until they had been properly apprenticed on a 35mm Panavision; No one would sit down to edit until they had been well schooled on every element of an Avid Symphony; No one would drive a car on the road until they had mastered an F1 racer. Utterly absurd! That is an archaic and dinosauric perspective generally expounded by those terrified that the Digital Generation of filmmakers may show them up with the brazen audacity of their DIY ethic.

It strikes me as somewhat odd that very few would rally against the idea of the DIY when it comes to camera, sound and edit but for reasons unknown there remains an entrenched idea that doing your own color grade is somehow blasphemy and folly.

If you're careful, follow some key principles of color theory, ensure your grading is in-concert with your film's story and theme, understand how to avoid clipping and illegal colors, and have even a half-decent set of eyeballs in your head then there is absolutely no reason whatsoever that you can't get great color grading results on your own, doing it yourself, using low cost software on a domestic computer.

The color grading software options on the market right now (Magic Bullet, Colorista, Apple Color, After Effects not to mention NLE plugins) are myriad, cheap and powerful but before you start banging away gleefully at color curve graphs there are some key notions to engrain into the consciousness of every DIY indie filmmaker.


Plan color from beginning
Don't let your color choices be after-thoughts and add-ons; put color at the centre of your film along with Storyboard and Casting. Your choice of a color palette should come straight from Character, Narrative and Theme inherent in your script. It sounds trite but it's hugely useful to simply ask "if Character X were color what would he/she be?" "If Scene Y was a color what would it be?" "If My Movie were a color what would it be?" Distilling your ideas about color from the very beginning will inform everything you will do with color throughout the production process. 

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Related Keywords:color grading, filmmaking, color calibration

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