Look Analysis: Cyan Skies

Look Creation

The Hollywood films I have been drawn to since I first started watching movies generally have a strong color palette with great use of color, with the color grade enhancing those elements to really make them pop. These movies feel glossy and special to me and speak to me as a cinematographer (regardless of the story).

One element I came across when studying films to try to mimic their color is the use of cyan in the skies. Once I started seeing this pattern, I couldn’t unsee it. One thing to note is that this isn’t a given for all films – it depends on the look of each film – but still a pattern nonetheless. Some are more pushed than others. This pattern is sometimes tied to the teal orange look, but not always is associated with it.

Some examples I’ve noticed in varying degrees of saturation/luminance in the skies, usually always pushing blue towards cyan:

The Wolf of Wall Street
Sicario
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
The Judge

The main takeaway for me after recognizing this pattern was that I had another element in my images I could think about shifting the color to. I look at it as another tool in my arsenal as a cinematographer to utilize for the feeling the film is trying to create, vs. a blanket rule to apply to all footage.

Here’s some a screen shot from a project I shot with a comparison between what is captured on camera compared to where the image could be pushed. It starts with Arri Log-C converted to Rec.709 using Resolve’s Color Space Transform tool. Here is the transform with no other color applied – you could basically say this is ‘out of camera’. It’s not bad, but it feels incomplete. It also feels a little magenta in part of the sky:

Arri Log-C to Rec.709

Using Resolves Curves tool and just making an adjustment in the Hue vs. Hue tool to push blue a little towards cyan yields a subtle look in the sky without pushing too hard.

Hue Vs Hue, pushing blue towards cyan

If I wanted to go for a really obvious look, it would be a combination of pushing all of the Hue Vs tools – Hue, Sat, and Luminance. To me this feels a bit heavy and I likely wouldn’t go this far, but you can start to see how just pushing this one element completely changes the feeling of the image. One must also be careful of other blue objects in the image as they will be affected by the adjustments. This feels like something you’d get from a random LUT pack online 🙂

One of my mentors, Waqas Qazi, has repeatedly commented on work I’ve submitted to him for comments on and tells me to keep it as simple as I can. The more I dive into color, the more I’m seeing that when I focus on one element using as few tools and adjustments as possible, a lot can be done with a lot less work. It’s sometimes tempting to try to add tons of nodes to feel like I’m doing work, but often times images don’t need or require that much work applied to them.

The comparison:

Fortunately, these cyan sky changes are easy to apply across platforms as well, and not limited to just Davinci Resolve. It’s totally possible to do this in a workflow in Premiere Pro for editors who are dabbling in color as well. Find out how to learn these skills for Premiere Pro at https://purecolor.teachable.com

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