Refining The Film Look May 2021

Building Looks, General Color, Look Creation

During some downtime I decided to try to refine the film look even further. At a certain point it’s starting to become about the minor details. I’m starting to notice nuances in color overall. Using a Blackmagic Film to Arri LUT from Juan Melara is a great starting point, but I’ve found that I needed to balance the image even further. A couple of samples below, along with a video showing the before/after.

White Wall Grades

General Color

There have been many projects in the past where as a cinematographer one has to guide a portion of the post production. One of the major considerations is of course, the color grading process. It’s been my experience a lot of editors do not have experience doing anything beyond the basics of white balance and perhaps some contrast control. I was recently inspired by work Tom Poole did on Bad Education and it reminded me of this project I worked on years ago when I was still learning the outcome of not providing a color notes for post production.

The director gave a reference to another film whose office had a bluish gray tint. In Hollywood productions, it’s easier to swing this way because there’s budget for production design to paint the walls and bias it towards one color for better separation. On low budget indie films, this likely won’t be the case the majority of the time. So the color grade can come into play here.

The interesting thing about Bad Education is that I could see the office walls were white with a little bit of color mixed in. This let me go back and see that I could implement this on a past project.

Here’s the rough cut from the editor. It was originally shot on RED and converted to Rec.709:

Luminance Balance:

Then a white balance to get back to a neutral position in the color space:

From here it’s clear the skin tones are super pale. Therefore I pulled a qualifier for the skin and brought it to the skin tone indicator and boosted the color in the lows and mids.

From here another luminance balance:

Then using a reference frame I grabbed from Bad Education, I matched as closely as possible the tone in the walls. This will give the white walls some separation with the actors:

From here I passed the skin qualifier in a Layer Mixer node and brought the skin luminance down to match the reference point.

Adding 35mm grain finishes the look:


Teal Orange Look

General Color

The Teal Orange Look: A staple in Hollywood films, and for the past few years, in indie productions. Since Resolve is widely available, it’s been easy to recreate this look. This is the first look I was introduced to creating manually when I was searching for how to grade without using LUTs. 

There are many tutorials online to achieve this look. My first tutorial came from Juan Melara, and lately, I found one from Avery Peck that has been great as well. Both slightly different takes on a similar theme. While this may go in and out of style, you can’t argue that the complementary colors just pop and make a lot of images look great.

Camera: RED Epic Dragon


The initial grade begins with a color space transform to Rec.709.

The next step is a luminance adjustment.

Following, a color balance to get back to neutral.

From here, skin tones are isolated via a qualifier, and adjusted to match the skin tone indicator on the vectorscope, along with adding some dark reds into the shadows for what Avery Peck describes as ‘blood flow in the skin’. I think that’s a crucial step for more realistic skin tones.

From there another luminance adjustment is applied.

The teal layer is now added.

To retrieve the skin tones, the skin qualifier from a previous step is passed through to a layer on top of the teal look. Final contrast adjustment yields our look:

Node tree summary: 

And in motion:

Review: Mixing Light Davinci Resolve Course

General Color

One of the biggest steps I took as a beginner in my color journey was taking a course from Mixing Light ( on how to use Davinci Resolve.

Prior to that, I had spent most of the beginning years of my career as a cinematographer struggling through understanding and using various tools on the market for color grading. I understood that color correction and grading was one of the things I needed to at least understand as a cinematographer.

I had watched countless tutorials on YouTube and Vimeo but that led me nowhere. It was the proverbial ‘give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, but teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime’. I would glean small tips here and there from tutorials but it would never stick as I didn’t understand the tools, or more importantly, the principles behind the color grading process.