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.

Rotoscoping Color

Skin Tones + Qualifiers

I was inspired by scrolling through Instagram with some heavy color treatments from RGB Led tubes. I shot this project before the RGB lights were more common place – we actually used kino flos and had a somewhat complicated wiring setup to a DMX board. How times have changed since then! Shooting with tube lights in the frame was once something that seemed higher end at the time is now more common place with the advent of all these new technologies. I went back to this project to see if I could spice it up a little bit.

Camera: RED Epic Dragon
Lenses: Canon CN-E EF Mount

Step 1
Color space transform to Rec.709

Step 2
Contrast Adjustment

Step 3
Skin qualifier and adjustment

Step 4
Rotoscope and Look

Step 6
Highlight adjustment

Step 6
Diffusion and final look adjustment

The most difficult aspect was rotoscoping the model in the background and getting enough of a balance where we can feel just slightly the green environment spelling onto her. I think the next thing I will try to tackle is getting the highlight reflections on her skin to reflect more of a greenish hue than the current white light for a more realistic look where it feels like there is green light.

Here is the moving image to get a sense of the rotoscoping:

Look Creation: Bleach Bypass

Look Creation

Learning to build looks manually is one of the most freeing moments of the process of getting better at coloring footage. As a test for myself, I’m revisiting Alexis Van Hurkman’s The Color Correction Handbook. I purchased the book around 5 years ago when I was just starting to get my feet wet with color. Most of the information went over my head. I was pleasantly surprised I understood way more after a few years of working in production and studying various resources, so I decided to try to build his recommended looks. This post covers bleach bypass.

I went with his method 1, which was actually pretty straightfoward. My node tree below. If you want the workflow you’ll have to buy his book 🙂

Apparently to get the best results, it’s preferred to apply on footage that already has a higher contrast ratio to start with. Luckily I had some test footage of a sunny day. Technical Specs:

Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Color space: Arri Log C
Base Grade: Color space transform to Rec.709 in Davinci Resolve

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.

Reference Look: Night Street Photography

Matching References

One of the most satisfying stages in my color grading journey is seeing my own progression in being able to understand how to recreate looks. One reason I tend to stay away from creative LUTs is because it always felt a little random to me. It was a setting that someone else made that I didn’t have much control or understanding of. Starting from scratch and building a look based on a reference image has been a great achievement for me since it took me a long time to build up skill and understanding of how to blend the technical and creative.

Warm Dusk

Skin Tones + Qualifiers

I’ve found short films and passion projects to be the best way for me to cut my teeth on various techniques. Most of the time, the directors lean heavily on me to help define a look for the project. I also get to walk away with the footage to use for my own demo purposes such as experimenting with color grading to put up on sites like this.

This particular scene was actually shot at dusk in NYC. The environment was already rich, and it just needed some additional life added to it.

Working on Skin Qualifiers

Skin Tones + Qualifiers

Skin qualification has been one of the more challenging skills to develop along my journey in color grading. The one thing that separates beginner to intermediate in my opinion is the ability to separate the skin tones and apply the grade to suit the look you want on your images.

Over the past year working with colorists in grading sessions on films and commercials I’ve worked on has taught me a lot about the process: that it isn’t easy and that it does require a good amount of skill. I recently worked on a tiny project where I got to practice more of this skill.