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Color Grading Steps: Bellevue Avenue

Color Grading Analysis

I posted a breakdown video for Bellevue Avenue a couple of weeks ago and I thought it could be interesting to share with you guys the different steps of the grading process. So here it is.

Let’s start with the video. Pay attention to the text in the bottom left corner.

So… what’s the goal here?

Goal

Achieve a dreamy and surreal look. About 90% of the music video is a dream sequence, including the shot in the video above. The director carefully used 3 filmmaking techniques to underline his concept: slow motion, steadycam shots and a lot of smoke. I could have also added ‘a bunch of pretty girls half naked’… but let’s focus on the craft guys. When I try to remember my dreams, they usually are blurry and veiled. We’re of course not going to blur the image, but thanks to the beautiful KOWA anamorphic lenses they used, there already is a subtle in camera soft look. Now what about this veiled look? Veils are mysterious, just like this sequence. When you look through one, everything is hazy, lacks contrast and the colors seem slightly muted.

With all these elements in mind, let’s start grading:

Stept 01 : Input Grading

The first step is quite basic. I want to get rid of the flat Log look to get closer to reality. I have a very simple preset that I use in the input for every project that is shot on the Red or the Alexa. The preset consist of an S Curve to crank up the contrast and a Saturation Curve to bring back the richness of every color in the image. The S Curve will vary depending on the camera used, but I try to keep it as simple as possible because I know that I will work the shadows, midtones and highlights more precisely in the next step. Keep in mind that this not a LUT. I am not clipping anything and will be able to recover the details that I want afterwards. Thanks to colorist Ntana Key for showing this when he taught me the Lustre!

Stept 02 : Primary Grading

The fun stuff begins! It’s time to get creative. Still working in the input grading, this is the part where I start developing the look of the shot. Along with the director and the DP, I create the first draft of the look and will do as many versions as we need to do until we settle on a specific aesthetic that suits the project. I often limit myself to only work on the overall brightness and its color in this step. There is no vignettes or anything fancy happening here… I am solely using my creativity to define the look without going to far. Use your eyes and do something beautiful.

Stept 03 : Shadows

Now that the overall look is done, it’s time to dive into the secondaries and start tweaking the image more carefully. It’s also time to remember and apply our analysis. To get a step closer to my veiled dreamy look, I lifted my shadows. This will also diminish the  S-Curve I applied in the input and counterbalance the brightness that I took down in the previous step. Small color adjustments were also done to the shadows along the way.

Step 04 : Midtones

There was a minor dark green cast in the midtones that I didn’t wanted. We were aiming for earthy warm colors and the dark green was intruding a little bit. I pushed the midtones towards the yellow and the red and darkened them just a notch.

Step 05 : Highlights

Still having the veiled look in mind, I drastically took down the highlights. This helped me get nice details in the smoky light rays. Everything now seemed more mysterious and hazy that way. A yellowish brown tint was added in the highlights as well. But looking back at that shot now, I think I might have lowered down the highlights a grain too much…

Step 06 : Selective Desaturation

Instead of taking down the saturation in the output, I like to do it in a secondary (preferably close to the last one since I don’t want to play too much with the colors after I desaturated them). This step is very important to tighten the look. It’s not always required for every project, but in this case, I used this step to get a better control of my colors. I took down the blues because it felt like it was the only color that didn’t properly fit in this look. You can see that the wardrobe seems to be more hand in hand with the forest after I desaturated the blues. I also removed a bit of saturation in the reds and yellows to get dreamy skintones and a more surreal look. A few subtle color key were done as well to tone down some colors that came out too saturated and distracting.

Step 07 : Vignettes

Last but not least, I drew a very soft custom circular vignette  around the edges of the frame. In the outside controls of the vignette, I took down the brightness to darken the edges and center the action in the middle part of the frame. This looked nice, but the shadows of the vignette now seemed too dark and crushed. Still in the outside controls of the vignette, I removed a bit of contrast to restore details in the blacks while still keeping the darker edges.

Conclusion

There is sometimes an extra step that I’ll do in the output grading. It might be a last minute decision to desaturate a little more or change the overall temperature of the shot. I would like to specify that although the order of the steps described is usually the way I work, it’s not necessarily the best or the only way to order your grading workflow. It just depends on the way your work, which software you are using, etc.

Well, that’s it for now and I hope this post was useful for you guys! Please don’t hesitate to send me your questions in the comments. Feedback (positive and negative of course!) is appreciated and please if you have a different technique please share it!

More stuff :

Color grading breakdown featuring other shots from the music video :

Full music video available here.

Charles-Etienne Pascal is a digital colorist working @ SHED in Montreal. His line of work mainly consist of advertising, but he also very much enjoys grading music videos, short films and documentaries. Chuck likes photography, writing screenplays, tv shows, travelling, metal music and of course color grading.
  1. Erik Reply

    Interesting break down! Please add me to you mailing list
    Best //Erik

    • iseehue Reply

      Thanks Erik! I’ve added you to the mailing list.

  2. Taylre Jones Reply

    Great! Thanks for the breakdown! Fun project!

  3. Tristan Reply

    I enjoyed this post. I was wondering if you worked on each clip in a sequence individually, or if you did your s-curve across the whole sequence, then shadows across the sequence, then mid tones, etc. And then do minor tweaking to correct any discrepancies in specific clips?

    • iseehue Reply

      Hi Tristan! Although I almost always use the same S-Curve for every shot (but not necessarily the same curve for each camera), I never apply it on the whole sequence. I guess you could do it that way, but you would have to assume that you won’t modify your curve afterwards. Or that if you do, you’ll affect the previous shots. It goes the same for shadows, mids and highlights. I would never recommend to apply it on the whole sequence since it’s your main ally to match shots.

  4. Brandon Reply

    Dope Breakdown. It’s the subtle adjustments that make a difference

  5. Ben Reply

    Hello Sir!
    Just wondering how do you lift the shadows? I am using After Effects and Premiere. Can I achieve it using a curve? If so, what do you think is the shape of the curve?

    Thank you sir.
    Sorry for the beginner questions.

  6. Ben Reply

    Hello sir! Can I ask of how to lift the shadows? or darken the highlights without drastically affecting the whole image? Like what you did in your breakdown. Can I do it with curves?

    Thank you sir!

    • iseehue Reply

      Ben, there are numerous ways to lift the shadows. You can definitely do it with curves in After Effects. Curves are in fact the color adjustment tool that I use the most in AE. Take the bottom left point on the curve and lift it up a little bit. It might also help to add a point between this point and the middle of the curve to lift it smoothly. It’s the same thing for highlights, just use the point on the top right corner of the curve and drag it down.

  7. youssra Reply

    Hello Charles,
    I’d like to thank you for your post, was quite useful. Would like to ask what coloring software you usually work with? and if you ever think of posting any tutorials in which I think would be extremely useful.
    I really like your work, keep it up :)

    • iseehue Reply

      Hey Youssra,
      I use Autodesk Lustre 90% of the time but will also use After Effects from time to time since I fell in love with color grading with this software hehe. I think I might do some video tutorials in the future… stay tuned!

  8. Hampus Reply

    Really nice grading. Would of been great to have seen you actually do it in whatever program you use. Could you recommend any great tutorials on grading? Something that is up to your standards :-) Great work and keep at it!

    • iseehue Reply

      Thanks! Yes I thought about recording myself, but basically nobody uses the Lustre so that would be a little pointless… I might switch to Resolve for some projects, we’ll see :-)

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