Color grading can drastically change the look of an image when you show the before and after. But sometimes the hardest part of the job is not always to create a beautiful look… It’s making sure that your color grading is getting along with every shot of your project or scene.
Take this exemple:
The client and I were concerned that the interior shot would not match the look we established for the exterior. Even if we didn’t see outside from a window, they wanted to give the first shot a rainy look. They also mentioned that it was important to keep a realistic look, since the concept of the ad was relying on a real world situation.
Here’s how it turned out:
The before and after seems pretty basic, but the technique behind it is quite useful and interesting (hopefully!). Check the video below showing the process and continue reading to see the breakdown of this technique:
First off… let’s talk a bit about:
Color grading and Continuity
Continuity is very important in films, music videos (well… some of them) and commercials. You can get away with a glass of water that seems to fill itself up during a dinner scene, but when the color and lighting are shifting from a shot to the other, our eye is distracted and we drift away from the story.
There are a various number of reasons why shots won’t match during the editing process. Every shot is obviously filmed at a different time of the day and usually not in chronological order. Time is critical on a shoot. The director often needs to move forward in order to get all his shots and some details can be forgotten. Even the most skilled director of photography cannot control the clouds and the sun… except if you are Wally Pfister and your budget allows you to rise several gigantic flags in downtown Los Angeles to turn a bright sunny day into a cold rainy day.
Impressive, uh? But let’s get back to color grading:
Analyzing the shots
The two shots I had to match were also involving rain. The scene featured one interior shot followed by four exterior shots. Since the focus of this commercial was the bad weather, we started with the exterior shots. They shot on a cloudy day and they used fake rain, so giving it a muddy look was quite easy. But the main challenge was to give the same dark look to the interior shot so that it would match the exterior. Unfortunately when they shot the interior the sun showed up. The location they chose had windows and white walls… so in terms of lighting and set design, the two shots were very different.
White walls are very popular and nice in advertising, but they’re hard to work with. They don’t have any texture and reflect light. You need to be gentle when you adjust them. They can get greyish and look fake very quickly when you lower the exposure and basic vignettes can create banding.
In order to create a look for the interior that would match the exterior vibe, I used a combination of keyers, masks and the usual color grading tools. I separated the process into different steps:
Step 1: Contrast
I started by adding contrast to get rid of the raw look. I increased the highlights a little bit and lowered the shadows. I took back a notch of saturation and adjusted the midtones. Basic stuff.
Step 2: Colors and Brightness
Now the fun starts. I played with the colors to achieve a greenish look that takes us a step closer to our exterior mood. I then took down the the overall brightness, lifted the blacks, took down the highlights even more and cranked up de midtones a little bit.
Step 3: Vignettes
To get an even darker image, I used a set of 3 different vignette. The first one is a very soft round shape over the talent in wich I lower the brightness in the outside mask. The second vignette is a combination of 2 shapes that cover the left and the right part of the image. In the inside of these 2 shapes, I took down the highlights and the midtones and left the shadows alone so that some detail remained. The third vignette was used to cheat the image by increasing the brightness on the talent only. By adding the luminosity on the actor only with this last vignette, the background seems darker even if we didn’t touch it.
Step 4: Keyers
Finally, I used 2 different keyers for the last touch ups. The first one was to select the skin tone of the actor. I used its matte to bring back some warmth and luminosity. The second keyer was used to isolate only a small portion of the highlights. Using the matte it created, I was able to remove the highlight on his forehead and the brightest parts of the white walls. This helped me keep the contrast from the first step on the overall image without affecting too much the face.
By combining all the steps shown above, I managed to match the interior and the exterior while keeping a realistic and believable look.
Watch the full commercial here:
Agency: Sid Lee
Produced by: TVAccès
Colorist: Charles-Etienne Pascal @ SHED
Thank you for reading and hopefully this was helpful!