I finally had the chance to try on set color grading!
It all started when director of photography Jean-Philippe Bernier and I were grading the Vallée Duhamel Studio Launch video he had shot. He talked about a software called LiveGrade he had bought for on set grading. JP was planning to test it on a short film he was shooting and producing in two weeks for the ABC of Death contest. He asked me if that would be something that I would like to try and I said yes, of course. Although it wasn’t the perfect workflow, it was definitely a fun and great experience to bring the craft of color grading to the trenches of production.
Now that the rush is over and that we delivered the film on time for the contest, I thought it would interesting to share with you guys my experience from the set to the grading room.
The sony FS700 ver. 3.0 has the option to use the Pro Gamma from Sony (S-Log2), but unfortunately it won’t give you the option to use a viewing LUT (i.e Rec. 709) like their high end camera such as the F5, F55 and F65. This means that everybody on the set sees a flat image. Shooting in log for the DP is not easy. The image is so flat and makes it hard for him to properly judge the exposure. Plus, on the creative side, it’s difficult for him to play around with lights that aren’t the same temperature.
When mixing different temperature to create a stylized look (exactly the case with this film), you want to see how the colors react together. With log, you can barely see colors… everything looks pale and grey. The rest of the crew also has to deal with this flat image. The art director has a hard time when matching the colors of his props, the makeup person can’t see the real skintone color, the director sees his shots as if he was wearing nylon stockings over his face, etc.
To solve this issue and have a better viewing experience on set, Jean-Philippe came up with a great workflow idea. From his Electronic ViewFinder, he would output the image into a SmallHD DP6 attached to the camera for his assistant/focus puller. From the DP6, the assistant would output the image to the Blackmagic HDLink Pro.
The HDLink Pro was then plugged into the Macbook Pro via usb and also into the SmallHD DP7 via HDSDI. Finally, the director’s monitor, a Sony LMD- 2110W 21.5″ HD, was plugged in completely at end of the chain so that he could see the shot with the LiveGrade grading in effect. Unfortunately, JP could not see the grading in his camera due to the FS700 limitations, but we collaborated to get the best image we could (more on that below).
My color grading “station” was set up on the camera cart. Using Pomfort Livegrade on the Macbook Pro (plugged in the HDLink Pro via USB), I was able to see a live view of my grading in the SmallHD DP7 monitor. Thanks to our workflow, this was not a file that I transferred from the camera to the laptop. It was directly what the camera was seeing, in real time… and this is pretty awesome.
Because this setup allowed me to be completely independent from the film crew. The only thing I needed from them was to place the camera on a tripod so that it would show me the approximate framing of the shot.
While they were setting up the lights or doing the blocking, I could start working on my grade for the current scene without slowing down the machine by bothering somebody with demands like “Can you shoot a quick take and transfer it to the hardrive so that I can do some tests?”.
I could get ahead of time and experiment different looks while they were setting up the shot.
When the crew was ready to shoot, I would load my favorite grading preset and boom, everybody on the set could see a realtime graded shot on their monitor. As the crew moved to other locations, I would simply push the cart and set it up a few meters away from the scene and start a new look. As simple as wash, rinse and repeat!
Creating the look in Pomfort LiveGrade
Although Livegrade is a software with only very basic color grading tools, you can achieve a pretty decent look. I must confessed that I was quite surprised later on when I applied the LUT I had generated from the set on the final edit. Since it was well shot and the continuity was already very good, I could’ve just exported the film in Lustre and it would have been an OK result. But I’ll leave the Lustre and LUTs aside for now and come back to this later.
There are 2 rooms with different tools available to grade your image. You can choose which room will affect your image first simply by dragging a little handle on the right side. The first room has the basic color grading tools: Shadows, Midtones, Highlights and Saturation.
You can control these parameters either by using the wheels or by manually inputing numbers for maximum precision. Pretty straightforward stuff. The second room lets you input a 3D LUT or manually edit an RGB Curve. In my case, I used the the Redgamma3 LUT because it gave me a nice base for the Sony S-Log 2. I chose to apply the LUT after the primary tools to make sure that it wasn’t clipping my data. I then played around with the wheels to get a warm greenish look and took down the contrast just a notch because the LUT was a bit too much for the already contrasted footage we were shooting. I saved a bunch of presets for each location for later use. I would name them Bathoom V1, Room V3, Ring V6, etc.
Grading with the SmallHD DP7 Pro OLED Monitor
The SmallHD DP7 Pro OLED monitor is pretty nice. I didn’t have much time to play around with every features, but I can say that’s it’s a very handy monitor to have on set. The touchscreen controls are fast. You can assign different functions in each corner of the screen for a quick access to your favorite tools. There is also a lock button on the top of the monitor if you want to make sure that you don’t accidentally hit the on screen controls. There are a number of tools that you can display over your image with the opacity that you like. It’s very powerful if you want to monitor both your framing and in my case the waveform.
Speaking of the waveform, it was by far my favorite tool on the SmallHD. You can adjust its size depending on what you are doing. I tried different sizes and and opacities during the first day of the shoot and ended up using the full size waveform with the opacity set at the lowest value for the second day. Since Pomfort LiveGrade doesn’t have any waveform, the SmallHD monitor was without any doubt a must for on set color grading.
I suspected on the shoot that like most OLED displays, it was a notch too contrasty… and I was right. Later on in the color grading room when I looked at my on set LUT applied on the source footage through the calibrated Panasonic plasma TV, the blacks were in fact lifted. Honestly, it wasn’t really a problem because the main purpose of this whole thing was to get something decent on the set for everybody to look at instead of the S-Log 2.
Working with the film crew
Once I figured out how to properly use the software and the monitor, Jean-Philipe and I worked together to get the best source image we could get. He would regularly ask me what I thought about the lighting on a technical level. I would monitor the highlights and let him know if something would be too high. I would also double-check that we had enough range by keeping track of the source footage (You can easily turn on and off the grading in LiveGrade so that you can see the source image). If the S-Log 2 seemed to be too dark and too low on the SmallHD waveform, I would ask JP if it was possible to crank up the exposure by adding more light on the subject. Since I knew I was going to grade the film in post, I wanted to make sure I had the best range possible to create the look I had in mind in Lustre later on.
Jean-Philipe trusted me and it made the on set color grading experience much more fun and motivating. On the second day, he told his lighting team to work with me for specific tasks like setting up back lights. I would monitor the waveform while they were playing with the dimmer. When I thought it looked good artistically and technically, I told them to stop and we moved on to other stuff. This let JP focus on framing and dealing with other more important things with the director.
At one point Remy Couture, the gore makeup artist, was concerned about how his make up would look on camera. He was crafting some pretty intense bruises on one of the actress’ face and it was important that the blood looked good. On set color grading was very handy in this situation. I could show him how his makeup looked with the grade applied on the current shot. He did adjustments after seeing the graded image so that the final result would be realistic enough. We also discussed briefly about the actual color of the fake blood he was using. I told him that the more saturated he could do it, the easier it would be for me in post.
With a bright saturated red, it’s easy for me to pull a key and adjust the blood without affecting the skintone. If the fake blood looked too dark, I knew that the key would pick up too much unwanted stuff in the frame like shadows, hair, clothing, etc.
Loading the LUT in Lustre
Less than a week later I received the final edit and loaded it in Lustre. Since I never work with LUTs, I wasn’t very familiar with how they were behaving in Lustre. I was trying to apply the LUTs I had generated from Livegrade on a shot by shot basis, but couldn’t find how. We gave a call to Autodesk and to my disappointment they told us it wasn’t possible. The only way I could see the grading I had done on the set was to load the LUT has a Render LUT. This meant that only one single LUT could be loaded for the entire movie. It was kinda useless for what I wanted to do.
The only practical use I found was to take snapshots of every shots with the LUT applied to them. These snapshots would serve as library of reference shots I could quickly access within the software to remember the work I had done on the set.
The Input LUT function was useless too, because it would clip the LUT would clip my data. I had to start the grading from scratch… which is probably what I would have ended up doing, but I was curious to see if the Lustre could handled different LUTs on individual shots.
Here’s a still from the original footage:
And here’s the same still with the LUT generated from LiveGrade loaded as a Render LUT in Lustre :
It was very close to what we were saying on the set.
I have to say that although I was disappointed when I realized I couldn’t load a LUT for each shot, it was pretty nice to playback a Render LUT in realtime in Lustre. Without even rendering anything, I was able to watch the entire short film with my on set grading applied. Even if I knew I would have to start the grading from scratch, I was confident that my final look wouldn’t be miles away from what I had done on the set. By watching the film with the LUT, I was able to see if there were particular shots that didn’t work as well as others with the look. That’s kinda neat if you ask me!
Grading in Lustre
Using the library of snapshots I built with different LUTs from the set, I picked a few key shots and tried to match the look as close as possible using the primary color grading tools. I kept going back and forth between the the Lustre grading and the screenshot until I was close enough. It was a very different and refreshing way of working. Instead of loading the timeline, analyzing the shots, finding some references, experimenting and finally settling on a specific look, I just looked at the grade I already knew everybody loved on the set and started grading right away. I of course changed a few things and went much deeper into secondary adjustments, but still, my on set grading was my main creative blueprint.
I don’t want to give too much details about grading in this post since
I’m currently preparing a Color Grading Steps article for this project… but here’s a preview:
Update: Here’s the article.
Wow… that was a long article. If you read it all and survived my ramblings until the end, thumbs up to you! Seriously… thank you guys for reading this article and thank you Jean-Philippe for this great opportunity and also for taking the time to email me the technical stuff.
And please… take a moment vote for M is for Marked for Murder by clicking here and then by liking the page.
Camera & Lenses
Gamma: S-Log 2
Shooting Stop: F2.8 – F4
Canon zoom 24-70mm F2.8 serie 2
Canon zoom 70-200mm F2.8 serie 2
Rokinon cine 24mm T1.4
Rokinon cine 35mm T1.4
*All lenses used with the Panasonic AG-LA7200 anamorphic lens adapter.
SmallHD DP7 Pro OLED Monitor
Macbook Pro Retina display