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Lower Saturation Looks


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#1 Spencer Hutchins

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Posted 19 November 2008 - 12:36 AM

This might not be in the perfect thread category, but are there suggestions and tricks for shooting in production to help aid a low saturated (muted colors) development?

Would trying to obtain rich, dark colors on set help with the look of a low saturated image with crushed blacks?

Thanks for reading.
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#2 Joshua Jackson

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Posted 19 November 2008 - 12:51 AM

This might not be in the perfect thread category, but are there suggestions and tricks for shooting in production to help aid a low saturated (muted colors) development?

Would trying to obtain rich, dark colors on set help with the look of a low saturated image with crushed blacks?

Thanks for reading.


There are a few basic things you can do to aid in lowering saturation of colors. First of all, contrast and saturation are not completely dichotomous. Obtaining a low saturation with a distinct contrast in your deep blacks will be difficult, unless you go directly via silver rentention. In front of the camera, work with production design and scenic artists to soften the colors. Any amount of smoke/fog in the scene will begin to soften the colors and level the contrast. On the camera, consider filtration (i.e. Mist, Diffusion, pantyhose, etc.). Consider, carefully, the possibilities of pull processing a slightly overexposed negative (1/2-1 stops). Although, I recommend testing this through to print to see if this is what you want. Choose a Low-Con stock. From what I gather, however, it sounds like you're wanting a bleach-bypass.
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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 19 November 2008 - 02:17 AM

Here is an old post I wrote up to explain how to desaturate colors:


NOTE: there is generally a correlation between lower saturation and lower contrast and softer blacks, since the black density can affect how saturated we perceive a color to be (just as in painting - to make a color more pastel, we mix white into it.) The exception is when silver retention processing is used (see below.)

The various methods used to achieve desaturation of color in motion picture photography are:

Art direction. The best way to control color is by using less color in costumes, set dressing, wall painting, etc.
Use a less saturated film stock. Current examples: Kodak 5229 (Expression 500T), Fuji Eterna 400T.

Filters. Filters that allow bright highlights to bleed (?halate?) or wash into the shadows not only lower contrast, but soften colors. Some types of light-scattering filters: ProMist, Fog, Double Fog, Low Contrast, GlimmerGlass, Smoque, Frost, Supra-Frost, UltraCons.

Smoke. Smoke has a similar effect to filters in that contrast and color are lowered because light is allowed to wash over everything. However, smoke is dimensional and affects objects in the background more than objects in the foreground due to the increasing density of the smoke that one is viewing the object through as it recedes from the camera position.

Lighting. The general rule is that frontal lighting emphasizes color; back or cross-lighting emphasizes texture.

Developing. Overexposure and pull-process developing can lower saturation and contrast a little.

Flashing. Again, like filters and smoke, flashing lowers color saturation by adding a wash of white light over the image, also lowering the contrast. The advantage of flashing over filters is that it doesn't soften definition or produce artifacts like halos around light sources. Flashing can be achieved through the lens using an ARRI VariCon device (which fits into a 6x6 mattebox) or a Panaflasher (which fits over one of the magazine ports on a Panaflex.) Some labs will post-flash the negative before development but many do not like to get into this because of the chance of damaging the negative through over-handling, or making a mistake. You can also flash an internegative. Prints and interpositives can also be flashed, which lowers contrast by darkening the highlights, not lifting the shadows ? it also slightly softens colors but not as much as negative flashing.

Exposure. Underexposure is not really recommended, but a thin negative printed up will generally produce weaker colors and blacks, plus show a lot more grain. Some slight overexposure usually increases saturation if the denser negative leads to printing down the image ? but EXTREME overexposure will also wash out colors (and highlight detail unfortunately) because most of the picture information is placed along the flatter shoulder portion of the characteristic curve.

Using incorrect color-balance. When shooting in daylight on tungsten-balanced film, removing the 85B color-correction filter will create a very blue-ish image on the negative that tends to reduce the saturation in reds, including skintones. However, blues and greens will get more exposure and possibly more saturation. By leaving the final timed image on the cold side, you can keep skintones desaturated. In some color-correction software, trying to compensate for a missing 85B filter can add a brownish cast to the image.

Silver-retention processes. Generally done to the print, but some techniques can be applied to the negative. A certain amount of black silver normally removed in the developing process is left in the image, increasing contrast and blacks, but also softening colors. Skip-bleach / bleach-bypass, CFI's Silver-Tint, Technicolor's OZ, and Deluxe's CCE process are the most extreme techniques, leaving all or most of the silver in the print; Technicolor's ENR and Deluxe's ACE processes are more subtle, allowing the degree of silver retention to be modified. The greater the level of silver left in the film, the greater the desaturation.

NOTE: Often a contrast-lowering technique like flashing, pull-developing, or filtration is used in conjunction with a silver retention process on the prints to keep the black levels and contrast to normal levels but also desaturate the image even further.

Optical printing. From the original color negative, both a color interpositive and a b&w positive are struck and then both elements are recombined (overlaid) in two exposure passes to create a new, desaturated dupe negative. How desaturated the image is depends on what percentage of the total exposure came from the b&w or the color I.P. "The Sacrifice" and "Sophie's Choice" (the flashbacks) used this technique; so did the opening scenes of "The Natural", which rephotographed the color record out-of-focus over the sharp b&w image, creating a diffusion effect.
Digital color-correction. Color is easily manipulated in the digital realm. This is done all the time for film material transferred to video for television presentation; it can also be done for film that is scanned to a digital data format, color-corrected, and then recorded back to film (i.e. a digital intermediate.)

CONCLUSION

All of these techniques can be combined in various ways ? and usually are. Most productions trying to create a softer color palette always begin with the art direction and costuming. One reason is that it is always better to use the simplest means to achieve a goal. Another is that primary colors tend to desaturate less noticeably than pastel colors when using some sort of desaturation technique ? and since skintones are generally pastel, they will lose their color much faster than a primary color in the frame. So controlling those colors in front of the camera is very important and allows you more options to alter the color with special techniques or processing without affecting the skintones too much.

Some examples of these techniques in use:

"Saving Private Ryan" was shot on 5293 pushed one stop to 400 ASA, flashed with a Panaflasher (generally), and used the ENR process on the prints. Some shots used filters or just foggy skies to wash out the image, plus the lens were stripped of their coatings to increase flare, and of course, the subject matter was naturally low in color saturation (overcast weather on a beach, actors wearing army costumes, etc.) Also, exterior scenes were shot with the less-strong 81EF filter instead of the 85B filter, creating a colder image.

Looking at DP Darius Khondji?s work, we see that "Seven" used negative flashing combined with Deluxe's CCE printing process. "Evita" used a VariCon and diffusion filters combined with a 30% ENR printing. "Alien Resurrection" used a 50% ENR printing.

"Ronin" used pull-processing of the neg combined with CCE printing.

"Heaven?s Gate" used negative flashing and print flashing together to soften the colors and contrast ? plus a lot of smoke and dust in the scenes. "McCabe and Mrs. Miller", also shot by DP Vilmos Zsigmond, used underexposure, push-processing, negative flashing, and diffusion filters (mostly Double-Fogs).

"Kansas City" used Kodak?s EXR 5287 stock combined with CCE printing. (5287 was updated to 5277, now 5229 is the closest replacement.)

"High Art" was shot on Kodak?s VISION 320T (5277) and flashed with a VariCon ? but no silver retention printing techniques were used.

"Payback" used the CCE printing process, combined with shooting without the 85 filter outdoors on tungsten stock, and using a blue filter indoors ? the overly blue image on the negative ensured that skintones would be consistently desaturated. This was combined with careful color control in the art direction ? even yellow taxis and red fire hydrants were painted down. The print was timed to the blue side to keep any reds from becoming more saturated.

"Sleepy Hollow" used smoke on the sets and the CCE process in printing, plus a very monochromatic design.
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#4 Chris Keth

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Posted 19 November 2008 - 02:21 AM

David, did you forget to mention Northfork?

Search for some of David's old post about Northfork. We talked about it quite a bit. It has some real world application of the things David's talking about above.

Edited by Chris Keth, 19 November 2008 - 02:24 AM.

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#5 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 19 November 2008 - 02:39 AM

Start by shooting 5229, low saturation low contrast stock. Next flash the film a bit with will further lower contrast. Then have your production design and costumer work in a muted color pallet, earth tones, dull reds and blues, avoid yellow all together. Over expose and pull process which will let you see into the shadows even more. It really depends on how far you want to take it because you could also use bleach bypass processing and printing to a lower saturation and contrast print stock. Bleach bypass will increase contrast BUT if you've used low contrast stock and flashed the film, it should minimize that.
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#6 Spencer Hutchins

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Posted 21 November 2008 - 05:22 AM

Thanks everyone, a lot of stuff I need to get familiar with from your information before continuing. Thanks again!
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#7 Spencer Hutchins

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Posted 21 November 2008 - 03:10 PM

On the other side, my assumption is that there are just as many developing processes to boost the saturation. What are some of these processes and specific filters you all have used and have gotten results from?

Also, are there any recommended book for specifically filters?

Thanks again, fellows.
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