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A question on color


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#1 Michael Boe

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Posted 04 February 2010 - 07:23 PM

Hello everyone,

Recently I was watching an old fan-film that was shot on 16mm film called "Grayson." As I was watching, I noticed a few scenes that had an overall color hue to them that raised the question in my mind of color. The film can be viewed on youtube here: http://www.youtube.c...s...&feature=iv

The scene that I'd like to bring to your attention in particulair is at approx. 45 seconds into the video. It has a very redish overall hue -- something that in the video world is often considered ugly, but here works to the aesthetic advantage of the scene.

How would one go about lighting a scene in order to achieve this effect? It doesn't look like gels were used. My guess is that either the scene was shot using lights with a cooler color temp. than the probably 32k balanced tungsten stock, or that the lighting in the films processing was "corrected" by a colorist to obtain the "red" look of the scene.

Though I've raised the issue for the film Grayson specifically in this thread, I'm more curious in the answer in hopes that I can learn how to manipulate color in a general sense. I understand the basics of lighting, but when it comes to color I'm absolutely dumbstruck.

How does one go about creating "looks" as far as color goes, as per in this scene with Grayson? I feel as if once the question can be answered in some general form for this scene, I'll understand at least what tools are available and the "proper" way to do so for any look I might have in mind. Additionally, is it best to always try and bake these types of color schemes into your footage, or is it better to light for 'neutral' color and tweak in post?

Thank you in advance for any insight anyone might have to this question. Color is something I've been struggling with as a learning cinematographer and I'd love to be able to begin to understand it better.
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#2 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 04 February 2010 - 08:09 PM

Best way to film a color is to film a color... what I mean by that is this.. you want to shoot a red room, lets say. Well you paint the room red for starters. As for the scene in this little film that I'm looking at, it's possible a filter on the camera, or an alteration in post. Better to use filtration in camera as a base and then tweak in post, in my opinion, but as for using color in a film... that's a whole lot of theory right there. I'd recommend checking out the art section of a few book store for titles on color theory and watching the work of Vittorio Storaro who was masterful in his use of colors on many occasions.
Color is a very hard thing to do right and a very easy thing to do wrong; but start from the basic technical premise, the best way to make the room look blue, lets say, it to make everything in the room blue (see Amelie for this) but to make it REALLY blue you need a bit of color contrast, so the opposite of blue is yellow, put a little hint of yellow in the room and the blue will pop out more (gotta be careful not to detract though). You need contrast, says me, both in Lighting and Color, it's then just a question of how much.
You can also do color with gels and that's great when you need a specific light to have a "feeling" to it (the red neon sign in a seedy district of town, the cold blue of florescent lights in an office, the sickly green of a subway station.
There is also on camera filtration which can work and you should experiment with-- though be careful you'll start sacrificing stop pretty quickly with some of them. A great filter I have for a "cool" look is an 81EF Warming Filter. Sounds odd, but using it on T film when i'm shooting outside it only partially corrects for the "blue" daylight, giving a bit of a blue tint, rather solemn, says me.

Another great way to learn about how to use color is to look at art. Go to an art gallery and spend some time stating at a painting; Baroque or "Contemporary" art would be where I'd start and really look at how color and the contrasts of colors emphasize things and direct the eye and how they make you feel.

Also, don't work backwards. Don't try to figure out the technical requirements until you figure out the feeling you need the color to make in the context of a film, or of a shot/scene. What I mean by that is simple; you want a sad scene, someone has just died lets say. And let's also say that for some reason you liked filming this person in warmer yellow light most of the time, and their "space," say their shop where they worked on pine wood had a kind of amber tone to it, a yellow, and now they've passed away. We could do just a whole solemn blue scene and people would get it, right? But what if we found a marble (slate) colored location for this mourning scene, and we punctuated it with some yellow slashes of "daylight" coming through and hitting some haze for a bit of texture to the beam, we're now mixing the simple convention of the blue-sad-scene with the film convention of yellow for this character and building within our little hypothetical shot a whole subtext which needn't even be mentioned to the audience. If the character just received a phone call in this location and we didn't hear the conversation, if we had built up the convention enough of yellow for this character, then this scene would say a lot without words, the audience would understand, even if only subliminally (and then like a hollywood film we'll cut to a CU of our character laying a red rose in a blue area on a tombstone and then blocking part of this other character's name).

Hope that helps, for what it is. Work on what colors you want to make first, then work out the hows, which will vary project to project and change with resources. The logic, or intuition, or feeling of your choices has to come first.
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#3 Michael Boe

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Posted 04 February 2010 - 08:20 PM

Hey,

That does help, it was a lot of information and I thank you for taking the time to type it all out.

I probably should have clarified myself -- I'm not so much struggling with vision -- I know how I want my scenes to look in terms of color and contrast, it's just that I'm struggling with the final step, which is actually bringing my vision to life from an image in my head into a final scene that I can look at as a print.

I suppose I get intimidated by adding filters onto the camera, because without experience there's always the risk the footage will come out too red, too blue, too whatever and then you're screwed as far as post-correction goes.

I guess what intimidates me the most is that there are so many tools which can do the same job and I just don't know which to use. For example, in that little scene I showed you, you could use an amber filter of sorts on the camera itself, you could use some sort of red gels on the tungsten lights, or you could color tweak it in post to bring out the reds.

You're definitely right in saying that color schemes are more than just colored lights -- they have to do with everything, your set, your costumes, your props, etc.. but I guess what I'm more focused on is skin tones, which are by default already their own color, though in that scene for example, they're a much more deep red than you'd normally expect. That's something that doesn't come so much from painting a wall, but rather through some sort of manipulation.

So to condense myself, I suppose what I meant to ask was how do I take a vision I have in my head, with regards to color, and best choose what technical tools to use in order to bring it to life? When is the right time to use red gels for a scene like that instead of a filter? When would you do it in post? Etc.

Also, as a footnote I guess, I don't really know too much about camera filters, do you have any recommended readings I might be able to look up to learn more about them?

Thank you again. Sorry for my long posts! I just have so much I'd like to learn. ;)
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#4 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 04 February 2010 - 08:28 PM

Well in that scene it's certainly an on camera filter, because it effects every light. Think of it this way, is it easier to gel all the lights (including household bulbs) or put a filter on the camera? As for filters, the best way to get an handle on them is to shoot some tests with them to see how you like them. There isn't much more to it than investing some time with a few sets of filters to see how much of the effect you want. My rule is to be conservative with color bias filters, leaving wiggle room in post, so as not to over-do it. And it's better to do it in camera (if you know what'll happen, which comes with experience) because you're not spending hundreds of dollars an hour on a DI that could've been avoided. I try to think of it in terms of efficiency. Is it more efficient for me to gel all the windows in an office building in a daylight shoot or pull out CTB for my key light or, ideally use a Kino or an HMI to match the sun? Or, if i need a warm golden tone to an ext day shoot, should I just use a warming filter in the camera or spend the time in the DI doing the same thing?

As for execution of it all, again, it depends on the specific vision and the specific location. I know I'm not saying much, but there are many many many variables; so you have to get specific on both the look you want and the resources you have and the location in which you're doing it (and often how you're shooting it) before you can say ok, we just need to do x/y/z.
Read a lot of American Cinematographer magazine. It'll give you a lot of ideas for how others did things. And also watch movies and dissect what you see and what you think the best way of doing it would be.
Also, give out an e mail to Tiffen and Schnieder and get literature on their filters. Also, the more you work with a colorist the more you'll know what s/he is capable of doing and how long it'll take.
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#5 Michael Boe

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Posted 04 February 2010 - 08:39 PM

You may not have thought you "said much" but you actually answered my question fairly fully. This goes for all aspects of film I think, though cinematography especially -- if you can't envision it, you won't be able to make it. You have to know what you're trying to do and not get wrapped up in the competitive idea of "making pretty pictures" to be able to execute anything.

I think in part I was starting to get a little overwhelmed by some of that aspect, and your down-to-earth posts about really understanding a vision and then thinking practically how to apply the look helped a lot.

Thinking about color, when it comes to practical application, in terms of efficiency is a great way to go. If a filter and a gel both create an orange look, and you're trying to glaze the entire scene with that look, then it comes down to a number of physical factors, like you mentioned. Thinking of it like that has helped to "free" me a bit, partly because I've been afraid of making a wrong decision and thus I've been a little frozen as far as how to proceed. So your approach has definitely freed me to feel a bit more open to experiment.

Thank you!
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#6 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 04 February 2010 - 08:43 PM

Glad I could help. Don't worry bout screwing up. i've never met anyone who hasn't at least once. The ones I want to have 'round when I shoot are the ones who know why they did and learn something from it, like I did too, and as everyone here has at one point.
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#7 Wesley Hartshorn

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Posted 12 February 2010 - 02:10 PM

I learned a lot from reading this post. Thanks a lot guys. I'm wanting to learn more about
using color to grab an audiences desired emotion.

Your explanation about going beyond the "somber blue" in a mourning scene helps to think outside the consciousness
of the audience and speak to them in a more subconscious level, thanks for that

Peace, Love, and Film
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#8 Mei Lewis

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Posted 20 April 2010 - 03:45 PM

I'm currently reading the book
"If It's Purple, Someone's Gonna Die: The Power of Color in Visual Storytelling"
I saw it recommended somewhere on this forum. It's got a lot of information and ideas about why color is used in the way it is in films, somewhat similar tho the way Adrian has explained here.

I'd like to find a book that explains the _how_, but I haven't found a good one yet.
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