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Need happy grading help

grading timing color timing mood DaVinci Resolve

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#1 Richard_Swearinger

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Posted 14 June 2016 - 09:16 AM

It seems like all the color grading information out there is about how to make footage look dark and dramatic but I'm currently working on a comedy that could use its own touch of color timing magic.

 

So, how does one go about grading a happy, lively story? What are the basic timing decisions? 

Common sense tells me that I would want to stick to the characteristic contrast curve and keep the midtowns meaty, but where do I go from there? Is there a highlight color that I should introduce? Do I want to do anything with my shadows? Skin tones?  Or do comedies suffer when subjected to a grade? 

 

Thanks

 


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#2 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 14 June 2016 - 09:27 AM

The look of a comedy starts with how it is lit. They tend to have flatter, more frontal lighting, and less contrast. Faces are exposed at key, and often there are a whole battery of hair lights, rim lights and back lights for the talent.

 

In terms of the color timing, you'd probably want to keep it bright and colorful, with the tones on the warmer side


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#3 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 14 June 2016 - 10:04 AM

Frankly, I've just got to the point of avoiding stuff that can't be dark and moody. There's nowhere to run and hide. Everything has to be perfect, and when it can't be, it's impossible to do anything decent.

 

P


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#4 Richard_Swearinger

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Posted 14 June 2016 - 11:00 AM

Stuart, I'm with you on that, I was looking at the behind the scenes for one of the CBS comedies and they all the lights you mention, but also had a stage-wide array of bounce boards on the floor in front of the set aimed about 45 degrees upward so they would send light up under the casts' chins and eye sockets. It must have been hell for the actors. 

 

Phil, you must be a mind reader! That's exactly how I feel when thinking about grading.


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#5 Alexandros Angelopoulos Apostolos

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Posted 14 June 2016 - 11:25 AM

Faces are exposed at key, …

 

Clarification? :)


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#6 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 14 June 2016 - 11:30 AM

It's not so much a grading concern as a general production concern.

 

The "big American comedy" look is very highly reliant on beautiful production design, excellent locations, beautiful people, superb wardrobe, and generally complete control - control over colour, texture and shade, such that when you front light everything with giant silks and enormous HMIs that most of us can't afford you can see how great everything looks.

 

Anything but the very highest budget shows rely very heavily on hiding their inadequacies. Even Ridley Scott talks about "dark, wet, smoke" as a key tool for things like Blade Runner, which of course is almost universally recognised as stunning to look at. Scott recognised, correctly, that no matter how much you build, you'll always see the edge of it at some point. Pausing Blade Runner and looking at it with a suitably critical eye reveals that - actually - there's not all that much there. There's a lot there, sure, but it's not overwhelming. It just hints very expertly at what should be there, in a way that makes your brain fill in the gaps. It's more than the sum of it's parts. 

 

This is very high-skill stuff, and it just doesn't work at all if you're trying to make it look like American Pie.

 

P


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#7 Peter Bitic

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Posted 14 June 2016 - 11:37 AM

I don't think comedy needs a "happy grade" or lighting to function.

 

(but, of course, I am sure most of the time that's the look cinematographers/colorists are expected to deliver)


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#8 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 14 June 2016 - 01:08 PM

 

Clarification? :)

Faces are lit to, and exposed at the shooting stop.


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#9 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 14 June 2016 - 01:30 PM

I agree with everyone else, it's smart to start with proper lighting. This includes a balanced image, nothing over or under exposed. Making the actors, especially their faces, perfectly exposed. No hard or harsh lighting in any shot, only soft/diffused lighting that should be minimalistic, only to help augment, rather then create a style.

If you have a nice flat image, then when you color, it's a lot easier to define things.

The key is to be very subtle with everything, both lighting AND coloring in post. Nothing you do should be noticed by the audience.
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#10 Chris Burke

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Posted 14 June 2016 - 02:21 PM

Withnail and I was rather dark, I think mainly because of G&E budget. It is a somewhat darker comedy, but not really. 


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#11 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 14 June 2016 - 02:55 PM

The humor in "Withnail & I" comes from a certain sad bleakness to their surroundings ("help us -- we went on holiday by accident!") so the wet, dark and grim look is appropriate. If it had been sunny and cheerful, their misery would have made no sense!

Some comedies are more naturalistic than others and benefit from maintaining a realistic look rather than having a high key feeling no matter what the setting is. A good example is Chris Menges' work on "Local Hero" and "Comfort and Joy" -- lovely-looking films with a natural ambience that is low key now & then.
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#12 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 14 June 2016 - 02:56 PM

What may help you as a starting point is to watch a whole bunch of these comedies and grab stills to create a reference library that you can later break down. You can still create contrast with high-key lighting, you just have to do it more subtly with rim lights, directional bounce fill, color separation, large flags to separate a large key from spilling onto the background set.

 

It's funny, I've done two ensemble comedy projects recently, and now just completed a horror webseries pilot and an all natural light lifestyle spec commercial so I've been able to think more consciously about how I approach each style. One of the comedies was classic high key, the other more naturalistic drama lighting.

 

I've found the difference in approach to lighting has been in the size of the key light. On the dramatic comedy, I relied a lot on practicals and filled in with china balls and kinos. On the horror project, I only took 4x Kinos, 1x Leko, and 3x Dedos. The key was often a single tube taped to the wall or a 4Bank hung over a table. I relied on a lot of natural ambience for the base exposure and just added little dabs of light where needed for shape. On the high-key comedy, it was a 12x12 Ultrabounce, unbleached muslin, or silk for the exteriors and Kinos through 4x4 diffusion frames, a Rifa light, Joleko skip bounces and practicals for interiors. I also frequently put 1000H tracing paper on the windows and backlit them with Kinos or HMIs since a lot of our day interiors were shot at night. A lot more modeling and overpowering of what existed on location. Picking the right locations is a huge part of it. On the lifestyle commercial, I only used a beadboard and 1x1 mirror.

 

Generally, with high-key comedy you want to avoid mixed color temperatures other than daylight and tungsten. Keep skin-tones consistent and all lit with the same key source. Try not to use LEDs or other low CRI lighting units. One trick that I use a lot to create contrast in high-key situations is to bounce a large tungsten or HMI fresnel into some bleached muslin taped to the floor to create soft directional fill from a different angle. This is meant to simulate sunlight coming though windows and bouncing off the floor and around the room. If you have a warm wood floor, you can bounce directly off the wood or use unbleached muslin. I find this works particularly well deep in the background or in the near foreground.

 

In terms of grading, I found the high-key comedy to require the most amount of secondary corrections. This is because it's harder to shape the light when you're using larger softer units and thus direct the eye to the actors. So with limited resources on location, I've had to add flags, nets, gradients, vignettes, and change certain colors in the color grade. Actors also sometimes need extra fill and diffusion in places, so those power windows need to be tracked. This is because frequently in these types of ensemble projects, the director may not want to mark the actors and want to let them improvise their own blocking on set. So you can't light as precisely as you might like on a drama or horror project.

 

High key comedy:

 

CW_01.jpg

 

CW_02.jpg

 

CW_03.jpg

 

 

Lifestyle commercial:

 

35mmTest_20.jpg

 

35mmTest_02.jpg

 

35mmTest_08.jpg

 

 

Horror/Thriller:

 

TGA_21_01.jpg

 

TGA_07_03.jpg

 

TGA_20_14.jpg


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#13 Alexandros Angelopoulos Apostolos

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Posted 14 June 2016 - 03:31 PM

Faces are lit to, and exposed at the shooting stop.

 

Got it. :) Thank you.

 

Satsuki, that third image from the high-key comedy looks like a still for a magazine ad. :)


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#14 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 14 June 2016 - 03:36 PM

Satsuki, that third image from the high-key comedy looks like a still for a magazine ad. :)


Haha, it probably took as many color corrections as a magazine ad! Just from memory, there is a gradient on the white wall from top down, a vignette overall, a secondary on the red table to make it darker and match other shots, secondaries on the skin tones, and probably five other things I've forgotten. Ridiculous!
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#15 Alexandros Angelopoulos Apostolos

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Posted 14 June 2016 - 03:51 PM

Who would’ve said! Looks very natural. B) It’s also cute, the actors’ faces make me smile.


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#16 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 14 June 2016 - 04:06 PM

Oh yes, I remember now. The grey couch kept changing color shot to shot. We had a very old Sunray HMI in a book light off camera right that was a completely different color from the natural daylight ambience and Kino we were using. So depending on how we lit each shot the couch would either be magenta, green, blue, or yellow which meant a special tracking power window for the couch on every shot. Lesson learned - when shooting monochromatic subjects, the precise color of your lights is extra important!
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#17 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 14 June 2016 - 08:39 PM

Some more high-key examples from the dramatic comedy web series:

 

BTL_01.jpg

 

BTL_02.jpg

 

BTL_03.jpg

 

We hung a bunch of 4x4 Kinos from the drop ceiling for this scene.


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#18 Bruce Greene

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Posted 15 June 2016 - 10:46 AM

It seems like all the color grading information out there is about how to make footage look dark and dramatic but I'm currently working on a comedy that could use its own touch of color timing magic.

 

So, how does one go about grading a happy, lively story? What are the basic timing decisions? 

Common sense tells me that I would want to stick to the characteristic contrast curve and keep the midtowns meaty, but where do I go from there? Is there a highlight color that I should introduce? Do I want to do anything with my shadows? Skin tones?  Or do comedies suffer when subjected to a grade? 

 

Thanks

 

Hi Richard,

 

I've been shooting a bit of comedy the past few years, and working on them as a colorist as well.

 

My producer/director really likes a colorful look to the movie.  Which can be tough when art direction and costumes are not colorful...

 

As for grading, the movie looks the most colorful when the color correction is neutral.  Any color "theme" will reduce the intensity of every color not in the "theme", so neutral, or close to it, it is.

 

And it's the most difficult to grade.  Any slight mismatch of flesh-tone or background is very visible and distracting.  So plan on more time for grading, rather than less.

 

As for shooting, there are no "comedy" rules, unless it's for something like the Disney Channel which seems to want all it's shows to look like "Disney Channel" shows.   There is usually a story with comedy, and the photography and lighting must serve the story, like any other genre.  Comedies do have day and night scenes, conflict, hopelessness, and love scenes.  You're probably not going light em' like the Godfather, but it doesn't mean they will be flat with no mood either.  And the "House of Cards" look probably doesn't suit a comedy either, now that I think of it...

 

For our comedies, we have, for the most part, stuck to the traditional "film style" contrast curve as you mentioned.  That said, there is a lot of grading necessary for comedy, they don't suffer from it.  They require it.  Good luck Richard!


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