The power of color grading

I had a shock tonight. I was watching the most popular YouTube videos for the day, and I stumbled on this and this video, promotional clips from the new movie “Funny People“. The clips felt very video-like, they had nothing from the $70 million look that the movie cost to produce. Which of course gives us hope that our consumer HD cameras can produce great-looking video if we knew how to post-process it. I tried to find which camera was used, but to no avail (it has a digital look though).

Later, I searched and found the trailer at Apple’s site to try to see more of the movie’s scenes. When I watched the trailer though, it was a completely different look. Obviously, the YouTube clips were ungraded!!! The actual trailer really did look like a Hollywood movie! I can’t believe how the colorists were able to make this originally terribly-looking movie to look so good. Check the before and after!

Of course, there’s always the chance that the Youtube clips were the ones that were graded to be super-contrasty for some reason, or that whoever exported these clips messed them up, but I don’t think so. It really feels like the youtube clips are the original ungraded clips, and the trailer was graded. Which shows us how important grading is. You could take any digital HD camera and make it look as fabulous (as long as you have access to RAW).

Update: I played with the HD YouTube clips and tried to reproduce the look. And while I was working with the useless (for color grading needs) 2 mbps YouTube clips, I was able to get pretty close to the trailer look (I would need the movie’s RAW files to be able to completely emulate it). Which means that the YouTube clips are *definitely* the original clips, as they came out of the camera, ungraded! If *I* was able to get so close with these useless 2 mbps files, the movie’s colorist could very easily get to that trailer look with his RAW 4k files. Which again, it shows us that if we know how to light, frame, shoot, and grade, we can get the “film look” even with a consumer HD camera (of course we would have to try a bit harder, but it’s possible). No need for 35mm adapters.

I used the freeware Aav6cc plugin (saturated greens and yellows, desaturated reds), Sony Vegas’ “Contrast” plugin (-16 value), and the “Color Corrector” plugin (low saturation, higher gamma, a bit of offset, mids+lows towards yellow). Piece of cake, huh!

Update 2: One more. Again, I would need the original RAW/4k files to do better than that.


Andreas wrote on July 23rd, 2009 at 6:19 AM PST:

Eugenia, I guess you have seen this tutorial from Stu. Amazing what you can do now-days with a cheap software tool.

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Eugenia wrote on July 23rd, 2009 at 11:44 AM PST:

Yeah, he used Colorista. I used just a freeware plugin in one of the two cases, and Vegas’ own plugins. No Magic Bullet or Colorista in this example.

pooridge wrote on July 24th, 2009 at 2:42 AM PST:

very great article!
i’ve got the HV20 which is a great camcorder , it can output RAW video by its HDMI plug ,but i think u need a complete pc station to record it ,and a proper interface
But indeed with that configuration a very cheap camcorder can achieve a real film look , with correct lighting , frame , editing , and color grading
Most of all creativity will make the difference
thank u for your blog

Tim wrote on July 24th, 2009 at 7:26 AM PST:

Hey Eugenia,

will you review sometime? It just reached 1.0. I loved you Kdenlive review.


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Eugenia wrote on July 24th, 2009 at 2:27 PM PST:

I don’t think I will review LiVES. I don’t find it to be competitive with anything. It’s UI is one of the worst I have ever seen, sorry.

kragil wrote on July 24th, 2009 at 3:31 PM PST:

That was review enough for me 😉 Thanks

Philip Goh wrote on July 25th, 2009 at 12:13 AM PST:

It’s one of the best techniques for saving photos too. All amazing photos these days are drastically manipulated and look rather different from what came out of the camera.

Mike wrote on July 26th, 2009 at 6:25 PM PST:

I don’t know…I think the ones you think are ungraded have better color, right in line with Stu’s “teal, orange” color scheme, it’s just that the contrast is all screwed up.

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Eugenia wrote on July 26th, 2009 at 6:41 PM PST:

Yes, but the traditional color grading of Hollywood is not teal, it’s low-contrast, and low-saturation. This movie uses the traditional grading rather than the action movie teal color that’s common in the last few years. Go see the movie in the theater and you will see that the high contrast version is the ungraded one.

sean dailey wrote on July 27th, 2009 at 1:09 PM PST:

yeah, i actually like the ungraded shots better.

Francis Coral - Mellon wrote on July 30th, 2009 at 5:51 PM PST:

I have to be honest, that last doctor shot definitely looked graded, even though you pointed it out as shot.. Maybe they were just graded terribly before the theatre release. I know that trailers are sometimes done by different company’s or something happened in conversion.

I was under the assumption that ungraded footage was more grey not having the blacks crushed to all hell, as seen in some of these photos. How are they supposed to pull the detail back out of those shots?

Nick wrote on August 1st, 2009 at 9:01 AM PST:

Janusz Kaminski shot ‘Funny People’ (Steven Spielberg’s cinematographer). He usually isn’t a big fan of D.I’s on films, I think he’s only done two, one on Indy 4 and one on The Terminal. But that being said much of his work tends to be a little flatter, heavy diffusion, nets behind the lens, with lots of smoke and fog in the room and blown highlights. Trailers have been known to be re-graded differently from the actual film or for there to be errors (the Apple trailer for Benjamin Button was sent out at 1080 29.97 and not progressive).

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