January 29, 2015

Diving into Color: DP Daryn Okada Shows You What Life Is like Color Correcting a Film

A DP's job is never done. Even after shooting has wrapped up, there's plenty more work to do, including collaborating with a colorist to color correct a film. Cinematographer Daryn Okada takes us through a day in his life finalizing the look of Dolphin Tale 2.

Okada shares a bunch of bite-sized pieces of advice and information about working on a professional project, like how changing the time of day in a shot is common practice, how getting perfect images right out of your camera may not be all that great for post, and how making color correction decisions are mostly based on gut feelings.

Check out the video below:

If you're an indie filmmaker working on a no/low budget film, you might have to end up being your own colorist. (Especially if you're already your own editor.) If color correction was a plane, technique would be the wings, engines, and everything it takes to maneuver through the sky, but the philosophy of color and aesthetics would be the navigation system. You can change the look of an image using great technique and expertise, but if you don't know why you're making those changes, or how those changes are going to affect an audience, then you're essentially flying blind.

You can learn more about aesthetic theory here (and here for a little color theory).     

Your Comment

16 Comments

I'm a beginner and I'm having a hard time understanding the boundaries between the art direction/production designer job and the colourist job regarding color. Whenever they show these before and after comparisons the raw material always looks so flat, feels like the only moment to worry about color is at post production. Anyone could enlighten me on that matter?

January 29, 2015 at 9:40PM

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Rebecca Pelagio
film student
247

Art directors/production designers make sure that the colors being used in the scene are appropriate for the mood and the story they are trying to tell. Everything from costuming to set pieces and props falls under the Art Director. The reason it always looks flat is because that's how digital is shot in order to preserve the most detail in the image- depending on what you are shooting it is often referred to as log, or raw. The colorist colors the image, but typically won't make changes to like the color of someone's clothing, changing a shirt from red to blue- because the art director (or costume designer under the art director if you have a large enough crew) picked out that specific color for a reason. Hope this helps!

January 29, 2015 at 10:25PM

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When you shoot the footage in camera you shoot it either in a Raw format or a logarithmic picture mode and it looks flat, but that's just to protect your image from being baked in like the gentleman says in the video. The colour information is all there, but then you need to bring it out in post. Having a good Art Director/Production designer to get the colours you want on the set is a godsend though, because you don't want to be going in and manipulating every stitch of clothing on every person in post, making those colour decisions in the real world can really speak to a style too. Filmmaker IQ has a good video about choosing colour, you should check it out.

January 29, 2015 at 11:01PM

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Brennan Martin
Director, DP, Actor
76

Hi Rebecca. I am a freelance colorist, working in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The material looks flat because it is log encoded, as this method allows to retain more information to be manipulated later, specially at the exposure extremes (shadows and highlights), as Mr. Okada briefly explained. But even if the image is recorded like this, it can be (and normally is) previewed as if it was "normal" at the set monitor, by applying a "digital filter" (actually a non-destructive log to linear LUT - Look Up Table) directly on the monitor or at the on set color grading workstation. This LUT can also be used by the colorist later, as a reference for what people were seeing on the set or also as a starting point por the color grading. So don't take the raw (log encoded) image literally as a "before", because all the contrast, color saturation and everything else is actually there from the start. This way, think about the Colorist's role as the extension of the DP and Art Director work, because when they don't put the objects, clothing, lights and colors on the scene, it's a lot harder (if not impossible) to create, change and make it better later when color grading. Hope that helps.

January 29, 2015 at 11:02PM

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Hi Rebecca,
As a colorist, I can tell you that although unnecessary, I love it when directors decide to include me on preproduction meetings with production designers to discuss color palettes. A raw images will look flat, but generally on set, you can ask your dp to display the raw image in a color space that gives it more contrast and saturation for reference.

January 29, 2015 at 11:16PM, Edited January 29, 11:16PM

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The actual set isn't necessarily flat and the art director will make that set look as close to the directors vision as possible.
The camera is shooting with a flat picture profile in order to give the most amount of latitude or 'leeway' in post. Like he says in the video if they 'bake in' the look there is a lot less flexibility to move things around that aren't perfect. This is especially important when matching scenes and getting the flow of the finished piece right.
Often a DIT is on set to do a quick colour grade so the director, DP and producers etc. can all look at an image that is as close to the final as possible. Although from my experience DIT's are becoming less common in the industry as everyone becomes more comfortable shooting digital.
I hope that helps answer your question.

Btw what software is he using to grade in the video?

January 30, 2015 at 1:54AM, Edited January 30, 1:54AM

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matt
743

Hi Rebecca,
I guess that a lot of people get the idea that you can start thinking about color when you are in post production and to some degree it's true. But actually it's very important to start thinking about color in preproduction so you can lay the groundwork there.

Depending on your color choices every team can work towards achieving them, be it the art direction or the location scouts or the lighting department. Everything what you want about color should be happening on set. If there is not the color information there to begin with, you won't be able to fix it in grading. (To some degree it's possible, but its very time consuming.)

The RAW material with most modern digital film cameras look very washed out, flat, grey, whatever you want to call it. But this doesn't mean that this was what it looked like on set. This a technique to preserve the most color and light intensity information as possible. It's only due some computer codec maths ends up looking so flat. You end up with a lot information that you can manipulate more easily in grading.

I hope that makes it somewhat clear :)
Cheers,
Petr

January 30, 2015 at 3:41AM

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Petr Eremin
Director, Editor | Cameraman, Colorist
91

Well... the old fix it in post is not really the way to go. Sure you can change a lot, but in some cases you end up having to make up complex masks and so on just because you want to change the appearence of an object or remove it completely.
Something that would have been fixable in the shot in a few minutes.

Also, different colors render differently. Even when shoot flat or logish, the basic tones are still present in the object, fx a red coat, a orange chair and so on.
Had those been yellow and blue, it would still look different in the flat image and eventually affect the way you interpret the shot or the emotion of the shot.

Then there's the whole color seperation thing, which you can actively use to draw attention to specific parts of the scene. Dress your setup in neutral or cold tones and put your talent in warmish clothes and you have already begun building a idea with the shot and thereby also help the editor on the way.

January 30, 2015 at 4:38AM

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Torben Greve
Cinematographer
379

I'm not a professional colorist nor do I understand everything about color and color correction...

The answer isnt just shooting super flat and fixing color in post. There are multiple reasons for this:
1. You can only do so much. They shot this movie on some sort of Alexa that has the ability to be pushed or pulled a lot. Try doing this stuff with 5D footage or even an older HPX500. You'll be at a loss. If you've ever done photo editing, its like trying to edit jpegs vs RAW format.

2. The DP knows what can and cannot be done with image in post and what he has to do in production to get it that way. He's not saying "we'll shoot it flat and figure out the tone in post", we already knows the tone, and shooting this style gives him the ability to really bring out that tone.

3. Shooting it right and with a certain look in camera will stop you from having problems later. Im not saying Dont Shoot Flat, but shoot it correctly in camera so youre not fixing errors in post as opposed to enhancing the image.

Let me know if that's confusing or answers what you were looking for.

January 30, 2015 at 9:58AM

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Hi Rebecca
I can see what you mean about the colour not really being there in the footage before the grade. What generally happens is that the cinematographer will use a LUT or a picture profile to view the image as close as possible to the graded image. All the colour that is in the graded image is on set and in the production design, however the camera records the a flat image to preserve the largest amount of detail.

A LUT is an in camera colour grade that is viewable on a monitor but not recorded on the footage.

One thing i will say is that the flat image can falsely lead you into not worrying about colour and specific shades or textures but as soon as you push the contrast back into the image in the grade, aaaalllll of the inconsistencies will become visible. And this can open up the rabbit hole of colour grading and matching the grade shot to shot. It is actually much easier to match a low contrast, flat or mostly ungraded image shot to shot, than a punchy saturated image because the colour becomes critical. I really think this led to the glut of washed out images that was all the rage not long ago.

I hope that helps a small amount.

January 30, 2015 at 10:13AM

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Isaac Elliott
Director/Cinematographer
246

The color looks flat because of the way the camera records, and that flat image actually contains a ton of color, contrast and other image data. The director, DP and production designer already know how they want things to look on screen, but recording in a raw format can give a good bit of flexibility if they want to make tweaks to the image in post. They just show the raw file first so the process looks more dramatic.

January 30, 2015 at 11:12AM

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Chuck McDowell
1st AC
501

No, color should be considered all the way through production. While the material LOOKS flat, it's not- and while it's possible to create color where there is none, it's best to have a good production designer and to coordinate color schemes, etc., well before shooting.

January 30, 2015 at 12:03PM

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Patrick Ortman
I tell stories. Sometimes for money. Sometimes, not.
598

Hey Rachel,

So the reason the raw image looks flat is because it was designed to give the filmmaker as neutral a picture profile as possible. This allows for the greatest level of manipulation in post-production to the image.

On a set the art director and production designer work together with the director and cinematographer to place objects and design wardrobes in the way that tells the story most effectively. Generally they create color palettes for each character which is reflected in their wardrobe and sometimes in the environment surrounding them.

It is always important to begin thinking about color and composition during pre-production because once the image has been captured there are always limiting factors that make it difficult to alter the image in order to be more align with the director's vision.

For example, if it is desired that a character is to wear purple jeans, it is much easier for them to wear purple jeans on set rather than altering the color of their jeans from blue to purple in post-production.

January 30, 2015 at 1:00PM

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Sam Saravolatz
Director/Writer
154

Thank you very much for all the answers! All of you got an upvote straight from my heart. Now I see it much more clearly.

February 2, 2015 at 11:51PM, Edited February 2, 11:51PM

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Rebecca Pelagio
film student
247

January 30, 2015 at 5:09PM

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Angus Lyne
Filmmaker and VFX generalist
308

Holy crap, the nofilmschool comment system bogging down made for some hilarious results. I thought I was the only one replying to Rebecca when I submitted, now it looks like twenty lonely dudes desperately responding to one girl.

January 30, 2015 at 5:22PM

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Chuck McDowell
1st AC
501

what software did they use?

February 7, 2015 at 12:13PM, Edited February 7, 12:13PM

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Anfar
74

A little late for a response, but I'm pretty sure he's using Autodesk Lustre.

March 9, 2015 at 11:28AM

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Stephanie Dzieglo
Editor
165