Anatomy Of A Commercial Color Grade: Behind The Scenes

Anatomy Of A Commercial Color Grade: Behind The Scenes

August 13, 2015

The question of how to commercials look so good crops up constantly. Dan shares the in and outs of a grading session to show you how


Series

How do commercials always look so good?

One thing that you don’t normally hear when people are speaking about grading a commercial is what actually happens behind closed doors.

We normally offer up a smile and a comment about how we worked with the footage until we found the best look and everyone high five and went home.

There is one secret to a commercial grade that you just can’t cut corners on.

TIME!

I thought it would be great to open the door to mixing light members and give a blow by blow account of a grading session.

I’m going to describe a commercial job from start to finish I completed for a big fashion company. Including the good, the bad and the ugly moments!

I originally had planned to share details about the job but unfortunately I can’t publish some of the finer details as it has not been released yet.

Hopefully in the future I will be able to post an update insight with even more insight and the finished job!

The Commercial

Probably the most unimpressive part of this insight is that I use the same grading techniques that you do but I just spend much longer doing it.

The initial session on this job was from 10am and finished at 8pm.

Thats 10 hours of grading on one commercial.

That must be hundreds of shots and lots and lots of material?

Nope! Thats 64 shots and 90 seconds worth of material graded.

Add in some client feedback the next day where I spent an additional 4 hour hours grading.

Thats a total of 14 hours grading on one 90 second commercial.

If you spent the same amount of time on a commercial as I do I guarantee it would probably look just as good!

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Comments

20 thoughts on “Anatomy Of A Commercial Color Grade: Behind The Scenes”

  1. For god’s sake, someone think of the products! I think this is such a big issue when you’re trying to create a unique look for commercials. I have been burned before by going too far and backing myself into a corner with a LUT. We put the image first over the product, which can work for branding but where products are in shot clients can lose their minds over subtle variations in colour. Glad you sorted it out!

    1. Exactly! The hardest / most important part was when that thought clicked in my mind. I had pushed everything too yellow / brown via the LUT and knew I had a difficult fix to make. Once I committed to that it was just a matter of hard work and time 🙂

  2. Great insight Dan. I feel your pain with the LUT swap! Did that for a whole feature once! We used a beta FNE LUT I had made for the main grade and then months went by and when it came to deliver the DoP and I tried a newer LUT and we both loved the subtle difference it made to the shots we tested, so I had to match the tone properties of the new LUT with the old LUT, keeping the new colour difference and go through and change the LUT on every shot!

  3. Very informative. I appreciate your honesty, Dan — we’ve all been there, and I’ve gotten 2 reels into a feature and realized we were off in the wrong direction, then had to retreat, regroup, and redo. Doesn’t happen often, but it happens. Live and learn. As long as the client is happy at the end, that’s all that matters.

    1. So true sir! I still kept the original look for my showreel as I loved it once I started trying to fix the clients concerns I realised instantly that I had caused the issues they had and only retreating would solve the issue properly!

  4. Fantastic insight! Thanks for sharing, Dan. Curious how others handle this and similar situation(s).What helped u figure out where things went wrong? I sometimes get stuck in the “figuring out what im NOT seeing” step, even with client feedback.

    1. I honestly stared at my monitor for a good 30-45 minutes thinking. They are wrong, what are they talking about, stupid clients etc.. and then on one shot it hit me like a ton of bricks. By swapping out that LUT everything went from yellow brown earthy tones to bright airy summer in an instant. It was actually quite a scary feeling that my stubbornness was making me essentially color blind to the issues!

      1. Its funny & scary, as I know exactly how it feels with non-color based feedback, like “too much like a season”. I find it really frustrating sometimes trying to figure out exactly what the client is seeing that bothers them, especially if they arent open to discussing it in more detail. Please do share if you ever figure out what may have helped bring about that realization. Appreciate the conform to delivery details, very interesting lesson

    1. I don’t think it was a LUT issue in particular as the LUT was doing exactly what it was designed to do. By emulating film it was giving the image certain characteristics that would have looked amazing on a narrative piece but the products were all pastel blues and reds and very summery. The problem was definitely me not noticing what I was doing to the poor innocent products 🙂

  5. Can you tell us more about how you approached the LUT breakdown and how you changed it to work for you? Interested to hear your approach on that. I’ve had this happen often and would be curious as to what your methods of attack were.

    1. The main thing I did was pull a still of the grade as it was. I then disabled the LUT and added another empty node. I brought up the still of the “finished” grade and then did my best to match the contrast and saturation of what the LUT was doing. The main thing I found is that the LUT was working a lot on individual colors and pushing them towards darker browns and yellows so my simple primary grade actually solved 90% of the issues straight away by keeping much more natural colors.

  6. Dan I appreciate your honest clarity all way through to the end on this. I too can feel your pain and it’s helpful to just hear another colorist speak with us such authenticity about your process including your mistakes as well as successes. Thank you!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it sir! It was quite refreshing to get it all down as a full piece. It was quite funny at the time as I had fallen in love with the look and was being stubborn and not seeing the issues as I was to close to the project.

  7. Great insight Dan!
    I had a similar situation and I think the main problem is that I was grading alone as you were Dan. And this sometimes can cause what you said. You get used to the look and think this is the best look you can achieve. But I think, at least in my case, is very important to have other opinions just to see the whole picture. The problem is that, as you said, more and more often, client is not present at the session and this causes lots of headaches because inevitably there are going to be changes and sometimes drastic ones that if the client had been there it would have been a lot easier.

  8. LOL. You just described my work day. Perfectly! I agree with you – more and more, clients don’t want to sit with the colorist. One told me, ‘it’s like watching paint dry.’ Nice. As Tom said, I appreciate your honesty. And your friendship. Peace. Jimmy

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