Behind The Curtain – Cleaning Up For 2019

December 5, 2018

Dan shares his thoughts on trying to clean up his grades in 2019 and moving away from his favourite film emulation techniques.


Trying To Break Out Of Old Habits

I’m sure many of you have spent as much time as I have chasing that “film look” both for ourselves and our clients.

Buying grain, plugins, LUTs and endless experimenting on how to combine them all together to get the best film look and feel.

I’ve decided to set my New Years’ resolution early this year and try and put that same level of time investment and effort into cleaning up my looks.

This “cleaning up” which I’ll explain more down below, is all down to a reality check I had recently.

My previous insight was a huge success (in my opinion) on the emulation of 16mm film.

If you haven’t watched it already you can check it out here

The dirt, grain and softness really did add up together to give that raw dirty feel that worked well.

This overconfidence on how well I could emulate 16mm got me in trouble on the very next job I did.

It ended up with me having to do a total 180-degree turn and regrade it completely.

The Job

Unfortunately, the job I’m speaking about below isn’t coming out until January so apologies for being a little vague.

I promise I’ll do a full Insight on it as soon as I can.

It is actually a bit of a bucket list job.

It features an A list Hollywood actor, it’s lit beautifully and shot on red at 8k.

The perfect combination for a great grade!

I was lucky enough to have some time with the footage before the director attended the main grade.

On the back of my 16mm adventures on the previous job, I dived in head first pushing this into a 16mm world.

I spent a good 3 or 4 hours setting the look and feel in this mushy soft grainy world using the techniques I showed in my 16mm emulation insight.

Because this was such a big actor I thought why don’t I treat myself to some A-level movies to wrap up the day and get some look ideas.

I ended up spending a good 8 hours watching movies and trailers.

Films like Solo, Deadpool 2, The Avengers, Jurassic World etc..

One thing shocked me when I finally thought about it.

They are all clean.

Sharp images, minimal grain and no heavy mushy shadows like you’d find with my typical 16mm film style grade.

The Next Day

As you can imagine sleeping on a grade is great medicine.

I sat down to look at my grade from the previous day

I hated it

Because I was looking at a Hollywood actor on my monitor in my suite I could directly compare them to the movies I had been watching the day before.

I was incredibly disappointed in myself. It was like something had clicked in my brain after watching those high budget feature films.

I had muddied up the image so much that it had no separation and looked straight up bad.

The skin was pale and the clipping of the highlights made the actor’s face look round and flabby instead of defining his jawline.

I had fallen into the trap of not using my eyes and brain to think of what was best for this grade and forced a heavy 16mm look onto it.

The fact is that most big movies don’t look like grungy 16mm film.

My Recent 16mm style grade

Deadpool 2 Trailer

You can see how clean the footage is but it still looks “cinematic”

That is what I’d love to achieve with my grades moving forward.

Even the jobs shot on 35mm film don’t have much grain and look incredibly modern.

Some Examples And My Plans

This is only the beginning of my quest for better “clean” grades so for now, I don’t have the secret sauce or a definite answer to what I am going to do next.

What I can say is that I had fallen into a comfort zone of relying heavily on lifted mushy shadows, heavy grain and being heavily biased towards film stock style colours.

Let’s jump over to my video insight below so I can show you some examples of how my grades vs clean blockbuster grades look.


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Homepage Forums Behind The Curtain – Cleaning Up For 2019

  • Seth Goldin

    I think this might be incorrectly tagged as “Article” instead of “Video?”

  • Greg Greenhaw

    Learning the tips and tricks of the high end pros would be very valuable. Even starting with a super polished teal blue look would be great.

  • Jose S

    Great insight Dan!! I recently did a where both the DP and I liked the Kodak Lut in Resolve, but I pushed the DP to do it “by hand”. I learned a lot doing that and I’m fairly happy with the result, but I did feel shakeld by my workflow decision:

    Inspired by your insights I’ve been using group nodes a lot more instead of applying the lut/cps transform in the timeline “layer”. I used a color space transform, to go from Arri Log C to 709 on the pre-clip group node, and on the post group used a combination of nodes . I felt trapped, with little to no control over the tone mapping and do I believe my mistake was in fact using the CPS ofx (probably won’t be using it again at least in that workflow) before the clip grade. I’m more used to a applying a lut on the timeline and always grading before the lut, which gives me a total control. I really appreciated your last insigh, where you applied filmconvert before the shots, I’m going to give that a shot!

  • danny phillips

    Hey Dan, I can’t tell you how helpful this type of insight is… to listen to someone of your calibre discuss how disappointed they were in trying to emulate their last technique, on a job that didn’t quite fit… is extremely insightful (pun intended..!) Seriously though… I love these “Behind the Curtain” insights… please keep them coming! Cheers.

  • Toby Tomkins

    Great insight Dan. I!be found myself thinking the same in the past. I’m a firm believer that the job should dictate the approach so I don’t think as Colourists we should push our own taste onto an image, instead it should be our taste that serves as a conduit between what was shot and what is desired and what is right for the project.

    I also think that it has always been colour and tone that makes something feel cinematic or filmic, rather than the spatial qualities of film: like grain, softness and halation etc. The bluray restoration of pulp fiction is a fantastic example of this as well as other modern blockbusters to reference.

    Colour and tone are king and it’s easy to get distracted by the spatial qualities of film when building a look. The spatial work can really help finish a project but the focus I believe should always be colour and tone and the appropriate look for the job and what was shot where possible (client may want it pushed away from that!).


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