How To Color Grading Long Tracking Shots

Techniques for Color Correcting Long Steadicam Shots

January 18, 2014

Color correcting long steadicam shots can be a challenge. Learn how a professional colorist cracks this nut with shapes, tracking and keyframes.

In our From the Mailbag #7, we answered a question about how to color correct a long take where the camera moves through several ‘set-ups’, without any edits.

Answering that question brought to my mind the opening scene in BloodyCuts’ gruesome short horror film, Don’t Move. This short was brutally gruesome – but the opening shot starts in a kitchen and then tracks across 5 different people, all frozen in place in a Living Room and Dining Room. Each person required slightly different color grading… but without any edits, how did I accomplish that task?

It is precisely the sort of challenge we discussed in the Mailbag episode.

In this Insight I break down how I color graded this long Steadicam shot. The key is to break down the scene into smaller manageable parts. There are several techniques you’ll need to master to execute this properly:

  • Using Masks to isolate important areas of the image
  • Tracking Masks to match the fluid, natural motion of the Steadicam
  • Cleanly moving Masks into and out of frame, without revealing it to the audience.
  • Using keyframes to help hide your Isolations.
  • Splicing in edits within the shot allowing you to dissolve between ‘setups’

Of these, the only one I didn’t use in this grading breakdown is ‘spicing in edits’; which requires a natural moment to hide the dissolve.

Graphic Image Warning

Be warned that some of the images in this Insight are graphically bloody. If I had another project that demonstrated these techniques as well as Don’t Move does, I’d have pulled it from my archive instead. Consider yourself warned.

Also – this is a RED project and I had to reduce the quality of RED playback to 1/8. You’ll notice lots of banding artifacts in the final render. Trust me, they don’t exist in the actual project. I just had to dial the quality level all the way back to get the real-time playback I need to properly demonstrate how to execute these techniques.

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Enjoy the show.

– patrick

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