Colorist Comparison – Grading Identical Footage & Comparing Notes

May 1, 2024

Explore two distinct approaches to color grading on one spot. Join Kali Bateman and Luke Ross as they dive deep into technique and workflow.

Part 1 – Image evaluation and color grade reveals

Get an inside look at how different Colorist’s work

Welcome to our first Colorist Comparison – my new series on Mixing Light!

In this series, we distribute the same footage to two Contributors, give them the same set of Director’s notes, and after spending no more than 90 minutes grading the sequence, we get together and share the final results.

We hope the result will be a deep dive into colour grading approaches, techniques, and workflows. In our first take on this concept, Kali Bateman and myself share our thoughts and insights for the grade. Patrick Inhofer selected the footage, gave us our creative brief, and joined us in the discussion.

Patrick chose a project from the Film Bakery, an Australian agency that cinematographer Ben Allan ASC operated for many years. His (now defunct) website shared his many early experiences in the digital DSLR revolution. In 2012, Ben released the raw footage to the internet from a television commercial he shot and produced for a charity.

The ‘Loved Ones TVC’ blog post can still be found in the internet archives wayback machine. Although the download is no longer available. Originally graded in Resolve 9, this was a good project to kick off this series. The footage puts lots of restrictions on our workflow and made for an interesting conversation and color grade.

The shots don’t match, and it’s 8-bit, and we’re losing light, and…

At first glance, the footage in the spot is incredibly varied. The time of day is intercut with morning dawn and mid-day. Patrick’s direction also included a few flashback shots to be incorporated into the color grade.

The Creative Brief

Here’s the email that Kali and myself got from Patrick, along with the project files:

  • We’re trying to pitch the client on an alternate story approach than has been previously approved
  • To support that approach, the grade should reflect:
    • Tension
    • Imminent loss
    • Intense memory recollection (the boy)
    • Confusion about why the mom is running
    • Time of day: Early sunrise
  • Don’t spend more than 2 hours on this spec approach

Recording Details:

  • The camera body was a Sony FS700, which was exceptionally popular when released.
  • Codec: AVCHD, 8-bit, 4:2:0
  • Logarithmic color profile applied.
Patrick’s creative brief

Given the vintage of this camera, both Kali and I chose not to rely on any color management or LUT transformations and instead grade ‘by eye’. In today’s parlance, we followed a display-referred, non-color-managed workflow.

Our final grades

Kali’s grade is strongly driven by the character’s emotional states, skin tone, exposure mapping, and overall environment. My grade offers a higher contrast look, and I spent considerable effort using the skies to help with shot matching and set apart the flashback shots.

While neither piece is drastically different, both grades add to the emotional impact of the spot.

I want to send a huge thank you to Kali Bateman; Kali put herself on display for this project, and I very much appreciate it! I also want to thank Patrick Inhofer, who enthusiastically supported this idea for a series.

Coming up in Part 2

In Part 2, we discuss the execution of our color grading, including node trees, the specific tools we used (or avoided), and our workflows.

Would you like to see more of this series?

If you have any feedback – or have footage you can share that you’d like to see used in a future Colorist Comparison – let me know in the comments. It’ll help us develop this idea to be more useful to you.

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