Look Development Part 3: Sweetening The Color Palette

January 30, 2021

In the last installment of his series on the essentials of look development, Cullen Kelly guides you through the concept of preferential color mapping.


Wrapping Up The Groundwork For Look Development

With the creative contrast curve that we established in part 2 in place, we’re well on our way to a polished look for our short film.

As I’ve mentioned before, in your own projects your look is bound to be different, but it’s the framework and process that’s essential for any look to really shine and make your work easier. In this Insight, we’re going to continue refining things by employing what’s known as preferential color mapping.

What The Heck Is Preferential Color Mapping?

This is a term that originated with film stock engineers, who, through extensive R&D, found that accurately reproducing colors isn’t enough to create pleasing images. Humans have certain memory colors — including skin, sky, and foliage — which we store an internal “ideal” for. But interestingly, this ideal often doesn’t align with reality! Enter preferential color mapping: this process was designed to map one or more hues in our image to better align with these ideals. It can also be used to create greater color separation and a more harmonized palette.

In this Insight, I’ll show how to create your own preferential color mapping using Resolve 17’s Color Warper:

  • Compressing and saturating skin hues into their ‘sweet spot’
  • Creating greater separation between skin and neighboring yellow-greens
  • Creating density in primary blues to reds to add a subtractive color feel to our look

Preferential color mapping is a subtle but powerful way to add greater depth and harmony to your images, and the Color Warper makes it easier than ever to create your own. For a more in-depth look at this powerful new tool, be sure to check out Peder Morgenthaler’s Color Warper 101 series.

Also, if you’re looking for the test clip I mention and use in the video you can find that HERE (you can find it within the Arri Color Tool app package Contents > Helpers > Isabella.dpx)

I hope you guys have enjoyed following along with me as we the groundwork for look development. It’s important to keep in mind with a solid framework in place, the sky is the limit for your creative choices. If you have questions or want to share your experience using the techniques we’ve discussed, drop a comment!


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Homepage Forums Look Development Part 3: Sweetening The Color Palette

  • Doug B

    Loved this series, thank you! Just a clarification: when in this workflow would you go through the “correction” or shot-to-shot matching and balance phase?

  • Cullen Kelly

    Thanks Doug! I’d tackle the shot-by-shot adjustments after going through the full process of setting up the image pipeline and building out the look. You’ll probably continue to refine your look in your first pass of individualized grading, but you still want to get it as dialed as possible beforehand.

  • Daniel E

    I’m curious if you adapt this workflow any differently when working on documentaries where the source footage can be totally unidentifiable (mirrorless SLR, archival, DV, etc). How would you best adapt this workflow to work with those sources? I can see how the preferential mapping would apply once you wrangle them into the workflow, but typically if I don’t know the proper IDT I’ll just it to Rec709 and grade from there. But, as we expand into HDR and needing to do several different luminance trims/passes, I feel like that may be a big roadblock down the road.

  • Cullen Kelly

    Great question Daniel! Input mapping Rec709/601 material into ACES can definitely be tricky. If the Rec709 IDT doesn’t work, you can also try Color Space Transforms, and if all else fails, you can completely side-step color management on specific shots — IF you’re using a node-based “Custom ACES” approach like we did in this series. In the latter case, you may have to tweak your look nodes, but they’ll still work for you.

  • jim Robinson

    I have been digging into the color warper tool lately.. I am loving it for looks. The idea that you can pin stuff that you want to remain “as is ” and manipulate the rest is really quite fun.
    But, ( may be a bug, I have posted this in the FB Resolve forums, and better minds than mine can’t seem to figure it out either )
    Color warper doesn’t seem to reflect the same trace as the vectorscope at any setting. Seems to be skewed by 4 degrees and Saturation is not mapped linearly in the UV plane. There is noticeably less saturation in magenta when you place color swatches and compare the trace to the vectorscope.

    But I am still using it, but watching the vector scope for direction and changes. Between the HDR tool and the warper, I feel like I can almost grade everything with those two tools that used to take a lot more nodes to even come close.
    But not sure if the warper has a bug or not. I would not be confident in just saying , I’ll grab this hue and move it here etc. without the vectorscope verifying what exactly is being affected.

  • Robbie Carman

    It’s because the standard vectorscope is set up to view Y’CbCr/YUV model where as the warper wheel is showing HSL/HSP. If you try to make the correlation when viewing a HSV modeled scope those moves you make will match – scopebox, Omni scope can do this.

    But I agree if your trying to correlate one move to the other it can be little weird to see the offset. Right when the warper came out I made a feature request about this but not an option as of yet.

  • Robbie Carman

    Also this behavior gets much weirder in color managed projects for me so there is some additional math going on that I haven’t sorted out.

  • Jim Robinson

    Regardless of the model – Resolve should be able to map it so they match. When they put something up there with a skin line indicator that is almost in the same spot, people tend to push toward hues like they do on the wheels but no matter which one I try HSL/HSP etc. The magenta is way out and the trace doesn’t match. Yes, I was using the color management. So I agree that might be making stuff even worse. Tom Huczek, after I posted it compared the results to his Nobe color remap and said there is something definitely off.

  • Robbie Carman

    yea i’m agreeing with you on the end result it’s why i filed a feature request when it came out (like day of). i tend to use the warper for more subjective corrections then exact ones (product hues etc) so it’s not really bothered me but i think you are 100% right it should be addressed and translate the the mapping between the warper and the default vector

  • Yash M

    This was an amazing series. Thanks Cullen. I love watching your videos. You were very thorough.
    I have few concerns. Right now I can on your timeline shots varies in terms of their locations and lightings which is a case when you are color grading film trailer. However, in majority of situations we get same location shots throughout the couple of minutes. Don’t you think in that case applying the look on Post-group level would be great? So first initial color correction on clip level and then scene based look on Post-group level?

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