Working With Reference Images Part 3: Building The Look

September 22, 2020

Cullen shows how to put the analysis of reference images + analysis of shots on the timeline together to create a cohesive, matching look.


Tying It All Together

In this Insight, we’re wrapping up our series on working with reference images by applying lessons from Parts 1 and 2 to the creation of our look. As we discussed at the outset of this series, the ability to break down a reference image and borrow visual ideas from it is a vital skill for working colorists.

In Part 1, we focused on evaluating our references and identifying their key components, much like a chef might evaluate a dish, or a musician a piece of music.

In Part 2, we took a detailed look at the material to be graded, evaluating its strengths and weaknesses in order to determine which ideas to borrow.

Now that we understand both our references and our source material in a detailed way, we’re ready to skillfully select and recreate visual ideas. In this Insight I’ll show you:

  • How to build your overall contrast curve using Custom Curves, focusing specifically on setting a knee, shoulder, and black point
  • How to recreate a laboratory “pull” process
  • How to fine-tune your image’s saturation
  • How to add a split-toning effect by cooling shadows

If you have any questions, comments, or war stories on this topic, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. See you next time!


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Homepage Forums Working With Reference Images Part 3: Building The Look

  • danny phillips

    Hey Cullen,
    Thanks for this series, full of great stuff..!

  • Cullen Kelly

    Glad you enjoyed it Danny!

  • Shawn Convey

    Hey Cullen, thanks for these! I am sorry to learn that this is the last in the series, I was hoping to learn more about how you dialed in the look a little more closely and was also wondering if / how you save your looks that you have matched to LOG / RAW footage to be used as a base down the line.

  • Raul F. Ballester

    Honestly I was hoping the same, a closer look to the reference.

  • Cullen Kelly

    Hey Shawn! Sorry for the late reply here, for some reason I didn’t see the notification about your comment. Appreciate the feedback! Sounds like another Insight going into the finer details of look creation might be of interest to you? And to answer your question about saving looks, I definitely do so, the most useful of which end up making into my Colloid PRINT plug-in for Resolve. All good talking points for a future Insight — stay tuned.

  • Cullen Kelly

    Thanks Raul! It seems like you felt the look I landed on for this wasn’t close enough to the reference. That’s fair, as this is a very subjective topic. I will say that it’s always a balancing act borrowing what you love most from your reference while still embracing the material you’ve been given. And personally, if I have to err on one side, I’d rather feel like I’m best supporting the provided footage, even if I’m getting a less literal match to my reference. Does that make sense? Are there any visual aspects of the reference you feel like we could have matched better without over-manipulating the footage?

  • Shawn Convey

    Yeah for sure, I would love to learn more… Also I have checked out your PRINT plug-ins (and own your standalone Kelvin plug) but as I am still staring the pricing for your Master bundles are quite a bit out of my league so I will have to DIY it for now 🙂

  • Dillon M

    Hey Cullen, great series for sure, I found your points super consistent and very easy to follow. I too am erring on the side of the look maybe not being fully their ( at least in my interpretation ). I was specifically waiting for a point in which you talked about individual color saturation. I noticed in the arrival stills that the blue green is very prominent in the shadows, which you covered, but it seems to be pushed to a more extreme level. Not sure if that can be accomplished with the curves tool, or if it’s something to tackle with either hue v sat, hue v hue, or maybe even qualifiers. I also was wondering where you would put that node in the order of operations. If these are things you might cover in your next insight, I’ll very much be looking forward to that. Thanks again for putting your time into this series!

  • Yash Mistry

    The series was great. I truly gained some knowledge on top what I have. However, Cullen, I was wondering, the Arrival movie, in majority of shots, you see monochrome look except few day shots (which you can treat separately), can we use offset wheel to apply overall monochromatic look and then primaries/log wheels to adjust (counter) colors in certain areas. What do you think about this approach?

    Thank you Cullen. Waiting for your response!
    As always you were great in explaining.

    • Cullen Kelly

      Hey Yash! Cool idea — you could definitely do a monochrome “wash” type of look by starting with a strong offset push and then working your primaries from there. Happy grading!

  • Jim Robinson

    It seems to me that if people really wanted to get closer to a reference that they could pull a still onto a timeline, and to accurately recreate hues such as the blue in the shadow etc. that it could be achieved by reversing the hue to neutral ( grey ). Then doing the opposite to the footage would then add the exact hues in.

    Not something I would do, but in theory it should work.
    I like the idea that Cullen is using here where you end up with the feel of the reference and not a carbon copy.

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