Matching Shots in Final Cut Pro X: Redux

March 18, 2015
Patrick Inhofer C.S.I.

Shot matching is one of the most difficult color correction techniques to teach. Learn a workflow matching shots in Final Cut Pro X.


Matching Shots in Final Cut Pro X Redux

Part 6: The Final Cut Pro X Desert Island Challenge

In this Insight I’m circling back around to shot matching. Why? Because I’m not happy with my Insight on this topic earlier in this series. It was a little too… touchy-feely. But that’s the problem, and challenge, with shot matching—there’s way more to it that simply matching pixels based on voltage levels. And that’s what this Insight is about. I’ll be covering:

• Shot matching as two distinct mental processes

• Why we need to respect and build upon the Left / Right brain dichotomy

And as we go through this, I’ll share a general workflow pattern.

First, we need to understand that shot matching is a very ‘whole brain’ activity

And that means while I can give you logical rules, in the end it’s also a creative judgement as to when two shots actually match each other. Yes, I can (and will) give you rules on how to start your shot matching process. But finishing it? That’s a judgement call. In this Insight notice my workflow when starting to shot match:

• Start with the Luma Waveform and match brightness levels, starting with highlights / shadows, move to midtones, then re-tweak as necessary

• Move on to Saturation and use the Vectorscope to match ‘colorfulness’.

• Work on hue to get the color balance right. Sometimes you’ll need to isolate a color or two and swing them around to complete the match.

And after doing all that? The shots may not match yet. Why? Because we’ve only used one side of our brain for what is a 2-side activity.

Next, recognize (and respect) that using scopes is a very Left Brain activity

The left brain is logical. Using scopes to match shots? That’s a very analytical approach to color correction. It removes judgement from the process and is a pure pattern matching activity. But the human visual system is more than a pattern matching algorithm. Humans don’t merely process retinal data the way a camera processes photons or a vectorscope displays a pixel scatter.

The human visual system aggressively reinterprets our retinal data to help it conform with a lifetime of experience.

For example: Have you ever seen an image from Mars that looks like a human face? You tell me: A sign of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe? Or a sign that our visual systems are hard-wired to pattern match… allowing us to see things that just aren’t there? If our eyes are willing to see a face in a pattern of lumpy dust  140 million miles away… what do you think this means for shot matching?

Shot matching requires a hefty dose of Right Brain activity

The right side of our brain is the creative side of our noggins. If you want to get good at Shot Matching, at some point in the Shot Matching process you need to put the scopes away, make believe you’ve got fresh eyes and just LOOK at the shots you’re matching. Is it working? If not, what does your gut tell you? Here are the questions to ask yourself (in about the order to ask):

• Is there a brightness mismatch on some element of the image? Not based on scopes… but based on your EYES? If so, what correction will fix it?

• Is there a saturation mismatch? Not on the vectorscope… but based on your EYES?

You know where I’m going next…

• Is there a hue mismatch? Again, based on LOOKING at the image, not on an RGB parade.

Remember, by the time you’re asking these questions you’ve already done the Left Brain thing and used your scopes to match these up. Now, we’re looking at these images as human beings, allowing our visual system to process the shots.

The final step of Shot Matching is to notice if our brains are altering our perceptions

And if so, does that alteration threaten to take the audience out of the scene? When you can say, “No. The audience will be fine with the way these shots match.” That’s when it’s time to move on.

But what if the scopes SAY the shots match, can’t I just teach my clients that the shots really match?

Ummm… no. You need to figure out what your client is seeing. A technical match does NOT mean the shots match. We don’t see in voltages. We see based on context and every edit point is a change of context. This context is something our Waveforms and Vectorscopes will never reveal to us.

A big mistake with clients is to try to convince them the scopes are right and their eyes are wrong! I can guarantee, they may finally give in to you but they’ll never totally trust you again—not if it means ignoring what their eyes are telling them.

If your client is telling you the shots don’t match, chances are your client is catching something you’re not. And sometimes your answer to the client is, “Make a note and we’ll come back to this later”. Then, with fresh eyes you’ll see where you were temporarily blinded. Or, your client will discover the match really is fine and you’ll be able to move on.

Next in this series: Creating Looks in Final Cut Pro X

Assuming I don’t decide to try to explain shot matching… again… my plan is for our next Insight in the FCPX Desert Island Challenge to look at how we start to create Looks, within the systematic color grading workflow I’m developing here.

– pat

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