How To Quickly ‘Deconstruct’ a Look
(and Apply It To A New Shot in DaVinci Resolve)
When color correcting, our clients often ask us to emulate Looks they like. They’ll pull references from YouTube & Vimeo or bring in magazine ads or personal photos—and ask us to emulate the contrast, color or saturation of those references.
While some software apps offer auto-shot matching (FCP X), it’s not reliable enough to use as a crutch
Instead, we have to match these Looks using our scopes, our eyes and (if you’re new to color grading) a little bit of luck. One thing that DaVinci Resolve does well is allow us to import our client’s reference images and display them directly against the footage we’re color correcting. Having that reference in Resolve allows us to analyze the original source with our scopes.
In this Insight, MixingLight contributor and colorist Josh Petok shares a method he discovered that, frankly, is brilliant. He’s using a unique aspect of Resolve’s Curves to discover the ‘fingerprint’ of a Look, invert the fingerprint and apply that invert to the shots in your timeline. The end result?
Josh shows you how to jumpstart your ‘Look matching’ using a repeatable workflow
And his entire process is based on a funky aspect of Resolve’s ‘Curves Intensity slider’. But it also requires disabling Resolve’s YRGB processing in the ‘Look match’ node. Josh has a strong background in Avid Symphony which processes images in RGB and explains why Josh discovered this technique. If – like most Resolve colorists – you always work with Resolve’s default YRGB image processing, you probably haven’t discovered this technique on your own.
(Learn more about RGB vs YRGB in this Insight: Using Curves in Avid vs Resolve)
Note: The first part of this Video Insight is a Curves refresher
Long-time Mixing Light members have probably seen the Curves overview that Josh presents at the top of his Insight. This is especially true if you’ve taken our 14-hour DaVinci Resolve Deep Insights training. His use of a grayscale to show how curves work is precisely how we like to teach it. If you know this material, including how the Curves Intensity Slider works, just start watching at the 4:40 mark.
We also have several Insights that are nice additions to what Josh talks about here:
- Creating an S-Curve Using Contrast / Pivot – If you’re new to Curves, you’ll want to learn more about the classic ‘S-Curve’. What is it? How can you emulate it?
- Working with LUTs, a 3-node approach – As we mention at the end of this article, we recommend tweaking the results of this technique using Nodes before and after the Look Matching node. It’s a remarkably similar technique to what Patrick calls his 3-Node Approach to working with LUTs. This Insight digs into the nuances you’ll want to be aware of when executing Josh’s workflow.
Here’s a quick summary of Josh’s insightful and crafty ‘Look matching’ technique
Since we suspect many of you will bookmark this for when you need to execute it, here’s a quick text summary of the workflow. It begins by pulling in your reference image to the Media Pool, dropping it into a timeline and jumping into the Color tab so you can start color correcting it.
Then, there are 6 steps to this method:
- Set the Lum Mix to 0
- Neutralize the stylized look of your reference image using un-ganged curve corrections
- After making your curve corrections, invert each curve by adjusting the intensity slider to 0 (don’t forget, because Lum Mix is set to 0, the Luma curve has no effect and can be ignored).
At this point things will look weird but thats ok! Remember, once we invert the curves with the intensity sliders we are essentially applying the Look to a reference image that already has the Look applied to it! The Look is now doubled-up.
- Next, save a still of this reference image
- Move to a shot you want to apply the look to and balance the shot (using whatever tools you want) so it’s a nice neutral image (Josh and Team Mixing Light like to do this in Node 1).
- Apply your saved still as Node 2.
Woah! Are you getting close to matching the reference image? At the very least it should start feeling similar to that reference.
- If you need to tweak the image to get it match the reference more closely, then we recommend doing that before Node 2. We recommend doing shot matching and the rest of your grading after Node 2.
Will this technique work every time?
No, of course not. The qualities of the reference image, the color palette and exposure your footage, and the quality of the initial neutralizing grade all impact how well this technique works. You should fully expect to have to tweak things in additional nodes.
But this technique is as close to an automated ‘Look Match’ as we’ve seen in a while
If you color correct in DaVinci Resolve, this is definitely a do-not-miss Insight!
If you have feedback or questions on this workflow please be sure to use the comments below.