Grading a short film


I had the good fortune of being able to grade (color-correct) a graduate student’s thesis project last weekend. It’s called Mel’s Hole, dir. Kenji Miwa. It was my first narrative project, and my first using Apple’s Color. I usually do documentary work, where the highest priority is to make the footage look “good” and consistent. Also, I’m used to the Avid color corrector, which is not very good for matted secondary color corrections (“brighten his face here”) so it would have been hard to do the sort of aggressive grading that the director wanted.

He’s given me permission to show some before-and-after shots from the film, showing off some of the more fun corrections I got to do. Mouse over the images to see the uncorrected versions. (Shot on a Panasonic HVX200 with a lens adapter for low depth-of-field.)

(Note, these images sometimes appear much too bright on a mac. Set your monitor’s gamma to PC / video standard (2.2) to see the night-time shots correctly.)



The above shot represents the basic look for the film, which is a desaturated “bleach bypass” look. It’s high contrast, with substantial crushing of the blacks and whites. In this shot, we had to knock down the colors of the blanket, which was still too saturated even after we applied the look.



In this scene, the character walks into the woods, which were supposed to be dark and foreboding. By really crushing the blacks we were able to make the woods look deeper and more mysterious. This darkening caused the character to be somewhat lost in the busy-ness of the image, so I put a small tracked oval (the shot pans up) over the character to draw attention to him.



This scene takes place in the middle of the night, and I was instructed to make it very very dark, with a silvery-blue cast. Although the lefthand venetian blind did not have any light behind it, I was able to put one in, which serves to illuminate the character’s face (even though a light back there would really just silhouette him). There are still some bright highlights visible in the blinds, but I wasn’t able to get rid of them.



This shot was actually a last-minute idea. It is paired with another night-time shot, so we decided this shot should also be in night-time. I was able to do a good day-for-night, including drawing in the spill of the light at the bottom of the stairs.

I had a lot of fun doing this grade, and I really liked Apple Color — which makes sense, I doubt they would have bought a company that made a bad color correction program. I do have to say that the keyframing in that program absolutely blows, and the tracker isn’t great either. It also crashed immediately after finishing a render once. But on the whole, it was good at disappearing and letting me work.

The director and DP were great too. We hadn’t really done a lot with aggressive grading before, but once they saw what was possible they were able to direct me better and make requests that were creative but also doable.

World premiere is on May 2nd. The details are on Facebook.

(ps, just shoot me an email if you want me to grade your film — the first job is free!)

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2 thoughts on “Grading a short film”

  1. It's fascinating to see the before and after shots. I can see why you had fun on the project. For those of us who are avoiding the universe of Facebook, could you send more details about the world premiere?

  2. Facebook sez:

    Date: Friday, May 2, 2008
    Time: 6:00pm - 9:00pm
    Location: Bill Bordy Theater
    Street: 216 Tremont St.
    City/Town: Boston, MA

    "Along with this film titled 'Mel's Hole', Kenji's other classmates will also be screening their work. The night begins at 6pm and I do not know the order, so arrive by 6 and stay for the whole free screening.

    (the Bill Bordy Theater is across from the Cutler Majestic Theatre)

    map: http://tinyurl.com/3uj4rd

    Take any GREEN LINE to the BOYLSTON T stop (closest T stop).
    or
    Take the ORANGE LINE to the CHINATOWN T stop, walk west a block to TREMONT ST, then it’s one block on your left across from the Cutler Majestic Theatre.

    If you drive, I suggest carpooling and parking at a meter around the Common. The alternative is garaged parking beneath the Common."

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