Color Grading Tools for Hogwartians

Color grading is relatively new to me, so I’m not an expert, but so far it has enabled me to not only make shots look better, but has allowed me to dramatically improve the look of interview shots.

Denver Riddle of Color Grading Central originally introduced me to the whole subject when he released Color Finale for FCPX. It’s an invaluable tool and I highly recommend getting it.

FCPX has some powerful grading tools itself in its Color pane. It’s more powerful than many people realise, but I’m not going to attempt a tutorial that others would be much better at.

Instead I want to show you a couple recent examples, starting with a little contest Denver Riddle posted on the FB Color Grading Central page.

I’m also going to tell you about the amazing vignette tool from Slice X and show you how and why I used it in grading a few shots. It is definitely way better than the built-in FCPX tool because you can infinitely manipulate it.

I’ll put the links to all these things at the bottom of the post.

First, here’s what Denver posted and asked people to grade:

boy+meets+girl_1.1.1

And here’s what I did with it:

Boy Meets Girl

Hundreds of people posted their grades in response to Denver’s challenge. Mine seems to be one of the few he commented on directly saying it was a nice color balance. I was kind of chuffed, though he said there was too much separation from subject to background. On that I had to disagree. It is one of the primary things I try to achieve with lighting first, and grading afterwards because it creates more depth and 3 dimensionality. But in fairness, I didn’t spend that much time on it and there were still some things I wanted to do to improve it. He might have had a point. Too much separation? Anyway…

I did this grade using both the FCPX color pane and Color Finale. The FCPX color pane, amongst other things, gives you the ability to isolate shapes which you can then adjust independent of the surroundings. In this case I isolated their faces and graded them separate from the background. Most of the color work on the background was done using Color Finale which allows you to independently control the hue, saturation and brightness of the  main color components (along with many other things).

Finally I used Slice X vignette to direct attention to the subjects.

All of these things are key-framable. Since this is a still shot, key-framing was not necessary of course.

SLICE X Vignette Shape Mask

Here’s a screen grab of Slice X Vignette in use:

Slice X

Unlike most vignette tools, including the one in FCPX, this one is infinitely controllable in terms of shape and access. Like all the others, you can also control the density, size and softness of the vignette. But this is the only one where you can also shape it and change its axis. Here are the properties that you can vary from within the inspector in addition to the on-screen controls you see above:

Slice X Inspector

Ok, now for real life.

For those of you who read Run and Gun Videography–The Lone Shooters Survival Guide, you’ll know I covered the subjects of lighting both generally and specifically in regard to interviews. Lighting is the lifeblood of cinematography and is much more effective in creating that ‘cinematic look’ than shallow depth of field alone.

Here’s an interview shot I did recently as it came out of the camera:

Peter ungraded

It was not without some problems.

While I did manage through lighting to effectively separate him from the background in a white room (turned off all overheads, closed the window blinds, skimmed the back wall with a light to give the impression of of an off-scene window while controlling the spill from hitting the opposite wall as much as I could and gave him facial modelling and a backlight–both of which I had to severely control with black foil to avoid spill). The trouble with white rooms is that light bounces all over the place. So this was pretty good and I could have left it as it was, but there was another problem I hadn’t realised at the time. It was shot with relatively high gain (unnecessarily) and so is a bit grainy. You’ll see what I mean if you click on the picture to see it full-sized.

Here’s what I did with it:

Peter grade

Grading was done with FCPX and Color Finale. Then I added the Slice X vignetting tool subtly. I also used Neat Video to de-noise it. The result, I think, is that the shot has more depth and dimension.

And one final sample and a small test:

Duchess ungraded

Duchess grade

The first one was out of the camera, the second one graded. But what may be of more interest is the lighting. See that big window in the back? Well, there were three more to the left which effectively lit up the whole room. I closed the heavy curtains on the side windows. Then I placed a softbox in the floor in the background (left) to create a fake light from the (now dark) window being sure to keep it off the walls. Now I was able to light her with a relatively low intensity softlight and have her more dramatically separated from the background. I gave her a backlight and a little frontal fill which also gave her eye lights.

As I told Denver, this is what I try to achieve with almost any shot–separation of subject from background which can be achieved with focus or lighting or both. (In this case lighting was going to carry the job as the focal length was wide and the depth of field too great)

.

I could have done it more telephoto (which can also be more flattering), but chose this because she is a Duchess in a castle and I felt the grandeur of the room was important to include.

Now for the test:

Did you notice the microphone in the shot ?

(I didn’t think so–which is why I left in in there rather than crop the shot)

Because of the depth and because of the directing of attention to her face, what is it that you look at when you  see this shot.? Her face, right?

Our little secret

Links

Color Grading Central Facebook page

Color Grading Central Website  (where you can get Color Finale)

Slice X Vignette Shape Mask

Neat Video De-noiser

Run ‘n Gun Videography eBook

Magic Trackpad 2 ‘Drag and Drop’ SOLVED

Drag and Drop

Maybe I’m the last person on earth to discover this, but just in case I wasn’t…

If you’ve been wondering how to drag and drop with the new force-touch magic trackpad, the answer turns out to be totally simple…and it’s not any of the complicated work-arounds you may have been told about when Google-searching this problem.

The older trackpad had 3 finger drag and drop. But this simple feature seemed to disappear from the new Magic trackpad 2 and it seemed almost impossible to move something somewhere without dropping it or opening up a force-touch menu.

You can get back your familiar drag and drop by going into ‘Accessibility’ in the preference pane and then under ‘trackpad options’.

Enable dragging with 3 finger drag and everything will be back to normal.

 

Color Correction Basics

 

Color Correction thumbnail

Like anything else, color correction has its own fundamental principles and rules.

And like anyone else, if you don’t know the rules you wind up with lots of questions:

Do you adjust the black levels first or the while levels?

How do you correct skin tone?

How do you completely change the color of something in the scene?

I found this 20 minute video from Larry Jordan particularly informative and useful. (For his written article on the same subject go here.)

FCPX Audio Magic–matching tonality between clips

FCPX Match Audio

I knew there must be a way. I knew it, I knew it, I knew it.

I won’t tell you how many hours–I mean DAYS– I spent trying to match up tonality between two different audio takes.

I had a 2 hour interview to cut down to about 12 minutes.

The first thing I did–before cutting anything–was to give a rough mix to the whole interview audio track. That’s so no matter what order the pieces wound up in, they’d all be the same mix.

Then I fine tuned it to a final narrative at which point I copy-pasted the audio track into a separate project where I mixed it and then exported  it back into my original project as one 12 minute piece. That way, any further mixing could be applied to the whole track and not have to be applied to dozens of little pieces.

I forgot one very important thing–to keep a copy of that first mix saved as a separate project I could go back to if need to. I had called that project “work” (meaning it was a temp project just to be able to do something out of the main project). I later used the ‘work’ project again, this time over-writing it to do something else.

Well, that was dumb.

After I had crafted the narration and added the B roll for my rough edit with my mixed audio I realized I needed an additional piece of narration to cover a particular subject.  So I found the piece in the original footage after realizing I had over written the project where I had mixed it and exported it from. You see, even if the piece I wanted to use wasn’t in the original project, I could have either dragged out the clip nearest it to find it (at which point it would have the same mix as everything else, OR I could have simply copy-pasted the audio effects from the mix onto the new un-mixed clip.

Now, try as I might, I could not duplicate the original mix to achieve the same tonality with the new clip. I tried all kinds of different EQ tools, studied the frequency response to try to match it, but all to no result. The original mix dealt with ambient noise removal, making the voice more present and fuller. No matter what I did, I could not match the new clip to the mixed version. I couldn’t remember the order I did what in (and that does matter)–and there was a looming deadline.

Finally I must have googled the right question.

Right there at the top of the list was a Larry Jordan article on this very problem: matching tonality between shots.

Turns out the solution is right there in FCPX and is idiot simple.

With one click I suddenly had a very near match that I was able to tweak a bit and all in a matter of a couple minutes (after wasting untold hours) doing other stupid things.

The main difference now wasn’t really tonality, but the talent’s emotional tone and pace, but I was able to make it close enough to not be really noticeable.

Here’s the Larry Jordan link that explains where to find the magic tool and how to use it. It will take you about 30 seconds to learn it and not forget it. Larry’s article on matching tonality in FCPX.

Notes to self:

1) ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS save every project for exactly what it is, even if a temporary work project that’s been copied pasted out of your main edit for the purposes of being exported or copy-pasted back to it.

2) Periodically duplicate your project (particularly after completing a significant phase) and number them all in sequential order while continuing work on the new duplicated project which is now your current version. Leave the old ones alone. If you ever need to go back to cut and paste an audio or video effect to your current version of the edit, all the information will be there.

More on Color Finale

506380800_640

Color Finale is definitely, definitely, definitely a must-have plug-in for FCPX (that is, if you don’t have or buy–or can’t afford– Black Magic Design’s ‘Divinci Resolve’ which is the cadillac color grading program for all the major NLEs. Color Finale is only $99 and has the key basic tools for color grading that not not available within FCPX. I have used the FCPX color tools with good success for the past couple of years, but there are some things you just can’t do, which if you knew about them, you’d definitely want to be able to do. Color grading is much more precise and controllable with Color Finale (and certainly with the industry standard Divinci Resolve). But this is about my foray into Color Finale, so let’s stick to that.

Today I did a corporate shoot. In it I used LED light panels for the first time ever (subject to an upcoming video review). Boy was that fun! The reason it was fun was that I set my key and fill lights for the modeling I wanted and was then able to simply adjust the dimmer to the brightness I wanted for the chosen f stop. Totally simple. And with those little panels I had more horsepower than I needed–and more than my flourescent soft boxes were capable of putting out. But I think a made a wee mistake. I let the camera auto-white balance the scene. I probably should have white balanced to a card under the LED lights. What I got was this:  (click for full screen)

 original

I wasn’t overly concerned as I knew the color information was there, and besides, I was now the cocky new owner of Color Finale. So I loaded in the whole interview and tweaked it (somehow it looks a lot better live) until I got this, which is more like what I was expecting:

Color Finale Grade

Mind you, that took me 15 minutes. If I knew what I was doing it would have taken maybe 90 seconds, if that. I know by having watched a Divinci Resolve demonstration at the BVE (Broadcast Video Expo) in London recently that there are certain work flows to color grading whereby certain steps should be done in a certain order. I did it as best as I could remember but know that to be competent with the tool I will have to understand the theory and the tools better. To that end I had already written the creator of Color Finale with my own wish list–specifically a set of tutorials that walk one through the theory and use of each tool and the proper sequences or work flows. ‘Color Finale For Dummies’, if you will. Just got this from him today:

Joe, Great suggestions and it is precisely part of my roadmap to help people have a better understanding of color decisions so expect to see more tutorials in the coming weeks walking from A to Z. The tutorials I’ve created so far are just the 30,000 ft view of the tool I plan to get into the nitty and gritty soon 🙂

Cheers, Denver Riddle Color Grading Central LLC
 
So, while it’s early days, there’s another advantage–Denver is very open to communications and is even willing to help you with specific projects.
Hey, this is just my first baby step. Don’t rag on me. I know it can be better. I’ve seen what can be done. But now I’m excited about the prospect of soon adding the magic of color grading to my skill set.
Denver’s website contains a lot more than his program Color Finale. It’s a repository of color grading information, tips and programs, including Divinci Resolve.
Here’s the main website Color Grading Central.
And here’s the direct link to Color Finale.
Hey–if you order it from him, tell him the Video Whisperer sent you. I won’t get a kick back. I’d just like him to know.
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