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The Hidden Art of Colour Correction – An Interview with Kerri Locke

Colour Correction in Video

“Colour is all. When colour is right, form is right. Colour is everything, colour is vibration like music; everything is vibration.”
– Marc Chagall

The famed Russian-French artist, Chagall, understood the power of colour. So did the creators of the 1998 film, Pleasantville, which used colour as a metaphor for enlightenment, signalling the transformation from black-and-white banality to vibrant self-awareness. The red coat of the little girl in Spielberg’s monochrome film, Schindler’s List, symbolizes innocence within the horror, building an intense connection with the audience. And who can forget the impact when young Dorothy is thrust from her drab grey Kansas home into the brilliant explosion of colour in the land of Oz!

Big Red Oak’s Flashframe team takes the business of colour very seriously. We want our productions to be true to what the camera saw. Or, conversely, we may need to modify the tones to create a special effect in some cases.

Getting it ‘right’ is the domain of professional colourists. When so much creative energy and time is invested into a production, it’s important to make sure that colour flaws don’t detract from it. Colour correction is something that shouldn’t be noticed at all if it has been done well, according to Kerri Locke, a colourist for the past couple of decades. “My job is to let the story be told through images that look as they were intended,” she says. “This is the very heart of it.”

kerrilockeFlashframe uses Kerri’s expertise because of her dedication to quality. “I like working with Flashframe because they recognize the value I bring to their productions,” Kerri explains. “We have the same high standards, and I appreciate the opportunity to enhance their storytelling videos.”

She shares some of her reflections, philosophy, and perspectives on the art of colour correction:

Why is colour correction necessary?

A camera can’t always capture the look that is needed for a film, documentary, or video. Shots are taken at different times, in varying weather, and in challenging settings. And footage from other sources may be integrated into the production. The colour correction process can align the images, digitally restoring or enhancing them. My goal is to make sure that the viewers get lost in the story, not be jolted out by unmatched scenes.

Often colour must be manipulated; for instance, converting a scene that was shot in the daylight to fit a dusk timeline. It’s not as simple as just darkening it—it has to be done in stages. Even with similar light levels, morning shots are always a bit cooler, and evening shots need to be warmed up. And, since colour has a profound influence on our state of mind, it is sometimes used to evoke an emotion—from candy-coloured vibrancy to pastel delicacy or dark melancholy.

Has it always been around?

The short answer is yes. But colour correction has come a long way. In the early 20th century, films were painted one frame at a time. This eventually gave way to tinting, but it still wasn’t realistic. As technology progressed, colours became more natural. Today’s digital cameras can deliver the images in an unprocessed state that allows knowledgeable colourists more flexibility. And new software tools are always being developed.

Do colourists have a personal style?

Perhaps you could say that. For myself, I’m committed to authenticity. Some people go for extreme effects—all monochromatic, really blue or really yellow. I prefer trying to make the images look the same as if you were seeing them live. But I also enjoy it when there’s some wiggle room—such as a flashback scene where a different visual treatment is needed to help define it. I can have some fun with that.

How do you approach your work?

After a preliminary discussion and viewing to ensure technical soundness, my first pass deals with overall hues, as well as skin tones, which are the big equalizer. I get everything in the same range, bearing in mind the amount of sun or cloud, time of the shoot, and type of lighting. And integrating client-supplied or stock footage, often with varying framery and camera styles, can be quite complex. On my second pass, I see everything in context, making adjustments if it is too bright or too dark, for example, or if any highlights need to be neutralized.

The type of camera used for corporate video projects gives me a lot of options. I can make the blacks darker and the highlights more interesting … and these details could be lost if the camera was set differently. As for software, I’ve used several tools and discovered that you can achieve the results you want through any of the higher-end technologies.

Any special stories?

I once worked on a documentary that was a true labour of love. The man had shot the film in Afghanistan between 2006 and 2010, and it had been a transformative experience for him. I wanted to respect his work by making it seem exactly as he remembered it, and did a lot of research to get a feel for the locale. It had a kind of scorched-earth appearance, with muted silvery green tones in the grass and foliage. When he saw the finished product, he was thrilled that “the dirt looks right”—which he felt was key to capturing the landscape.

Why is it a hidden art?

Take a look at these examples of the art of colour correction. The finished product is true to the ‘real thing’, but people generally don’t realize how much careful attention to detail is required to create this authenticity.

Really, colour correction is both an art and a science. And, ironically, my success comes when no one is aware of it. I’m always so pleased by how astonished the clients are when they see a before-and-after view and they understand how my work has elevated their project. I think it’s the best part of my job!