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The Hidden Art of Colour Correction

– Article by Marilyn de Lang, Writer & Editor at Big Red Oak

 

“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!

Getting it right

Big Red Oak has a keen eye for accurate colour paired with an artistic approach. We use the dynamic capabilities of our high-end cameras to capture original footage, striving to make our video productions true to life. Intelligent colour correction techniques complement the work of the videographer.

Getting it ‘right’ is the domain of professional colourists. When so much creative energy and time is invested into a video production, it’s important to make sure that colour does not detract from it. Colour correction is something that shouldn’t be noticed at all if it has been done well. The story unfolds through images that capture the intent of the project.

Why is colour correction necessary?

A camera can’t always capture the refined look that is needed for a documentary or video. Moreover, shots are often taken at different times of day, in varying office lighting environments, and sometimes in adverse weather conditions. The colour correction process can align the images, digitally restoring or enhancing them. The objective is to make sure that the viewers get lost in the story, with shots taken in fluctuating lighting flowing seamlessly together.

Often colour must be engineered; for instance, when 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 manipulated 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 digital era. Back 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 shoot video in a raw state that allows professional colourists more flexibility to add a sparkling polish.

How does it work?

The first pass deals with overall hues, as well as skin tones, which is the big equalizer. Everything has to be put in the same range, bearing in mind the amount of sun or cloud, time of the shoot, and type of lighting. On the second pass, everything is viewed in context, with minute adjustments made 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 presents a lot of options. They can make the blacks darker and recover bright areas, such as a sky. Our cameras have the highest dynamic range technologically possible, producing videos that are similar to what our eye can see. As for software, there are several to choose from; and our colourist keeps us up-to-date so we can pass those higher-end technologies on to our clients.

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, success comes when no one is aware of it. Our clients are often astonished when they see a before-and-after view, and then they understand how much fine colour correction techniques have elevated their project.

Yes, there is no doubt: Marc Chagall absolutely got it right!