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Grading Advice

Posted: Thu, 22nd Jun 2006, 11:15pm

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Harvey

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Hey all,

I have recently begun to get interested in grading and so I thought I would get some pictures off the internet and try my hand at it. Since this my first attempt at grading and I really don't have a great understanding of what to do I thought I would ask here and hopefully get some help and advice. My problem is, I don't have any experience and while I think that what I have done looks alright, I know it could be better. So if you would look at the following images and give me some advice on what I should do to make them look better and get more experience with grading it would be much appreciated.

Forest:
Original
Graded

Mountain:
Original
Graded

Mountain 2:
Original
Graded

Again I would really appreciate any advice that anyone has to offer.
Posted: Fri, 23rd Jun 2006, 12:00am

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Garfield Street

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Well with the first one. You want to make sure that certain objects are graded differently than others. For example. You want the green plants to be more vibrant, but you should keep it toned down with the tree trunks.

With the second I'd say the same thing. The mountains in the background are a good colour and really don't need changing; although the grass and shrubs in the front could be a little more vibrant (maybe even the sky a bit).

The third I liked the best. It almost looked a little fake with the amount of saturation you gave (i.g. the grass on the right of the cliff. And the white mountains in the background lost their reality!

All together I like it! Keep up the good work and keep trying! Grading is a difficult skill to master anyways, not even the best producers in the world have mastered it yet! biggrin
Posted: Fri, 23rd Jun 2006, 1:56am

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Axeman

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One of the main points of grading is to alter the footage to enhance the tone or mood of the scene; when properly employed, grading is a means to tell the story better, as your story is told with images. So to give the best advice, users will have to know what mood you are trying to convey.

You can grade just to make your frame prettier, but there are many, many directions you could go with that. For me, the first step to grading is to identify the goal I am headed for; what I want the grading to achieve.

Its good that you are looking into it though, as it is a very useful thing to learn, especially for amateur filmmaking. I will offer some comments, but they are just opinions.

I would suggest reducing the contrast in the first one; the black areas seem a bit overpowering. Also the saturation seems a bit high. Bright, bold colors look nice as you are adjusting them, but I find it easy to go overboard with the saturation, and often have to remind myself to tone it down a bit.

The second one also the saturation seems a bit high. Heavy saturation can be used to good effect, but in general you still want the colors to look natural. If you are going for a sort of painterly look, the colors would be good where they are at.

And in the third, I would up the contrast a touch. Generally, if you are just trying to make the picture look nice, you aim for using as much of the available spectrum of colors as you can. Adjusting contrast so the darks just reach into black, and the brightest hilights are white, is a good step to achieving this. And agan, I would reduce the saturation a bit to get a more natural look.
Posted: Fri, 23rd Jun 2006, 8:49am

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Simon K Jones

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The advice given by Axeman is spot-on. Grading should evoke a particular mood, rather than just apply pretty juice.

Forest:

Contrast is way too high - notice how you've lost detail on the large tree trunks. While it's important to ensure that your blacks are properly black, there's now far too much black, resulting in overly-dark image that is hard to make out. Combined with the saturation, the result is a harsh image, rather than a relaxing beautiful forest.

Mountains:

Saturation is too high here - note how the mountains in the distance have become overly blue. Over-saturation not noly hurts your eyes, it can also highlight problems with the source image - in this case, the mountains seem very low detail and artefacty. I suspect you were focusing on the sky (which now looks good) and didn't notice how much you were affecting the rest.

The contrast is also too high - note how the medium-distance grassy hill is very dark and lacks detail compared to the original.

Mountains 2:

Not sure what you were going for here. The main problem I see is that you no longer have any proper blacks - the dark areas are all a shade of blue. This gives it a dreamy, surrealist appearance, but I'm not sure that's what you wanted. Always keep an eye on your extreme blacks and extreme whites - generally you want to make sure they stay as black and white, even if you fiddle all the colours in-between.
Posted: Fri, 23rd Jun 2006, 1:55pm

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vilhelm nielsen

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I agree with Axeman and Tarn, though I think it depends on what you're making.

You could enchance, or grade the picture. The enchance picture is made in layers, grading every single piece in a different way. Making the water blue, the mountains more yellow, and the sky brighter. It looks very natural, but held against the original, it looks different.

The grading is done in one colour, and with glow. Very simple.
Posted: Fri, 23rd Jun 2006, 3:46pm

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Harvey

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Wow, thanks guys! I'll give it another shot a bit later today. When I graded originally I didn't have a certain look in mind but now I'm thinking that I want it to look kind of epic. Anything I could do to achieve that look?
Posted: Fri, 23rd Jun 2006, 4:25pm

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Simon K Jones

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'Epic' is still quite vague. Take a look at Lord of the Rings - that's epic from start to finish, but goes through several different styles of grading.

Are you going for epic in a horrifying way (Mordor), a beautiful grandeur way (Minas Tirith/Gondor), a rustic traditional way (Edoras/Rohan), a scary but awe-inspiring way (Mines of Moria)...

I think epic is too vague for grading, it tends to describe the cinematgoraphy itself rather than the grading, to my mind.
Posted: Fri, 23rd Jun 2006, 4:29pm

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Harvey

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Hmm well for the forest I'd probably want a mix of Lorien and Fanghorn. For the first mountain probably something in the line of Rohan and for the second mountain probably something more Gondorish.

Edit: I've had another go at the forest and decreased the contrast and the saturation. Is it better?
http://img400.imageshack.us/img400/6100/forestgradingtest211nn.png
Posted: Fri, 23rd Jun 2006, 4:56pm

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petet2

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I think it is important to be sure in your mind why you are grading and not just do it because everyone else is. I personally preferred the look of all three shots before grading but I prefer a slightly lower contrast, muted colour, naturalistic, 16mm film stock look. Maybe my monitor is set up differently from everyone else's though!

If you know what you want maybe look at some of the presets available? I haven't used any yet but there seem to be ones to help you achieve the stylised looks from many recent major movies.
Posted: Fri, 23rd Jun 2006, 7:25pm

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Garfield Street

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Hey Harvey your go at the forest again looks alot better.
Posted: Fri, 23rd Jun 2006, 11:36pm

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Harvey

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I also had a second go at the first mountain and this is what I came up with. Any advice on what to change (besides fixing the obvious mistakes with the masking)?

Pete, I would check out the preset library but seeing as how I want to practice and learn how to grade it really wouldn't help me to do that.

Garfield, thanks. smile
Posted: Fri, 23rd Jun 2006, 11:58pm

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Pooky

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I think you're trying too hard to make it radically different. It should be subtle but effective, not striking and psychedelic.

Try to be a LOT more subtle, and try playing with Color Balance (again, just 1 to 12 percent of change is enough!) to give it a tint. Right now you're just superboosting contrast and saturation (which is exactly what you do when you want a really funky weird-looking image).

If you have the LOTR Extended edition DVDs, there is a small feature on Grading on one of the DVDs, so try and watch that, it'll help.

EDIT: Here is a quick example of a more subtle grade of the forest pic. Notice how it isn't THAT different from the original but feels a lot better.
Posted: Sat, 24th Jun 2006, 12:26am

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Serpent

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Pooky, drastic isn't always bad. Watch the original footage from the Matrix for example. Drastic isn't always bad.
Posted: Sat, 24th Jun 2006, 12:56am

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Pooky

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Not always, but in his case, it is. TOO drastic is always bad unless you want a psychedellic weird look).
Posted: Sat, 24th Jun 2006, 1:38am

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petet2

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Using the presets and seeing how other people achieved the effects they did is a great way to learn about the programs.
Posted: Sat, 24th Jun 2006, 3:19am

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Serpent

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Pooky wrote:

TOO drastic is always bad unless you want a psychedellic weird look).
Well, then it isn't TOO drastic for that specific scene is it? wink
Posted: Sat, 24th Jun 2006, 3:35am

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Pooky

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In the 2nd one it's okay, but in the 1st it's waaay over the top.
Posted: Sat, 24th Jun 2006, 6:03am

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ben3308

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I agree with Pooky. The "grading" just looks likea bunch of extra contrast added for the sake of just adding something. You can go drastic, I do it all the time (note the first two shots of Cover's Story, they were originally really orange-yellow, but we changed them to a red-green; or anything from SC), but sometimes there's a point where you ask yourself: "am I doing this to enhance that 'film look' of my movie, or am I just gratuitously throwing things in there?"

In Harvey's case, it's the latter.

Harvey, perhaps you could grade some actual footage and post that. Sometimes static, still images are usually judged out of context of what you're trying to do with the movie, and therefore we can't really judge objectively.
Posted: Sat, 24th Jun 2006, 8:38am

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Simon K Jones

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The other problem with those particular photos is that they are finished, developed photos, so the photographer has probably already got them looking how he wanted. It's easier to learn grading if you start with totally unfinished footage/images, that genuinely needs grading.

Try wandering around town with your video camera, film random boring everyday stuff, then try to grade it to make it look interesting/scary/hot/cold/etc. That can be quite an effective experiment.
Posted: Sat, 24th Jun 2006, 2:48pm

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Serpent

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Pooky wrote:

In the 2nd one it's okay, but in the 1st it's waaay over the top.
You missed the point.
Posted: Mon, 26th Jun 2006, 2:45pm

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Simon K Jones

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Harvey wrote:

Hmm well for the forest I'd probably want a mix of Lorien and Fanghorn.
I had a quick go at giving it an elfy-appearance. Here's what I came up with:


(click for bigger)

Rather over the top, but quite fun I thought. smile
Posted: Mon, 26th Jun 2006, 3:07pm

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alpha54

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That looks great actually - over the top, but its an impressive image! smile

Was that done with Clab?
Posted: Mon, 26th Jun 2006, 3:13pm

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Simon K Jones

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It was done in VisionLab, but most of it could be successfully created in CompositeLab Pro as well, I think.

The image used four layers:

4: The dappled light rays coming through the forest canopy. These were created by value keying the original image to leave only a few hotspots of brightness, then applying a carefully customised Gleam filter.

3: Grade object, with a fairly standard Glow filter for that nice elfy look. I put this on layer 3 to make sure it didn't affect layer 4. The light rays + glow ended up with them looking for too bright and blown out, so putting the Glow on layer 3 means that everything EXCEPT the light rays are graded.

2: Grass and trees. I used Contrast:Pro to make the blacks black, then used a colour gradient to create a luscious green that gradually thinned out as it went up, thanks to a large feathered mask. I also applied additional mask shapes to the main foreground trees to ensure they retained a nice green colouring.

1: The sky layer. Here I applied another colour gradient going from a bright blue. This then mixed smoothly into the strong greens of layer 2, thanks to layer 2's mask.

The result was a bluer canopy, a greener ground, green trees, light rays and a nice glow.
Posted: Mon, 26th Jun 2006, 6:34pm

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Harvey

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That's great Tarn. smile

Tarn wrote:

Try wandering around town with your video camera, film random boring everyday stuff, then try to grade it to make it look interesting/scary/hot/cold/etc. That can be quite an effective experiment.
I've been pretty busy this weekend but I'm going to take my camera out later this week and see what I can do with the pictures (I feel more comfortable right now trying to grade still images rather than video) I take. I'll post what I come up with.