Color Grading: 10 Quick Tips from a Pro Colorist | Fred Trevino | Skillshare

Color Grading: 10 Quick Tips from a Pro Colorist

Fred Trevino, Colorist

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12 Lessons (21m)
    • 1. Introduction

      1:38
    • 2. A Dark Environment

      1:55
    • 3. Keep the Grade Moving

      2:17
    • 4. Nightshift Does What?!

      1:42
    • 5. ReCalibrate Your Eyes

      1:43
    • 6. Technically Imperfect

      2:08
    • 7. A Catalogue of Looks

      1:47
    • 8. Know Cinematography

      2:03
    • 9. Less is More

      1:59
    • 10. Practice with a "Client"

      1:36
    • 11. Film Stocks

      2:26
    • 12. Outro

      0:12
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About This Class

This course is 10 simple, yet essential, color correction and grading tips for anyone wanting to grow as a colorist. 

In this course students will learn a few important insights about color grading that you can only learn through years of experience.

This will include:

  • Why working in a dark environment is important.
  • Insights on grading quickly and why it helps.
  • How to recalibrate your eyes.
  • Why having a catalogue of looks is helpful to a colorist.
  • Why knowing cinematography is a top skill for a colorist.
  • Why a simple grade can be all you need.
  • Why grading someone else’s work is a real skill.
  • Why knowing film stocks is necessary.

Students should take this course who want to improve as colorists and gain a few insights that set apart a professional colorist from a beginner. 

This course is for anyone who wants to create accurate, creative, and original grades but doesn't have access to a full grading suite and are at the beginning of their color grading journey. Students will get a deeper understanding of the field of color grading and develop the confidence to start grading their own or other projects on a professional level.

About Your Teacher

Fred Trevino is a colorist with over 10 years experience.  He's graded over 40 feature films and hundreds of projects for high end clients such as HBO, Versace, ESPN, Under Armour and more. His narrative color work has screened at well known film festivals like Sundance, Cannes, and Slamdance. His goal is to use the experience and skills he's developed over his career to accelerate your learning in the field of color.

Transcripts

1. Introduction: Color grading is a tough field to get into. It's a complicated maze of different codecs, and monitors, and formats, and a lot more. My goal is hopefully give you my 10 years of experience, my insider tips and tricks that will help you along in the world of color correction. Hi, I'm Fred Trevino, and this course is for anyone wanting to become a better colorist. I've worked on over 40 feature films, hundreds of short-form projects for high-end clients. My goal is to use my experience to give you some insider tips to help your world and color correction to be that much easier. This is really meant for anyone who doesn't have a full blown color grading suite yet. They want to know what they can do to make their grades much better and what they can do to possibly grow as colorists. This course is basically someone with real-world experience answering the question, what would you tell someone getting started in color correction? In this course, we'll go over why working in a dark environment is important. Insights on grading quickly and why it helps. How to recalibrate your eyes that are not seeing accurately? Why making a wrong decision can be the right choice? Why having a catalog of looks is helpful to a colorist? Why knowing cinematography is a top skill for a colorist? Why a simple grade can be all you need? Why grading someone else's work is a real skill, and why knowing film stocks can set you apart as a colorist? Let's get started. 2. A Dark Environment: You're wanting to make an effort to have a proper grading environment with little to no budget. The first thing that you want to do is to close your windows, don't let any natural light in and turn off the lights, basically grade in a dark space. The reason that you want to do this is because monitors today, especially if you don't have a calibrated video reference monitor, something that's very high end, if you are like a lot of beginning colorist just creating on your iMac or your MacBook Pro or another display. A lot of these displays have auto brightness, auto, you name it, they automatically adjust so many different things. You want to make sure that your monitor stays consistent. If you have the lights on and your window open and you're grading during the daytime, as that room gets brighter and filled with sunlight then your screen will get brighter. Then as it gets darker, your screen will get darker. Imagine grading a scene that's supposed to be dark and then your room fills with sunlight so your screen gets brighter. You don't notice this while you're grading. Then all of a sudden this scene doesn't look that dark because the monitor artificially is showing you that that screen in that scene is much brighter. Then you go back, you make that scene darker in DaVinci Resolve or Premier. Then the sun moves again, and it's another one of those things that can drive you crazy. But if you just simply turn off the lights, put your blinds down, close the windows to make sure the light stays dark and consistent. You'll find that your grades will look much better. They'll look much more accurate to what you're trying to do and it'll make your life so much easier. 3. Keep the Grade Moving: So one thing that I have learned with beginning color is, that they tend to take a long time on a specific shot. They basically go in, start on the first or second shot. They adjust the contrast, they adjust the saturation, the vibrancy, the gain, whatever adjustment they might do, they stay on there and they keep tweaking and tweaking and tweaking until they think it is perfect. My tip for you would be to learn to grade quickly. I would tell you to never spend more than 20-30 seconds on any one parameter. By parameter, I mean, do not spend too much time on just the contrast, just to saturation, just on the lift that gamma or the gain. There is a very technical reason for this. That is that our eyes adjust to things very, very quickly. So if you go in, you start adjusting the contrast. It does not look right. You adjust again and you keep adjusting and adjusting and adjusting. There is going to come a point where no matter what you do, it is never going to look right. What you want to do is jump in, adjust the contrast saturation. Do it quickly, not till it looks perfect, but till it looks better. Then once you hit a good point to where you think you have improved that shot, jump to the next shot and do the same, and then jump to the third shot and do the same and keep going until you finish that scene. Then what you want to get used to doing is working in different waves or passes as people call them. Once you go through the entire scene one time doing that, which is technically called the primaries. You did not want to go through, make more adjustments, make it look better, and then go through again and again and again and it is very common to go through multiple waves of adjustments. What you will find with this tip is that you will work much quicker. Your eyes will not get as tired and your grades will be much more accurate, and you will get out of the rut of going in vicious cycles of making endless adjustments where nothing looks perfect. 4. Nightshift Does What?!: This next tip is an easy one, but one that not too many people know about and that is something called Night Shift. If you're working on a Mac, they're something that's similar to what your iPhone has and honestly, a lot of phones have to wear when it gets dark, when it's night time, your screen gets very warm, very yellow and then during the day time, your screen gets very cool, very blue and it does this very, very slowly as the sunsets and not a lot of people don't notice this. Again, if you don't have a calibrated reference monitor yet and you're getting started and you're grading on your iMac or MacBook Pro or in another display on a Mac, you want to go into your preferences, change this setting, turn it off completely. The reason you want to do this is because if you're grading something at night and you haven't turned on, your screen will be extremely yellow and then the next day you'll wake up and you'll notice that you're seeing that you thought looked a certain way is now a lot bluer. Then you'll make adjustments again to compensate for that and then when you view the scene at night, it'll look yellow again. Turn off Night Shift. It's really easy to do. Never turn it on. Obviously, when you're doing color correction, you want the most color accurate space, you want the most color accurate monitor and the last thing you want is your monitor constantly changing from a heavy blue cast to a heavy orange cast. Again, turn off Night Shift. 5. ReCalibrate Your Eyes: Okay, so if you don't have a full-blown grading suite to work, and like most people, this next tip is something that will help you keep your eyes calibrated and keep you from over grading a scene. That tip is to simply have a white sheet of paper on the wall next year monitors that you can glance up at it every now and then and make sure that sheet of paper is actually white,and here's what I mean by that. A really weird thing that happens is that if you're grading a scene and let's say that scene has a very blue color cast. After a while, our eyes will get used to that scene and I guarantee if you look up at that sheet of paper that's supposed to be white, and it's really blue or really green or yellow or whatever color cast that might be, that means that you've probably been looking at that scene too long or that shot too long and it's time to take a short break walkaway for about five minutes, come back, make sure that that white sheet of paper that you know, supposed to be white is actually white and then you can keep working. This tip can be a lifesaver because if you don't do this, you will tend to spend much longer on a scene because nothing will ever look right and you will also be able to come back to it the next day and have the scene actually look like you remember it. Something that happens a lot with beginning colorist is that they'll grade a scene and then they'll come back the next day and it looks completely different than they remember it. It's really, really blue, really yellow, overly graded, really bright, really dark, really contrasting and by recalibrating your eyes every now and then, it will make your grades so much more accurate. 6. Technically Imperfect: Now, I want to talk a little bit about the technical side of color correction. When a lot of people are getting started, what they tend to do is obsess over things like the perfect monitor, the perfect black levels, the perfect highlights, are my skin tones correct? All of that is very important, you definitely want to know that and pay attention to that, but not become obsessed with that. One thing to remember is that a lot of times the things that get you noticed, the things that people compliment you about are the things that are technically imperfect. Think about something like an Instagram filter, a VSCO filter or old film, 16-millimeter, eight-millimeter, old 35-millimeter, expired film. All of these things that we tend to love in an image are all on a technical level wrong, perfect, they are a defect. The shadows might be too elevated, the highlights might be blown out a little bit, you might have a green or pink or yellow shift in the mid-tones, grain, vignettes, all that stuff are not supposed to be there. They are technical imperfections and they are caused by a lot of different things from film expiring or you name it, these things happen. But those are the things that get remembered more than having a perfect, clear, crisp black level. My tip to you is whenever you start getting bogged down about this, just remember that sometimes you need to think a bit outside the box. Make things look a little bit wrong on purpose but to go with the story, of course, and you will find that your grades will get noticed, will be much more original and you'll find that you'll be using a lot less of filters and effects. If you do this, what you'll find is that your grades will look much more original, you'll get a lot more compliments and they'll fit the story you're telling in a much better way than having true perfection on a technical level and that's when you'll start to develop your own style as a colorist. 7. A Catalogue of Looks: This next tip is something that might seem a little bit obvious, but you'd be surprised how many colors may not do this so much. That's to keep a catalog of different looks that you like, that you think are unique, or original in some way. The reason you want to do this is, one, just to have something that helps for inspiration. Because you will have times where you may not know what kind of look you want for your film or if you're working with a client, they may not know what they want in the look for their film. It's always good to have a folder full of different images from other films, paintings, photos, you name it, to help get the creative juices flowing and find something that's perfect for that scene or that film. Another reason you want to have this is because you can always take those shots, bring them into DaVinci Resolve or Premiere Pro and look at the scopes, look at the waveforms, and see what happens. I think you'll be surprised a lot of times to find that shots that you really like have something unique, maybe the highlight are really low or the shadows are really high or crushed or the mid tones are at a certain level or there's a certain color hue and bringing images into Resolve or into Premiere will be a teaching tool so that you can start reverse engineering grades. If someone wants that look, you already know how to do it, you already know how to make it. It's always great to keep practicing and practicing and practicing so that when you get a client or a scene that needs that look, you can jump right in and then it becomes a thing where rather than copying a look, you start making it your own. 8. Know Cinematography: So this next one is probably the most important thing you can learn as a colorist or one of the most important things to learn as a colorist. That is to learn about cinematography. Learn how the camera works. Learn about lenses. I learned the difference between a 35 millimeter lens or a 200 millimeter lens, know the difference in different kinds of grain, depth of field, shutter speed, how ISO effects in image. Because you'll be surprised how many times you are correcting something and you're wanting to make something look cinematic or look a certain way. You can't really describe what it is and that thing that's missing is something that has very little to do with adding a blue hue or adding a green hue or tweaking the contrast a little bit. That might have something to do with how that project was shot. What it has in the lighting, whether it's hard lighting or soft lighting, it might have something to do with the aperture setting on the lens when they were shooting that scene. If you know these things and you can look at an image and know, oh, this is very soft lighting. They shot wide open with something that's like a 28 millimeter lens, you will be able to solve problems or recreate these certain techniques, these certain features that certain lenses have. Whether it's a brand new lens design for an 8K camera that's shooting in row or if it's an old lens, vintage lens that's a little bit softer, has little bit of a vignette, has a little bit of a color shift to it. You'll be able to create these things and it's a lot to add to your arsenol as a colorist by having these tools and knowing the camera and knowing lenses and knowing the cinematography side of things, you'll be able to create much more unique looks for all of your projects. 9. Less is More: This next tip is a pretty easy one, and that's simply to remember that a lot of times less is more. When people are starting out craving of film, especially when it's for a client, they can have a tendency to go over the top, and think that more adjustments, more stylized grade, tends to be a better grade. There's been a lot of situations where you can just go in there, make a very few minimal changes, just to adjust contrast, the saturation a little bit, and the shadows, and that's all that that scene needs or you don't need anything else. It's good to know that no one to stop, and not necessarily think, that just because you might have spent a few hours on a project that doesn't necessarily mean that it's any less of a project than if you went in there and added a million notes, a million adjustments, changed everyone's skin tone to something very warm, and saturated, and made something looks super stylized. I would say more beginning colorist have clients tell them, this is too much. You did too much, you over graded this, their skin looks orange or they might tend to go with something like an orange teal look, which they see everywhere. So they'll apply that to everything, and then the client immediately wants you to remove that because they don't want their film to look like transformer or some other movie. Just remember that sometimes just going with a more natural, minimalistic approach can be a much more powerful piece to show your client, than something that's a little bit too graded and too over the top. 10. Practice with a "Client": For this next one, one thing that I have to say is that grading your own projects is way easier than grading someone else's project. So if you're wanting to become a full-time colorist and learn the trade, I would say a huge part of this is learning to work with a client. My piece of advice for you, is to have a friend who's also may be in the film world or not, maybe they're just in the corporate world, go out, shoot some footage, have them be your client so to speak, and give you a certain look that they want, and then you go home, make those adjustments, come back, show them, or send them a file. Start that level of communications so that they can give you notes, you go back and tweak things, make things look the way they want, and maybe, possibly even set a fake deadline for yourself. Because you'll find that working with someone else and trying to create their vision for a project, is completely different than having your own film. Or you can spend all the time you want in the world, you can do this, do that, you know what you want and to make yourself happy. But making someone else happy, is a really great skill to have as a colorist. Also being able to make someone happy very quickly on time and on budget. 11. Film Stocks: Probably the most requested look that I get from clients is that they want their projects to look cinematic. My bit of advice to you is that, a million things go into making something look cinematic. Everything from lens choice, to camera settings, to lighting, a million things go into that. But one of those things is film stock, like real 35 milimetre film stock. I would suggest learn what these are if you don't know what names like ProVia, Ektar, Portra, Velvia. If you haven't heard these names before, go and google them, learn what different film stocks are, what they do, how they look, because you'll find that a lot of times when you see these popular looks in movies, or these popular filters, or lutz, or whatever it may be, even things on Instagram, what those are simply doing is mimicking an already established film stock, and if you learn how these film stocks tick, you don't have to go out and spend millions of dollars on buying tons of filters, or even worse, tons of expensive lutz, you will be able to look at something, know whether that can fit into the mold of a film stock, like say, Portra, or Ektar, or whatever it may be, and you'll learn that, one of the things that's so great about film, is they'll teach you that making subtle changes to an image, can have a ripple effect that makes something look very unique. Some film stocks take just the skin tones and punctuate those, and desaturate everything else. Other film stocks are very contrasty, only in a certain part of the image, like maybe only a certain part of the gamma or the shadows. Other film stocks only saturate heavily the greens and the blues for landscapes, for example, and if you know what these films stocks do, you'll have a ton of skills that you can use to add to different projects. Learning your film stocks, learning what makes them tick, is a very valuable tool to have as a colorist. 12. Outro: So this is the end. Thank you again for taking my course and I really hope that you learned a few things that will help you on your journey as a colorist. Thank you.