Color grading and how to do it the hard way

I hadn’t paid much attention to color grading until I was blatantly subjected to it via the first Transformers movie. Yes, I have no taste but because I grew up in the 80’s I was compelled to watch it in the theater. A while later I ran across this page that addressed my concerns but then I asked myself if it would be possible to make it suck less.

At the time I was using Sony Vegas Movie Studio HD Platinum 11 but couldn’t find any decent method to do color grading the way I wanted to do it until I ended up stumbling upon AAV ColorLab’s plugin. I was able to scrape away a lot of the problems, but in some cases it just wouldn’t work like I hoped it would.

I then decided to give DaVinci Resolve a try, but I found the interface to be less than intuitive to me even after watching several videos on the subject so back to AAV Color Lab it was.

Around that time I really started to get back into Photography and had a picture that needed some major color correction and it was then that I discovered Selective Color in Photoshop CS5. I looked and looked for a video equivalent to that but didn’t find anything for years until I found that somebody added the same logic for selective color that Photoshop uses to FFmpeg. FFmpeg is my bag and after screwing around with the filter I finally found a workflow that sucks but works consistently.

The things that are most important to me when I am attempting to unscrew that horrible teal and orange color grading, which is often cyan and orange color grading, is to make sure that white remains white, grey remains grey, and black remains black. This also includes skin color and green trees and grass. If things are done properly skin color will return to normal and the overbearing teal/cyan that is slathered over the screen brings the original colors back to what they were, or at least close to what they might have been.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of things done right with color grading such as the Matrix series of movies and others like “Because of Winn Dixie” which have obvious color grading but help bring the movie to life rather than perform second degree assault on a person’s retinas. What annoys me to no end is when a perfectly good movie gets “the treatment” by somebody who thought the original movie needed a bit of help when put on DVD or Blu-ray. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the differences between “The Alien Legacy” on DVD and the “Alien Anthology” on Blu-ray. The DVDs in “The Alien Legacy” release didn’t have a lot of color grading on them outside some mild low, midrange, and high adjustments, but the “Alien Anthology” was broken so hard I had to fix several sections by hand in Sony Vegas.

For example, the scene where John Hurt’s character Kane descended into the the cave filled with eggs was missing most of the eggs because they crushed the blacks. After a lot of work dicking around with gamma and levels I was able to get most of the eggs back that were present in the DVD which I used for reference. Once done I was able to do a single pass with FFmpeg to unscrew the damage that was done. It now looks very similar to, but not exactly like, the DVD version.

Now how do I find a non horrible setting for color grading? I take a screenshot of the movie where the color grading sucks, pop it into Adobe Photoshop, and start tweaking Selective Color until it sucks less. In some instances it can all come together in ten screenshots or less, however in other instances I’ll have to go across an entire series to find the right global settings. To date every single movie series I have attempted to decrease the sucking wound that is teal/cyan and orange color grading and have used the same settings for multiple series of movies except the Alien series.

Below are a few examples from my FFmpeg script that may provide insight to what this looks like.

Alien 1979:
-vf selectivecolor=reds=0 -0.20 -0.20 0:yellows=0 0 -0.20 0.10:cyans=-0.66 -0.50 0.20 0.75:blues=0 0 -0.50 0.15

Aliens:
-vf selectivecolor=cyans=-0.33 0.45 0.33 -0.15

Alien3:
-vf selectivecolor=reds=0 -0.15 -0.15 0:yellows=0 0 -0.20 0.10:cyans=-0.33 0.25 0.33 -0.15

DC Extended Universe:
-vf selectivecolor=reds=0 -0.15 -0.15 0:yellows=0 0 -0.2 0.1:cyans=-0.33 0.33 0.33 -0.20

Harry Potter series:
-vf selectivecolor=cyans=-0.33 0.33 0.66 -0.2:greens=0.15 0.15 -0.15 0

Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit:
-vf selectivecolor==reds=0 -0.15 -0.15 0.15:yellows=0 0 -0.2 0:greens=-0.25 0.25 0 -0.15:cyans=0 0.50 0.50 -0.33

Mavel Cinematic Universe (CMU):
-vf selectivecolor=reds=0 -0.2 -0.2 0.1:yellows=0 0 -0.2 0.05:cyans=-0.50 0.50 0.50 -0.30

Transformers:
-vf selectivecolor=reds=0 -0.1 -0.1 0.1:yellows=0 0 -0.1 0.05:cyans=0 0.1 0.1 -0.05

Using selective color in FFmpeg causes rendering on my current PC to slow down for each color that is modified as reflected by my overall CPU usage. I currently believe that this is a memory bandwidth issue on my machine but will not know until I upgrade to something with a bit more power.

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