Grading a 16mm short film

It's not supposed to look digital

The thing I really love about 16mm film is that it's so unique. It has a certain gritty realistic tone to it that I believe really transforms a movie into a new space. There's a great YouTube video that talks about this -

Grading to help the story

Colour grading isn't about making everything you shoot look colourful and bright, its about enhancing the story through the grade. The first thing I did before starting this grade, was sit down with the director and spoke to them about how they envisioned the look of the film. What really helped is I asked them to bring images from movies, TV or even art they like.  It really didn't matter as long as they think that the film would help to be inspired by these things.

After speaking to them and watching the short film, I came to the understanding of how they wanted the final look to be. Fortunately enough we were all on the same page, which made the process run smoothly. Before I went and graded the whole film, I gave them a selection of a few shots that were graded 5-6 different ways, this is a great way for a client to select from options of how the film could look. 

The story for this movie is a gritty one and given the fact that its shot on 16mm, I was able to create a realistic, non stylised look. I didn't want the image to appear as though it had been heavily graded, It needed to look natural and unedited to the audience eye.  

Skin tones:

Looking back on older films, I find that skin tones is something that really jumps out at me. Modern day films tend to push their skin tones to have a saturated orange/yellow feel to them. The teal and orange grade is the dominate look in modern day blockbuster films. The teal and orange I'm referring to, is teal in the blacks/shadows and orange in the mid tones (skin tones). This is a stylised look, something I was avoiding for this project as I wanted to have a more naturalistic look.  The skin tones for this project were pale but still had a bit of yellow and pink in them to give them more authentic look. Film is fantastic for skin tones it always seems a lot easier to grade than digital. Digital tends to have a more greenish look to the over all image, with some hard work, can always be taken out in post.

My grade for the 16mm short film.

Still from the film "Battleship" 

Same shot, but different. (shooting outside): 

One of the big challenges I found with this project was having a shot that was from the same scene, but appearing different in the pre-grade. Having shot films outside before, I understood the challenges this cinematographer would have faced on the day. Changing daylight not only can make a shot darker or lighter, but can change the colour of the overall image. If the sun comes out from the clouds in mid shot, it will push the image brighter but also slightly change the colour.  Below are two different takes from the same shot, they were filmed back to back. 

Basic grade applied

Basic grade copied across from the previous shot

As you can see the grade can be dramatically different when copied across, even though the shots were mere minutes apart. This is when the histogram becomes really important. One of the things I did was look at the whites and blacks in the histogram. Shot two had very crushed blacks when copied and over all this created more contrast, however the image itself made the greens more prominent. By just raising the blacks on the second shot to match the first, the image was close to matching. From there it was just a a few little touches of balancing the colours and tint to having the scene match.

Noise Reduction

The really great thing about Da Vinci Studio is the power to denoise, unfortunately this isn't something you can access on the demo version (but its's still a great version). This is the second project that I've recently completed that has required the use of denoising. 

Being that this project is shot on 16mm film on a high ASA (ISO), there was some noise that appeared in the images. The benefit to film noise is that the grain looks and feels more natural. Digital tends to have a square artificial look, which can be distracting to the audience.  

First I de noised the entire image but noticed that there was some noise still in the high lights. This was mainly seen in the sky. I isolated this area using the quailfer and a power window so that the other parts of the image weren't to be selected. 

(Click on the image to see it in a larger view to see the results better)

Non Denoise

Image de noised

Image de noised + highlights de noised

Overall I feel this film turned out looking great and I look forward tograding more movies shot on film in the future.  Next blog I'll be talking about a music video I recently graded, the look of that project went in a entirely direction to this project.