Have you ever felt like your grades aren’t good enough? Or you felt that it was good but the feedbacks you receive weren’t the one you were expecting at all?
I’ve been there. In fact, when I’m looking at my previous works, I want to redo them all.
Right now, I became the senior film colorist of this website, Beyond The Sight, where we cater to clients worldwide. I want to share the secrets of how I become good at color grading so that I may inspire some of you who are struggling right now.
Watch a ton of films!
This isn’t for you to copy them. This is to set a standard for you. Which Hollywood films do you like best? What are the things you notice about them?
For example, when I was starting out. My grades have this washout most of the time. It was ok with me but after watching a lot of feature films from Cinema, Netflix, etc., I realized that there are perfect times when you can do that and most of the time they don’t have a single-color-wash on them.
I also noticed how it feels like the subjects are popping out of the screen and feels like I’m watching in 3D. You can feel the distance from the foreground, the subjects, and the background.
I also noticed that the blacks are most of the time preserved, even though they are going for a greedy look.
There are a lot of things I notice even now when I’m watching movies. Slowly, I studied how to execute these things I’ve learned.
Colorists Train like a Basketball Player
After going on a long vacation, I noticed how my grading looked terrible. I needed time to get my touch back. It’s like training for basketball. If you want to be good at it, you can’t just train for 24 hours straight.
You need to train with consistency. You need to develop those eyes and muscle memory. You need to learn new things and apply them. You need to simulate color grading for a real client with specific requests.
You need to develop speed. Clients will come to you with a limited time and budget. If your rate is $500 per day and the client wants it done in 2 days, you should be ready to create these awesome looks and match them perfectly throughout the entire film within 2 days.
If you can’t, you can always tell the client that you need more time. Unless the client really wants you, you’ll definitely lose that client. If you’re a beginner and you want your portfolio, you can’t afford to lose a lot of client deals. These are crucial things you need to take and successfully serve.
Get Artgrid and Shotdeck
You can’t practice if you don’t have practice footage and a goal. Yes, you can use your own camera. The problem is you are limited in shooting scenes that are within your reach.
For example, you own a Lumix GH5 and a Godox ML60 for lighting. You have a friend who can be your actor. Now, you can create different clips with your friend and your gear.
However, how can you practice color grading drone shots of a snowy mountain, car chase, hospital scenes, different people with different skin colors, etc?
That’s where Artgrid comes in. They have, by far, the best bang for their buck when it comes to log and raw footage sources. Just make sure that you choose the package where they offer log and raw downloads.
The shots are filmed by cinematographers and not just random people with a camera. They are well-lit, well-planned, and well-shot.
They have thousands of footage with different scenes like hospital scenes, war scenes, and more. They even have astronaut scenes and CGI!
I think Artgrid is a must for aspiring colorists.
Shotdeck is my favorite website. They provide stills from Feature Films that are well-curated on their site. So, you can just type a scene that you need inspiration with and it’ll give you hundreds of stills.
These stills will serve as your reference when color grading. Try to match them, try to go further, or try to tweak a bit. But, the goal is you practiced creating the world from the reference to your own footage. This will give you the confidence to create your own look and not question whether your grade is good or not.
Choose the right color grading tutorials/courses
There are a lot of Color Grading gurus on Youtube. I actually learned from some of them and improved my work but some of them have a workflow that isn’t applicable in color grading Feature Films.
Yes, they may work on commercials and music videos where there are just a limited number of scenes but Feature Films have thousands of shots. I had to unlearn the workflow I learned from them and learn the right and more efficient way.
When I was a beginner, I saw this youtube tutorial where the colorist used qualifiers like 3 to 4 times in a scene and use a power window. He also needed to track all the power windows.
If you’re a beginner you may think that it’s the right thing to do since he’s a pro with tons of clients.
There are times when you will need to use qualifiers a lot but not every single time. I am still thankful for the knowledge he shared but I don’t grade that way anymore. It took a while to unlearn that though.
I recommend trying out Blackmagic’s free tutorial on DaVinci Resolve first before taking up these courses. Once you’ve learned how to use all the tools in DaVinci resolve, I recommend Ollie Kenchington’s Course for the creative process. I haven’t seen another course that talks more about the creative side of Color Grading. Most of them are technical and how to recreate looks from certain films.
If you’re a colorist, you need to be the creative source of your clients and not someone who could recreate other films. I haven’t met a client who asked me to recreate a certain film look.
Getting good at color grading is just like any other skill. You need to consistently. You need to train your eyes and muscle memory for speed. You need to learn the basics and know them so well that you can be creative with that knowledge.
Having a mentor or taking up courses will give you direction but it’s still your consistent effort to get better that will get you there.
I believe that this is a learnable skill. It may be slower for some people and some people may have an advantage but if you put the time to develop your eye, you can master the art of color grading.