OnSet Color Choices – What Needs Attention?

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By: Jesse Korosi, Director of Workflow

“Just use my CDL I make in Live Grade, do not do any additional color adjustments in the lab.”

“Lets just roll with a set of 5 LUTs.”

“Lets just go Rec709.”

These are common phrases I hear all the time so I thought I would write a little blog about it!

“Just use my CDL I make in Live Grade, do not do any additional color adjustments in the lab.”

It is very common for DITs we work with to use a live grading system. They are taking a live feed from the camera and they are creating their color correction that will be saved out for the lab, during the live takes being recorded.

The problem with this is that for the majority of people live grading, everything is live and there is no matching back to previous looks. What we will often receive in the lab with a CDL workflow as an example, is a CDL per setup for A-Cam. Or maybe even a CDL per setup for each main camera.  As an example:

23_ACam.cdl

23A_ACam.cdl

23B_ACam.cdl

23D_ACam.cdl

…And then on to the next scene.

Let’s say these were all shot in order, with the A23_ACam rolling first. Yes, A + B Cam will be live on the DITs monitors at the same time, so no problem. These should match if there is a separate BCam CDL heading to the lab.  However, from the time this first shot was rolled to the time A23D has been rolled (assuming this is an exterior shoot) the color temperature will have changed, clouds will have been moving in and out all day and other variables come into play that you would not notice if only watching the live feed for this entire time. Even in interiors, variables can include changing lenses, shooting a wide, to now on a closeup, etc.

There will, in fact, be variations between these shots! Again, they may not be that noticeable if you watch them live and are not cross comparing.  However, if you were to edit this material together like editorial will, these changes in color will be very noticeable and most editorial teams we work with in scripted dramatic will not accept it and demand reprints.

Now, I understand many people reading this may think, “The DP I work with is amazing, all of the shots will match with the same look.” Maybe. However, we work on about 30 TV shows simultaneously, plus a few feature films at any given time at Sim, each of which are typically reputable jobs. I have seen an individual CDL for an entire scene match maybe once. Once.  This also happened to be a very controlled interior environment on a multi-million dollar movie with only about one hour of footage shot a day. Now this is not to say the DPs are doing something wrong. This is just a reality that shot to shot there are going to be slight changes that need to be accounted for.

So how do we ensure that the color on set IS indeed the EXACT color that goes out on dailies and no one from post is going to freak out? Here is a workflow that happens on some of our shows:

The issue here, for a lot of people, is that this is not live.  So how do we get the best of both worlds?

Well…It’s a lot to ask and you really have to be a bad ass to pull it off. But some DITs we work with are starting to do it:

So the idea here is that the DP and everyone else gets the benefit from the live grading workflow. However ,all looks and footage are taken into Resolve and the color gets applied shot to shot.

Because the DIT is now in an environment that he/she can wipe between previous and or current day’s footage to cross compare all shots, they can make everything match shot to shot.  That Resolve project file can then be passed along to the lab to ensure these looks that are unique PER SHOT can get applied.

“Lets just roll with a set of 5 LUTs.”
With this workflow in mind, the idea would be the lab looks at a camera report and knows which LUT to apply.  This is the same LUT that was used on set.

Unfortunately, the same logic applies here in the sense that the chances of the recorded shots matching shot to shot is very slim. You may not notice this on set as you are watching each shot in full, never cross comparing things, or seeing anything edited together. So what I always recommend is that yes, these LUTs are used. However, matching should still take place in the lab. Yes, the creative will stay the same, no changes to the creative intent would be made. But just a human watching over things to ensure that shot to shot things match.

“Lets just go Rec709.”

Same notes as above. An example of this is what we did on the movie “Whiplash.” On set ,the DP was watching everything in Rec709, but once it hit our lab we smoothed things out and ensured things matched shot to shot. We did not stray from that Rec709 look that was seen on set.  Just ensured things matched shot to shot!