Working with Memory Colors

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Rendering “memory colors” accurately can bring your project to life.

Humans store memories of specific colors like we remember life events. The most common of these memory colors include grass, sky, and human skin tones. It’s curious that all of us recall nearly the same colors for these specific things, perhaps the result of millennia of evolution.

It’s poetic that the strongest memory colors are tied to the red, green, and blue primaries on which fundamental color theory is based. Skin is a shade of red, grass is green, and the sky is blue. As we grow, we form specific color memories for textures like wood and steel. Humans also tend to remember the color of distinct animals like giraffes and peacocks.

Rendering memory colors accurately makes your projects more lifelike. Whether you’re in session as colorist or creative, pay attention to several objects in the scene, notably sky, grass, and skin tones and depict them as authentically as possible. If there are multiple people present, there may be a range of what is acceptable. One person may want grass very saturated, while another might prefer less saturation with an emerald-green hue, not a yellow-green one. This scope of reasonable values could be based on each person’s different cultural experiences and varietal intake of media. Over time, these experiences alter our perceptions of how things look.

The majority of us that aren’t professional colorists may not always be aware of media’s influence on our color memories. I believe one of the biggest influencers is our perception of black and white, our most fundamental colors.

Changing Black and White Points

A current trend, especially in fashion work, involves tinting the blacks a shade of blue. Many creatives think this effect rarely worsens the image, and I personally agree. Pleasing color contrast occurs when bluish whites or shadows play against reddish skin tones.

I remember coloring for a fashion brand several years ago. One setup featured a model against a white background. I balanced for white using my scopes to make sure the red, green and blue combined to make perfect white.

When the client arrived, they had me skew the whites dramatically toward blue. To them, and maybe to you, this read as a cleaner white. What’s going on here?

I’ve recreated the client scenario above with an image courtesy of Shutterstock. The scopes on the original image show a slight bias toward red, evidenced by the slightly higher red in the upper part of the waveform.Original Shot

I’ve white balanced the image as best I can.

White Balanced Shot

This approximates the look the client actually went with. The whites have been skewed toward blue, a look which may look cleaner and brighter to you.

bluish white

One of the factors at play is the shift away from incandescent bulbs, which are rated in the warm range of 2,700 to 3,300 Kelvin. The shift towards energy-efficient lighting isn’t just good for the environment. It also means there are more availablecolor temperatures from which to choose. For example, LCD and CRT screens aremore blue and can rate up to 10,500 Kelvin.

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Using Offline Reference Clips in Resolve

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Using offline clips is important when establishing yourself as a serious colorist. Learn how in this DaVinci Resolve Tutorial.

Developing an ability to match shots quickly is of tantamount importance when first learning to grade. However, managing technical details before your clients arrive is  just as important.

These are the parts of the job that your clients aren’t concerned about, because they’re only interested in making the image look its best. Using offline clips from the editorial department is extremely crucial for a session.

Your worst-case scenario is a client who knows the timeline better than you do. You don’t want them calling out a shot you’re grading as wrong. It’s the easiest and fastest way to lose credibility, and the client will question everything else in the session from that point on.

Now that I’ve sufficiently scared you, let’s take a look at how to work with offline clips and how they can be used throughout the session.

What are Offline Clips?

First, a bit of terminology. In this context, the term “offline” describes a reference movie file from an offline nonlinear editorial (NLE) system like Premiere or Final Cut Pro. Over the last few years, NLEs have become sophisticated enough to function as online tools for many workflows, so the term has become a bit of a misnomer for some.

Think of the terms “offline” and “rough cut” as synonymous. For those working in a commercial environment, however, it’s customary to use a high-end finishing system to design effects, handle versioning and titling, and otherwise assist in outputting the final online picture.

Offline clips are usually a single Quicktime file of the EDL, XML or AAF you’ll be grading. The clip doesn’t have to have all the effects and filters taken off to be useful, and they can contain reference audio as well. Since the file is a reference clip, it also doesn’t function like normal media that can be added to the Media Pool.

You can add the reference clip as a piece of media as well, but you can’t have a reference file and a media file that points to the same media in the same folder. To get around this, create another folder in your Media Pool and call it something like “Reference.” You can keep yourself organized by keeping all of the references there, with your media at the root Master folder.

You can then add your offline media clip to the end of the sequence to play for clients or grab reference stills as needed.

Bringing in the Offline Clip

In the Media tab, navigate to where your reference picture is in the Browser and right-click on it to bring up the shot’s options. Select Add as Offline Reference Clip. When the clip is brought in, you’ll see it has a sort of transparency grid icon next to it, which is how offline clips are denoted.

Navigate to your reference, right-click, and choose “Add as Offline Reference Clip”:

Add as Offline Reference Clip - DaVinci Resolve

The grid icon denotes an offline reference clip:

Grid Icon - DaVinci Resolve

Once you have the reference clip loaded, load your EDL, XML or AAF as usual inside the Edit tab. Right-click on the imported timeline, choose Link Offline Reference Clipand select your rough cut.

Right-click and link the proper reference to your sequence:

Linking Reference - DaVinci Resolve

Next, select the first icon underneath the left monitor, conveniently looking like the grid icon we noticed earlier, and scrub through your timeline shot by shot to check that your offline file matches the imported timeline. If each cut point is just a few frames off from what it should be, you can slip the reference cut in the box next to the zoom percentage.

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DaVinci Resolve Tips: Pull Better Keys

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The experienced colorist is able to pull fast keys to ensure the session progresses at a quick pace. Here are a couple of actionable DaVinci Resolve tips to make sure your keys are effective.

All images from Shutterstock

Digital colorists pull keys on any and every object in the frame throughout their careers. Clients always ask to tweak skin tones, but elements such as clothing, hair, teeth, lips, scenery, product packaging, or practical lights are all fair game.

Here’s the first image we’ll be working with. We should be able to get a nice clean key of the girl’s skin as it is naturally separated from the background.

A0 - Original

Hue Width, Saturation Low and Luminance Low

Create an initial qualification by selecting the eyedropper tool and clicking and dragging across the part of the image you want. You’ll often find that your initial selection won’t include all the values you want, and choosing the Add Color Range tool can be slower than knowing what to adjust next.

Using the eyedropper tool, this is our initial key. Not bad, but we can do better. Read on…

A1 - initial key

Activate the highlight mode and increase the Hue Width. This will fatten out the qualification, often to include the tones you need. I don’t find myself adjusting Hue Center, Soft or Symmetry as often as Hue Width. If you’ve performed a good initial selection with the eyedropper, you’ve already got a good center hue, and you’ll be wanting to select an area that is defined enough to process, so it won’t be too softened out. Symmetry adjusts the highs and lows of the hue qualification,something I haven’t found crucial for most keys.

Adjusting the Hue Width may be all you need to move on. If not, try adjusting both Saturation Low and Luminance Low to include or exclude as needed. Many times I won’t need to touch the Highs of both controls.

Increasing the Hue Width gets us a key that includes more of what we want.

A2 - better key

When you’ve pulled a good key, don’t forget to blur it by increasing your Blur Radius, an important step for executing seamless corrections.

I adjusted both the Luminance Low and Saturation Low to get a bit more of her hair. There’s a tradeoff because I’m also now getting some values in her jacket that are the same tone as her hair and skin. It’s up to you to determine whether you’re okay with affecting this part of the image in service of improving the hair. You can also choose to exclude the jacket using power windows. If so, read on. Don’t forget to blur your key.

A3 - blurred key

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Why Use a Wacom Tablet or Stylus for Post Production?

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More than just a mouse alternative, a stylus may actually improve your work – especially in regards to video editing, compositing, motion design and color grading.

Using a tablet/stylus may seem intimidating for those that have exclusively used a mouse before. In fact, it may still seem intimidating once you start using it, but you must give yourself a chance to get used to it. Over time it will become more natural, and ultimately a faster alternative.

Having used a Wacom pen consistently for a decade, I’d like to shed light on how a stylus/table can increase your creative workflow, boost efficiency and make you more productive.

Note: We’re not sponsored by or endorsing Wacom brand tablets, they’re simply the tablet of choice for most creative professionals today.

Speed Via Hand-Eye Coordination

The biggest benefit is speed. The same reason I use a tablet is the same reason professional swimmers shave their heads to improve their times by a fraction of a second, only in the post-production world those improvements are multiplied over time.

A traditional mouse has an arbitrary correlation to its mouse pad; you can just pick up the mouse and reposition it. The tablet’s area maps absolutely to the full real estate of your monitors. The tablet’s left corner corresponds to the monitor’s left corner. You’ll find yourself snapping to the exact point you want when navigating the operating system. It’s this hand-eye coordination inherent in the tablet technology that speeds you up.

Over the course of a busy workday you’ll trim seconds off what would take longer with a mouse. Add those seconds up over a ten-hour day and you’ll have saved a chunk of time. When you multiply how much time you save over a week or a month, it really becomes significant.

Think about keyboard shortcuts. Isn’t typing command-C easier and faster than selecting Edit and then Copy every time? You may think the time saved is minimal, but when you get into that groove, the time adds up.

Ergonomic Feel

Tablets have a slight learning curve, but don’t be afraid. At first most people don’t realize the pen hovers over the tablet as opposed to being pressed on its surface. It’s similar to holding a pencil. The relaxed hold prevents hands from getting tired. Hands are important, people. Treat them right.


You can increase the tablet’s speed by limiting the area it maps to. For instance, with Wacom tablets you can adjust the preferences to constrain the proportion of the screen that the tablet covers. This is ideal for working with two monitors or a large amount of screen real estate. Some of Wacom’s tablets may be too big for certain screens like laptops. Constraining the area gives you the right sensitivity to zip around at the speed you want.

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Instagram Looks in DaVinci Resolve: Part 2

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Here’s Part 2 of our peek into using DaVinci Resolve to get retro-cool Instagram looks.

In part one of the Instagram looks post, we analyzed two rather extreme styles. This time, let’s investigate two more subtle styles. All of the images used in this tutorial are from Shutterstock.

The Third Look – Pagan Princess

Queen of the forest. Baroness of the brunch.

Hipster Princess

Last time we worked with a magenta-heavy grade. Magenta is a fashion-friendly color since it helps to create pleasing skin tones. Magenta’s complement, green, tends to be shied away from. To many, green can make the skin look too sickly and drained of blood.

The image of the girl in the field flies in the face of that. The shot is dominated by yellow and green and yet is pleasing to the eye. I like the creative’s choice to not taking the typical route. The shot’s palette doesn’t hide from the tones of the natural scene.

Let’s bring the image into Resolve and analyze what’s going on. Most of the image’s trace veers into yellow and green. The skin tones haven’t gone off the deep end into green. They’re pegging at a nice, creamy yellow. The highlights are warmer, but don’t contain as much red as in our other examples. The blacks are lifted and are tinted only slightly toward green.

From what’s circled in red, we observe the highlights are warmed up a bit. The blue circle shows us the black level and its tint. Looking at the vectorscope (green circle) shows us the image is somewhat desaturated. We’ll use all this information to match to our reference image. 

look 3 - reference scopes circled

Balancing and lifting for the blacks gets us some of the way there, but most of this look is in the midtones and highlights. Careful nudging of the mids towards yellow-green, along with desaturating overall, solidifies this look. The reference image contains low contrast so we won’t modify it too much, although I did brighten the midtones to better approximate the outside lighting present in the reference image.

Our resultant grade. It’s a subtle one, but not every project calls for an extreme look.

woman in car - corrected look 3

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Instagram Looks in DaVinci Resolve: Part 1

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Popular photo-manipulation apps like Instagram have built-in filters to jazz up normally mundane shots. These looks can be created in DaVinci Resolve, giving your video projects a hip, trendy feel.

The more distinct looks are all about tinting sections of the image in unconventional ways. A look is imposed onto the image, giving it a deliberate aesthetic viewpoint that edges it away from normalcy. Contaminating the shadows, mids, or highlights with anomalous color creates highly stylized looks that are very much in vogue right now, thanks to Instagram. In this two-part post, we’ll look into creating several of them.

The Reference Images

We’ll start with reference images of the palette we want and then impose that color scheme on a new photo. This will show us that a wide variety of looks can be dialed into a single shot given an array of reference material. Clients come into sessions wanting to see more extreme types of looks all the time, so it’s important for the colorist to be able to “read” the reference image and adapt it to the project at hand.

Here are the looks we’ll be recreating (images courtesy of Shutterstock):

Reference Image - Girl Texting on the Beach Reference Image - Girl Staring into Distance

The image we’ll be applying our looks to is a favorite of mine, an image of a smiling woman in a car. The image has a nice initial exposure with sharp focus and intact upper and lower registers.

Reference Image - Gril in Car

Let’s perform an initial balance on our image. The blacks are lifted in the original shot, so I’ve brought them down to around zero IRE and raised the mids to compensate for the resulting darkness. The whites in the background seem fine, but they’re a touch off so I’ve white-balanced for exact white. The image’s saturation feels fine, so I don’t affect that at all.

Here’s the initial balance. It’s pretty basic; I haven’t touched the image too much aside from crushing the blacks and compensating for the darkness in the midtones somewhat.

Initial Balance

Approaching the Instagram-Style Grade

Vintage images are often characterized by their lack of color correction. The unprocessed nature of vintage images give them their distinct look, hearkening to a time before color correction and deliberate image filtration were so readily available to mass audiences.

An image search for Polaroid images often yields the presence of color tints in the shadows and highlights. The overall image may have a color cast and natural vignetting could be present. Correcting to lessen these effects is the usual strategy, but in this case, we’re going to enhance them. Don’t worry, the irony that we’re now using color manipulation to get back to an uncorrected look is not lost on me.

We’ll see that a big contributor to our modern Instagram looks are their tinted blacks, and to a lesser degree, tinted whites, and skewed midtones. Black is important because it provides a reference point for the eye. When you remove that reference, a lack of cognitive reconciliation occurs and the image becomes more complex to us from a color standpoint.

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Utilizing Remote Grades in DaVinci Resolve

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Use Remote Grades is a simple but powerful feature that remains a bit hidden in Resolve’s current form. Let’s learn how to access and use it.

Some Clarification FirstUse Remote Grades is different than Remote Grading. Using Remote Grades allows us certain workflow shortcuts that will make grading many projects quicker. Remote Grading allows you to control a Resolve suite in another part of the world, enabling your clients to tweak from afar. In this article we’ll be talking about the former. Yes, it’s confusing that both features share the same name yet refer to two different things inside the same software.

Using Remote Grades

Step One: Load a sequence. In the Color tab, right-click any shot and select Use Remote Grades. It’s important to do this at the beginning of the session before performing any grading. If you don’t, any grades you’ve performed will seem to disappear. They haven’t. You’ve just been working in the local grading mode which will not ripple to any other sequences. If you right-click a shot again and select Use Local Grades, your local work comes back.

Right-click any shot in the timeline to access the remote grading feature.

DiVinci Resolve: Remote Grades

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