Traditionally, artists use colour to set the mood of their work and exemplify a certain vibe or theme in the aesthetic. Colour in the world of visual effects is an art form all its own. It can drastically change footage, turning dawn to dusk or turning a washed-out shot into a vibrant landscape. It need not be bold and obvious, but it can be subtle yet profound.
However, what does effective colour grading require, and how is it so essential to modern design and visual storytelling? Below is a discussion of the colour grading art form and its importance, along with the introduction of a new tool developed at MPC R&D used to advance the colour correction process, making it quicker, more effective and accessible.
A varied colour palette in video can inform the audience in many ways and is integral to the storytelling process. Rob Pieke, Principal Architect for MPC R&D, noted that colour is “meant both to evoke the mood of a certain emotional response from the audience and increase the believability of images, making them more acceptable by the audience’s subconscious”. The mood of a narrative is enhanced by colour grading and correction. A great example of this in effect can be observed on The Matrix.
The image is from The Matrix’s DVD release. During the production of The Matrix sequels, which came out after the DVD release, the Wachowskis adopted a guiding colour scheme, making it so that everything in The Matrix world was going to have a green tint. This was to help orient the audience to the location on screen, allowing them to more intuitively differentiate between The Matrix world and reality within the film.
Colour is complicated, both creatively and technically. Professional colourists wrangle highly specialised equipment and software in order to do their work, which are comprised of a mosaic of buttons, wheels and abundant data across multiple monitors.
Pieke added: “There are not a lot of people in the world that have really mastered colour. And given the amount of colour processing work that happens for today’s films, advertisements, music videos etc., this is a real issue.”
For this reason, empowering people to take on colour as a discipline is becoming increasingly more important, and ultimately this means making aspects of the work simpler and more widely accessible. This is not to suggest that specialised individuals, the systems they use, and their knowledge are anything less than invaluable. Rather, it is to suggest the importance of supporting other people in the VFX process that need to manipulate colour – those in compositing departments for example – to do so more easily and effectively.
Colour correction with a long chain of keyers and math operators, even in the hands of experienced artists, often induces artefacts such as muddy colours or malformed edges. To help ease the colour correction process, MPC R&D developed a user-friendly 3D colour space sculpting toolset, which allows a user to make complex and elegant colour alterations quickly, intuitively and effectively. The tool has been wholly integrated with the colour correction pipeline through the ability to import and export industry-standard 3D LUT files.
Pieke also noted that at MPC Film, “we constantly receive images from our production company that were shot on different cameras, different lenses, in different lighting conditions, and this creates a challenge for us in the implementation of a consistent lighting break when introducing our CG elements”.
“So, the first thing we typically do is try and introduce a degree of neutrality, a neutral colour gradient,” he added. This can be seen in effect in an example image from Passengers below: