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Colour grading in the ghetto

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Robertson Dunn
Colour grading in the ghetto
on Sep 17, 2013 at 8:21:20 am

Long time listener, first time caller. Please forgive me for I'm about to say a lot of things that I'm sure will make the hairs stand up on the back of more than a few seasoned pro's on here, but I'm a little desperate for help.

Background: I've been working in post-production for 15 years, and for the last 7 of those have been strictly doing offline edits from home for a company overseas. Because of this my editing suite(Mac pro with and 2 run of the mill computer monitors)doesn't have a broadcast monitor for color-grading purposes.

Here's where things start to get interesting. A no-budget web-series fell into my lap that I'm doing editing, some vfx, and colour-grading for. No biggie, right? It's just a web-series so calibrate my computer monitors as best I can and be done with it. That's what I thought at least. Then I got the footage. The director really pulled some favours and got a really talented DOP/camera op who came with his own RED Scarlet and really did a great job in lighting this thing. Needless to say I was floored by the quality of the shots they came back with. I was not expecting this kind of quality at all. They've already got a theatre booked out in November to show this thing at and are now talking blu-ray and film-festival entries. I want to really do right by these people. They're all super nice, and I want this thing to look as amazing as possible.

So here's my dilemma. I obviously can't grade using my computer monitors. The footage just does not look right even after calibrating my monitor. I know if I grade on it the final image will simply look wrong in a theatre or on a proper TV. So what do I do? I have a Kona LHe board in my edit system. I have a TV in this room, a standard definition widescreen Sony consumer CRT TV with component input. I have a client who views content on it regularly. Client=my daughter, and content=Dora. I know what gear I would need and I would know how to use it if money weren't an issue, however this project is pro-bono and my day job as an offline editor is up come November and then I'm out of work, so I'm trying to save as much money as possible for that time. Whatever solution I come to pretty much has to be done with as little money as possible(less than $200). I'm pretty much stuck now trying to either find an old CRT broadcast monitor on ebay or a small inexpensive LCD TV with HDMI in that I can output from my Kona card into(I do have an HD-SDI to HDMI converter). But would either of those solutions be better than simply outputting component to my old CRT tube sitting next to me?

Thanks in advance for any advice people can give me.


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Bob Zelin
Re: Colour grading in the ghetto
on Sep 17, 2013 at 6:14:29 pm

I am sorry, but I don't understand how you can do this job with no gear. If you were hired to paint a room, and could not afford paint brushes, and said "I have some old rags lying around - can I just use these" -the answer is no, you can't use rags to paint the room.

The quick answer is to find a facility with real equipment that will be sympathetic to your pro bono job, and let them let you do the job off hours. So you have a guy with a RED Scarlet, and lenses, and the entire production rig (audio, etc.) and there is ZERO money to do this pro bono job ? Find a facility that will let you work off hours.

You can't have a free concert in the park without a PA, stage, and electricity. A guy standing there with his acoustic guitar does not qualify as a free concert in the park. The "stuff" has to come from somewhere, and you don't want to use a standard def TV to color grade RED footage.

Bob Zelin

Bob Zelin
Rescue 1, Inc.
maxavid@cfl.rr.com


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Kylee Peña
Re: Colour grading in the ghetto
on Sep 17, 2013 at 6:29:56 pm

I was in a similar situation and asked a friend at my local PBS station if I could pop in for a late evening or two in exchange for a credit on the film. They said sure, no problem, because I wasn't making money on it.

So possible solution: have friends with expensive toys or access to them.

blog: kyleesportfolio.com/blog
twitter: @kyl33t
demo: kyleewall.com


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Tim Wilson
Re: Colour grading in the ghetto
on Sep 17, 2013 at 7:53:03 pm

[Kylee Wall] "So possible solution: have friends with expensive toys or access to them."

This is especially good advice for this particular project.

It's one thing to be offlining and not need proper monitoring -- but unless you want to be stuck doing ONLY that, you need to give people the impression that you can do anything they want.

The great thing about color grading is that you can build a pretty dramatic reel on even the simplest footage. Even stock footage, because it's all about LOOKS.

Some of the magic also comes in the presentation. I love this example, because it's not Hollywood VFX stuff. It's from an indie producer, doing quite a bit of local work and lower-budget documentaries, and his before/after presentation is basically a wipe.

Color Grading Reel



(That's from Stephen Smith, btw, a great guy who you'll find in the COW's Movie & TV Appreciation forum in particular. It happens that his motion graphics skills are highly advanced -- but my point is that for your REEL as a COLORIST is that they don't HAVE to be.)

You'll find many more dramatic reels, including quite a few in the COW's reels library that ARE from famous movies...but keeping in mind the options actually within your reach, using presentation skills that are within the reach of somebody who focuses on offline editing rather than motion graphics. See what I mean?

I'm obviously veering a little off course, but I want to underscore the importance of Kylee's point -- this gig is worth taking the extra effort to avail yourself of well-equipped friends, and use their stuff to get the jobs that will allow you to buy the gear you need to get your career to the next level.


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Robertson Dunn
Re: Colour grading in the ghetto
on Sep 17, 2013 at 11:42:55 pm

Some really good tips in here. I really wish I was more connected out here in Australia, but sadly there's not really anyone else I can turn to that I could bring this to. If this were Canada(my original port of call)this wouldn't even be an issue.

So I'll turn this conversation to more of a gear recommendation. Like I said, I'm trying to save as much money as possible due to lack of work in the future and those pesky things called paying rent and eating, however investing in a monitor may be something I just have to bite the bullet and do. Might be able to sell it to the wife and kids as something I need to do to drum up more work. Which is true. What monitors would people recommend. As least expensive as conceivably possible would be a +

Thanks again for all the help.


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Bob Zelin
Re: Colour grading in the ghetto
on Sep 18, 2013 at 1:46:22 am

a) you need the free davinci resolve software from Blackmagic.

b) you need a modern computer that you can run it on. Don't have the right computer - don't bother reading the rest of this thread.

c) I setup a $600 US 55" LED Samsung screen yesterday. It looked like crap out of the box, but after 1 hour screwing with the settings and turning off all the enhancements, it looked ok. Not ok like a $5000 color grading monitor, but ok.

d) using Davinci resolve and the right computer, without a Blackmagic Decklink card, and an NVidia Quadro graphics card, you will suffer, even if you can get this to work. Everything will be slow.

Bob Zelin

Bob Zelin
Rescue 1, Inc.
maxavid@cfl.rr.com


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Robertson Dunn
Re: Colour grading in the ghetto
on Sep 18, 2013 at 3:03:27 am

Thanks again. Good thing is we're not actually outputting in 4k. We're outputting in 1080p at 25 frames per second(wacky PAL people). So that will at least cut down on some of the rendering. Although the footage is still 4k.

I've been putting off getting into Resolve for awhile and should spend some time learning it. How stable is Davinci Resolve 10 beta? I've got a couple of Radeon 5770s in my edit station and unfortunately 9 doesn't support AMD graphics cards. If it's not stable enough for production work yet I'll likely stick with Apple Color for this project and finally move on to Final Cut Pro X and Resolve once version 10 is out.

Thanks everyone, you've all been a big help.


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Dave Jenkins
Re: Colour grading in the ghetto
on Sep 29, 2013 at 8:28:11 pm

You don't need Resolve unless your not editing in FCP. You have a AJA card which works with Color. I've graded projects from FCP to Color and back that were shown in a 2000 seat theater and looked great. You need to get a cheap monitor and figure out how to get it set up. Call a production company in your area and tell them what you're doing. Ask if you can bring some color graded test shots to that facility and look at them on a proper monitor to see if it matches yours. Offer them some of your time in trade for there help.

Not sure if this is possible in your area but I would try this.

Dajen Productions, Santa Barbara, CA
MacPro 3.2GHz Quad Core - AJA Kona LHe+
FCS 3 OS X 10.7.4
FCP X, Logic Pro, Squeeze, Filemaker 10.8.3


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