Contributions Completed

Whilst this grading experience wasn’t what I originally expected I can still value its impact on me as a media practitioner and colourist. It kept me on my toes with its ever-changing narrative, making me embrace the stylings of the documentary genre. This forced me into constantly thinking about the grade and the impact it would have on the final narrative.

Whilst this isn’t the film and approach I planned in my treatment I feel I have been able to keep the inspiration behind the grade whilst adapting to the change in workload. This change in narrative removed the concern of having the project delivered late for grading.

Always keeping me reflecting on my work and looking deeper into DaVinci Resolve it has continued to build on my craft as a colourist, whether I choose to pursue this beyond university I can still appreciate it as an element towards lighting and colour crafts.

Grade Comparison

Despite a change in narrative I have tried to stay close to the sources that inspired my approach to grading the documentary. The main sources of inspiration were Limitless (2011) and The Paedophile Hunter (2014). Each offered its own attributes to the grade, and despite the change in narrative I feel their inspiration still shows.

The Paedophile Hunter

This source was a prime example of stylistic colour used in documentary, normally an unconventional approach. In particular the serious parts of the program would rely on heavy contrast and a darker/desaturated palette. The connotation of the bland and dark colours instantly suggested serious subject matter.


My approach to this style shifted towards the consistent blue palette present throughout the film. The higher contrast causes dramatic variation between the darkness of the jacket with the lightness of the face. Comparisons can be drawn even down to parts of the face pushing into the overexposed bracket of luminance. The overall dark tone is mimicked effectively.




This source acted as an overall approach to colour in the original narrative. The darkness of pre-op replicated not being on the drug in limitless, whilst post-op was like being on the drug in the film. One was a dark, cold, and contrasted world, whilst the other was vibrant, colourful and fully of happy colours.

Before Operation Grade vlcsnap-2015-05-11-00h49m26s36

The continuous disconnected palette is established by pushing all tones towards blue, creating a coldness whilst maintaining naturalness in the skin tones so the film doesn’t become too disillusioned with the real world. When it comes to the brighter outlook I ended up breaking away from the initial inspiration, the main reason due to the change in narrative. Billy still hasn’t reached the happiness following the operation so I felt it was inappropriate to use the vibrant palette. Instead using natural tones with pink/purple inclusions for a dream like connotation, showing how Billy continues to dream of the operation and how he is so close to becoming who he truly is.

After Operation Grade vlcsnap-2015-05-11-00h50m04s159


It’s great to be able to draw comparisons between my grade and the work that inspired it. These two sources were strong influences and I feel I have kept true in my approach to the film despite the change in narrative and situation. The only real change comes in establishing a palette where Billy is yet to have the operation but knows it is almost confirmed.

I’m really happy with my approach to the grade and enjoy the final result. The grade is obviously stylistic, but at the same time it doesn’t pull the audience away from the real world. It really helps to build upon the mindset of the character and provides another avenue for the audience to engage emotionally with Billy.

Grading Log 10/5

Grading for this documentary turned out to be a much quicker job than I originally expected. I think this came down to the change in the narrative, the film followed a series of interviews and cutaways. As the surgery was delayed it was the case of hearing Billy’s entire story before the resolution at the end where he receives a surgery date. This meant the majority of the film was a dark, cold and contrasty palette to reflect HDR photography and the emotional state of the subject.

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Working with ProRes meant I had to bring the entire clip into the media pool on DaVinci Resolve using scene cut detect. The program reads the clip to generate what it suggests are cut points, then its the case of reviewing the footage and amending any errors in the automated cuts. The entire film came in at 42 shots during its 11mins and 48secs duration. Seeing as most of these were repeated shots it meant the grading process was even less.


I started off with a first pass luminance grade, going through the entire footage and focusing purely on this element. I found a lot of overexposed elements, having to drag down the gain to accommodate. The general theme was expanding the gamma to leave a good range of colour space, just the case of reviewing on a clip to clip basis.

My second pass grade started off as focusing on colour balance, trying to clean shots ready for stylistic approaches. Having started on the balance using the RGB scopes I realised my stylistic approach would end up destroying these grades so it became counter productive. Instead I found myself shifting most of the palette subtly towards blue tones.

The opening walk ended up dictating my approach to the entire grade. Starting off as colour balance I ended up shifting to the general stylistic approach. Increasing contrast to mimic the HDR feel (difficult for any other method due to limited colour space). I shifted the offset towards blue to break away from reality and introduce the coldness of the characters state of mind and disconnection with their female self.

Following this I started to play around with a variety of shots. Adding contrast and pulling lift/gain with offset towards blue. Expanding gamma range so details aren’t lost, but not exceeding limit so that noise appears. Generating a selection of nodes I called Liz (Director) on Skype for feedback before progressing further.

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Liz Feedback

Liz really liked my approach to the grade, the blue contrasty look matched her idea following inspiration from HDR photography. She had little else to common on the main bulk of the grade other than continue to do what I was doing.

The final section of interview was intended to be ‘dreamy’ symbolising his journey coming to an end with a brighter future to follow. Liz appreciated the palette, however with the introduction of music she wanted me to bring in the colour when he discusses the nurse.

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Playing around with the colour balance and contrast I created a colder version as a continuation of the films colour palette. The proceeding image was to be replicated through keyframing as a dynamic change during conversation. I have to be careful approaching a change in colour during the film so that it doesn’t look clumsy or unnatural. The whole purpose is approaching colour subtly to become an extension of the characters state of mind.

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Liz finally brought up the still archive photographs asking if I was going to grade them. I did a first pass luminance but decided to leave them as they were. She requested that I use the 21st birthday photos as another opportunity to extend the cold depressive palette. Once again pull tones towards bull and increasing contrast.

Final Changes

Reviewing all of the footage I continued to implement the following for a general blue cold palette throughout:

  1. Added contrast (around 1.3)
  2. Pull offset towards blue, maybe add lift, gamma or gain
  3. Increase range in gamma so highlights and shadows don’t clamp
  4. Desaturate (around 38)

With a range of footage and differences in how it was all shot I had to approach each shot different, but ultimately getting the same palette as an outcome.

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Approaching the keyframe shot “Nurse enters….well I care”:

  • Pull blue palette towards natural colour tones subtly
  • Change in quick period of time so the palette change is established before cutaway, otherwise looks like next cutback is wrong
  • Additional node palette:
    • Lift: -0.04, -0.03, -0.04, -0.07
    • Gamma: 0.01, 0.01, 0.01, -0.01
    • Gain: 1.03, 1.06, 1.02, 0.89
    • Offset: 29.44, 22.25, 15.65
    • Contrast: 0.982
    • Saturation: 50.20

I’ve exported the film as ProResHQ and will deliver it to Chris (Editor) or Liz tomorrow. I’m very happy with the final version, the entire grading process was much quicker than expected. Once I established a general colour palette the rest of the films colour fell into place. Liz is happy with how it looks, I’ll await a final review before accepting my role on the project as complete.

HDR Photography

High Dynamic Range refers to a greater set of luminosity on a sensor, for example the RED One camera has greater range than a DSLR. HDR images can represent greater ranges of luminance from very bright sunlight to areas of extreme shade. This can be compared to high contrast imagery where the range between the darker and lighter areas is more dramatic. Liz referenced HDR photography when discussing the proposed looked she wants for the grade with the new narrative. My first concern is the extent this is possible with the Panasonic 101, I wouldn’t have any doubt the the RAW file of the RED One, but compressed files may limit the luminance.


HDR photography works by exposing two images and then combining them in post to maintain as much latitude as possible. One of the images is overexposed, the other under, so when you merge the two it allows the highlights and shadows to remain very detailed.–photo-55

This is a relatively simple process when dealing with stills photography, but bringing this into the grade is something I’m not familiar with. Off the top of my head I would assume pushing the levels for a high contrast image, this isn’t necessarily the same effect however.


The general consensus I’ve found online when dealing with moving image is to duplicate the track and edit each channel independently, effectively treating one as the overexposed and one as the underexposed image. You then blend the two together with a choice of effect, potentially editing colour or luminance on either layer. Admittedly this isn’t strictly a HDR look, but it doesn’t produce something extremely similar.

I’m not completely sure if this is achievable in DaVinci Resolve or whether this should have been done in Premier during the edit. I can play around with the technique and see if it will cause any effect. Unfortunately the late nature of the project means there isn’t really time to jump between the edit and grading process to test the effect.

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‘Tone Mapping’ is another technique I can think of that could achieve a similar effect. By adjusting the gamma curve I can open the image for larger areas of brightness and darkness. It can pay off in a more realistic film like look. If this fails I’m sure a higher contrast will work in favour for the image style Liz is after. I’ll experiment with all techniques, converse with Liz about it and try to find the final grade that will best suit the new narrative.

Grade Footage Received

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been waiting on the final edit for Billy. Initially I was scheduled to grade April 20th – 28th, but due to issues in filming and picture lock I have only been able to receive the footage today. As a result I am no longer able to spend time in a dedicated DaVinci Resolve suite or have as much time to play around with the footage in the grade. Liz (Director) understands the restrictions I now have in place, I will continue to put my fullest effort into the project and deliver a final product, whether it is the best it can possibly be will be a case of late delivery.

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One of the reasons the film was held up was due to changes in the proposed narrative. Unfortunately Billy’s operation was pushed back so Liz had to adapt to create a new narrative. As a result I have been conversing with her regarding a different approach to the grade. Continuing with the coldness of the opening Liz now wants me to reach a dramatically stylised version of the film connoting how his life is still not real. I will do some research into this style ready for approaching the grade.

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I asked for Chris to deliver a ProRes file, as the footage is from a Panasonic 101 having XML files wouldn’t offer much more colour space for me to manipulate. The fact I am now operating on my iMac and DaVinci Resolve Lite it seems much easier for a quick turnover to be working with ProRes and Scene Cut Detect. It will be interesting to see how far I can push the Panasonic footage as I’ve only ever graded RED One, Sony FS700 or GoPro.

I’m hoping to get the grade done over two days, this will be dependent on how much time I can dedicate to the project at this period. I will keep in contact with Liz as I progress through the grade for constant feedback, I preferably don’t want to be revisiting it at this late stage in the project schedule.

Grading Schedule

Unfortunately the film has been unable to keep to the post production schedule that was agreed upon. I was supposed to start grading yesterday but now they are only starting to construct the edit so I am not hopeful on getting the footage for a few more weeks. Liz (Director) has spoken to me about this, the main reason for the delay has been the difficulty in finding a story due to the lack of operation meaning the story couldn’t make the hoped narrative arc.

My schedule on all films has accommodated for overrun meaning I can go ahead and grade later than I hoped. I have explained to Liz this may take me longer now as I won’t have any access to the dedicated DaVinci Resolve room meaning I have to rely on the desktop version on my iMac. The constant clicking and dragging of colour wheels makes the process much longer than the dedicated panel.

For now I am waiting to hear the latest on the edit, once that’s done I expect to discuss the story with Liz to find a way for the grade to work with the new narrative arc.

Tips For Colour Correction

Whilst there isn’t much for me to work on until the final narrative of the documentary is decided I happened to stumble across an interesting article regarding colour correction. I generally find myself browsing the web concerning colour grading, and with a documentary approach I can appreciate the need to correct the footage before considering any stylisation (if this is still the plan for this documentary).

This article from HurlBlog outlines 7 tips for colour correction, definitely something to pay attention to.

1. Shoot With A Flat Or Log Profile

This is something I discussed with Nathan and Liz prior to filming so that I could get more information from the restricted colour space of the Panasonic 101 camera. As far as I’m concerned I am already covered for this element of colour correction.

2. Trust The Waveform, Vectroscope & Parade Scopes

The waveform represents luminance, vectroscope represents chrominance and the parade for values of the three colour channels: red, green, blue. In my mind this is basic colour grading etiquette, trusting your data over the display monitor (as this technology can vary). Ever since I understood the scopes I’ve dramatically improved my ability and increased the speed I can work at, I’d stress once again the importance of these scopes.

3. Order Of Operations

Stu Maschwitz suggest grading in the following order for best image quality and preservation of information. I can respect his choice in doing this, to some extent I use this type of ordering but I could need more work on following this exact pattern:

  1. Remove artefacts and de-noise.
  2. Balance your shots.
  3. Relight within a shot using power windows or masks.
  4. Add gradients, diffusion and other lens filters.
  5. Add vignettes.
  6. Grade your images.
  7. Simulate a film stock of your choice.
  8. Resize and sharpen.


4. The Fast Colour Correct Effect

This feature relates to Adobe Premier as it allows you in real time to address levels, saturation, balance, etc. The fact I choose to grade in DaVinci makes this advice obsolete under my circumstances.

5. Adjust Your Lift/Shadows/Blacks First

Usually I approach the grade by doing a first pass of nodes purely for addressing luminance before making any changes to colour balance. My option will address black and white levels.

6. Mids Are Where Faces Live

With well shot footage this should always be the case, but in the case of documentary general camera rules can go out the door. The suggestion is to adjust exposure to accommodate and from there address the highs and lows in the image. Ultimately the face should be the focus and take priority before any overexposure or underexposure that occurs when accommodating for it sitting in the mid tones.

7. Look For The Flesh Line On The Vectroscope

Adjusting the hue can ensure the skin tones align with this point on the scope. Through finding natural skin tones everything in the frame will become a natural representation. In the case of wanting a stylised frame I would suggest using the ‘qualifier’ function in DaVinci to isolate the skin tones and ensure they stay natural fleshy tones.


I can appreciate all of these tips regarding colour correction and I think I may try some of these techniques out. It’s nice to know the majority of these tips I already follow evidencing my good practice in this craft skill.

Colour Grading Documentaries

When you search for techniques for grading documentaries all the results talk about colour correction. There is a cultural association between the natural look and the documentary genre, whilst I respect that this is the case its a shame it has become the sole signifier for a colourist working in the genre. There are some examples of stylistic documentaries in the world but they cannot overcome the prominence of naturalistic palettes.

The argument for realism in the palette is to keep an honest representation and allow the audience an easy entry point into the subtle matter. By stylising a documentary it opens doors on documentary ethics suggesting the filmmaker is distorting the story and not providing an unbiased representation (not that documentaries need to be unbiased).

Personally I believe grading is not a distortion, but an opportunity to accentuate the film and bring the reality closer to the audience. It can highlight particular emotions in an attempt for a particular response to the audience. Whilst reading this point the ethical argument of representation continues, yes it can serve to assist the narrative but at the same time it shifts the narrative into a certain emotional state. Once again are documentaries really unbiased? Colouring the film is another tool in the filmmakers arsenal.

The featured tutorial is just one of many examples in how to approach colour correction for documentary film. Often you will be presented with a range of footage and your job is to find a middle ground where all colours and tones can meet.

Using the video scopes can be the quickest method in balancing the footage. Particularly reference the RGB parade you can balance the three colour channels using the lift, gamma and gain functions. This would be my go to option along with general luminance levels in the video scopes.

I feel there isn’t a huge amount to learn when colour correcting footage. I already feel confident with DaVinci Resolve and it will simply be the case of adapting to whatever footage I am presented with. I can continue to read and watch colour correction tips right up until the grading process begins.

Production Update

The production for the documentary all seems to be going to plan. I am getting regular updates and have input in some production meetings. For me it’s nice to know how the project is developing so I can consider the palette in the grade to reflect any change in narrative or emotion.

I have gone through the camera profile with Nathan once again. The key is to shoot a flatter image on the Panasonic 101 so I have more range to play around with in the grade. Both Nathan and Liz are happy with this approach to the image. I have also recommended filming on prime lenses where possible for that more stylistic approach we are intended to achieve, whereas the general kit lens won’t produce the same sharp and aesthetically pleasing visual.

I will generally keep in the loop as the documentary develops, but I don’t anticipate much work until my intended grading period: April 20th – April 28th. I will try and get opportunities where possible to test palettes as footage is compiled.

Pre-Production Summary

From day one I think I have alway known the way I wanted to approach the grading for this documentary, and Liz Penny (Director) has enabled me to follow this concept sharing the same perspective on the visual style. It is based on a reflection of Billy’s psychology and I feel something so simple can have such a dramatic effect on the presentation of the subject matter.

This style of grading I feel confident about, and due to the unpredictable nature of the genre I really have no idea what footage I am going to be presented with to grade. I feel confident in myself, and I feel our team is strong and can capture the vital moments of this story to present on screen.

Approaching production I feel prepared for my input on the project. Billy has approved my style of grading and I think the subtly stylised image will enhance the story. As this is documentary I will make sure to keep in the loop with the production so I can develop my colour palette to reflect the changes in the narrative. My treatment for grading is perfect for the ideal narrative of the subject matter, but obviously as this is documentary it can all change in a single moment. I will be grading towards the end of April on DaVinci Resolve 11.