Color Grading Exercise

The following show some of my experimentation with color grading, both in terms of trying to change the lighting/mood of the clip, as well as to play with stylized images:

Before 1

Before 1

My first clip was under outdoor lighting, mostly warm sunlight.

After 1-1

After 1-1

After 2

After 1-2

After 1-3

After 1-3

After 1-1 saw my first attempt at doing some minimal, subtle color grading. I tried some purple hues in the shadows and midtones, and left the highlights mostly orange/yellow (skintone).

After 1-2: I wanted to try averting the daylight by artificially trying to use color grading to emulate night time – or at least overcast skies. To do this, I tried to cool down the colors as much as possible with blue to light blue everything but I don’t think I put other factors into mind.

After 1-3: I thought more about what overcast lighting had, and for this try I also played with darkening the midtones through Luma and input/output, as well as desaturating the highlights. I also tried more subtle color grading, and the result is slightly more realistic.

Before 2

Before 2

Clip 2 is also outdoors lighting, however the lighting is focused on back-lighting, with the shadows on the face.

After 2-1

After 2-1

After 2-2

After 2-2

After 2-1: I wanted to emulate the vintage filters commonly seen on Instagram, so I used red shadows, orange midtones and blowing up the highlights to a really light yellow, to overexpose the clip. This created a burned, summer tone, and also the orange midtones meant the shadows on the faces were able to be brought up to more natural skin tones. The skies weren’t as evenly graded, and the edges near the leaves are still very blue. I think this could have been fixed if I’d been able to do a secondary color grading, where I picked out everything blue and pushed it to a yellowish-white, however that may have changed the color on the singlet.

After 2-2: In a similar attempt with the first clip, I tried to change the entire tone of the clip – whereas it was sunny and warm, I wanted to create a cooler, wintery feel. To do this, I first made the shadows bluer, but also selected less tones to be considered the shadow. I also pushed down the midtones, giving more tones to be considered highlights, then gave it more blue, meaning the sky even bluer and colder. Finally I desaturated the very small scope of midtones that I had, but I think that probably wasn’t as successful as with the first clip.

Before 3

Before 3

Clip 3 is indoors lighting, with a very bright background.

After 3-1

After 3-1

After3.2

After 3-2

After 3-1: I wanted to make the clip look as if it is filmed in outdoors lighting, so I used yellow/orange midtones, and also brought up the brightness of the clip a little. I didn’t do much apart from that, but I think perhaps some tweaking of Luma to make the highlights brighter would have been effectively.

After 3-2: Feeling like making something ultra stylish, I purposefully used contrasting highlights vs midtones (opposite ends on the hue wheel), and also a purple shadow, much like the retro-pop art styles.

Before 4

Before 4

Clip 4 is overcast outdoors lighting, but my focus was the solid red in the foreground and the small reds throughout the mid-ground and background.

After 4-2

After 4-2

After 4-2

After 4-2

After 4-1: Using the secondary color grading tool, I opted to select only the red (using show mask), then inverted the selection. With everything but the reds selected, I desaturated everything. I think it worked very well, and if I had taken more time to more carefully select more red, I wouldn’t have the jagged lines of color.

After 4-2: This time, without inverting the selection, I rotated the color wheel so that all reds became purple. This actually brought out a lot of the inconsistent color selections that I didn’t notice before – when things look purple, especially in the skin, it becomes more apparent to the eye.

From the color grading exercise, I learned a few basic skills to change the tone and mood of a clip, as well some more artful techniques such as selective color grading. However, I feel that successful color grading – at least, color grading that either realistically emulates the chosen tone or achieves accurate matching to a previous shot – occurs only if the editor has a good grasp of not only how light and color works, but also how to best manipulate it. For example, making things bluer doesn’t necessarily make it colder, but desaturation of highlights do.

Note: The girl and boy featured are my friends, who have given me permission to publish their image. The footage used are from a series of videos that I took for a separate subject.

Alex.

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Lenny – Alex’s Cut

Lenny was the first time I ever filmed in a very industrial setting, with camera setup, boom mics and crew roles, and the first time I used traditional editing methods when editing. Below are my reflections of the process.

(You can watch Lenny here.)

Pre production: We as a group tried to plan and block out the three shots – OTS 1, OTS2 and Double Shot – without first looking at the location. We wanted to achieve a shot where we see Van walk in while being able to see Lenny at the same time. It was a little difficult to communicate this idea visually to the other team members who weren’t sure what the other half had meant, and drawing
it didn’t clarify it either. It was because of this that we decided to go to the location and physically block out what we wanted. At the location, we realized the geography of the location meant that the shot that we wanted to achieve would be very difficult to achieve while keeping cinematography in mind. In the end, we decided it would be simpler as a first exercise to do a classical OTS shot without anything fancy. We also took images of the location to get a framework of the different shots we might want to achieve. Matt did sketches of how the characters will enter, as well as roughly where we will place the camera to film.

Production: Unfortunately, all the preparation wasn’t enough for us to achieve an efficient shoot. Part of the issue was the set up of equipment. Our group was 2 people more than the other groups, meaning we had more voices trying to determine what we had to do. Furthermore, not a single of our group had actually done any filming before in terms of using a proper camera and boom setup, so
it took nearly half of our allocated filming time to set up everything, including focus and white balance. As a result, we took the advice of the tutors and filmed our two-shot first, so that we have everything on film that we may need should we not be able to do the other two shots. The situation was made more difficult in the constant changing of roles – for some reason, no one decided to take charge, but when we did appoint someone as director or AD, others would suddenly try to take over the role as well. As a result, time was wasted working out who should use the slate, who should say ACTION, etc. The takes themselves were not too badly done – it was a simple scene – and despite the time constraints, we were mostly able to do at least 2 takes of each shot. I feel that overall group cooperation was what pulled us through the lack of previous experience, but a lack of organization meant we wasted a lot of time establishing roles and process.

Post: I feel that post production is the most interesting and fun part for me. To me, choosing and editing shots together is extremely interesting, because I can have control over aspects which I couldn’t during the shoot. So far, what we edited was mostly for technical reasons, ie to clean up and cut bad shots, for continuity, etc. It was extremely rewarding to attempt J and L cuts, where
even though the voice doesn’t match the actor, there was still a sense of continuity. If anything, continuity was even smoother when J and L cuts are employed correctly, and I learned a lot about timing when editing – that is, to watch for when I made a cut, and try to replicate that movement in the next one. This was also the step where I truly appreciated the effor that had gone into Pre
and Production in terms of blocking, rehearsals and camera angles, because some of this wasn’t so well done in the Lenny test videos, and no amount of careful editing can make it look natural.

Conventions of Sound

Sound production, manipulation and mixing is something which I do not have much prior experience in. Ruoff (1993) outlines some interesting and important factors when working with sound in media, which I explore below.

Having come from a linguistic background, Ruoff’s outline of how conventional spoken conversation and dialogues differ greatly from scripted or written dialogue, purely because the spoken dialogue will always contain interjections and “hemming and hamming” as a natural and necessary part of lingual semiotics. However, it was very interesting to then expand on this knowledge to the scope of documentaries, within the discourse of audience understanding of conventions. For example, if a conversation that was supposed to be candid, or observational “fly on the wall” was too clean, or too organized and orderly, the audience would immediately feel that it was put on, regardless of whether the camera frames the subjects in a ‘hidden camera’ manner, or any other visual cues. By the same token, if a face-to-face interview was too disorderly with interjections of “uh huh” or other verbal prompts, it would be distracting to the viewer or listener. This fully explains the importance of recording through separate channels (and using directional mics – shotgun mics) especially during an interview, as to minimize and have full control in post over the interjections if
they occur during the interview.

It’s also interesting to learn about interview techniques that are specific for the screen, or for audio productions. My background was in written and published journalism, so interview techniques mostly taught us to not use leading yes/no questions, or to allow the subject to tell their own story through their own words, not through your questions. This remains true for video and audio interviews, but even more importantly, it’s a matter of recording and interviewing for the answers to be used in the final product. So, the whole idea of asking the interviewee to answer in a full sentence allows the editors in post to leave out the interviewer’s question. This obviously goes against a ‘natural’ conversation flow, but this is a discourse unique to interviews, where the staged theatrics of a ‘conversation’ is how we expect a successful and coherent interview to go.

The above points are majorly important to the projects which I am working on this semester, but are also widely applicable when creating any kind of media product which may include sound.

Industrial Media – Goals and Desires

Industrial Media is the class that I was expecting when I enrolled in the technically focused college that is RMIT. While media is taking new and exciting steps away from ‘legacy’ techniques and styles, it would be foolish to bypass the century-long set of skills that has been dominating the industry that I wish to enter.

My goals for this class is to be able to leave with a much more confident and clearer understanding of the how-tos in film- and screenplay-making. In fact, in Week 5, this is already happening for me, as I find that I am using the knowledge and skills I’m still collecting from this class in my other classes for the semester, such as when I am thinking of how to plan my shots for Fiction Project, or recording sound for Non-Fiction Project.

I want to leave my Grad Dip with a working knowledge of how to produce my own production, if I may use a tautology. With Industrial Media, I have a stronger confidence in doing this.

– Alex

Mark Me Up, Jenny!

When I signed up for a Graduate Diploma in Media with RMIT, it was inevitable that, again, I will be faced with a task where I create my own blog. Thus, all posts categorized by the tag “grad dip”, and categorized under “RMIT” will be posts for marking consideration. Of course, I’ll be adding other appropriate and relevant tags and categories, however, the ones mentioned above are the main ones to look out for. Considering my lack of frequently blogging, there shouldn’t be any confusion when reading from my home page.

And, needless to say, my use of language will be much more formal, and my use of song titles will be noticeably zero.

Currently, I am to share a link to something that interests me. This seems like a very broad requirement, because I can feasibly send a link to tv.com and call it a day. But here is something that really interests me, and may be of interest for the reader, too.

One of my favorite pastimes is to read comics. My favorite series – and the only one which I make sure to buy hard-copy tradebacks for – is Saga, by Brian K Vaughan (also known as that guy who’s writing the television adaptation of Under the Dome), with art by Fiona Staples.

It’s hard to pinpoint my favorite thing – or the “why you should read it too” – of Saga. At a glance, the covers should tell you of Fiona Staples’ prowess in illustrating an expansive and fantastical world. Her mastery over color, even with an art style which calls on more flat colors than gradients, enhances the myriad of species and lights that BKV’s Saga-verse has to offer. When I read the first issue, I was immediately sucked into the dramatic and intricate history of the characters. Despite the slightly obvious Romeo-and-Juliet overtones, that the narrator’s voice comes from the infant child of the main characters denotes a certain “A long, long time ago” feel.

No, I can in fact point at my favorite aspect of Saga: Lying Cat. An interesting creature, the Lying Cat is an unerring lie detector, but also a useful and loyal weapon. Sidekick to the antagonist apparent, a merc named The Will, Lying Cat plays host to many humorous and even tender moments, when the truth – or the absence thereof – is the only thing you can rely on.

So, this is my initial post on something I an interested in, posted on my blog which I set up. What. A. Conclusion.

Alex.

I do not reserve the rights to any of the pages or works to which I’ve linked. Contrary to my wishes, I do not own television, nor do I wish to encroach upon Fiona Staples’ amazing art. I do, however, wish I owned a Lying Cat.

We’re Painted Red To Fit Right In

[Radioactive – Imagine Dragons]

This will be my review of Catching Fire, the second installment of The Hunger Games film series. Needless to say, this will be rife with spoilers, both plot- and theme-wise.

When I saw the first movie, the aptly titled The Hunger Games, I had just finished reading the entire trilogy within a week, so everything was fresh in my mind. It also meant that I was caught up in the whirlwind of comparing everything to the book, while still reliving the great feeling that I got from reading a dramatic and action-packed series.

Today, I saw the movie having not really come in contact with the fictional world at all for at least a year. I’ve had one night when I came across a trailer, and realizing that I forgot what that trailer was about, I went and had a small peek through the corresponding chapter of the book. But, for the most part, I was coming at the movie with a fresh eye. I mean, obviously I remember the major plot points and deaths, but I’d forgotten a lot of the small things.

Most importantly, I’d forgotten about the themes which Suzanne Collins was probably going for. So, instead of the usual review of a film on its visual and storytelling merits (which I will still do, albeit in a cursory manner), I’ll also talk a bit about the film’s success in drawing out the themes of the series. Note that I’ll be writing with the assumption that you know about the series, and so I’ll be minimally explaining the world.

First of all, I have to say, the film was extremely long. I didn’t exactly keep time, but it took what felt like at least 20 minutes before the ball drops – that Katniss has to go back into the arena. I suppose, though, that that particular ball wasn’t exactly dropping out of the blue, but say for argument’s sake that someone was going in without a single clue, and without having seen the previous film, nor the trailers, they would definitely be wondering if this film was going to go anywhere before they’re treated to the meat of the story. But, I guess that was to be expected, considering that Catching Fire is the transitory middle book/film, which was instrumental in moving the characters and their motives from the passive and oppressed Districts of the first book to the full-on, world-upending rebellion in the third. There is a lot of ground to cover for this – a lot of character development which had to happen to get the viewers up to emotional speed. I can’t remember well, but I’m sure they cut down on a lot of content, yet still had me leaving the theater with a sore bum from sitting for so long.

In Catching Fire, the results of Katniss’ actions in the first film became apparent. What she half intended to be a method or survival and half intended to be a middle-finger to the Capitol (more precisely, to President Snow), was interpreted as an act of rebellion, and encouraged everyone else to do so, too. The film was rather clear in portraying Katniss as a girl who was still stuck in the unwanted role in a publicity game that had become her life the moment she volunteered as Tribute. All she wanted to do in District 11 was to make people feel better, but it directly resulted in the execution of an old man. Katniss said it best when she cried that she didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt, but the fact was, someone did get hurt because of her. Her actions, her body, her life, was no longer her own. This is a theme that will continue even stronger in the next film(s). The film’s end alluded to this, but perhaps in a muffled manner – on the plane, or whatever it is, Katniss wakes up to see that Haymitch, Finnick (who at that point she wasn’t sure whether to trust) and Plutarch (who she definitely didn’t trust) were in cahoots. She was mortified that Haymitch betrayed her, only to be told that they’d all planned ABOUT her, WITHOUT her. This was somewhat overshadowed by the first realization that Katniss had also just lost Peeta, and then the secondary news that District 12 has been destroyed.

The idea that Katniss was no longer her own property seemed to have been a hit-and-miss in both movies, so far. The first movie, whether through time constraints or oversight, heavily omitted any explanation or clarification that the Games was a televised show. That, despite the grim and gory situation placed before her, Katniss was ultimately a contestant on screen, waiting for those watching her to love her and help her. In this movie, it became somewhat more detailed that everything she did, or had to do, was for the camera – that she was a symbol, not just a person. I think that Effie’s lines helped, always reminding Katniss that she had to smile, that she had to be in love, and that she had to convince people that it was all real. Katniss had a personal motive to pretend the love-story was real, but I think the film missed her intelligence in working everything out without having it spelled out to her, too.

And Peeta, let’s not forget that sweet boy who Katniss didn’t deserve. I suppose it’s too early for the film to really delve into it, but it is true that Katniss doesn’t deserve, nor in fact, want, Peeta. Katniss’ heart never went to him the way it went to Gale, but the fact was, Katniss needed Peeta, and ultimately (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT) that trumps her heart. Perhaps it’s a comment that in war, what we want isn’t what we should have. Katniss ends up with someone who she needed – a boy who loved and cared for her, even when he (ANOTHER MAJOR SPOILER) lost his grasp on any other reality. You may say that Katniss settled, but that’s not the point – Katniss, at the end of Mockingjay, needed to settle into something safe. Gale would never provide that, but Peeta could, in abundance. Again, this is something which I expect them to delve into in the following two-part installments, but it was nice to see them lightly touch on the topic in this installment.

The idea of rebellion is an obvious theme in the films, yet the execution of such rebellion in different characters reached different levels of success. Putting side the overt riots in the Districts, I want to concentrate on the actions of two Capitol characters, Effie and Cinna.

Effie’s transformation from a self-centered publicity agent to a person who genuinely cared about Katniss and Peeta wasn’t aimed to be subtle. Elizabeth Banks did an excellent job during the reaping scene for the Quarter Quell – one has to realize that her character was in the midst of emotional turmoil; grieving, raging yet terrified (not for herself) at the same time, all while on camera – and in subsequent scenes. The way that she portrayed Effie really shone the character’s determination to let Katniss and Peeta know that she felt the indignation of the situation as strongly as they did, in her own little ways. Putting aside makeup, lighting, and camera angles (areas about which I’m not yet knowledgeable enough to comment), the writing of her character was simple, and the delivery succinct.

Cinna, on the other hand, disappointed me. The book Cinna was a crafty, intelligent and kind designer, whose pride and skill in his work outshone the tyranny of the reason for his creations. Katniss resisted and hated him at the start, only to be taught that Cinna did not do his job because he wanted to doll up the lambs for slaughter, but rather do anything he could to give them a fighting chance. Cinna wasn’t just some Capitol lapdog with a makeup brush in his hand – he was an artist who had his own ideas, his own feelings about the life that was being led around him. The Mockingjay wedding dress was the epitome of his artistry, his swan-song (if I may) of his thoughts. It was supposed to be an elegant, subtle and wildly dangerous message that Cinna sent in the best way he could. It was supposed to be a metaphor, for as the dress burned a bright beacon for the rebellion, so too did the dying embers signify the last remaining moments of Cinna’s life; as the snow white dress melted away, surely Cinna resigned himself to a painful doom. But the pain of that moment, when the camera fell on Cinna for his bow, was lost to me.

I feel that my problem was with the editing of this scene. The acting, the script and the camera was spot on, but the editing (or, I suppose, direction) drew attention away from the significance of the moment. Similarly, the sound editing drew significance away from a tragic irony later on in the film, upon Mags’ death. Not a few minutes before, Finnick said that the sound of the cannons was like music to his ears, because it meant one less person out there to kill him. But as the poison fog was rolling in, and Mags leaped into her death to save the others, the sound of her death cannon was drowned out by the music score and all the noise happening on screen. Then, with all the commotion happening later, one never really had the time to properly digest how horrifyingly ironic it was for Finnick to hear the cannon sound upon his mentor’s death. If anything, Finnick seemed more affected by the Jabberjay aftermath (which was a good subtle setup for later), telling Katniss almost indifferently that Mags was going to die, anyway. Perhaps I interpreted the scene wrongly, but his actions in caring about his elderly mentor should have suggested some more weight in his words when he dismissed Mags’ death.

(I want to take a separate moment to mention how great Mags was, especially in that short footage of her volunteering as tribute. When Finnick showed the smallest of weaknesses hugging Mags, she pointed fervently at the camera, reminding him that they were back under scrutiny – but more importantly, that his relief that Annie was saved was a danger to both himself and Annie. They’re the little things which I was grateful the writers had painstakingly put in.)

My take away of this review is that Catching Fire was rather temperamental when it came to its success in the portrayal of the themes. Where it triumphed in showing personal rebellion in Effie, it missed the mark with Cinna. Where it took note of the small tragedies and details of Finnick’s love for Annie, it neglected to do the same for his love for Mags.

Finally, and this is probably more nitpicking than anything: I hope for a better, more rounded portrayal of Prim and Gale for movies 3 and 4. Gale’s tendency for action and war was shown but not elaborated upon in this film, and the efforts to mature Prim to (EXTREME SPOILER ALERT) set her up to volunteer for and die as a medic in the final moments of the saga resulted in an overly aloof and distant girl. Obviously, this film was more of a focus on the gathering forces for a revolution, so little side-character developments aren’t of importance, but it would have been nice to see Prim act a little reckless as a foreshadowing of her seemingly forgetting Katniss’ first sacrifice.

(If you can’t tell, I’ve always viewed Prim as a supreme idiot by the time of her death. I mean, it was a beautiful stroke of irony on Collins’ part, but it made me so frustrated.)

When I have the time, I’m going to go back and re-read the books again. I think it would give me fresh perspectives on both the films and the books, and then maybe I can do a re-write of this review if I deem it necessary (which I know it never is, because no one reads these).

Alex.

Final Uni Blog Post

I don’t know if I’ve done enough but here it is, the final uni blog post for Sem 2 2010.

I did my re-enrollment today, and if all things go well, I will be doing a LOT more uni blog assignments next year. If the tutors seem lenient, I will continue posting them here. If they don’t, I can go to them and be very sweet and all like “but this is a chance for me to better myself”.

Anyway:

So, in a final desperate attempt to blog on the last day (after writing this I’m going around commenting), I will write about fan culture.

There seems to be a group for everything. There is an entire society based around the worship of machines with turbine blades that, when activated, create a movement in the air that comes as a relieving cool breeze on a hot summer’s day.

Oh there’s a pun for ya.

No, actually I’m talking about the bunch of people who go nuts at the mention of something they collectively like. YES, electronic fans may be an example, but in this context, I am talking about media related things.

I asked my friend – you may remember her as Brenda from the previous post – why she used to ‘fangirl’ over what she fangirled over so much. (Fangirl, FYI, is apparently the term used to describe the group of females who worship electronic fans.)

She replied, “Because they’re perfect. They’re the whole package.”

What was the extent she’d gone to, to fangirl?

“Sent a postcard, bought shit off the internet.”

In my experiences, that is definitely not as manic as they come. Unless, of course, the postcard she sent included a lock of her hair, and the shit she bought off the internet was literally, shit off the internet. Then yeah.

I’m not saying I’m exempt from the slightly demeaning things a person does to get closer to a public figure/TV show/etc etc they adore. I follow blogs dedicated to actors and actresses I like on Tumblr, I was tempted to buy a jacket simply because it was the “official NCIS special agent windbreaker”. But these acts of trying to live out what we love are getting more and more recognized – though sending locks of hair is still creepy, in my books. Sidenote, Brenda didn’t actually do that.

Perhaps ‘recognized’ wasn’t the word. I was going for ‘more and more exploited-by-the-media-and-made-to-become-a-determiner-of-what-kind-of-person-you-are’.

Just because a guy likes Glee doesn’t make him gay.

Just because a girl likes watching gory horror movies doesn’t make her a sadist.

(If you like Justin Bieber though, oh, I have nothing to say.)

The media markets Glee and horror movies towards girls and guys respectively, and with good reason – stereotypes exist because they are obviously valid to some extent – but it annoys me when I personally change what I publicly declare as something I like, (or not just me, but people in general) because the stigma of liking something is so strong.

A lot of people say I should like Scrubs. I say “it’s okay.” To be honest, I don’t like it that much, but because Scrubs is almost the epitome of what people expect me to like, it seems I should like it.

No one expects me to like teenage melodramatic shows like The Vampire Diaries. Plus, liking vampires gets you automatically grouped into the sphere of Twihards. I liked vampires way before I even knew what Twilight was. I like Vampire Diaries because I like the way it looks – I can be shallow too. I decided to openly like the show just to prove to myself that I can be a fan of something that people don’t expect me to be.

Why do we have to be branded a certain way for things we like? Why, when someone says “I like Korean dramas” do we automatically brand them as pretty-boy loving teenage girls? Does the Korean media not produce more grungey shows where the actors don’t look androgynous?

Why can’t people just like things, and have other people go, “oh okay cool, as you were”?

There is too much crap given to people who identify themselves as a part of a fan culture, and there are too many people allowing the crap to be crapped.

Last post ends here. Over and out. Guns blazing. Etc.

The prev gif didn’t work. I changed it.

Alex.

Time to do my final CMEL essay, then study the crap out of Self, Asia and Linguistics.

Alex.