If you’re reading this, you are probably part of the Macaulay New Media Lab and were assigned a video to edit. Color grading your footage increases the production value of a project and gives your video a cinematic look. To proceed with this tutorial, you are going to need the following programs:
1. Adobe Premiere and After Effects
2. Magic Bullet Denoiser
3. Colorista II
What’s the difference between Premiere and After Effects?
Adobe Premiere is an editing program (very much like Final Cut). You can sequence your clips, edit sound and etc. After Effects, however, is a finishing program. You put your video together in Premiere then send it off to After Effects to polish (to color grade, add special effects and stuff). You cannot sequence clips or edit sound in After Effects. You can only edit one clip at a time.
Can’t I just use Final Cut?
Final Cut X is not a professional editing program. Final Cut 7 is outdated and the software doesn’t use the full technical horsepower of newer editing rigs. Besides, it’s missing Adobe Dynamic Link.
Connecting between Premiere and After Effects
Once you’re done putting putting your clips in order and editing sound, simply right click a video clip you want to color grade and click Adobe Dynamic Link.
In the past before Dynamic Link (and with editing suites that aren’t Adobe Premiere CS5 and above), you’d need to export the entire video, color grade your entire movie scene by scene and frame by frame and then export it for a second time. If you’re not careful enough, it’s possible to miss frames. If your viewers/client doesn’t like your cut, you’d have to start from scratch. With Dynamic Link, After Effects no longer acts as a standalone program and works within Premiere (like another layer on your image in Photoshop). You can easily make changes to your video and you only have to export once.
Once you’ve applied the effects you want, you’ll see the change you have made in the preview window in Premiere. Afterwards you move on to your next clip.
Color grading the actual thing
Start by creating a new adjustment layer over your footage. You apply effects by dragging plugins onto your adjustment layer. I’ll get into which effects you need to use in a moment. Once you have applied your effects, you will have done it for one clip in your timeline. You can copy and paste the effect onto another Dynamically Linked clip with a new adjustment layer and make changes if necessary.
There’s two main steps in the editing process, color correction and color grading. Color correction is fixing the mistakes you have made during production (wonky white balances, under/overexposed images) and making your footage look event before grading. Color grading is the part where you make your footage sexy. Here is a list of an order of operations:
Adobe’s has a built-in exposure plugin. Use it to fine tune the exposure you’ve made during production. If you’re increasing the exposure by over one stop, then you’re doing something wrong during production.
If you shot your video on low light conditions (or artificially added exposure to dark footage in post), you’ll get noise in your footage. Magic Bullet’s Denoiser works like magic and wipes your footage clean. Keep it at the default level of 100%. Denoiser’s algorithm isn’t perfect and may confuse detail for noise and lower your video’s sharpness. Try not to push the program too hard.
3. White balance
At the time of writing, I (Jensen), did not find a dedicated white balance correction plugin. Magic Bullet Colorista has a white balance solution that works like the eyedropper tool in Photoshop. You simply pick the color that you want to turn pure white. You should pick whatever color your brightest highlights are.
Color Grading: where the fun begins
Movie looks and instagram filters are made by artificially giving your highlights, midtones and shadows different color tints (usually complementary colors, but it is really up to you). Hollywood movies like Transformers tints their highlights yellow and their shadows blue. You achieve this effect with the Colorista Plugin. You simply pick the color tint from the color wheel and get to adjust the brightness and saturation of the tint. It’s honestly a lot of trial and error to get right. You don’t have to tint the entire trio (highlight, midtones, shadows). Split-toning works best if you have a subject that is lit dramatically. Follow your heart.
5. Contrast, Saturation/Vibrance
This step isn’t 100% necessary and it really depends on the vision you have for your final look. Contrast exaggerates the difference between your color tones by darkening your dark colors and brightening your light colors. Saturation increases the color intensity for all color channels, but be careful in pushing saturation. Over-saturated skin-tones will make your actors look like Oompa Loompas. Vibrance, however, adjusts the color intensity for all color channels EXCEPT skin tones.
Adobe’s built-in sharpening tool makes your footage look crisper. Enough said. My default value is “15.”
Quick Cinematic Looks and How to Achieve Them
1. Simple “Pop”
If you’re not a fan of heavily graded video, you can ignore using Colorista and simply push up contrast, saturation and vibrance by a bit just to give your footage some pop.
2. Gritty dramatic look
Use Colorista to split-tone to give your footage the tint you need, then slightly desaturate your film. Pump up the contrast to give your footage some dynamic range. You may even choose to add noise with the “noise” plugin to give it some extra grit.
3. Black and White
Completely desaturate the footage (set it to a negative value) and then add a lot of contrast. You may choose to tint the highlights a certain color (sepia or something).
Using colorista, tint your highlights a shade of yellow and your shadows a shade of blue. You may choose to tint your midtones either of these colors or even green.