For this episode I finally decided to tackle the rather popular topic of the “cyan/orange” look, which I like to refer to as the “Cyan Swing” (just sounds classier doesn’t it?). This look has been made popular by numerous hollywood films such as Michael Bay’s “Transformers”, and this year’s action/crime thriller “Gangster Squad”, amongst many others. This is definitely a look that is “in vogue” in the world of color correction nowadays, and I have to say, I get asked to do this one quite a bit in the color suite. My usual tendency is to try steer clients towards a more customized version of the look that is inspired by the visual design and aesthetic that they hopefully started in the initial photography and production design of the film. The “Cyan Swing” works best when a shot has been conceived or photographed in such a way to take advantage of the use of complimentary cool shadows and warmer highlights and/or skin tones. The look works great, when you’re enhancing a basic palette of colors that’s already there inherently in the image, or in an image that might be more tonally neutral that could be “nudged” into this world from a more muted palette. Where it doesn’t work so well… when slapping on an aggressive color preset or “look” with no regard for customization to the actual footage in front of you; and with no clear choice for visual interpretation and aesthetic by the filmmakers.
I truly believe that a colorist’s job is to enhance and further refine the visual aesthetic set by the director and cinematographer during principle photography and NOT to completely rebuild the ship so to speak from the ground up (although it seems now more than ever we’re being asked to do this more and more). Great looks in the color suite BEGIN IN PRINCIPLE PHOTOGRAPHY, period. Every element of the picture from costumes, to lighting, to makeup, to filtration, to production design, to shot composition establishes a “look” from the very moment the camera rolls. If forethought hasn’t gone into these elements, then cohesiveness in the color suite can become a bit underwhelming as the “look” of a movie is unfortunately simply “stumbled upon” during the grade. Usually this process happens more by happy accident than by intentional choice. Although we must always leave room for “happy accidents and discoveries” at every stage of a film’s development; depending upon them can often times lead to lackluster results when the creative sparks aren’t igniting, so to speak. A look like the “Cyan Swing” works best when its implanted in the minds of every department from the beginning of production.
This particular example from a commercial spot that I did for company Metis Creative, demonstrates how simply this look can be achieved when the elements are there in the beginning thanks to a well conceived plan from production. Take a look at the finished piece here as well and you’ll see how multiple locations utilize the key colors in the look in different ways (its not always cool shadows and warm highlights, but its always blue and orange in some combo!). You can see how customizing this look to bring out specific element of the principle photography that was already there (ie the blue of the “Giant” logos, and warm skintones) made the grading process very clear and allowed us to get REALLY specific on the day instead of spending time trying to impose a look on the piece.
Chris Hall has been a working colorist and cinematographer in Los Angeles since 2006, with numerous feature film, commercial, broadcast and web credits. His feature work includes the 2012 navy seal action film, Act of Valor, as well as the award winning documentary The Girls in the Band amongst others. Commercial projects have included spots for Mattel, Lexus, Naturemade, Jaguar, Kelloggs, Jeep, Mercedes, Relativity Media, Yokohama, and more. Chris is a resident colorist at Prehistoric Digital, a boutique color correct facility based in Santa Monica. Check out his blog at www.chrishallcolor.com.