America’s Color Grading Mania and its Influence Over the World IX

… continuing Color.

(This post will be text only, to “clean your eyes” over what is said, and the images presented in previous posts)

As a conclusion, I’d like to do something different (or at least think it that way).

A general consensus among filmmakers, film viewers and critics is that, even if the image may not be pristine, look professional, or even make any sense, we tend to give more importance to sound and the story of what is being shown than to the image itself. In a way, this is due to our inherent human ability of trying to find logic in everything that is presented to us (or even a meaning).

Very seldom is the image in a film something that the general public is really fixated on. Of course this isn’t an extreme reality where everyone isn’t looking at the screen but rather a byproduct of the basis in which Film is based – the moving image, an immediate perception of something, a momentary glimpse of something that repeated constantly and in order makes us see something more, something in time, something that moves in front of our eyes so, something constructed in our brains rather than static and motionless for repeated and concentrated study (a painting can be studied hours upon end while a film has to be seen numerous times, played, stopped, replayed, fast forwarded, slow motioned playing, so as to garner its complete and total potential/message).

There’s a reason great filmmakers, when talking about how they started enjoying and studying film say that they started doing it without sound, just focusing on the image and the directors ability to cut and garner the audience’s visual attention. Sound trumps Image in the medium.

Myself, as a foreigner working in Asia, was initially taught to watch animated and soft films coming from the US in the 80’s and had always thought that whatever came from that country was exuberant, extremely visually attractive and almost KO’d everything else in the world. As I grew older, I started eating everything with moving images in it, from movies from primordial cinema to recondite indie pieces coming from India and Sri Lanka, with a lot of trash, pseudo-porn and glorified amateur glossy stuff in the middle.

Everything was different, everything was strange and new and everything was thoroughly entertaining. In my eyes, American filmmaking started loosing weight compared to the originality and strangeness of everything coming outside of that continent.

But then color grading happened…

Something weird started appearing from the four corners of the World.

Homogeneity.

Movies from South East Asia started looking the same as films from European countries like Romania, Ukraine, etc.

Comedies from the US were visually (color and palette wise) almost exactly the same as Action thrillers, if not Horror porn movies coming from South America, then Hong Kong and now everything coming out from everywhere.

Everything became the same although geographically distant. Very seldom are movies getting out of the norm and actually showcasing themselves as visually differentiated or original between each other.

If a Sci-fi doesn’t look like a genre film, everyone is afraid no one will see it. The same goes to any other genre that garners to a niche audience.

Mainstream movies all tend to look the same, everyone afraid to break the mold of a standardized color correction, manipulation, “evolution”.

So, what I’d like to do as my conclusion is, to ask you the reader, a favor.

The next time you see a new contemporary movie you love, turn the sound down a little bit (not entirely so you don’t miss the story, but just enough that the image gets just a fraction more importance in your living room/cinema/computer than everything else). Turn it down and focus on the characters faces/skin color. Focus on the color of the sun, the moon and the sea. Try to see where greens appear. Try to focus on where red is floating along the screen. Enjoy the dance of blues in front of your eyes.

Now, after you’ve finished the movie, try to watch the last film you loved too. Preferably from the same year (or two). It can be from the same country, or a different one, doesn’t matter. If its from the same genre you love, or from the same director, it doesn’t matter, just watch it after the new one.

Watch it and concentrate on the image.

You will see what I’m talking about. Maybe not in a large scale or in an obvious way, but just enough that you start seeing frames that look the same. Colors that are coming from the same places. Images that are painted with the same brush.

In the past, filmmakers tried to, even though they might use their same inherent style, be different, from themselves, from everyone else. Of course there were copies and inspirations and a lot of the same people working in different films but, there was a sense of variety between everything that was made.

It is true that now there are a lot more movies coming out, from everywhere, all the time, and that tends to standardize and mechanize the images they show. Pop Art pushed it into the art world and cheap production/manufacturing costs have pushed it into filmmaking.

Watch the movies you love, over and over again. Talk about them with your friends and colleagues but, concentrate on more than the story. Watch the image. Watch the color. Watch the Medium.

Watch them and then tell me if there isn’t a Mania traveling around.


Finished… 4 Now

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2 thoughts on “America’s Color Grading Mania and its Influence Over the World IX

  1. Hi Anonymous (first, sorry for the delay in the answer), unfortunately this trend is mainly due to the increasing power of digital color-grading (a process that has distorted the colors in films of late). Before the ability to grade digitally, if you wanted to do something to the color, a DP would have to pre-select the stock he’d want to shoot the film with, then evaluate a process of masks to introduce a color variation/adulteration palette, and then it’d be done in a painstaking frame by frame process. Films like Abyss and Back to the Future (and much more) certainly had a really blue and orange feel for them but, it was all mainly due to lighting options, art-direction and clothes, while the actor’s faces (skintone) would be consistently maintained. As a rule, DP’s would calibrate their choices with the skin tone captured by the stock (that is with stock coming from Kodak, Fuji, etc) and make visual decisions into the tone after knowing that people wouldn’t look orange by the adjustments to the development of the stock they chose.
    On the tv thing and music videos, i’d say lately, with the increasing cheapness of these tools, some are becoming more “corrected” than others (Fringe, CSI Las Vegas, etc, come to mind), and music videos, certainly have always had a crazy backstory in colorgrading, but it is mostly done to give the image a style and not to divert the viewers eyes, as the small screen as exactly that working for it, its smaller, and hence the audience’s attention is slightly easier to control (especially in the color theme of things) and you have to remember that the first color grading tools where extremely expensive (and therefore almost prohibitive for music videos and tv shows – some exceptions excluded).
    I’m thinking of continuing the research soon, just waiting for my shooting periods to loosen up a bit.
    Any other questions feel free to comment. It’s thoroughly necessary and appreciated and thank you for the visit 🙂

  2. Great article. You definitely have a point but can you site any examples from the 60’s or 70’s that we can compare to current films to prove your point? I agree with your point but it is more of a ‘feeling’ that you are correct. I’ll share this article.

    Has this bled into TV (actually I imagine it’s where it originated). Music videos?

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