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

… Color, continuing.

True Legend and The Lost Bladesman, although coming from two very different cinematographers, come from the same production country/market (Hong Kong/China) and came out within a year of each other. Nevertheless, they are two very similar movies in terms of color, grading, hue/saturation and even overall visual style.

Thematically the two movies are close, one is a Chinese legend/myth, the other, fictional musings of possible past events. They are both set in ancient China and both have a large component of martial arts and ancient theatricality. Visually though, they’re mostly indistinguishable and that’s their biggest flaw. The movies are shot as though there was some discoloration of the palette of their colors, as though there was some desaturation of the image because of the time they were presented, the problem is, that this discoloration is simply random/unrefined.

Every color is almost a pastel of itself, making them blend into each other, True Legend taking a more earthy tone and The Lost Bladesman, having a more bluish hue to the image. Every color that is, except red. The reds pop out. They are exuberant but, instead of creating a sense of confluity in the image, or even, of being a target color, their tone is so pushed into the pink, that at times, the color just becomes silly. Blood looks like someone chewed some cherry bubblegum and smeared it in the face of the actors, and the red clothes, more often than not, almost look like African clay sculptures (even if that was the point, or even to implement a sense of historical background, then the red would take an earthy tone too not breaking with the idea that the image is older than normal, as it stands, it seems as though whomever colored the clothes/image, forgot that the Vermilion pigment not only was a royal color, but that it symbolised eternity and life – not the color in which every single goon or soldier should be slain in).


There are some seasonal shadings that look really nice on the screen (the fadings of Autumn in The Lost Bladesman and the coldness of morning in True Legend), but then are completely overtaken by light that seems out of place (and hence dilutes the colors, making them seem more modern than expected). Overall, the color correction seems a bit, rushed.

Like the two movies reviewed before, Alien vs Ninja  and Future X Cops , albeit both being very strange genre selections and with stories that tend to confuse (but that’s something for another type of conversation) end up suffering with the choice to maintain their color as untouched (no visual contamination between the spectrum) and in some situations as fake as possible (the idea is that it the color is created to appeal to a “futuristic” minded person digitizing some of the normal hues and pushing all the colors to make them look as shiny as possible).

This plasticky look is often associated with children’s movies, not because the movies themselves are childish or dumb (once again, story here is irrelevant), but because this type of color stimulation appeals to a broader audience (here film – as a mass production tool with the main objective to make money by over-stimulation of the audience, advertising effect over quality, shady techniques instead of actual filmic mastery), like cartoons or slapstick comedy, by bombarding them with the existence of color and their emotional pulls.

The problem with these movies is that the color is just simply over-saturated for the sake of “comical” effect, creating a tyring image that further confuses the audience into being attracted by the explosions, blood and comic relief, rather than paying attention to the movie itself (selective color correction has the intent to avert/attract the audience’s eyes/attention to wherever the filmmaker desires, if this effect is pushed to all the colors of the visual range, all the time, then the movie becomes the equivalent of a sugar rush when its seen, only to be followed by a strong, emotional and physical letdown after its consumed), and end up let down by the movie after they’ve seen it.

Lastly, lets take a look at A Beautiful Life, the Andrew Lau directed, 2011 romantic comedy.

A Beautiful Life suffers from the “Summer Movie” syndrome of late, so well established by the American influence over what we see in the film theater between May and September every year.

Cold lights are blue (fluorescent), warm are yellow (almost orange at times), the sun is as white as possible and the night shots have a certain glow to them (wet city, soft focus shots, etc), but, amazingly, the actors skin color tends to become the same from shot to shot (an earthy beige with slashes of orange and soft cerise).

This type of color correction is a midway between a technicolor color skew and the Teal/Orange mix. A midway. Which means that throughout the movie, it itself becomes at times as inconsistent as the range of colors it portrays, looking more like we are watching a 70’s ad magazine instead of a present day set love story. The soft blues in the light make the male character seem weak at times and the pinks/beige used by the female character make her seem more like an archetypal whinny diva than a naive/world thorn socialite.

Nevertheless, it does look beautiful. A Beautiful Life as a frame by frame picture exhibition could perfectly reflect some of the problems we see in filmmaking nowadays but it’d never be a dull or even inexpressive exhibit. That’s exactly its problem. There’s too much happening in the image, too much manipulation, too many ideas floating around. Its a patterned correction, a commonly used color grading, beautiful for stills, tiring, flacid and common in filmic form.

A Beautiful Life is manipulative color correction at its best, the problem is, it detracts from the movie. We as an audience are constantly thinking – “Oh, they look so beautiful… Oh that’s a beautiful shot”, instead of actually watching the movie.

Color continued…

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

… continuing Color.

I will continue the analysis of very well developed Color Corrected Movies in the Asian market, concentrating in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and Korea.

Detective Dee as an example is a tough sell. The movie was visually developed by one of the strongest and most prolific and esthetically consistant directors in Asia (if not the World) and had the help of not one, but two, very experienced Directors of Photography working in Hong Kong/China and as such, it would be natural to see in the movie a homogeneous and strictly planned visual style, but this, as anything in the film-making universe, has more to it.

The chromatic reality of the film is largely dependent on diffracted and blended golds and oranges, making the image, more often than not, almost glimmer with shine and glitter. The earth tones are colder and blander than usual and the blues and black, almost simultaneously converge into each other. Whites and greys are clean and controlled influences in the picture and when existent, red takes over the screen with its ultra saturated presence.

Light seems to fade in the frame and it looks effortless and shadows are almost unapparent, this makes everything look and feel as though we were inside an impressionistic pastel painting (here an amazing mastery over the “digital” look captured by the RedOne but ultimately coded into what almost seems to have been shot in film) and detach ourselves from the time and place in which the movie is portrayed, giving total confidence in the creators of the film to take us through this crazy adventure film.

Under the Hawthorne Tree also beautifully masters the control over the color and the capture used to make the film, but it is radically different to Detective Dee in terms of chromatic frames.

Hawthorne Tree, even though color is beautifully captured during the film, is extremely toned down (comparing to other Zhang Yimou films), sometimes tonally almost resembling a 40’s/50’s documentary in terms of the momentary desaturation of some scenes (this helps in following the emotional pull created between the couple and hence elevate our connections to the two main characters), yellows have a golden quality to them and the browns, when apparent, flood the screen as though they weren’t such a commonly misperceived color. Green’s, greys and dark colors (especially dark blues, greens and blacks) blend each other, making it look like even thought the fields seem fertile, something is apparently wrong with the countryside. Even though its momentarily romantic, there’s a certain irreverence under the surface and this inconspicuous color manipulation, throughout the movie, clearly presents it visually in the screen (there are fertile and arid terrains, a beautiful dichotomy for the visually guided).

As a great example of a complete overhaul of the image in a chromatic sense in Asian movies of present day filmmaking is The Stool Pigeon a 2010 Hong Kong production that even though it roots itself in present day reality (the colors, although pulled to, at times, a controlled surreality, are clearly colors that everyone sees and commonly associates to our day to day lives), the image varies and mutates all throughout the movie.

There are scenes with a washed out look, almost at a pasteled kodachrome film stock quality, making it look like something is unsafe, unfamiliar, unreal. There are moments were the lights are bright and intense, bringing a strong color profile to the characters in the screen (fluorescent lighting bring out the whiteness of the faces and in locations, the saturated blues), others are unsaturated and almost chromatically nonexistent.

Depending on the moment of the film, the color seems to shift to capture the character’s voyage but, amazingly, it is done so consistently that, at a certain point of the movie (around the 20 minute mark) it becomes apparent that the filmmaker has created a stylized heterogeneous but extremely well formatted movie.

Monga and The Man from Nowhere, in terms of the construction of the frames in their movies is clearly at a different level from the previous examples, not as weaker movies but, as examples of what filmmakers strive to present as reliable and visually rooted in reality color corrected images. Both movies make the audience follow violence, friendship, betrayal and other hard to swallow themes, but instead of going to a artistic/differentiated poetic imagery composition, they both present what is happening as real, as we see it, as it is in our daily lives.

Punctually – lights, color, shadows, darks and lighter parts of the images seem too defined and sharp and these variations make the audience feel as though they are inside the images, inside what is happening, clearly being guided into adopting if not completely assimilating the story into their own existence. We are inside the world of the moving picture. The high definition, high quality, high detail picture, every one has gotten used too from capturing real moments with their phones, cameras, etc.

The Man from Nowhere makes a voyage from very dark lighting and hard shadows to a certain more relaxed, more human imagery towards the end, and Monga cleverly does the opposite in its balanced visual composition, becoming gradually more violent, more imbued with stronger, bolder visuals (in Man, although violence becomes all that we see in the screen, the character is portrayed as going to an extreme in his reality to save his friend, making us feel connected to him, in Monga, the opposite is what is true), controlling its colors and making us watch the decay of the images in front of us (the lighting doesn’t change but its warmer coloring when yellow and cooler tones when white are gradually more noticeable).

Color Continued…

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

… continuing Color.

Color, has always been associated to states of mind, or even emotional reactions purported through imagination and art.

Some blatant examples of color saturation in movies, create a certain emphatic response to those movies, and moreover make them temporal classics of world cinema history (movies like Wizard of Oz, The Godfather or even Farewell my Concubine).

Each color has its own value on the screen.

I will only use the 3 most prominent colors in film (Red, Green Blue), and further ad their influence and manipulation through the changing of opposite/contrast colors (different palette selection and adulteration or the Cyan/Teal, Magenta, Yellow evolution of the 3 color scheme).

To further understand the influence that color can have in film, and how its manipulation in American cinema has changed our perception of Movies (and further, wrongly adulterate and distort the films of the rest of the World), I will briefly exemplify how the 3 main colors influence us the audience when presented with extreme saturation of the selected visuals on the screen.

Red is a color that, when used correctly in a movie, can increase the dynamic response of the public to what they’re seeing, can encourage the emotional and physical side of the audience to accept what they see in the screen, and is a vastly and a almost instantaneously identified color. It is also the color of power and manipulation, and through its variations of orange tinges can be a more subdued and a innocent emotional triger, or with its stronger purple/pink addition become a fatal and sometimes extreme danger warning (in Run Lola Run its perfectly exemplified as a emotional trigger for the audience, and as a pattern of uncontrollable power and speed expressed “by” Franka Potente) .

Green is the color that our eyes are most in tune with. Millenia of evolution in the wilderness has made the human retina capable of identifying and subtle and extreme variations of this chromatic element and hence it is one that is very carefully structured and presented in movies.

As a color, vibrant, saturated green can motivate and increase the audiences sense of direction/attention in a movie. It can pop out extremely in the screen or if carefully manipulated, can blend into the background without us noticing it, but being intensely influenced by its presence. It can represent thoughtfulness, intelligence or disambiguation, or when small quantities of blue are added to the original color, can mean peace, and relaxation, and safety.

Shocking green can motivate envy, fear or the uncommon reactions to a poison that is seen but not felt (contortion of the muscles, skin irritations and increased palpitations).

It is a very diatomic color, symbolizing the ambiguity of trust and doubt, safety and danger, pain and relief.

Blue on the other hand, is one of the most abstract colors in film.

Depending on how the filmmaker develops his chromatic symbolic on the screen, blue can be used as an inhibitor or a restricting element of the frame. It means knowledge and can represent visual infinity. As a strong color, it is mainly used to declare itself as clean and pure, pushing contrast to every other color in the screen.

A lot more can be represented and studied over the influence of these 3 colors (and many books have been written on the subject), but it is with these main emotional triggers on us, that these 3 colors are mainly used and abused in films.

Furthermore, these 3 colors have in the visual spectrum, 3 other specific and direct contrasting colors, creating then, by groups of 2, very strong chromatic relationships that are, perfectly balanced in modern day cinema.

These 3 primary colors (RGB) combined with the secondary spectrum of color (CMY), give us a color palette and wheel of combinations that can transmit or detract from the image, emotions and reactions, all dependent on the knowledge or power of those who correct films during the post production work-flow (further enhancing the message of the story visualized during the film).

On of the most famous, recent, adulterations in American film that has transfused itself into mainstream international cinema is the dual correction of the Teal/Orange palette, homogenizing the American blockbuster to a visual style that satisfies a wide and carefully selected audience.

This color swatch (the Teal/Orange color combination) and image distortion principle it portrays is based on the peacefulness and infinitely possible distortion of the combination of these 2 secondary colors, that by being directly connected without (almost) no use of the Green visual section of the spectrum (but rather “connect themselves to our tuning of the color, and further create a more physical and hence innate affinity to the combination), augment the audience’s attention over what is presented on the screen ( increasingly being that since green is the most easily identifiable color on the screen, its two complimentary colors, will be “blessed” with an immense power over our perception of the chromatic reflections on screen).

This attention is then further enhanced with visually saturated elements (red and orange explosions and exuberant blues), that constantly attract the audience to the screen, without being able to avert their eyes to what is happening.

The problem with this is that the Teal/Orange combination that appears on our screens is an adulteration of our percepted reality. Its a fake, manipulated and abused distortion.

(didn’t know people were supposed to be orange…)

Color Continued…

Ho Chi Minh Series

Series of 4 Run and Gun Videos, shot in Ho Chi Minh and around the city.

Sweet & Salty


Clarity & Dust


Luxury & Survival


Warm & Soggy


Shot with the 60D on location, in HD with available light conditions.

Squattertown (1st Season)

This is a project spanning the period of a year in pre, prod and post production, created by the Hong Kong based director Marco Sparmberg @ http://www.m-sp.net/.
It’s a Dim Sum Western and the shooting was undertaken in the rooftops around the city of Hong Kong.

First Episode


Second Episode


Third Episode


Forth Episode


Roof  “short environment doc” #1


Roof  “short environment doc” #4


Premiere promo vid


Shot in HD with the Canon 60D and 7D.

Great Moments in Cinematography II

Hi guys,

for this week, I chose Conrad L. Hall and his last motion picture before he left us in 2003 – Road to Perdition.

This scene is the final confrontation between Michael Sullivan and John Rooney (an assassin and his boss).

The unseen figure firing (and his silhouette slowly being defined by the muzzle flashes) , the slow track with Rooney in the center (with the bullets catching everyone but him), the beautiful fall off of light on the shoulders and the face of Rooney and Michael and the amazing reflections and sparkle of the drops of rain, this scene is a perfect example of a cinematographer at the top of his game.

There’s a spoiler in the scene so for those who haven’t watched the film, be warned.

Squattertown (1st Teaser)

1st Teaser for the Hong Kong based web series.

http://vimeo.com/21298487

Shot on several Hong Kong Rooftops with the 60 and the 7D.
Project Site – http://www.m-sp.net/SQT/index.html