Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Senses: The New Colours of Summer?

Something is wrong with the look of new Hollywood movies. I don't think I can blame my eyes. I may need stronger glasses but I can still see pretty clearly. Action films started to look different. Now it seems the problem is spreading.

Do you have a collection of older movies on VHS? Maybe some old DVDs of movies before they were re-mastered and re-released? If you get the chance go and watch some of them. From blockbuster action movies through to romantic comedies have a blast watching some old movies. In particular look at the colours. At the skin tones and the differences between indoor and outdoor scenes.

Notice that skin can look greyish indoors and pale in the light? How the wash of colour from the sky reflects on to all the objects in a scene? There were methods to change the look of a film after it was shot but much of the work was done in situ. Film faithfully captured the light.

The year 2000 was the beginning of a revolution in film making. The Coen Brothers were the the first with O Brother, Where Art Thou?. It was filmed in Mississippi at a time of year when the leaves and grass were green. Which was a problem. In certain parts of the movie The Coen Brothers wanted to give the film a dusty sepia-tinted feel. Instead of waiting for a drought or another season they turned instead to the power of computers.

The entire movie was scanned into a computer and digitally colour corrected. Green grass was made to look like it had suffered a prolonged dry spell. Whole scenes weren't just tinted but adjusted. Instead the colour of the movie was tweaked. The look of the entire film was altered and changed to fit the Coen Brothers' vision.

Digital colour correction had been done in Hollywood before but never to an entire film. Computer hardware and software had reached a point where it was practical to change the look of a complete movie. Since then the technology has become less expensive and the tools more pervasive.

The result? The modern blockbuster movie's distinct look. The problem? Well let me turn you over to Todd Miro's rant Teal and Orange - Hollywood, Please Stop the Madness.

Now don't get distracted by the fact that Hollywood made a movie called Hot Tub Time Machine. I'm sure it's bound to be a classic along the lines of Back to the Future or Peggy Sue Got Married.

The issue isn't so much that colours can be changed. It's that the tool isn't being used to add artistic value but to push the pallet in one direction all the time. As soon as you see the new colour problem in film you'll end up seeing it everywhere. It's not a problem only on Michael Bay's blockbusters.

Todd points to filmmaker Stu Maschwitz to see how this is done. Stu has a wonderful post about Memory Colors that shows how colour correcting can enhance a shot and points out the power of certain colours in certain situations. These memory colours help the audience establish a sense of place. The example still taken of a scene set in New York shows how this can work effectively. He's collected a few examples of colour correction where you can compare before and after.

The real fun happens when Stu demonstrates the techniques involved in colour correcting. The video at the top of Got Me a Side Job is a product demo Stu created as a new Creative Director for Red Giant Software's Magic Bullet line.

Yes... I'm pointing you towards an extended product demo. No... I don't want you to go out and by software to alter your videos. No... I'm not affiliated with Red Giant or anyone else in this post.

Look, the long web isn't just essays and fiction. It's writing and video and presentations and brochures and demos and much more. The long web isn't just what amateurs create on their own time even if that's a big part of it. It can be corporate, governmental, or homegrown. It can be created for love and it can be created for money. The Longer Web is about exploring larger pieces of the web regardless of origin.

As product demos go this one has the advantage of being pointed, funny, and over the top. This isn't about how to subtly change a video. This is about how you can recreate the look of blockbusters. Get past the intro and in no time you'll see what's happening on the desks of movie colourists as we speak. Even if you don't watch the whole thing you'll quickly get a flavour of what's possible.

Brace yourselves. Movie screens will only become more orange and teal. If something is good enough for the blockbusters and easy to do as well... then... orange and teal may be around for a while. The two programs used in the demo cost $600 and other similar products are in the same price range. It won't just be Hollywood. Now everyone is able to make any video clip's colours look like a moving commercial for Florida Oranges or a sports franchise.


Lene Andersen said...

Your blog is going to be the death of my workaholic tendencies...

Unknown said...

I have not felt this betrayed since I found out Santa was a shame. I'll never look at movies the same again. Fascinating.