• Tom tom@tracksandlayers.com

MAKING THE GRADE: 8 Common mistakes which may harm your grade

Updated: Jun 20

Introduction

Tracks and Layers offer an expert colour grading service right here in Manchester / MediaCity UK, but whether you decide to engage with us for your next project or someone else, it’s always helpful to get a better understanding of how to get the most out of a colour grade and it’s especially important to know how to prepare both your project and yourself for the process.



filmmaking in a desert


Getting the best possible colour grade requires more than just a skilled colourist, it also requires a good foundation of work from the client. Here we highlight 8 common mistakes which may be impacting your grade.

 

1 - Using action cameras or drones without using a log image format.


A filming camera drone hovering high above mountains

You really need to get as much wiggle room as possible from these smaller, lightweight cameras or else they will end up dictating the look of your film since they won’t be as easy to manipulate as your main camera footage. Most professional drones will have an option to film in a log or raw format. If you film using a baked in look such as a 709 profile or similar, you risk drastically reducing what is possible and may cause problems when your colourist has to match the footage to your main camera footage.


2 - Forgetting to make a note of camera settings

Some cameras have just 1 professional image profile, others have several or combinations of settings. Making a note of what settings have been used which affect the gamma and gamut will help to ensure no mistakes are made in the grade. Professional colour grading software such as Davinci Resolve will allow you to input these settings so that mixed camera sources can have a similar starting point before they are worked on. This really helps with consistency.


3 - Poor quality stock footage

When scrolling through a stock video website, its very important to keep in mind what formats the video is available in. If you set your heart on a clip which doesn’t intercut with your other footage, usually due to the lower quality file format or lack of a log image - then you can bet the end result will be jarring. If in doubt, check with your colourist before purchasing.


4 - Reviewing and evaluating the grade on an unsuitable display or viewing environment.


Tom Majerski colour grading a short film at tracks and layers
The Tracks and Layers MediaCity / Manchester based colour suite

Colour suites are designed to be as neutral as possible for correctly and accurately viewing the image. If you’re unable to physically attend the session, we recommend deciding on 1 monitor on which to make all your assessments, and avoid reviewing across multiple screens. Make sure that this nominated screen is of a good enough quality and that the room you’re viewing in doesn’t create too much glare or have strong colours or tones present. So much time can be wasted by chasing variations which exist between uncalibrated monitors. We will cover why this approach matters in a future blog post, and why the logic of trying to broaden how people are likely to experience the image is actually a bad idea.


5 - Not planning for the best post production workflow

If your project is going to have VFX or clean-up work, you should always have a conversation with the colourist so that they can advise as to what part of the process the grade should sit in. Having to have shots go back through the grade after the session has ended is bound to incur unexpected and unnecessary extra costs.


6 - Delivering a messy edit.

A messy edit timelnie
Always try to collapse your timeline down to as few layers as possible and remember to remove unnecessary items such as adjustment layers or overlays

Ok so perhaps this is something in the hands of your editor rather than yourself (unless you are the editor), but it's a fact of life that as an edit gets closer to lock - sometimes things can get a bit messy on the timeline. The first part of every grade involves getting your edit into the colour grading software, and if the edit is messy, spans many tracks, contains unused footage or footage which isn’t even visible - this is going to slow this process down and substantially eat into your session time.


Instruct your editor to deliver a flattened edit without any unnecessary layers such as graphics, text, overlays, grade based effects (such as Adobe Lumetri) and perhaps even consider removing the audio tracks too. Everything has to be re-linked in the colour software so any unnecessary bit of media is a waste of time and money.


7 - Delivering the entire sum of your project media.

Always try to project manage the edit so that only the used clips are provided to the colourist. It will fit on a smaller hard drive for transport, transfer over faster, speed up relinking and generally make your colourist like you more. If you're unsure about this process, why not get in touch and we can talk you through it.


8 - Stress and worry about the process

A good grade session should be seen as adding that last bit of polish to your project, when the visuals all come together; adding the cherry on top. A good colourist or colour service provider should help to ease things from a technical side and be flexible enough to fit into your team or production as smoothly as possible. In an ideal world you will see your images come to life and all the groundwork you’ve invested in so far will pay off. If you're usual experience is friction and difficulty, perhaps it's time to try somewhere else. It's a common complaint we hear from clients that the larger more general post production facilities operate a bit more like a factory production line, rather than a chance to give your project the proper focus and attention it deserves. Specialist boutique facilities such as Tracks and Layers are able to give you and your project its full attention. We try to be selective about the projects we work on so that we can really fully committed to everything we do and we care as much as you do at making sure the end result is the best it can possibly be.






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