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What Will Colour Grading Look Like in 2023?


Colourists from Time Based Arts, Cheat, Company 3 LA, Windmill Lane and Forager tell LBB’s Nisna Mahtani about their inspirations and the trends they expect to see this year

What Will Colour Grading Look Like in 2023?

[Thumbnail photo by Nejc Soklič on Unsplash]

Of late, there has been an increased appreciation and recognition for an aspect of the filmmaking process which has previously been looked over – colour grading. This aspect of the post production process refers to the way in which the colours in images and videos are edited to achieve a certain mood. Whether you’re looking at bright, colourful visuals which jump off the screen or more subtle tones which blend in, a colourist spends time editing a piece to make sure it sings for an audience. 

For those of us who aren’t experts in the field, there are a few examples of particular colour enhancement which come to mind, namely the very first ‘Twilight’ movie from 2008. Nodding to the rainy American, Forks town setting, the dreary weather and the general uncertain nature of the character’s plotlines are characterised in ‘blue’, a feeling which is synonymous with these feelings. Other examples include Netflix’s ‘Extraction’, set in Bangladesh and featuring yellow filter shots which are generally used to portray dry, warmer climates. 

With cameras readily available on phones and social media apps such as Instagram and TikTok creating tools for everyone to try their hand at editing content, people have gained a wider appreciation for the skill – and an ability to see when grading is used to enhance a piece in the right way. As such, there has been more of a focus on the trends which are seen, how this influences the people editing work and questions about where colour graders gain their inspiration from. 

To answer these questions, LBB’s Nisna Mahtani spoke to colourist Myles Bevan at Time Based Arts, founder and senior colourist Toby Tomkins at Cheat, colourist Parker Jarvie at Company 3 LA and senior colourist Matt Branton at Windmill Lane. 

Myles Bevan

Colourist at Time Based Arts

I’ve always found cinema to be my main source of inspiration and there are many great platforms to reference film stills such as Shotdeck and Film Brab. I’ll always make a note of films with eye-catching grades and lighting setups and refer back to them. It’s important to maintain a reference point outside of Instagram, which can become somewhat of an echo chamber of looks! Similarly, I find the art world is a great place to look when considering lighting and texture - and creating a painterly colour grade is something I always strive for as it can create a feeling of perpetuity in a time where there’s so much content around. I try to remain flexible and adaptable as each job requires a different strategy but I’m at my happiest when creating a moody cinematic look!

I have a love/hate relationship with social media but it has become an integral component of my work and has introduced me to many of my regular clients. Stills are a great way to showcase your work concisely, but they don't necessarily represent how the grade flows from shot to shot. I also feel that the abundance of stills on Instagram makes us less inclined to watch a project in full because we’ve seen it summarised already. They can leave less to be discovered in that sense. Many of us opt to use Instagram as an alternative to showreels and websites as there’s already so much engagement with the app so your work can be seen by others really easily. There’s also something nice about having a portfolio to refer back to.

Clearview has opened up a lot of opportunities for remote grading and it’s allowed me to form relationships with international clients that otherwise might not have been possible. Colour grading is so much about communication and troubleshooting and I find this comes more naturally when clients are in the suite, and we’re all looking at the same monitor! I also find that sign-off on grade generally happens more quickly than it does in a remote session.

I love sharing ideas and references with DOPs and it’s so important to be sensitive and respectful of the work that they’ve created. Our job as a colourist is as much about helping to create a mood and atmosphere as it is about correcting any issues that arise on set and it’s vital to have a strong line of communication with your DOP to help fulfil their goals. Recently, I had the pleasure of grading a beautifully shot music video for Rina Sawayama’s track ‘Hold The Girl.’ Directed by Ali Kurr and shot by Diego Rosenblatt, we referenced work such as 'Power Of The Dog' and 'Westworld', to help create a wonderfully cinematic and otherworldly look that weaves the aesthetics of western films with a modern twist.

Toby Tomkins

Founder and senior colourist at Cheat

Trend prediction will always be an exercise in glass ball gazing but there are a lot of interesting observations on grading trends to take into 2023. I'll start with a caveat on trends in colour grading; I can say with confidence that it’s hard to identify overarching trends across the whole gamut of the work that we do as colourists as our work is as varied as the photography and subject matter we work with.

Trends are speeding up and also diversifying into subsets, perhaps reflective of culture and the polarisation we’ve seen in recent years, but also due to the increase in speed and dissemination through the proliferation of social media and user generated content. The democratisation of ‘grading’ the look and editing of video has given access to millions of users worldwide to alter their video content to enhance the feeling and mood of their moving images (or leave it completely ‘bare’), with billions of eyes paying attention. Brands and agencies are hurriedly trying to compete with a new form of content that strives to achieve authenticity and realism or has a low-fi feel.

For those brands and creatives going against the grain of mass consumer media, some trends are continuing from the 2000s/2010s. Highly polished commercial work, where the high-end camera formats continue to excel in image quality and fidelity, are being combined with new approaches in look development. Advancements in grading and the tools we have available means we can now refine much smaller ranges of the images we work with and find a level of perfectionism through grading alone that was once a pipe dream.

Adding HDR (high dynamic range) presentation to the mix this year thanks to broad support on Instagram, YouTube, websites and mobile devices will push this forward with a bigger canvas (more tonality and more colours available) to better showcase this extended detail and information as we see fit. I can’t wait to grade more commercials in HDR and think it’s a great way forward to keep developing our craft. This might just be the biggest trend of 2023.

On the other side of the spectrum, there is beauty in the mundane with a demand for more authentic imagery. For me, it’s about keeping a level of ‘honesty’ to the imagery as if the light and subject were captured perfectly and 'displayed' in a way that feels natural. Achieving this beautiful naturalism is extremely hard, it’s something we see AI struggle with. Faking it is hard. For me, it’s about authenticity, not realism.

One evergreen trend in the era of digital video that I’ve always been fascinated about is film emulation. The past century of images acquired on film has left us with a subconscious relationship between the look of a film and the stories being told on screen. As digitally acquired images became the norm there was a split between filmmakers embracing the new digital realism (think Danny Boyle, Matt Reeves, Robert Rodriguez, Steven Soderberg), filmmakers sticking with film (think Paul Thomas Anderson, Chris Nolan, Quentin Tarantino) and everyone in between that either wanted to emulate film or borrow elements of the film aesthetic and transplant that onto their digital imagery. Looping back to the mainstream and user-generated content, it has been fascinating to see this approach become populated through filters and plugins for social media content and end users.

For me, there are a lot of parallels between a chef and a colourist and with all the trends around us, it’s important to make our mark with the ingredients we are given to stand out from the crowd. Everyone can cook, some are chefs and some of those chefs set trends. With the support of the Harbor colour science team, Cheat will be at the end of that spectrum in 2023, whatever the ingredients.

Parker Jarvie

Colourist at Company 3 LA

In terms of culture, we've seen massive investments from tech companies into VR. We'll start seeing more virtual reality-driven content with Meta's investment in VR and the metaverse. We'll see how the technology progresses over the next few years, but it's exciting to think that there's an entirely new way to engage with content and advertising starting to form.

I’ve also seen so many talented colourists delving into social media, each with a different eye for colour and their take on some of those looks that may have felt overused in the past. I don't see any looks that feel overused right now. I think the growth we've had in the industry over the last few years has allowed more colourists to get their ‘look’ seen by more people. This has allowed everyone to get more creative, step out of their comfort zone, and try something new and fresh.

From the new generation of colourists and platforms to showcase work, the biggest thing we’ve gained in the industry is exposure. More of the general public is becoming aware of colour grading and how it can help shape the look and feel of a film or show you're watching. And when it comes to the platforms we use daily, they are constantly improving toolsets to help us achieve the looks we want faster and help spark new ideas for looks. Some tools can create surprisingly good mattes with the swipe of the mouse and a click of a button. It's a fascinating time as we'll begin to see massive improvements in efficiency for some of the tedious, less creative tasks we have to ask colourists to do, allowing us to create looks that wouldn't have been possible before.

Matt Branton

Senior colourist at Windmill Lane

I'm not really finding any particular trends in any jobs I've been working on recently. If anything, I have noticed more variety in looks, and more confidence from clients to achieve something that is unique to their content. As an operator, this is great. It means I get to stretch my creative muscles and keep things from getting stale. I would always encourage people to have their work stand on its own two feet anyway.

Carlos Flores 

Colourist at Forager

I believe we're entering a new era in digital colour grading, where having a unique personal style is more important than just following trends. When I started as a freelance colourist in 2013, DaVinci Resolve was just starting to become popular among independent colourists and we were all experimenting with the software to emulate the signature looks from big colour houses like Company 3 and The Mill. You could easily tell when a piece had been coloured at one of the big colour houses.

In the following years, many colour grading trends emerged, such as the low contrast look with lifted blacks and minimal saturation, the teal and orange look that simulated a Hollywood film when paired with anamorphic lens flares, the 16mm craze where we either graded 16mm film scans or made digital footage look like 16mm, and more recently the minimal phase where it's better to let the image breathe and not add too much of anything.

However, many young colourists have now learned Resolve inside and out, and colour grading is a well-understood craft even by clients and professionals outside of film. Following trends as a colourist is no longer enough to become relevant. In a very saturated market where independent colourists are not just emulating the big colour houses but also other freelance colourists they see on social media, it's important to find your own unique voice that sets you apart.

The trend towards minimalism in colour grading is likely to continue as influencer culture continues to expand and simple, mobile-generated videos remain popular. At the same time, we are also witnessing a surge of creativity thanks to AI platforms such as Midjourney and DALL-E, which can produce stunning images with just a text prompt. This revolution has the potential to inspire a move towards more vibrant and ultra-stylised content and could even change the way we work with colour. It's very possible that in the future, we may be relying on these AI systems to handle some or most of the colour grading process rather than moving all the pieces ourselves.

view more - Trends and Insight
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LBB Editorial, Wed, 01 Mar 2023 17:00:00 GMT