Color grading is the process of altering and enhancing the color of a motion picture, video image or stil-image either electronically, photo-chemically or digitally. It was originally done by photo-chemical processes. Now, it’s done digitally with software suites.
Color grading is broken down into two categories. Primary color correction and secondary color correction. Primary color corrections effect the entire image and changes the RGB channels as well as the values of the image. Secondary color correction alters a particular range of colors. These colors can be selected through chroma keying or masking to selectively edit particular colors.
“O Brother, Where Art Thou?” was the first film to be completely color graded. Other recent notable films that have had significant color grading include “The Matrix,” with its distinctly green tint; “300” with its highly stylized golds and high contrast; “Saving Private Ryan” for its bleach bypass color grading.
Some of the software suites used to color grade today include DaVinci Resolve, Magic Bullet Colorista II, Sony Vegas, Apple Color, Autodesk Lustre and Mistika. Editors may use Magic Bullet as plugins to existing applications, while others are completely stand alone software and hardware components. DaVinci Resolve is one of the most powerful tools for color grading. It has a standalone software or you can get the specially designed hardware to go with it. The added hardware controls make it faster and easier to adjust the color.
So, as you can see, color grading is an art-form within itself. It is difficult to master and takes a special eye to discern and match up shots together to make the movie feel seamless. Like most motion graphics, the best treatments are the ones your audience will never notice.
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