Part I: Project settings
Part II: Color correction
Part III: HDR Palette, project render settings
Part IV: RAW
Part V: The Grade
Part VI: Addendum
Stuff we’re doing differently now from the past: during shooting, avoiding yellow in false color entirely except for specular highlights (aside from the infrequent occasions when we want to purposely blow out highlights); in post, being meticulous about adjusting white balance prior to color correction, even if it’s just a few degrees; adjusting yellow, blue, cyan and green but leaving red & magenta alone when using the X-Rite Colorchecker and vectorscope to correct primaries and secondaries to avoid making skin tones beet red; religiously applying a curve to each and every project and lifting the shadow end to avoid crushing the blacks; focusing more on adding color contrast and reducing picture contrast; labeling all the nodes; split-toning by un-ganging the custom curve and pushing cyan in the shadows, reds into the highlights; using color temperature creatively to enhance the look; using masking tools photographically rather than technically (for example, rather than stupidly slapping on a vignette or power window to focus attention on the subject or their face, using the tools in Resolve to augment the lighting that’s already there); moving yellows and reds toward orange in Hue vs. Hue; applying grain and not being afraid to add blur to the image; avoiding masks altogether and adjusting skin tones using Hue vs. Hue rather than using a qualifier in HSL.
Following these precepts, the number and extent of our adjustments has actually decreased, with the result that we’re less likely to push the image to the breaking point; lower contrast means not having to rely so much on power windows all over the place; split-toning and nudging yellows and reds toward orange and green toward teal adds color contrast and applying grain and blur minimizes the objectionable video look. Split toning is a characteristic of traditional photochemical print stock responsible for much of its charm and one of the traits that makes celluloid so attractive to filmmakers. We’d also like to dispense once and for all with the horror associated with the word clipping among authorities: when motivated, i.e. justified, and it’s a conscious, creative decision, clipping of highlights can be exceedingly powerful.
As a rule of thumb, the more contrasty the image, the less saturation you’ll need in the image overall. Another general principal is that highly saturated colors should not be too bright.
It may seem trivial, but split toning is the single most important ingredient toward creating a look; and the image will be perceived as more colorful and less videoish than just dialing in saturation. The look can be further refined by nudging yellow a bit toward orange, green toward teal-green and red toward orange in Hue vs. Hue; adjusting the saturation of each color in the Hue vs. Sat curves; and reducing saturation in the upper midtones and highlights in the Sat vs. Sat curves.
Readers might also be interested in investigating some of the film print emulation plugins that are becoming more widely available.