Colour Correction

When I started compositing, colour correction seemed like a black art.  I would push and pull different controls until I would eventually get something that looked somewhat like what I wanted.  When I had spare time, I would open other artists’ scripts and I’d marvel at how they would colour correct a shot.  Every artists' technique was different - some would exclusively use curves.  Others would use levels/histograms, while others would use numeric inputs.  Looking at other artists' scripts would allow me to undertand their technique, but I was still clueless about their thought process - about why they did what they did. 

I fumbled around with colour correction over my first few years of compositing.  The first step towards understanding was reading Steve Wright and later, Ron Brinkmann’s compositing books.  They explained basic things like matching black and white levels and checking different colour channels. These details now seem obvious. However, at the time, gaining this understanding was like lifting a heavy vale from my eyes.

Understanding the different tools took time.  I had to learn that ‘gain’ really meant ‘multiply’, and ‘offset’ meant ‘add‘. I had to learn that there was a difference between these controls and between their impact on images. It took me some time to grasp that when you multiply images highlights are affected more than shadows.  Colour correction was one of those things that just took practice.  It was here that the ‘compositing is really visual math’ really started to click for me. 

Even now, whenever I submit a shot for review, I receive feedback about a necessary colour correction. There is definitely a certain level of subjectivity to colour correction: supervisors often have a different idea than I on how a shot should look.  However, I’m now usually much closer to the target than I used to be, and it only takes one or two iterations before everyone is satisfied.

These books contain great advice about how to approach colour correction.  Wright and Brinkmanns’ books are software independent, while Christiansen’s book is specific to After Effects.

Colour correction resources:

Steve Wright

After Effects Studio Techniques