Light & Color

Recently BES Films has been hard at work on several promotional projects for different members of the artistic community here in Miami. As such we wanted to have a little fun to get our juices flowing and embarked on a bit of a creative exercise in order to showcase what we can do, specifically as it relates to color correction and grading. The exercise as outlined was to recreate a painting or illustration using camera, lighting, and available software’s for post processing. Within our team we had several submissions ranging from classic artwork, abstract art, and varying comic book submissions. After narrowing down our selections to the last few, we decided to take on the concept poster art from the video game L.A. Noire depicted below. We figured that this piece gave us the best chance to showcase not only our affinity for the gaming culture, but also our ability to work on a highly stylized image that would require heavy post color correction to execute.
 
L.A. Noire Concept art piece by Rockstar Games. Recreated by BES Films
 

Our Process:

 
Immediately we decided that we would approach this in a two step capture process. After assessing the image we realized that it would be too difficult work with an outdoor environment or location with a sunset background to match practically. Considering the restrictions of time associated with sunset shoots, the obvious conclusion was then that we would shoot the subjects on a green screen in an interior location and composite the background behind it using after effects. Furthermore, as this is a period piece, doing green screen allows us to get in touch with the wardrobe and props as accurately as possible in a controlled environment where weather will not be an issue. It also gives us the most control in all aspects of the image foreground, as well as background. As such we went in search of a suitable location. We were fortunate enough, on such a short notice, to be able to use the cultural embassy of the Miccosukee Tribe of Florida, located here in Miami.
 
Miccosukee Tribe of Florida cultural embassy in Miami.
 
This location was immensely beneficial as it allowed us adequate room to block our shot, light our subjects and do so on a surface that was similar to the stony/gravel like texture of the original concept art. As ideal as the location was spatially, it also provided some serious challenges. The main one being the highly reflective environment of the room. As you can see from the image above, the Cultural Embassy for the Miccosukee Tribe of Florida is a beautiful home with an impressive glass wall facing towards south Miami. As appealing aesthetically as that is, glass as a surface creates quite a lot of bounce and spill of light when shooting. When doing green screen work this becomes especially troublesome as fringing will occur as green light spills around your subjects profiles and lines. One of the overhead behind the scenes shots shows a green push of light fighting to make it’s way towards our subjects.
 
Doubling the reflective properties of the room were the white walls that we were surrounded by. Ideally a sound stage or studio that you’re doing green / blue screen work will have a matte finish which absorbs light and has little to no reflective properties. Spacing and adequate distance from the green screen and walls was a key component of dealing with the green spill. Having more flagging, and light cutting kits would have also helped immensely as far as time is concerned. However we were able to manage fine after keying and coloring in post.
 
The background image which you can see in the final segment of the video was taken here in Miami near Coral Gables the same night we edited the piece together.
 

LIGHTING:

 
Our lighting breakdown goes as follows. We shot this scene using two Arri light kits and an several Kino Flows provided by Miami Dade College School of Entertainment and Design Technology, and by Miccosukee Magazine TV. The green screen background was lit using two 650w Arri tungsten lights. There was a 1k Arri tungsten light shooting directly at our subject from behind which was his main key light. This light was flagged off to ensure that it didn’t spill to far past his face and provided enough brightness to sell the finished product which shows the fallen actor as being lit by the sun.
 
Left of camera, there was an Arri 350 which was diffused with parchment paper and flagged off to focus light directly on the subject’s torso. There was a counter light to right of camera with a Arri 150 and a party gel (red) used to accentuate and emphasize as much as possible an in camera red hue on the actor’s face so that coloring in post wouldn’t have to be so drastic.
 
Now as the lighting stood, we created a T shaped section of tungsten light which was specific to the main actor. Our background actors, the officer, and on scene photographer were lit using Kino Flows at daylight color temperatures in order to create a very blue in camera lighting for them. More on our camera settings later. These lights were placed left and right of camera respectively. The one placed right of camera acted as a key light for the officer, and fill for the photographer, and the kino bay placed left of camera to the rear was used as the key light for the photographer alone. There was one final kino flow used as a foreground fill for the actor to help create the blue fall off we see at the front of the concept art. Using this kind of stylized lighting in camera was essential to the coloring process later on.
 
Antanas Juksaits in character for the BES Films' recreation of L.A. Noire's concept art
 

CAMERA:

 
This exercise was shot using the Canon 5D mark ii using the L series 24-105 f4 lens. We shot using the following picture profile (Sharpness -1, Contrast 0, Saturation 0, Color Tone 0). We were exposing at f4.5 and had our kelvin temperature set to 2900 degrees. We wanted to keep a very contrasty, digital look to our image so keeping the profile at these settings lent itself nicely to the end product. Shooting at 2900 degrees Kelvin helped amplify the warmth of the tungsten light from the Arri kits and exaggerated the blue’s coming from the cooler kino flow lights.
 
Our choice of focal length was an aesthetic one. We shot closer to a telephoto lens, around 75mm in order to give a flatter more compressed look between foreground and background. Comparing this image to the original piece, we felt the longer lens would give  more flattering look to our actor as well as recreate the image more completely. Even though shooting at the telephoto lens created more difficult blocking spatially, it was the correct choice aesthetically. Specifically the proportions of the subjects in frame in relation to the main actor are not accurate to real life in the concept art. Not unless the subject were atop a hill and the two subjects in the background were walking up that steep incline to the main actor. In order to compensate the director of photography had the background actors kneel down in order to match the concept art and get everything that was necessary in frame. Shooting wider would have made life easier for our actors, but ultimately would’ve forced us to re-light and changed the aesthetics of the final image.
 
Monitor shot from the behind the scenes footage of BES FIlms' recreation of Rockstar Games' L.A. Noire
 

POST PRODUCTION / COLORING

 
Our footage was ingested into our Hackintosh machine and converted using MPEG Streamclip to ProRES 422. The ProRES Files were imported into Adobe After Effects where all of our initial assembly and coloring was performed. The color was added to the footage using Red Giant’s Magic Bullet looks. Magic Bullet is a plug in based coloring suite which is very flexible and robust. We’ve used this suite for all of our color correction work in the past including each of our films. Magic bullet is installable on any editing platform or as a standalone program. As you add plugins to Magic Bullet you get more and more creative flexibility and control over your image.
 
Once the green screen was keyed out, we went through the image and did an initial color pass with primary and secondary correction. Once we got the colors going in the direction we wanted, we began dialing in the contrast. This was when we started seeing the stylized piece taking life and looking as comic-book like as we’d envisioned. Once the contrast was suitable, the background image we captured earlier that day was dropped in to replace the key of the green screen. This image was manipulated by duplicating the image several times in a separate composition in order to get a desired background and then was imported into our main composition.
 
Background color was then applied, followed by our gradients and masks. The spot exposure tool in Magic bullet was then used to bring up the specific points on our actor in order to match the concept art. If you do a freeze frame from the original footage to the final color pass you’ll notice how certain areas of the subject are not as highly lit in capture. These areas, especially in the face, were brought up using the spot exposure mask in order to match the concept art more accurately. Paint strokes were then applied using several brushes and colors, before our vignettes and final color pass were added.
 
The video itself shows each layer of work and how it lead to the next stage of the grading process from raw capture to final product. One important note to take from this exercise is that the color grading process is a very multi-layered and gradual process. One mistake I see beginning colorists make is that they try and make all their adjustments in one plug in, filter or pass. Your initial, or primary pass, should be a ball park adjustment that gets you working in the direction you’d like your work to go in. From there, it’s best to think of each portion of the grade as a separate entity, i.e. your contrast, shadows, midtones, masks / power windows etc. Different programs call each stage different things, nodes, filters etc. This way you allow yourself the best opportunity to dial in your image as precisely as possible.
 
Color correction and grading is a very intensive process and can take many hours to complete. This project was done overnight and completed in about 9 hours. What do you think about the coloring process and the overall execution of the shot? Would you do anything different? Would you like to see other pieces recreated like this one?
 
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