Color Grading, Color Science -


Respect The Film Negatives

As a former analogue filmmaker, I learned to "appreciate the negative". I've always admired the evolution of analog stocks and I still do. It is remarkable what results can be achieved during development. There were often serious differences in the results of the same stocks when they were developed by different service providers. There are many reasons for this, often simply cutting back on chemistry resulted in "very thin" results. This is particularly reflected in the colors and the color step approach. Nevertheless, after a good scan and a proper grading, you could always achieve very good results and the colors "came back", depending on how much work you put in. But all the results had one thing in common: natural color gradations.

As a colorist, I'm noticing more and more these days that the actual analog look is getting "lost" or misunderstood. In my opinion, developing a digital film look is more about texture than artificial color film looks, which are primarily motivated by "distorting" colors. Why is that?

There is almost always a special beauty to be seen in images that have been enhanced by thoughtful and precise color correction. Colors or color gradations are rarely changed here in the way that numerous so-called "Print Film Emulation LUTs" do (PFE for short, also called FPE). Since I still take a lot of analog photos and also take pictures with original film stocks, I often compare the scans with such "artificial" digital film looks. There are often worlds between the results. Even experimenting with the development and scanning process of the stocks consistently delivers good to very good results.

Kodak Vision3 500T Scan

In my opinion, it is mainly the color correction and the contrast that bring the color of a digital image close to the result of an analog image, less the color changes. Of course, adjustments in the color gradations must also be made. However, there are by no means such serious changes necessary as is unfortunately often practiced and propagated, if so, then rather small, gentle and well thought-out changes. The colors in particular often appear "fake" or unnatural.

In my opinion, this is mainly due to the fact that the "negative" receives too little attention. I also keep reading and hearing sentences like "the negative emulation has little or no influence on a digital film look when reconstructing an analog look". From my perspective, this is simply not true. For many, especially younger colorists, this leads to the assumption that it just takes a Film Print Emulation LUT to achieve an "analog film look”. What is completely forgotten, however, is the negative. In the digital image, we colorists also talk about the negative, in this case the RAW image So it is that many people unconsciously (or consciously) work against the negative and "destroy" it.

Kodak Vision3 500T 35mm scan

In recent years, the "hunt for the analogue film look" has taken on extreme excesses, fueled by numerous tools and especially LUTs, which are often "hidden" in tools. Not infrequently, the negative is left almost unnoticed, even balanced color corrections are often neglected or simply ignored. PFE LUTs promise to achieve a certain artificial aesthetic very easily. This can be successful, but too many such poorly created LUTs unfortunately only deliver few useful results, at least from my point of view.

The up to now unbroken trend to imitate the special aesthetics of an analogue picture produced remarkable results, which led to these looks, which are still very popular at the moment, but which rarely have anything in common with an analogue picture. It is too often overlooked that an analogue image is primarily about textures and less about colors. Such looks often fall short of the beauty and nuance that can be achieved by grading with respect to the footage.

In my opinion, one should concentrate primarily on texture elements such as density, sharpness, grain etc., which also match the source material. Because only then can you create gradings that really improve the story that the director and cinematographer are telling. In the past, when you scanned and graded negatives, the main focus was on perfect skin tones. Everything else "then fell almost automatically where it belonged".

Kodak in particular invested a lot of effort and time in the further development of its stocks in order to constantly improve the alignment of the silver halide crystals and to achieve a harmonious effect in terms of size and grain distribution.

Today, however, I'm seeing more and more "new colorists" randomly mixing film LUTs, contrast, texture, and grain to achieve such an analogue-looking "film look". Maybe I'm being too conventional here, but I think one should respect the negative, especially in these processes, and not work against it, in the worst case even destroying it. Because what some new colorists often don't understand is the footage itself and the treatment it needs.

These modern "film looks" are unfortunately very far removed from the beauty of a film negative. Why don't we prefer to rely on camera manufacturers like Arri, who are known to have come from analogue film? And on Color Science? Arri, for example, is very concerned with the natural representation of colors and invests a lot of money and effort here. The natural color and skin tones achieved by Arri have been the gold standard for years, and rightly so.

The new Arri Super 35 has the most natural reproduction of color and skin tones I have seen. I hope and wish that such an image, provided that it was created well, will not be affected by restrictive LUTs again and, in the worst case, even destroyed. I wish that the digital negative would be given respect again. One should finally strive again for content and the support of this through good color grading, rather than the "wild creation" of film looks. The image quality that we can get from a RAW should not be carelessly disregarded. And if you want to use LUTs, then I think you should be more concerned with negative emulations, which fit the negative material and are intended for it.

Those who learn to "understand" the negative will inevitably achieve better results.

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