In simple terms, colour grading is the process of adjusting, correcting or enhancing the colours used in a film or video.
The colour grading and colour correction process is important because it can be used to enhance or change the mood of what audiences experience on their screen, and it can help to create a specific visual style for the project to make it be more memorable.
When was the First Colour Film Released?
It’s widely believed, incorrectly, that colour filmmaking was first introduced by Hollywood in 1939 with the iconic film The Wizard of Oz, however this couldn’t be further from the truth.
In 1912 the British Natural Color Kinematograph Company released Our King and Queen Through India, the first ever feature-length documentary capturing natural colour rather than hand painted colourisation techniques.
The film showcased the use of Kinemacolor, which had been launched by Charles Urban four years before as the first successful natural colour motion picture process. The Anglo-American film producer and distributor was one of the most significant figures in British cinema before the First World War.
What soon followed was a rapid evolution of colour technologies throughout the years that pushed past the technical limitations of the early Kinemacolor process. Pathéchrome (1912), Handschiegl Color Process (1916), with the most popular being Technicolor – first used in 1922, and later used for The Wizard of Oz in 1939.
Colour Grading in Hollywood Cinema
Since then Hollywood has extensively used colour correction and colour grading as a powerful tool to evoke different emotions within the hearts and minds of their audiences. It has helped the film studios tell stories in new and innovative ways.
From the deep dark greens and blacks in The Matrix, to the deep, dark orange and teal used in Mad Max: Fury Road.
Colour grading isn’t just limited to ‘colour’ – black and white is also a powerful tool used in modern day cinema. Such as the unforgettable, haunting use of black and white in Schindler’s List, with the very occasional introduction of a single detail of red on a young girl’s coat.
How has Hollywood’s Use of Colour Evolved Over the Years?
The technology used in big budget studio filmmaking continued to evolve, with huge amounts of experimentation being done to better understand the effects of colour and how different colours could be used to influence the perception, and the audience’s reaction to the story and events in the film.
Naturally, the role of a Film Colourist became increasingly important over the years as colour grading and colour correction became an essential part of the cinematic filmmaking post production process.
What are the Popular Colour Grading Techniques used in Hollywood Films?
Many different techniques have evolved over the years to adjust, manipulate or take advantage of colour to create something that wasn’t there before. Some of the more popular colour techniques include colour timing, chroma key, and bleach bypass.
Color timing is an analogue (non-digital) laboratory technique for adjusting colour in the photochemical film process. The amounts of red, green, and blue light used to make a film positive (the film print) are carefully adjusted from those used to make a film negative.
Chroma key is the process of removing certain colours or tones of colour from an image – such as a green or blue screen – and replacing them with something that wasn’t there when the shot was filmed. Chroma keying enables performers, or special effects, to appear in a location, shot or scene that may otherwise have been impossible to film in real life.
Bleach bypass, also known as silver retention or skip bleach, is a chemical effect that causes either the partial or total skipping of the bleaching process during the processing of a colour film. As a result, the silver is preserved in the emulsion, as well as the color dyes.
Film that has been bleach bypassed will have increased contrast, lower saturation and graininess. The technique has been popularised in films such as Saving Private Ryan and Fight Club.
Digital Color Grading
More recent advances in colour software technology with tools such as Baselight and DaVinci Resolve, have elevated and democratised what is possible for independent filmmakers and videographers to achieve in small budgets.
Colour grading can be used as a powerful tool to evoke emotion within the hearts and minds of your audience. Strategic use of colour can control the tone of your film, set the mood of each scene and help you tell your story more effectively. Colour is an essential part of the filmmaking process that should never be overlooked.
If you’d like to learn more about how colour can enhance your own storytelling, or if need help with your next film or video project, get in touch for a free colour grading quote or consultation.
I would love to chat with you about your vision, and help you bring it to life in the fullest, richest way possible.