How to color correct a horror film (using DaVinci Resolve 9)

Learn to color correct a Horror Film using Davinci Resolve 9

Update: This training is now available for sale! Check it out here

Announcing: Tao of Color’s Grade–Along Series

When I started this website in 2010 there were three things I wanted to do with my membership-based training:

  • Build my training around meaty short films that allow colorists to practice their craft in a meaningful way. Training that has real challenges to overcome. Training that prepares you for working with real clients on real jobs. As one member told me with my first Masterclass training (paraphrasing), “Patrick, I love your training but that short film feels like a job.” EXACTLY.
  • Have a rotating stable of short films that can continually challenge even experienced colorists—while giving (aspiring) colorists the opportunity to work with different cameras, different codecs, different techniques.
  • Short films where the copyright owner is willing to let others download the camera originals and use their grades in their demo reels and for client private demos.

Finding this combination of elements is… difficult.

There are plenty of artists willing to share their work—but the projects often are not challenging enough, or not interesting (from a color grading perspective), or they’re shot on low-quality codecs (I don’t want offer one h.264 DSLR-originated film after another).

BloodyCuts Homepage

The BloodyCuts homepage

Then I met the filmmakers at
Or more precisely, I exchanged emails with Ben Franklin, one the filmmakers behind a terrific horror film anthology site: Ben calls himself the Show Runner for this website anthology, which has a goal of showcasing 13 horror short films. They were about to shoot horror film #6, Dead Man’s Lake. After hearing the details of the upcoming shoot I knew this project could be perfect for the Tao. Their short films have extremely high production values. They’ve teamed up with top London creature house, MilleniumFX. And they were planning on shooting using an Arri Alexa at 4:4:4 using the LogC profile.

From my perspective this film had all the earmarks of a great training title.

Even more important—Ben and his colleagues  are pursing this anthology as an excuse to be continually making movies to help them develop, refine and challenge their filmmaking abilities. This project isn’t about making it big on the film festival circuit. Or developing the next Tales from the Crypt (though they could certainly pursue those options). Nope, it’s about developing their craft. And in our emails it became clear that in developing their craft they were open to the idea of bringing other filmmakers along. Filmmakers just like you, reading this blog. With Ben and his team’s openness, Dead Man’s Lake: The Grade-Along was born.

Not just a training title, but a Series is born
The concept behind Tao of Color’s Grade-Along isn’t that it’s a one-shot deal. Dead Man’s Lake is the first of this series, and the first in the horror genre of this series. Over time we’ll be rolling out other genres, other challenges–as we meet filmmakers with meaty short film projects that seem appealing from a training perspective.

But these films won’t be available for purchase indefinitely. They’ll be here for a month or two… and disappear. Eventually to be replaced by other projects, new challenges, up-to-date software. That’s the goal.

And the projects in this series will always be recorded in a specific way… as a Grade-Along

A Grade-Along is like riding shotgun with me as I work
Viewers will be watching me work as I touch the footage for the first time. This means you’ll see my mistakes–not just successes–as well as how I get out of my predicaments. I talk out loud, imagining we’ve got you sitting right next to me and we need to get you trained up to take over for me on the night shift. And I’m never just training you only on software. Workflow, technique, client interaction–if you’re going to take over this chair we need to make sure you’re prepared.

Besides recording the screen, you’ll usually (since sometimes a camera doesn’t roll or a file gets corrupted) have a camera recording me plus a birds-eye view recording my actions on the colorist control surface (you can do these techniques perfectly well using a mouse–but it’s important you see me working at (mostly) full speed).

Track 1 is camera original footage. Track 2 is footage from VFX.
Track 3 is graphics. Track 4 is CineGrain film grain.

Dead Man's Lake has over 125 shots to color grade...
Resolve's new Lightbox mode comes in real handy.

The Gallery is used to save stills for easy reference while matching shots.
A typical node tree. Our custom LUT for normalizing the LogC 'flat' footage is in Node 2.

The goal is to get beyond software and into the craft
Most training titles are geared toward learning software. Here at the Tao, our perspective is that the software is merely a means to an end. There’s no point in learning the software if you don’t have a cohesive project to craft and hone your skills. Repetition is the key to learning a new skill or mastering an existing skill. Color grading someone else’s footage to someone else’s vision is almost always far more challenging than grading your own stuff to your own vision.

Teaching software + technique + client interaction + camera original footage from short films is the hallmark of not only of the Grade-Along but Tao of Color’s Masterclasses as well.

Dead Man's Lake Post Snippet

Click through to see a preview of Dead Man’s Lake: The Grade-Along

Introducing Dead Man’s Lake: The Grade-Along
We can’t thank Ben Franklin and his team enough for this opportunity to get the Grade-Along Series off the ground and into the hands of colorists (professional and aspiring) everywhere.

And I’m thrilled to present to you Dead Man’s Lake: The Grade Along. Click through to see a preview to the first title in this series (shipping in October). You’ll also get a Behind-the-Scenes look at the DaVinci Resolve project we’ll be color grading, as well as the final release of Dead Man’s Lake. And if you sign up for our special Dead Man’s Lake Announce list, when the training is released you’ll get a discount coupon to save you some real cash.

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