Since getting intimate with Photoshop, I’ve noticed how various digital effects affect imagery. I’ve especially started to become very aware of the digital grading that happens with nearly all video produced for television or the big screen.
Digital grading is a process through which celluloid film is transferred into a computer, manipulated by changing colors or smoothing effects shots, and transmitted back onto celluloid.
Remember Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers? I always remember that film as “blue”. A bit too graded for my taste. Remember CSI: Miami? With all the yellow and orange you’d think “wow it must be hot on Miami”. Having been tainted, I just think “damn, another orange layer set to hard-light @15% to hide that blown-out sky”.
Warning: If you love the show, you may not want to read on.
Well, the problem is understandable: your camera isn’t quite up to par with the human eye, and when filming a location with a lot of sky-light you’ll have to choose: a beatiful sky with a dark ground or a properly lighted ground with a blown-out sky. While not quite like Miami, here’s an example:
Which is better for television? Well, since actors can’t quite fly (yet) I suppose it would make sense to be able to see what’s happening on the ground. Ideally, the camera-team would come back earlier in the day to get a better shot, but they probably have a tight deadline and have to do with what they have. I imagine it goes like this:
Director: Damn, I wish we had some sky in there. There’s just too much whitespace now. What can you do?
Digital grader: Well, we could kinda even out the sky and make it look like it’s just really hot right now… that way the whitespace wouldn’t be white… rather.. uh, yellowspace.
Director: Wow, yeah, much better! It looks kinda creative too… man… this is great! Hey, could you go even further? Like, could you create a digital sky or something?
Digital grader: Digital sky huh? Well… I might have a trick up my sleeve. Ever heard of gradients?
Director: There, that’s it, right there, don’t touch it! Perfect! Wow, if we add some icelandic music to this shot I might even win an emmy this time!
Digital grader: Yeah, gradients are pretty great.
While I’m not going to declare a “war on digital grading”, grading doesn’t always help out television. I would personally just want some moderation at times.
Did you ever notice the TV sky didn’t quite look… real?