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How to Tell a Story in Film and Video With Colour Grading in DaVinci Resolve

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If you're a filmmaker and you’d like to know more about editing, particularly colour, then you’ll love our free course, How to Colour Grade Video. In this DaVinci Resolve tutorial, you’ll see examples of how to use colour grading to create a continuity of feeling.

Storytelling With Colour Grading in DaVinci Resolve

Natural colour reinforces story, but sometimes you need a stronger touch. Stylised colour is a strong cue for your audience about the kind of story they're watching. Strong colour grading can do a lot to create the tone of a story and to help the viewer suspend disbelief, but it's very easy to go too far. In this lesson, you'll see some examples of stylised colour grading plus a breakdown of exactly what goes into creating these.

The Steps to Stylised Colour Grading

Different colour correction software will mean a different approach and process, but the concepts are pretty much the same. This tutorial follows David Bode's video lesson, with DaVinci Resolve.

Example clip of some feet shuffling / David BodeExample clip of some feet shuffling / David BodeExample clip of some feet shuffling / David Bode
Example clip of some feet shuffling / David Bode

This is DaVinci Resolve with a clip of some legs and feet, which shuffle along. Let’s imagine you wanted this to be a zombie. The colouring would need a little work to match that idea because at the minute it’s well exposed and colour corrected, but it isn’t very stylised.

You might have inspiration in mind, like your favourite zombie movies or TV shows, and you could put together some reference images to shape exactly what you want. If your inspiration was The Walking Dead, for example, then you’d be looking to make this quite gritty and saturated.

example clipexample clipexample clip
Example clip of some feet shuffling / David Bode

Here’s the same clip after colouring, and you can see the nodes on the right—each of those has a stage of the grading. Here’s what went into it.

Colour Correction, Warming, Desaturation

The first node (01) is just the colour correction, the second (04) has a little warming, and the third (02) is desaturation, which is down by almost half of what it was. In the next one (03), all of the greenery was isolated with the Qualifier tool. Here’s what that looks like so you can see it better:

Isolated greeneryIsolated greeneryIsolated greenery
Isolated greenery / David Bode

This means that only the greens will be affected, with everything else excluded, and then the hue was pushed up towards yellow, which is very subtle but makes a difference in the mix. It’s to give it a look that's browner and a little dead, rather than those fresh spring greens which don’t really fit with the stylised look.

Contrast

Contrast bumpContrast bumpContrast bump
Contrast bump / David Bode

In the next node (05), there’s a bit of a mid-tone bump to the contrast—clarity—with the mid-tone detail at the bottom which gives it a little more perceived sharpness, plus a few other adjustments like bumping the highlights.

Vignette

VignetteVignetteVignette
A vignette added to draw the eye / David Bode

Finally, the last node (06) is a vignette to draw your eye to the middle of the frame.

This colour grade isn’t super stylised, but it is definitely stylised; the colours are being heavily desaturated and everything has a brown, warm tone to it that works quite well.

Another Example of Storytelling With Colour

Desaturation and Hue Adjustment

Soldiers walking / David BodeSoldiers walking / David BodeSoldiers walking / David Bode
Soldiers walking / David Bode

This clip has some soldiers walking, and in the first node (03) it’s a similar thing to what you saw in the ‘zombie’ clip, selecting the greens and pulling out most of the saturation while pushing it to more of a beige colour.

Temperature Change and Desaturation

warming upwarming upwarming up
Warming up the clip / David Bode

The next node (04 – circled) is warming things up a little, and the one next to it (02) is a global desaturating. The greens have already been desaturated a bit, but this is working on the overall saturation.

Contrast and Clarity

contrast and claritycontrast and claritycontrast and clarity
Contrast and clarity / David Bode

Node 05 is giving everything a little bit of a mid-tone crunch, plus it's also being warmed up a touch and the highlights bumped to give it some more punch.

Vignette

Finally, node 06 is another vignette to create a nice-looking ‘war’ look: desaturated, with lots of brown tones and so on.

Day to Night

For the last example, we’ll look at what goes into creating a night-time look on footage that was shot during the day. It can be a real challenge depending on what the footage is.

A beach scene from above during the day / David BodeA beach scene from above during the day / David BodeA beach scene from above during the day / David Bode
A beach scene from above during the day / David Bode

Here’s a beach scene shot with a drone during the day. In the first node (02), there’s a little desaturation, and in the next (03), there’s some reduction of contrast.

Making It Night...

Reducing the luminance with curvesReducing the luminance with curvesReducing the luminance with curves
Reducing the luminance with curves

The third node (04 – circled) is where you’ll see the most obvious correction. Using curves reduces most of the luminance out of the shot.

Lighting important things in the shotLighting important things in the shotLighting important things in the shot
Lighting important things in the shot / David Bode

The last correction means you can’t really see as much, and there’s a character on the beach who would be entirely lost in this, so the next node (05) is giving a little bump of light just to him. It’s quite subtle, otherwise it would look as if he was spotlit, but it’s just enough to give him some attention.

Using a luma matte to target bright areas and a mask to restrict its effectUsing a luma matte to target bright areas and a mask to restrict its effectUsing a luma matte to target bright areas and a mask to restrict its effect
Using a luma matte to target bright areas and a mask to restrict its effect / David Bode

In the last node (06) there’s a little creative problem-solving going on. During the day, foam on the water looks quite white, and pulling the luminance out of the shot has deadened all the tones and made it a bit flat, but in the moonlight it would probably be quite similar to bright sun.

In node 06, you can see a luma matte that’s targeting the brightest stuff, and then a mask to keep it limited to the water area without touching the beach. The effect of this is that it pushes up the whiteness of the water to make it look as if the moon is reflecting off it.

The white foam is now much brighter againThe white foam is now much brighter againThe white foam is now much brighter again
The white foam is now much brighter again / David Bode

You can see the white there really lifts it compared to how it was before. How successful day-to-night is will really depend on the type of footage. It can be very tricky to make a sky look dark when it isn’t.

You can see there’s quite a lot that can be done with stylised colour grading, whether that’s a subtle adjustment of colours and tones to push the 'feeling' in a particular direction or something a lot more dramatic, like turning day to night.

More Film-Making Tutorials

About the Authors

David Bode created the video course that includes this lesson. Dave is an expert on video and audio production, and he lives in the upstate NY area. He works as a camera operator, editor, inventor, motion graphics designer, recording engineer, and studio musician.

Marie Gardiner wrote the text version of this lesson, and it was edited and published by Jackson Couse. Jackson is a photographer and the editor of the Photo & Video section of Envato Tuts+.

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