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Interview With David Lindberg About His Work With Color Grading

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David Lindberg is a colorist from Edsbyn, Sweden. We've asked him a few questions about himself and his work with Color Grading. We hope you can pick up a thing or two.

For those who don't know, could you explain a little about what your job title is and what you do?

I'm a colorist and I'm grading films, commercials and music videos, but I also love working with cinematography and editing so that's also something I do in certain projects.

How did you get started in color grading work and when did you decide to specialize in color?

I've been working with making films for three years now but it wasn't until one year ago I decided to specialize in color grading and that I wanted to be a professional colorist.
To split my three years into three chapters we can say that the first year was mostly VFX while the second year was spent on cinematography. I wanted to learn as much as I could so that later I could decide what I wanted to do and what was most inspiring to me.

When I started to get many jobs I started to feel in every project that I always longed to when the editing was done so that I could jump into the grading part. When I later thought about it, it was all obvious to me 'cause when I was young I always painted, it was my truly passion. So grading is basically a mix between my two big passions:

Painting + Filmmaking = Painting the films.

Were you completely self taught or did you receive any formal training?

I was going in a high school with football and computer as my orientation so I did never take any classes in grading, vfx or cinematography. So to you guys who wants to give up your filmmaking dreams because you don't have the money for a film school, that is NOT important. If you are motivated and ambitious you will find exactly anything you'll ever need on the internet. Even though I was in high school I was sitting up at nights at Google searching for information and watching tutorials, lectures, pod casts, and online classes. Once again, you do NOT need a school if you have access to a library or internet.I've been meeting two of the largest post houses in Sweden these past weeks to discuss an employment and the absolutely last thing they cared about when meeting me was which school I had gone to. The only thing they care about is how good my latest film is.

(golden rule: you are never better than your latest film)

What/Who inspires you?

Music and life inspires me. When sitting on the bus or the car, I never just sit and watch my phone, instead I look at the nature, the people, the buildings and the sky and automatically I get inspiration from those sights. But what I find absolutely most satisfying is sunsets and sunrises. The color of the sun when it has that burning orange or magical red is unbeatable. I can sit and watch it for hours, just noticing how the trees, buildings and sea is affected by the low angled warm light. That inspires me.

But I also have films and directors that I find very inspirational. For example I think Zack Snyder (Director of 300, Watchmen, Legend of the Guardians...) is a genius. I love his style and the grading he uses in his films are fantastic. I just saw the trailer for his new super man film, Man of Steel, and the grading in it are so ridiculous good. The blue, unsaturated and low mid toned style is so sad but still interesting.But I'm also very emotional and want to achieve real emotions in my films so I find films like Seven Pounds, One Day and Meet Joe Black very inspirational.

What project or job have you had the most fun working on?

I think it's the project I'm working on right now. It's a short film for a company in NYC called The Jacks Firm. I'm doing the editing and the grading and I think it's a really challenging project with some very cool shots and interesting grading.

But I also enjoyed working on the music video for Spoiwo - Years of Silence. Even though my hands almost got frostbitten it was challenging and fun to get some slow motion shots around all the snow and trees.

Do you prefer color work for motion graphics, or visual effects?

Neither, I think it's fun to grade visual effects to make it match the scene and look natural but it's way more fun to get a scene and create a completely new look, fixing the skin, the eyes and change some colors in the trees. When you're grading a scene instead of VFX or motion graphics, you get to be a little bit more creative.

Do you use AE for color grading? If no, what do you use? If yes, what plug-ins do you use the most?

I am mainly working in DaVinci Resolve which is a great grading software, but I have worked a lot in AE and Premiere as well. I prefer the RGB curves in AE and Premiere than the curves in DaVinci but still DaVinci has some better features with keys, masking and tracking. When I worked in AE and Premiere I always used Magic Bullet Colorista 2 which is a great plugin. It gives you control over shadows, midtones and highlights and you can make keys for the skin as well, even though it's not as good as in DaVinci.

What other options do you wish were available in AE?

First of all, vectroscopes, histogram, waveform and RGB parades! I don't understand why they don't make that easy to use in AE. I think you can get it by getting some plugin but it shouldn't be so complicated though it's very useful when grading and fixing scenes.Then I think it should be better ways of doing keys if you would want to isolate specific areas in your scene. But then again, AE is not built for being a grading app, but still.

Do you have favorite before/after clip work you've worked on?

I really haven't uploaded any good before and after videos to show my breakdown though I always get new jobs and projects that I think, I want to include this in the breakdown, but then I get another job which I also want to add in the breakdown and that way I never get time to do a real before and after video but I liked the vintage look I created a few weeks ago which I made a before and after video of:

Do you tend to default warmer or cooler colors? Why?

It all depends on the scene and what mood you want to achieve. If you want to create a happy mood in a scene when it is suppose to be hot and sunny, it's not a good idea to make it bluish and cold. But if I had to choose one I think I find cooler looks more interesting and beautiful.

Where do you hope to be in 10 years time?

Good question. I hope to become one of the best colorists in the world, but I also love telling stories and affect people with my films so it's not impossible that I'm directing films. I got too many film ideas that I want to make and I want at least one of them to become a real film.

What is the most common/annoying mistake you see made in people's work?

I think it is people who are just making films based on other ideas. The only way to become successful and make your film being spread over the internet is by making something new and interesting that when a guy sees it he thinks, wow I must show this to my friend. That's the only way your work can be spread and become popular and famous. So instead of watching films on the internet and recreate them, think of something new that can make people look at your film and think, oh I wish I was the one who came up with that idea.

In grading, a lot of people make the mistake by not grading their film because they don't think they know how to do it. But when I first started grading I didn't know anything about it. I just added a couple of Curves-effects and tweaked until I found it cool and beautiful. There are no rules on how to do grading, the only things that decides if a grading look good or bad are our eyes and we all have those. So experiment with all the effects you can think of being a good way to achieve something you'll like, and start tweak and play around and let your eyes be the judges 'cause in the end we don't know how you achieved the grading, we just see the result.

What advice would you have for someone asking for basic color grading principles to follow?

First of all, make a primary correction which means fix your scene so that it looks natural and clean.

First of all, make a primary correction which means fix your scene so that it looks natural and clean. It is basically getting your scene correctly balanced, but some also do their contrast in the primary so that the highlights are completely white and the blacks are completely black (a good way of getting this right is looking at a waveform), but I use to do this when I'm creating my overall look.

Then you have the secondary correction which means making keys and masks if there are something you want to lit or darken. Sometimes maybe a wall or a chair is too light or too saturated so that it steals the attention from the actors or the thing you want to focus on, then it's good to darken or desaturate it so that the eyes doesn't think it's so distracting.

Fixing skin tones and eyes are also something you often do in your secondary correction.

Then in the master correction, you want to add your look. Create a look you think is good for the scene, like adding different nuances in the shadows, midtones and highlights. Here's is also where I add my contrast by deciding how dark or bright the shadows, midtones and highlights should be. This is a very important step though it kind of decides what time it is, were they are and what kind of weather it is.

Talk to me about your Unsharp Mask experiment.

That was an experiment I made one night after thinking about how to increase the depth in the scene by adding sharpening in different radius values. It was very powerful though the sharpening added some contrasts in the curves of my forehead and cheeks if I used a big radius. And then I just added a few more sharpening effects but with lower radius and that way it took smaller parts of the scene and increased it's depth. So it was very cool to get that good control over the depth by adjusting the sharpening tools.

What program or plug-in have you really wanted to learn that you just haven't been able to to?

There is no such thing though you can learn anything you want on the internet. But then, some softwares are way harder to get than others and it takes more time but if you are willing to spend that time, you will learn after sitting those hours of watching tutorials. But for example, it takes longer time to learn Maya or 3ds Max than understanding Colorista 2 for AE. But if you want to learn and are willing to spend time on learning it, you can't fail.

Can you briefly walk through any of the shots in your T2i Color Grading project?

The scene I've got most question for is the man walking of the wood at 0:31 so let's go with that one.
What mainly did this to a good shot is that it looks like it's shot with a really good camera. As you can see in the before, it's not. But by adding those light rays, bringing everything down to a kind of dark look but still keeping the details in everything, and adding those tiny particles in the air, it looks like the camera did have really high dynamic range and that it was shot in high pixels though it could get those small particles as well. So it is kind of like tricking your eyes. Make it look like the camera was better than it actually was.

How I did those sun rays is also a question I get a lot. I used a great plugin Red Giant called Trapcode Shine. I tracked the trees in AE and added the information to a Null object and pointed my layer with Trapcode Shine so that I could have the rays kept in one place even though my camera was moving.

Anything else that you'd like to share with our readers?

My career developed very fast and I'm very lucky to have got that much luck by having the right people accidentally watching my films on internet and then later got contacted by them. I also got a mail from a company in Hollywood a few months ago while I was still in high school and they asked if I wanted to fly there and work for them for three weeks, that was really inspiring and I learned a lot! So when I talked to a person who is kind of my mentor, I said to him that most of my success has been by luck, but then he said:

Yes you have got some luck but then again you've earned that luck after all those hours of watching tutorials and classes at nights. You wouldn't have got that luck if you hadn't worked hard and put a lot of videos and tests on the internet, luck is never free.

So work hard if it is something you want, because sooner or later you'll get it back in some way.

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