After completing his latest short film, Michael Morgenstern has kindly created a before-and-after video that shows what they shot on set and the end result of the footage after color correction and visual effects. It’s standard (and still fun) to see green screen action evolve into an explosion-heavy battle scene between dinosaurs and robo-ninjas, but color correction is deeply important process that doesn’t often get its due. Like focus pulling, it’s the kind of cinematic skill that can remain invisible even for those aware of it.
Which is why Morgernstern’s comparative video for Lily in the Grinder is informative and nothing short of fascinating. I almost wish he would do a commentary-style version where he walks us through the process step by step. For now, his blog post (and the video itself) do an excellent job of displaying the differences. Essentially, the Before shots look like a television program, and the After shots look sharp and slick and modern. Naturally it helps that he’s chosen a project that required an Instagrammification so that a stark contrast can stand out. It’s all about enhancing what’s already there and defining the images with even greater clarity and drama.
In simple terms, it’s also about making the images look more expensive than they actually are. Here’s a small amount of what Morgenstern did on a computer:
To make the people semitransparent, we shot an empty plate of the background and superimposed it over the video. I also added rain to a shot (8:05), a rug onto the floor (4:47), put a character into a picture frame (8:55) and even added a book to the table that we couldn’t buy in time (2:14).
I took a few days to remove a fly from a shot (10:20). It’s winter, there are no flies!
Mistakes can be fixed in post – it just takes a LOT of someone’s time!
Obviously there’s a lot to learn from here, and I like Morgenstern’s response to someone who asked why the filmmaker wouldn’t try to fix things on set instead of relying on post:
Post is just another tool, and you use the right tool for the job. Most of the changes were not “fixes” but planned effects. Some of those shots we couldn’t have gotten with the tools we had. For others, a half hour of a crew’s time was not worth changing something. I think it’s important to know what you can do in post while shooting, and use it when it’s appropriate.
Post can be something you plan for, and it can also be something you have to trade time to utilize. A necessary part of the design or an unexpected cost.
The big lesson here may be experiential, though. How often do we get to watch a movie unvarnished and digitally cleaned at the same time?