White Balance and Color Grading

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During the filming of Autumn Gem, we used Phoxle SpectraSnap White Balance Filter 1 to set a custom white balance for each scene. I’ve used many white balance products in the past, including ExpoDisc, WhiBal, and gray cards, and I’ve found the SpectraSnap to be one of the better products out there. Its ability to fit a wide variety of lenses, including the two Sony videocameras we used to film the documentary, was key. I also appreciated the fact that it is a shoot-through white balance filter; I’ve found the accuracy of those to be higher than reflected light WB filters.

In the film, however, we’re not always looking to have a neutral color tone throughout our scenes. Getting neutral-looking footage, however, makes it easier to color correct — or color grade, as it’s called in the film industry — afterwards. I’ve been using a combination of Final Cut’s Three-Way Color Corrector filter and Apple’s Color application to perform various color grading tasks.

Here are screenshots of a before and after scene from Autumn Gem. The photo on the below is what was recorded by the the camera. As you can see, there is still a slight cast to the photo, even when using the SpectraSnap. I suspect that’s because the lights we used to light the background versus the foreground were different.

The original look of the serving tea scene.

The original look of the serving tea scene.

The next photo is the same scene that was corrected using Color. I set up a number of Secondary Rooms to apply color corrections to only specific parts of the scene such as the walls or Qiu Jin’s outfit.

The serving tea scene that has been color corrected using Apple Color.

The serving tea scene that has been color corrected using Apple Color.

Once we have picture lock on the film, I’ll continue to color grade certain scenes from the film. Not all scenes require such work, and for those, the built-in Three-Way Color Corrector in Final Cut does as admirable job. For more complex scenes, however, Color is a powerful tool for getting the look that we want out of the film.


1 Phoxle is run by Chris Pedersen, a friend of mine whom I know from my Camera Owners of the Bay Area user group meetings.

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How Time Flies… and the Third Cut

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Brushes

How time flies! A year ago this time, we were planning our trailer shoot and preparing for our trip to China. The film has been built out in six month increments. Rae started pre-production work around July of last year. We started filming in January, wrapping things up around the middle of June. The past six months have been spent in our home office, slaving away at Final Cut day in, day out.

A little over a month after completing our first rough cut, Rae and I are putting the finishing touches on the third cut of the film. Though the running time difference between the first and third cuts comprise just a few minutes, there’s been some substantial changes in the pacing. It’s amazing how trimming a half a second here and there can improve a scene so much! We’ve also moved some scenes around to improve the narrative structure.

I’ve been spending the past several days color correcting the film, trimming edits, and adjusting the captions and subtitles. Every day, we’re getting closer to completing the film, but there always seems to be more things to be added to the task list! Fortunately, the light at the end of the tunnel is just ahead.

We’ll try to post more frequently to the blog from this point forward. Writing is kinda like brushing and flossing your teeth every night; you just have to get in the habit!

Rough Cut Completed!

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We’ve reached an important milestone with the film today with the completion of the rough cut of The Qiu Jin Project: Autumn Gem!

It took me 22 hours to go from picture lock to burning the first DVD; the long delay was a result of my supreme struggle to get Final Cut to export the movie without crashing. I searched long and hard for a solution on the Creative Cow Final Cut forum, Ken Stone’s site, Google, and on Apple’s own forums. I eventually settled on using the instructions on Ken’s web site using the Export using Quicktime Conversion command in Final Cut to export the HDV timeline to Apple ProRes 422. To get around the “out of memory” errors, I had to break up the export into several pieces.

From there, I brought the video into Compressor, where I could now export a version for DVD and iPhone. That took a number of hours even with an 8-core Mac Pro! After that, I popped the video into DVD Studio Pro and quickly pumped out a DVD.

With the rough cut complete, we can now show the documentary to our crew, potential donors, family, friends, and other interested parties.

Three-Inch Golden Lotuses

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Three-Inch Golden Lotuses - Foot Binding

At the age of four or five, a young Chinese girl growing up during the 10th and early 20th centuries would begin the process of foot binding. Her feet would be broken and bound into tight bandages for the next ten to fifteen years. The goal was to achieve the desired size of the three-inch golden lotuses. Foot binding caused constant, excruciating pain. In the beginning, a girl could barely even stand on her own. Walking even a few steps would often be painful and tiring.

Qiu Jin was considered one of the more fortunate victims. Despite the pain, she continue to remain active throughout her life.

Rae and I are getting closer to completing the rough cut of The Qiu Jin Project. It’s been a long process, but the light at the end of the tunnel is clearly visible now. Of course, there’s a lot of work still to be done even after we get the rough cut done. For instance, we have to complete our musical score and perform color grading. Still, having the rough cut is a significant goal that we set out to achieve this month!

Wushu ala Final Cut

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This afternoon, we edited a scene from our filming of the Chinese Women’s Army at Tilden Park in Berkeley. Li Jing, who plays Qiu Jin in the documentary, is running through a hand form.

The timeline from a wushu scene from the film

Nine takes were used to construct this scene. One take was a wide shot which we use to start the sequence. Mixed throughout are eight closeup shots detailing the action as Li Jing goes from one move to the next. Add in a little wind sound, and we’ve got ourselves a nice 34-second clip!

There’s a saying that a film is really created in the editing room. After having spent several months living in Final Cut, Rae and I certainly agree with that statement!

Editing Continues Its Inexorable Progress

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We’ve been hard at work editing the film over the past two months, hence our long delay between posts. It seems once filming is done, the only “exciting” photos we have to share is us sitting in front of our computers staring at Final Cut and Aperture! So far, we have assembled nearly 50 minutes of footage for the final film. There’s still much to do, but we have a good sense for the narrative is shaping up to be.

There remains a few more pickup scenes to shoot along with recording the music and narration for the film. Our target is to complete those tasks by the end of this month.

In other news, we should announce that our fiscal sponsorship has moved from Film Arts Foundation to the San Francisco Film Society. After thirty-two years of serving the independent film community, Film Arts is closing its doors; fortunately, the SFFS was there to take on the task of supporting existing fiscally sponsored projects, including ours. Visit our support page to learn how you can donate to our project. It’s tax-deductible!