Color correction is a vital part of 3D animation post-production in an animation studio and one of the final stops in the 3D animation pipeline. It utilizes the most powerful tools to adjust the color, and also the light and contrast of the images; optimizing the scene to establish a desired look.
The final output of the rendering component of the pipeline can look good already, but color correction creates an excellent opportunity to make them even better.
The significance of this particular stage comes from the fact that color, in general, has a powerful role in creative industries; especially in animated storytelling. A wide range of emotions, motivations and also meanings can be expressed or evoked through colors. Even the tiniest change in coloring of a scene can convey a whole different message.
The following paragraphs will give you some insight into how the story of an animated video is enriched through well-informed color modification. 3D animation studios like Dream Farm get much better results by adding color correction to their production pipeline.
Basic Color-related Vocabulary
Before diving into color correction, let’s make sure we are familiar with some basic color vocabulary. Generally, every color has three main attributes: hue, saturation and brightness.
Hue is referred to as the color family or simply a common color name, like red, blue or yellow. It is directly linked to the color’s wavelength.
Saturation or “chroma,” is referred to the purity or intensity of a color or how sharp or dull the color looks. Highly saturated colors look vibrant and sharp, whereas low-saturated colors look dull and almost grayish.
Brightness, also called “illuminance” or “value”, defines the lightness or darkness of a color. Areas of an evenly colored object have higher brightness in direct light than the areas in shadow.
Moreover, there are two additional ways to talk about a color’s overall appearance: tinting and shading. Tinting is when we want to achieve a lighter color by adding the right amount of white color. But shading is the opposite of tinting; it darkens the color by adding the right amount of black.
According to color psychology, not only different hues, but also different shades and tints of a certain hue can evoke different emotions. For example, light blue carries a different meaning than dark blue.
Color Correction Workflow
Now that we’re familiar with the basic characteristics of colors in general, we can take a look at the process of coloring a footage, comprising three main interconnected steps. The color correction process is usually approached step by step in the following order:
1. Color Scripting
Colors have various mood connotations and combining them can subconsciously make the viewer experience different emotions. The main point here is that the colors should serve the story in a way or another.
Color scripting is a process of mapping out the color, lighting and emotional connotations of an animated video in an animation studio. A color script is a sequential and visual outline, explaining how colors will be used throughout the 3D animation.
The process of color scripting is highly experimental and usually starts at the beginning of the 3D animation pipeline in pre-production. However, it can follow a certain step by step guide to make sure the balance between each individual scene and the overall story as a whole is maintained.
The very first step to color script a 3D animation is to assign a single color to the entire story from the beginning to the end, based on its main theme and mood. The next step would be to create a pre-color script. Think of the pre-color script as a colored storyboard; with only one color per frame. Identifying the key moments of the story or its emotional touch-points can greatly help the process.
2. Color correction
A combination of technical solutions in a single process to fix color problems and correct any deviations from the standard colors in a project is called color correction. Color correction is not limited to 3D animation production. It is widely used on television, cinema, photography, etc.
The main objective of this procedure is for colors to look real, clean and as close as possible to what they should be. To do so, several adjustments may be applied to the footage by covering the mistakes and/or pulling out more details from the project.
Color Correction tools are a basic part of popular post-production software packages such as Adobe After Effects.
3. Color grading
Color correction and color grading are in fact two different types of color manipulation processes; however, their names are often used interchangeably. They look similar from the technical point of view, but different in how and when they are used. Once the rendered video is color corrected, the aesthetics and thematic properties of the project can be improved through grading.
Contrary to color correction, color grading originates from a creative point of view. The aim of this optional process is to improve the look of a project by adding new and/or unnatural colors to the environment or adjusting different attributes of an image such as saturation, color, contrast, white balance, black level, noise level or sharpness; impacting the overall tone of the entire project to reach a certain look.
The right color grading helps convey a certain visual mood to heighten the narrative.
Colors have a particularly powerful role in 3D animation production. Each color has its own connotations and can affect the audience both at a conscious and subconscious level. A wide range of emotions, motivations and meanings can be expressed through colors and the tiniest change in coloring can convey a whole different message.
Color correction in 3D animation post-production, makes sure all the imagery is consistent and match what they intended to be in terms of coloring and grading. It is a technical and creative process at the same time; needing an expert pair of eyes and lots of practice. During this process, every 3D animation project will be corrected shot by shot. Then their consistency will be checked in sequences and finally as a whole.