Cinematic Color Grading



Sometimes, when I ask people what effects do they use for the color corrections, they usually say Tint/Hue&Saturation in combination with Curves/Levels.

Of course, when used properly, you can achieve a pretty good result with just this simple combination of saturation & color effects. But sometimes this kind of color correction can look flat and it can cause that your character will not stand out from the background. And that’s why the professional color correction designers use some advanced color grading techniques.

These techniques are based on the difference between the shadows and the highlights. Basically, almost every present-day Hollywood blockbuster uses this trick – cool greenish blue shadows and warm orange highlights. That’s the whole magic! Of course – most of the Hollywood movies uses DaVinci Resolve device for color grading but there are also some 3rd party After Effects plug-ins (for example Colorista II or Mojo) that can achieve a similar result.

Fortunately – I found a great solution how to get this cinematic look without any 3rd party plug-ins. 


And YES, I used the standard combination of Curves and Tint but I just used the curves to add a nice contrast but not the color. Instead I added one particular effect that allowed me to color correct the shadows, the midtones and the highlights separately and relatively easy. The effect is called Color Balance.


So how did I use these effects together? First I applied the Tint effect to avoid the oversaturation (which would appear after applying the Color Balance and the Curves if I didn’t use the Tint). Then I added the Color Balance effect to make greenish blue shadows and orange highlights. Finally I applied the Curves effect to add a nice brightness & contrast “S-curve”. The settings you can see on the image below should be a good starting point.

Then you can play with the midtones to get the overall look (always play with the red and blue channel first and then tweak the green channel as a final touch). Essentially – if you want the image to be warm, increase the red midtones and decrease the blue midtones; if you want the image to be cold, decrease the red midtones and increase the blue midtones. But always keep the shadows cool and the highlights warm! ;)


Finally, I hope that this article was helpful. I think we will create some cinematic color presets for you so you can expect an update with the download link soon! :-)

Feedee On November - 6 - 2011


Blog, Color Correction

2 Responses to “Cinematic Color Grading”

  1. españa says:

    I do agree with all the ideas you’ve presented in your post. They are very convincing and will certainly work. Still, the posts are very brief for beginners. May you please prolong them a bit from subsequent time? Thanks for the post.

    • Feedee says:

      Yes, I admit that color correction techniques described in this post are little bit advanced. But I’m pretty sure you can follow along, especially if you download our CineStyle presets, (because there’s nothing easier than applying a preset in After Effects, trust me ;) ) you will easily find out how it works. However if you are an absolute beginner, you can check some color grading basics here or if you are new in After Effects you can check some tutorials here. Take care! ;)

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