Saving time with Adobe Photoshop

A very important part of the final look of any film is the colour grading process. This tends to happen at the end of postproduction where the edit is locked, all VFX shots are complete and the films colours are tweaked and finessed to enhance beauty and mood. It's a crucial part of any film and ours was no exception. Anticipating this, I took some frames from the film and used Adobe Photoshop to work up several versions of colour adjustments that we could use as a basis for a grade. This was a really nice bit of work to do as grading tends to be a quite enjoyable as all the hard slog is behind you and you can just sit and polish. However, it's not automatically guaranteed to make everything look brilliant and it does take an eye for tone and colour. The image below is a photograph taken on-set just before we started filming. You can see Sam is sporting his space-trucker look with his mighty beard whilst relaxing with a delicious Lunar Industries cup of space-tea. Sam actually did drink tea as we were filming although brews do tend to get cold pretty fast when you're shooting if they're not in a thermos. I guess sometimes you have to suffer for your art.

You can see that this shot was taken in the Sarang Monitor Tower and at this point we were still intending to have the shutters open and so you can se the green screen through the windows. One of the design details I was excited about seeing on-film was the graphics I put on the glass windows which were basically safety warning about explosive decompression. They're hardly noticeable in the final film. I'll put them in something else in the future and make sure they're nicely in the way of the camera.

Moon was actually shot looking like this and only took on its' final appearance at the last stage of post-production where Duncan and I spent two weeks in the grading suite at Molinare working with the colours to give the film that final polish. Up until that point we were watching version after version of the film with these flat colours and it always used to bother me how ugly it looked. I started on these images whilst we were filming as I was always trying to get ahead a bit to get some pressure off. Not that it ever panned out like this of course. Making Moon was like walking from John o'Groats to Lands End carrying huge pile of heavy books. As you walk, people keep putting more books on and even when you can't see any more and keep stumbling forwards with achey arms more books keep getting piled on. Eventually you finish your journey just before you're about to die, and just collapse and drop all the books over the cliff into the sea. Then a helicopter flown by Michelle Rodriguez comes and picks you up and flies you off to the pub for a burger and chips. Then bed for 32 hours straight sleep. That's what it was like making Moon. Pretty much.

The original version I did was heading towards de-saturated cyans and light blues with some greens in there. I always liked the look of vintage photographs where the darks fade out over time and the whole thing takes on a period look. As we were essentially doing a period piece with this film I was keen to explore anything that could age the end result in case I stumbled across something brilliant. I liked it for about fifteen minutes and then felt it had its' strength washed out a bit and so I tweaked it to put more solidity back in there.

I made the blues stronger to see if it brought a mood to the room and made things look a bit more "night-time" and "computery", but went off this one pretty much straight away. It was all going too blue and so I lowered the saturation and dropped a copy of the original colour back on top to crush the blacks down a bit.

This now felt like it was starting to get somewhere but still had too much of the legacy blues in there which had now given the image a pinky/purplish hue. I quite liked this but didn't like the way it had changed Sam’s' flesh tones so much. So I used this piece as a reference and went back to the original image and came at it again without all these legacy changes I had in the image. I find this can be a useful way to work as it often give you some nice results and in this case I came right in on this version which I was starting to like. When you're grading film, you really need to sort out the skin tones first. Then you can look at the rest of the image. So my major consideration in these images is firstly "what does Sam’s' skin look like?" and secondly "do I like the look of it overall?"

From here I thought that since I was exploring vintage looks and I'd backed away from the blues, I would start moving in on the sepia tones and see what happened.

I quite liked the look of this for a bit but wanted to see if I could put some more drama in there by increasing the contrast.

This left the image in a place that I was really starting to like. We eventually settled on a mid-point between the two images above for most of the film. Although it looks a bit different in some places, this is mainly due to the amount of white in the Sarang set. As I originally had envisaged the monitor room tower with submarine "war-room" type lighting I thought I'd have a go at something along these lines and did this massive headache-inducing nightmare.

Imagine working in this tower all day with this light, it'd make your nose bleed. It's good to try things like this though as, if nothing else, it clears your head so you can put it behind you and get on and get the job finished. I thought the grade on Moon came out really nicely in the end and the prep work was really useful as we could style-match. So when we got into the actual expensive grading suite for out two-week allotted time, we could just rip into it without spending the first couple of days finding our feet. This was really important as it meant we could focus a bit more tightly on the lunch menu.