Music Video Fun


The internet is a great place for discovering new contacts. Music video post lets you extend your creativity. This intersection brought me in contact with G.No, a fellow Final Cut Pro enthusiast. G.No is a French R-n-B artist, whose soulful, Latin hip-hop riffs complement his moniker of “The Latin Bird”. After a few e-mail exchanges, I was off and running to color-grade three of his current music videos – long distance, to boot!




Someone 2 Luv Me Before and After Frames

Two of the videos had already been edited, and the third – up to me. The direction here was to make them look better than they started and to try to make each look different from the others. Like many such videos, the footage was shot with a consumer/prosumer digital camera, so the first objective was to achieve a less video-like – and more film-like – “look”. There’s plenty of inspiration at places like YouTube, so after G.No offered suggestions of other videos that he liked, I had a sense of the direction to take.



En Mi Vida Before and After Frames

I have written about grading in Final Cut Pro and this was one that fit the bill. Basic color-grading was done with the FCP 3-way and Red Giant Software’s Magic Bullet Colorista plug-ins. Both can give you good results, but Colorista offers an additional exposure control that works a lot like the exposure slider in photo processing applications. Colorista also lets you mask areas of the image and lighten, darken or change the balance inside or outside of the windowed area. You can use several instances of Colorista in order to treat various areas separately within the frame. I also use the Face Light plug-in for the same reason. My main purpose with Face Light is to brighten faces, as the name implies.




Someone 2 Luv Me Before and After Frames plus filter pane

Tools like Colorista allow you to shape the lighting of a flatter image, but one other useful tool is a vignette filter. There are variations of this filter available in different packages, but the general purpose is to darken the outer edge of the image. This mimics a distortion that lens manufacturers work hard to eliminate. Used creatively, this further helps to shape the look of a scene. Not all vignette filters work the same, because many use blend modes to darken the image’s edges. Using a “darken” or “multiply” mode rather than “normal” yields different results that change with the brightness of the scene itself.


The last little technique to essentially “re-light” a shot is the subtle use of chromatic glow effects (like FCP bloom or one of Joe’s Filters). Use these to diffuse highlights and cause them to glow. Along these same lines, I will also use selective focus or soft spot effects (Magic Bullet Looks or Joe’s Filters) to blur the outer edges of a scene and keep the center sharp. One benefit of chromatic glows, when used subtly, is to brighten facial highlights. When I shift the midtones in the 3-way to a more reddish complexion, using a chromatic glow effect brings back more highlights and added definition to facial areas. The reason for applying this mix of effects is primarily to draw the eye to the central point of the image, which is typically our singer, in the case of these videos.



En Mi Vida Before and After Frames

Since the main outlet for these videos is the web, each clip on all three videos was also deinterlaced from the original interlaced PAL format. Nattress deinterlace filters fit that need. This even benefits the videos for use on TV and in DVDs, because it creates a more filmic frame-rate, since all interlaced frames become progressive in appearance. Last but not least, all three videos were polished off with a letterbox mask for the faux-widescreen look. This mask required that most shots had to be repositioned for optimal framing.


The first two videos were filmed (or should I say “taped”) during a trip to Venezuela. Someone 2 Luv Me got a treatment that was richer looking, more saturated and generally softer than it started. Tackling En Mi Vida required a different approach. Much of this video took place in the hotel room, so I opted for a look reminiscent of old, distressed Ektrachrome reversal film from the 1960s. Choosing a different toolset, I did almost all of the color-grading for this video within Magic Bullet Looks. This filter runs inside FCP, but when you modify any parameters, you enter Looks’ own unique user interface. Tools are grouped by steps in the camera, processing and/or post chain. You can get pretty elaborate ganging up a series of complementary processes all within this one filter.



En Mi Vida frame in Looks interface


In addition, I added some film damage effects for grain, scratches and dirt courtesy of Boris Continuum Complete. Typically, I’ll use these effects for a few shots. You have to be mindful of the fact that when you apply these to a lot of clips, the project size grows exponentially. My original 2MB FCP project ballooned to about 50MB largely through the effects added to this second timeline.


One point worth noting is that it’s OK to do interesting things to the picture in hip-hop music “just because”. Producers and engineers commonly add vinyl record effects like scratches and pops to a digital mix. In these videos random flashes were added to the picture to visually accentuate some of the music beats. In the client’s cut, these were 1-2 frame cuts of white. I changed these white flashes into glow dissolve transitions for a more organic look. This style was continued throughout all three videos.



Buenas Noches frame with After Effects CS4 cartoon effect


The third video, Buenas Noches, called for a different touch. The storyline was boy meets girl; they enjoy a day in Paris during the Christmas season; and meet again the next evening. Looking for something completely different, I tried the new Adobe After Effects CS4 cartoon filter. I was striving for a look reminiscent of the feature film A Scanner Darkly. It was certainly an interesting look, but not a winner with my client. Taking another swipe at this idea, I tried a similar look using the CHV silk & fog filter, set to the borders mode. Again – an interesting look – but still not right.




Buenas Noches frame with CHV silk & fog filter plus filter pane



Buenas Noches frame in Color interface




Buenas Noches frame with filter pane in FCP


Once we discarded the effects-driven looks, it was back to attaining a style through grading alone. With that in mind, I decided to use Apple Color on Buenas Noches. The intent was for a somewhat desaturated look. I liked the look I got out of Color, but neither my client nor I were as happy with the result – for this video – as I’d hoped. I have to agree that the element missing in all three attempts was a sense of romance that a day in Paris should evoke.




Buenas Noches before and after frames with final effects



Buenas Noches frame with final effects plus filter pane

Back to the drawing board- using the same approach as in the first video. Back to FCP with a witches’ brew of filters. In this case, the color correction standbys (3-way and Colorista), plus chromatic glow, vignette, Face Light and others. I also made use of FCP’s compound blur, which – when used in a small increment – adds nice diffusion to the image. In addition, I decided to crank up the chroma saturation big time! In the end, both of us were very happy with the results.



En Mi Vida frame with final look



En Mi Vida frame with final look



Someone 2 Luv Me frame with final look



Buenas Noches frame with CHV silk and fog look



Buenas Noches frame with After Effects CS4 cartoon look



Buenas Noches frame with final look



Buenas Noches frame with final look



Buenas Noches frame with final look

Color grading music videos is about emotion and style, not about fixing the image. It’s all about the “look” – not the right or wrong. And it’s about having fun getting there.


For more on G.No, check out as well as his posts on YouTube (or here) and on MySpace.

© 2009 Oliver Peters