Vox media’s YouTube culture videos are some of the most informative on the site. Focused, concise (typically under 4 minutes), well researched, and sporting much higher production values than typical YouTube shorts, these videos garner views in the millions.

One of the subjects that Vox likes to tackle is cinema and TV breakdowns; not just from the story and plot standpoints but also from artistic ones…and what better TV show than the cultural juggernaut “Game of Thrones”?

The Art of Color Grading

In earlier pre-digital days of cinema, there were many tools in the DOP’s “cinematic quiver” to show style and mood: daylight or tungsten film stocks (think “day for night” shoots that simulate night), colored gels that were put on top of the the lens to filter out certain colors, or tools such as the use of darkroom photo-chemical film techniques like cross-processing, called “color timing”, which were created in a photographic laboratory.

A classic example of these techniques would be the in the movie Godfather: Part II, where the distant past of Don Corleone growing up in Sicily was rendered in yellow/warm tones. This was constrasted with the rest of the movie set in modern times in a more natural color palatte.

Warm Tones of Sicily

Cool palette of modern day

Color script/grading breakdown by Lou Romano at his Cinemosaic site

In the late 1990’s digital color grading started gain steam in mainstream cinema with the first movie to use it by the Cohen Brothers in “O Brother, Where Are Thou” with cinematographer god Roger Deakins and Kodak, directors of photography now have a much easier time to grade scenes and build up long color progressions throughout a movie or TV series.

The easiest way to see color grading changes in a completed film to study what a DOP was trying to achieve is to pull successive frames and then average out each one to a single color and stack them in order from left/right or up/down.

There are some great websites that show these grading color strips such as The Color of Motion. 

Vox describes in excellent detail the cinematography’s color grading for GoT as eventually going from a warm to a cool ande saturated palette (“Winter is Coming”).

For further reading on color grading check out these books on Amazon:

Color Correction Look book: Creative Grading Techniques for Film and Video (Digital Video & Audio Editing Courses)

Apple Pro Training Series: Encyclopedia of Color Correction / Field Techniques Using Final Cut Pro