Here's an example of the basic steps taken to make extremely low light shots usable under a tight budget and limited resources.
You will need to watch this in HD, full screen to get the full effect.
This was for the independent feature film Marrow from Sisyphus Productions which premiered at Cinequest March 2011 and played at SIFF 2011.
This scene was shot in very low tungsten lighting on a Red One and was the biggest challenge as far as getting a generally useful look without unwanted noise. Marrow is a dark film much of the time with this scene containing the darkest shots in the entire film.
This scene is the second of six flashbacks, all of which were treated to be perceived as memories so color was muted and a glow effect was applied. In this demo you'll see how bright and colorful the footage could get, but for the final shot everything was dialed back to match the rest of the film.
I used Red Giant Software's Magic Bullet Colorista II for the color grade — note that I am not a colorist and this was the first time I'd used Colorista II ever. Add to that that this was a re-do after the colorist couldn't hit a noise-free grade that the director wanted. We had a festival deadline and as is common in filmmaking this was done in a less than optimal timeframe.
After this scene I used Colorista II to finish the other flashbacks in the film. I'd love to improve this shot now that I've logged more experience with the plug-in.
Red Giant Software's Magic Bullet Denoiser was used to save the low-light noise that was unavoidable with the desired color grade and need for contrast.
Note that I had better success with the noise if I graded the native 4K Red Raw first. The film is actually half that resolution, so 4K processing wouldn't be necessary, but if we used the normal "_H" Red Raw source the noise wasn't as crisp, which made it harder to isolate and remove. Also, 4K Red Raw was too much for Final Cut Pro 7 with Magic Bullet Denoiser so I had to round-trip to After Effects for the final passes.
Part of the final, subtle glow effect was achieved with Red Giant Software's Trapcode Starglow used in a very specific way. No single plug-in quite did it the way I needed it to be for this particular scene. This also helped to tone down the leftover noise that Denoiser couldn't quite get.
By all means this isn't a perfect FX chain, but it made unusable takes work well enough that we could keep the editor and director's final cut intact without reshooting a critical scene.
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