Marvel is the gold standard when it comes to cinematic universes. They set the bar incredibly high — so much so, that no one may ever match what they have done. That being said, the films are not perfect, and some fans have begun to notice that all of the MCU films look a bit flat — meaning that the colors just don't pop like they should. One fan (who happens to be a knowledgeable film buff) took to YouTube and made a video essay describing what the problem is, and why it exists.
Watch Patrick Willems' video essay on color grading:
Mr. Willem made several valid points in his video, the most important of which is that Marvel's color grading — which is the digital manipulation of the colors on the screen — leaves something to be desired. When you watch #CaptainAmericaCivilWar, it's hard not to notice that it appears washed-out. Marvel made the decision that they would use the same color palette unilaterally across all of their films once they switched to using digital cameras. Unfortunately, the color palette they chose is one of dull colors, that leave the picture flat.
Marvel's Production Pipeline
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Back in 2013, Bruce Markoe — senior VP feature post-production at Marvel Studios — spoke with The Hollywood Reporter regarding the Marvel's 'Standard Production Pipeline', and why the films all look the way they do:
We are trying to standardize our workflow in particular for color and on set. Since our movies are 90 percent VFX shots, having a consistent color pipeline makes a huge difference, especially when shots are coming in from different vendors.
Markoe's comments stand to reason: since all of the movies exist in the same shared universe, it makes sense to have them all look similar. To Marvel's credit, all of the films look the same in terms of color grading, and they have established their own unique aesthetic. The only mistake was choosing a color palette that drowns out color and makes the world seem bleak.
An Easy Fix
Marvel's dreary color palette is not the biggest problem in the world, and it could be fixed easily. The problem with Marvel's color grading has nothing to do with the cameras being used or the actual filming. The problem is all created — and hopefully one day, fixed — in post-production. In his video, Willems proved that the entire issue could be resolved by simply tweaking the levels. He spoke about what he did to the picture, how simple of an issue it is to fix, and posted the corrected images on him Tumlbr page:
I threw it into After Effects and spent less than a minute tweaking the whole thing with a single adjustment layer.
With just a little bit of tweaking in post-production, the images become warmer and more pleasing to the eye. The images are not extremely different; the edited ones just have a bit more contrast to them, which helps them come to life. So, how does the dull color palette affect us as fans?
What This Means For the MCU
Color grading can be a tricky thing sometimes. As a movie fan, you might not even notice it in any one film — especially if the story is intriguing and you are fully immersed in the world. However, once you become aware of it, it's extremely hard not to notice that impact it has.
Captain America: Civil War is the example used by Willem, but the color grading fits the tone of the film. Other films such as Avengers: Age of Ultron, #GuardiansoftheGalaxy, and Doctor Strange are affected by the use of the same color palette, as it does not fit the tone of the films. As more Marvel films are released, it will become clear that this single color scheme is a hindrance, rather than being a cohesive element.
If Marvel continue to implement the same drab palette across all of its properties, it could lead to serious problems in the future. An example of this would be the drab colors in the first #DCEU film Man of Steel; fans were very vocal about the drab coloring, and felt that it took some of the levity out of the film.
Marvel's fanbase is both very strong and very loyal; they support the films and rush to their defense when people speak ill of them. But sooner or later, people will begin to take notice of the murkiness of all of the films, as some already have. As Willem stated in the video, the trailer for #GuardiansoftheGalaxy2 appears to have a richer color palete. So, hopefully this is the end of the washed-out landscape that MCU has adopted.
It has to be said that Marvel is doing a great job with their films. This was only one minor critique that could help improve the films and make them even more enjoyable — if that's even possible. Marvel will continue to kick ass, and bring us all the great superhero movies we have come to love.
Sound Off! Do you think that the MCU could benefit from better color grading? Let it be known in the comments section below!
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