Recreating Dune’s Cinematic Color Grade: A Step-by-Step Guide

In the world of cinematic storytelling, color plays a pivotal role in shaping the atmosphere and emotion of a film. "Dune," directed by Denis Villeneuve, stands out as a masterpiece of visual storytelling, thanks in large part to its distinctive color grading. Achieved by the collaborative genius of DP Greig Fraser and colorist Dave Cole, the film’s look captures the essence of the desert planet Arrakis with stunning detail and mood. The process behind achieving such a look is both complex and nuanced, blending years of expertise with a unique hybrid of analog and digital techniques.

Attempting to replicate the atmospheric look of “Dune” is no small feat, but for enthusiasts and professionals alike, it provides an exciting challenge to enhance their color grading skills. This guide will take you through the steps to recreate a simplified version of Dune’s color grade, using affordable and accessible resources. Our journey through this process aims to pay homage to the original work’s beauty without directly imitating it, offering a creative exploration into cinematic color grading.

Understanding Dune’s Color Grading Approach

“Dune” utilized a hybrid approach, combining analog and digital methodologies to achieve its grounded, yet not nostalgic, look. The film was captured digitally, then printed onto 35mm negative using Vision3 film, which was not the typical 5219 film stock. This process contributed to the film’s muted, yet not desaturated appearance, a key characteristic of its visual identity.

Step 1: Emulating the Film Negative

To begin our emulation, we’ll start with a film emulation plugin that simulates the negative part of Dune’s process. While we can’t perfectly replicate the specific film stock used, this step introduces the foundational texture and grain characteristics inherent to the look. You can either start by using the demo plugin or the film emulation LUTs on our website. We will place the Emulation LUT between the Davinci Wide Gamut Sandwich. Here are the steps.

A. Applying Input Color Space Transformation (CST In)

Right-click on the first node and select ‘Color Space Transform’.
Set the ‘Input Color Space’ to match your camera profile (e.g., ARRI Wide Gamut 4) and ‘Input Gamma’ (e.g., ARRI LogC4).
Set the ‘Output Color Space’ and ‘Output Gamma’ to DaVinci Wide Gamut and DaVinci Intermediate, respectively.

B. Applying the Film Plugin/LUT

Right-click on the second node (the Film LUT node).
Go to ‘LUTs’ and navigate to the folder where you stored your LUTs.
Select the LUT you wish to apply (e.g., Filmblade Film (Base)).

C. Applying Output Color Space Transformation (CST Out)

Right-click on the third node and select ‘Color Space Transform’.
Set the ‘Input Color Space’ to DaVinci Wide Gamut and ‘Input Gamma’ to DaVinci Intermediate (matching the output from CST In).
Choose your desired ‘Output Color Space’ and ‘Output Gamma’ for delivery (e.g., Rec.709 and Gamma 2.4).

Step 2: Achieving a Bleach Bypass Look

A significant aspect of “Dune’s” look involves retaining a bleach bypass aesthetic, which contributes to its unique tone. Utilizing a free plugin by Thatcher Freeman, we’ll adjust the gamma settings.

Important: Our video uses a custom version of the bleach bypass DCTL. But when using Thacher Freeman’s, free DCTL, Make sure to convert the footage to linear and back while applying the Bleach bypass. And let the middle grey be .18. 

Here’s the bleach bypass DCTL : utility-dctls/Effects/Bleach Bypass.dctl at main · thatcherfreeman/utility-dctls (github.com)

Step 3: Mimicking the Film’s Split Toning

One of the more creative aspects involves mimicking the film’s split toning. By analyzing 1% of an image’s highlights and 2% of its shadows, we created a Python script that generates a 12-step gradient average across multiple images. This gradient, once applied in DaVinci Resolve and analyzed with a waveform, helps us closely match Dune’s split tone effect using our custom RGB Lift Gamma Gain tool. You can find RGB Lift Gamma Gain tool in the LookDev Plugins.

				
					#Split Analyzer - written by Jaideep Panjwani

from PIL import Image
import numpy as np
import os

# Place folder path here
folder_path = "/content/Dune Stills"

# Initialize lists to store the RGB values of the darkest and brightest pixels across all images
all_darkest_rgb_values = []
all_brightest_rgb_values = []

# Loop through all images in the folder
for file_name in os.listdir(folder_path):
    if file_name.endswith((".jpg", ".jpeg", ".png")):
        img_path = os.path.join(folder_path, file_name)
        with Image.open(img_path) as img:
            img = img.convert('RGB')
            img_array = np.array(img)

            min_quantile = np.quantile(img_array, 0.02)
            max_quantile = np.quantile(img_array, 0.98)

            darkest_pixels = np.where(img_array <= min_quantile)
            brightest_pixels = np.where(img_array >= max_quantile)

            darkest_rgb_values = img_array[darkest_pixels[0], darkest_pixels[1], :].mean(axis=0)
            brightest_rgb_values = img_array[brightest_pixels[0], brightest_pixels[1], :].mean(axis=0)

            all_darkest_rgb_values.append(darkest_rgb_values)
            all_brightest_rgb_values.append(brightest_rgb_values)

average_darkest_rgb = np.mean(all_darkest_rgb_values, axis=0).astype(np.uint8)
average_brightest_rgb = np.mean(all_brightest_rgb_values, axis=0).astype(np.uint8)

final_width, final_height = 3840, 2160

# Number of steps
num_steps = 12

step_gradients = np.linspace(average_darkest_rgb, average_brightest_rgb, num_steps).astype(np.uint8)
step_width = final_width // num_steps
final_gradient = np.zeros((final_height, final_width, 3), dtype=np.uint8)
for i in range(num_steps):
    final_gradient[:, i*step_width:(i+1)*step_width] = step_gradients[i]

gradient_img = Image.fromarray(final_gradient, mode='RGB')
gradient_img_path = "average_shadow_to_highlight.jpg"
gradient_img.save(gradient_img_path)

gradient_img_path, average_darkest_rgb, average_brightest_rgb
				
			

Step 4: Compressing Hues for Color Palette Matching

To match the overall color palette of “Dune,” we compress the hues using another plugin. This step is crucial for achieving the muted, yet richly textured color scheme that defines the film’s visual atmosphere. For this, we use FilmBlade LCH Tetra DCTL, included in LookDev Plugins Downloads.

Step 5: Final Adjustments and Exporting LUTs

Final adjustments are made to account for exposure differences, with several variations of the look created and exported as LUTs. These LUTs can be directly used in DaVinci Resolve or applied over LOG footage in Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro for further manipulation.

Sep 6: Testing on Original Dune Shots

Applying our created LUTs to original shots from the “Dune” set, we closely examine the effectiveness of our emulation. While not an exact match to the intricate work done by the film’s original color grading team, this process yields a visually similar result, capturing the essence of “Dune’s” color grade with a pleasing, muted palette.

 

A Homage to Cinematic Craftsmanship

Recreating the cinematic color grade of “Dune” is an exploratory process that highlights the complexity and creativity behind cinematic color grading. While our approach cannot replicate the depth of expertise and nuanced choices made by the original team, it offers a simplified method for enthusiasts to engage with and learn from the artistry of film color grading.

Downloadable Resources

At the end of this exploration, we provide links to all the tools and resources used throughout this guide, packaged in a convenient ZIP file. From film emulation plugins to custom LUTs, these resources allow you to experiment with and apply the “Dune” inspired look to your own projects.

We hope this exploration inspires you to delve into the nuanced world of color grading and to appreciate the meticulous craftsmanship that goes into creating the visual tone of a film like “Dune.”

Remember, this journey into color grading is about understanding and appreciation, not just imitation. By exploring these techniques and applying them to your work, you embark on a path of learning and creative growth. Subscribe to our channel and follow us on

Instagram at colorist.foundry for more insights into the art and science of color grading. Until next time, happy grading!

This guide simplifies a complex process, focusing on the steps and tools required to recreate a semblance of “Dune’s” atmospheric look using accessible resources. By following this tutorial, readers can gain hands-on experience with color grading techniques and begin to understand the nuanced decisions that contribute to the visual storytelling of a cinematic masterpiece.

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