The definitive Orange-Teal Blockbuster Look thread (let’s do it!)

Felix Hüsken Aug 17, 2016

  1. We get frequent questions about the immensely popular orange-teal “blockbuster” look on the forums here and I also get them at the color grading workshops I do. So I thought that we should just create a proper thread for this.

    Let’s do this together! I’d be happy to update this post with your comments, so please chime in if you like!

    What is it?

    The orange-teal look usually paints skin tones and other warm colors (sometimes even grass and foliage) somewhat orange, while everything else is colored cooler, going towards Teal.


    Why orange-teal?

    Orange and teal are complementary colors, meaning that there is maximum color contrast between them. For example a person’s orange face would “pop out” really well in front of a teal background, grabbing the viewer’s attention. So by separating foreground and background not just with luminance contrast, but also color contrast, we can sometimes give an image even more “depth”.



    There are of course tons of other complementary color pairs all around the color wheel, but orange-teal works so well, because it is visually pleasing and natural to our eyes and brains, even when the look is exaggerated.

    Why is it visually pleasing?

    We are all used to the orange-teal colors from the world around us. Here are a few examples:

    On a sunny day, the sunlight appears warm, while shadows appear cool.


    Human skin tones are always warm and they are arguably the most important color in a film with human actors. So it is usually a good idea to keep them warm, i.e. some shade of orange - between red and yellow. Otherwise our brains will perceive skin tones as “unnatural” quickly (of course you might want that look on certain occasions, e.g. dead or sick characters).


    Check out human skin tones here:

    Another very common natural color is blue, as it occurs in the sky and water all around the world almost all of the time. Here, we often find a tint towards teal as well, to which we are very used to, as much as we are to warm skin tones.

    Purple-colored water for example looks off to us, and a beautiful vanilla sky at sunset is so unnatural or “special” to us, that we actually marvel at it every time we see one.


    Another common color in nature is obviously green in the Earth’s vegetation. Green however comes in a lot of variations depending on the location and the season, which actually gives us a lot of room to shift the color in creative ways, without it seeming too unnatural.

    You will notice though that the natural greens often tend to fall more towards yellow, especially in fall season, but also generally in dryer areas around the world.


    Depending on your own movie going preferences and influences, you might also associate the natural Hollywood/California color palette (dry sunny weather with blue skies and warm-colored vegetation) with high production values and of course “blockbusters”.



    How to achieve an orange-teal look?

    The best way to achieve an orange-teal look is through careful production design and lighting. I cannot overstate this enough:

    The best looks are created during pre-production!

    Paint walls in cool colors, dress the actors in cool colors, shoot in dry surroundings under a blue sky, light backgrounds with cool light and foregrounds with warm light, etc. Look at the above pictures of Transformers and Jurassic World again and analyse how they achieved parts of the orange-teal look in camera.


    Emphasizing orange-teal during color grading

    There are several techniques to emphasize (and also somewhat create) an orange-teal look in color grading. Again, the better suited your source footage is for such a look, the better those techniques will work. Also, the following techniques are mere examples and have to be carefully applied, adjusted and even combined for each individual film’s footage.

    When approaching an orange-teal look, there are generally two things you have to think about:

    1. Coloring luminance ranges
    Warming the highlights and cooling the shadows is a common luminance range adjustment. It will often leave the basic color separation of the image intact, but simulates a warm light, with naturally blueish shadows.

    2. Changing colors
    As you’ve already seen in the images above, location, production design and costumes play a big part in achieving an orange-teal look. If your footage contains strong colors outside of the orange-teal corridor, you might need to shift them closer to it (or even inside it) to make the orange-teal colors dominant in your images. Greens, for example, are often very easy to nudge towards orange with the results still looking natural.

    The following techniques all deal with the above concepts and will have to be carefully evaluated, modified and maybe even combined, for best results with your movie! They are no one-click solutions!

    Technique 1: RGB Curves

    A simple RGB Curve grade can already be enough to warm highlights and cool down shadows.


    Technique 2: Changing colors with HUE vs HUE Curves

    A simple HUE vs HUE Curve adjustment often works very well to shift greens towards orange, blues towards teal, etc. You can then further emphasize individual colors by adjusting their saturation via the HUE vs SAT Curves.


    Technique 3: Using a Qualifier

    A more precise, but also more time-consuming approach, is to qualify warm colors with a key, grade them warmer and grade the outside of the key colder. Additionally, you can qualify colors outside of the orange-teal corridor separately, to push them closer to it and you can qualify luminance ranges as well, for example to shift shadows towards teal.


    Juan Melara’s great “Summer Blockbuster Look” tutorial is based on the above technique:

    http:// vimeo .com/65617394

    Technique 4: RGB Mixer

    A more advanced tool is the RGB Mixer, which allows you to mix color channel information with each other. Depending on the footage, using this to push colors into the orange-teal corridor is a very clean and quick technique.


    Technique 5: Creating your own Look Up Tables

    The software 3D LUT Creator lets you easily create your own LUTs, using unique color grading interfaces that are absent from most other grading applications. So sometimes it can be quicker and more intuitive to use 3D LUT Creator for a base look, load the LUT in your grading system and continue from there. LUTs come with their own caveats of course, in regards to color resolution, clipping and general input-output value matching. The stronger the effect of a LUT, the easier it is to break your signal. Before committing to a LUT, make sure to run it through extensive testing - even more so if you bought the LUT and didn’t create it yourself!

    Read more about LUTs in this article by Steve Shaw:


    This should give you an idea of some of your options, when trying for an orange-teal look.

    One last time: Advise your DOP during pre-production to come up with a proper color scheme for the film, to create the base for the look in camera. It will look better than any color-grading-only compromise achievable with badly shot footage.

    Things to watch out for when grading an orange-teal look:

    White balance:
    Keep your white balance in mind. For example: Can you get away with tinting the highlights orange, or does the white shirt of the actor have to remain neutral white? If it has to stay neutral, how else can you warm up the image?

    Black balance:
    It’s a general rule of thumb in color grading that the lower shadows of an image should remain rather neutral. Color-cast blacks can make an image look washed out and unnatural and even amplify noise. To make color-cast blacks more neutral again, you can use tools like the DaVinci Resolve LOG Wheels (or similar tools, that let you define ranges for highlight and shadow adjustments), SAT vs LUM Curves, RGB Curves, etc. Make sure to analyze the effects of those corrections thoroughly, as you can break your signal with them easily! You probably don’t need strong adjustments here.

    Skin tones:
    As I said, they’re often the most important color in a film and tastes vary wildly among Colorists, DOPs and Directors, when it comes to the right amount of magenta, yellow or green in the skin color.

    Less dominant colors:
    If your film features a lot of different colors around the color wheel, make sure that your orange-teal corridor corrections don’t completely twist them into something weird. So look at the image backgrounds for example, to spot colors that might not jump at the eye immediately and check whether they’re still okay.

    Color separation:
    When you push all colors into the orange-teal corridor, you will of course lose color separation and it can even happen that you make your images look more flat, lacking depth, when there are basically just two colors left. Of course this depends on the image content.

    Alright, that’s it for now. Happy grading! :)

    Again, please chime in with your own techniques, comments and experiences and I’ll update this post accordingly.

    Edits & Quotes:

    Classic film behavior:

    -> jump to post

  2. I'd love to see more of the tools shown in the 3D LUT Creator link come into other grading platforms, they look really useful. (Colorista III has a great colour wheel HSL corrector which looks really good too.)
  3. Totally! Every time I'm doing something in 3D LUT Creator (which isn't that often unfortunately), I'm amazed at how quick I get good looking results - at least in the loaded still images. Being able to simply grab colors with the mouse and then move them around the gamut is amazing.

    What I like to do is to create just the basic color changes in 3D LUT Creator, import those as a LUT into Resolve and do contrast and emphasis there. This way I don't need to rely on a rigid and strong LUT for everything, reducing the risk of grades breaking.

    EDIT: Here's the demo video from their site:
  4. Great work! Thanks.
  5. I don't do it often, but as an amazing coincidence today I just did an orange teal sequence in a film. It was only 6 minutes long and was intended to look weird and nasty, so I let it go in that direction. What's wearying to me is when there are entire 2-hour features done this way. To me, it's just tiring and a bit of a strain to watch.
    Paul Willis and Andrew Webb like this.
  6. I'm usually fine with strong looks when they add to the atmosphere of a movie. What I do find most boring though, is that almost all movies with a wide target demographic look the same nowadays.

    Here's a screenshot from nine of the ten current iTunes Trailer Box Office hits:

    1. Suicide Squad
    2. Sausage Party
    3. Pete's Dragon
    4. Jason Bourne
    5. Bad Moms
    6. The Secret Life of Pets
    7. Star Trek Beyond
    8. Florence Foster Jenkins
    9. Nine Lives
    10. Lights Out

    Have a look:


    ... it could almost be the same movie. Of course I took screenshots from orange-teal scenes and there are surely other color concepts in the individual films as well, but there is a big orange-teal trend nevertheless.

    There was one trailer however which did look a bit different:
    Bad Moms :D
    Andrew Webb likes this.
  7. Yeah, but how did you do it? :D
  8. I don't mind the teal and orange look as long as it's not too overbearing and it fits the style of the film, although I prefer it being more subtly implemented with blues slightly shifted to teal rather than every single damn wall and couch being super teal in production.

    I really dislike it on simple drama and romcoms, it just seems inappropriately over stylised. You can't argue with the basic science of complimentary colour though, it's always going to be pleasing to most people.
    Felix Hüsken likes this.
  9. Obviously, in my baby pic example above, there's a noticeable depth perception pop that happens when a teal or blue is used behind any orange skin tone.

    Long story short, it's fine to express your personal "Colorist" likes and dislikes about the orange/teal look, but if that is the look the client wants, then guess what... that is the look you will go with... if you want to get paid.
    Marc Wielage likes this.
  10. I've got a feeling that many of the more subtle teak-&-orange looks we've seen just come from the film LUT that was used, when the primary output would have been printing out to film. And the look of the film negative. DVDs would get a trim pass, I guess but the film LUT would still be there? Marc, any thoughts?
    Harris Charalambous likes this.

  11. That's of course another factor. Maybe someone with more film experience can write a paragraph about that for me to quote in the OP. Traditionally, as I understand it, film would also show shadows blueish and highlights warmer and many film emulsion LUTs do this as well accordingly.

  12. So does the ACES RRT.
    Ian Vertovec likes this.
  13. On the two dozen-or-so projects I did that printed back to film, we threw the film LUT out and started over for home video. Teal & Orange has nothing to do with a transform LUT to get the image in the right place for recording on interneg like 5242. For me, Teal & Orange is more about a key (or multiple keys) than a LUT; it's about bending the existing information in a precise direction.

    The only accurate film-emulation LUTs I've seen have been the ones provided by Baselight as part of their Truelight system, but even then, they all have to be checked and calibrated throughout the path to know that "what you see will be what you get." You only know that when you show the digital side by side next to a projected film... something D.I. companies have generally been loathe to do, because there are always discrepancies in the lab work.

    I agree 100%. But I consider it a victory if I can steer the client away from an extremely ugly path and more towards something that borders on a little more real. On the other hand, if we're showing a very ugly city with ugly people, and something horrible happens... we don't want it to look like a beautiful Revlon commercial. I get that. And I also like the idea of breaking a movie up into different sequences that look very different from each other, just so you know where you are at any moment just from the surroundings. "If It's Purple, Somebody's Gonna Die."
    Andrew Webb and jamie dickinson like this.
  14. Indeed, all the color print stocks are like this, resulting from deliberate choices by the manufacturers in order to get the most pleasing representations with only photochemical timing and with a 5400K projector lamp. The last Fuji stock (3514DI) exhibited this to an almost extreme extent.

    This became very apparent when you color timed a print from cut color negative that had some black and white sequences cut in, usually flashback scenes. You could grade the black and white negative to neutral with the printer lights (compensating for the lack of the orange mask), but because of the color print film you then had blue-cyan shadows and orange-yellow highlights on an otherwise monochromatic image. This often led to discussions with the clients whether the black and white was too warm or too cold. That's because it was both and you had to pick your poison; it was never going to be as clean and crisp as a true black and white print.
  15. That was a huge, huge problem with the movie Pleasantville, done at Cinesite/Hollywood in 1998. They went through an enormous amount of trouble to figure out a way to reproduce B&W film as B&W on color print stock... and it was even more difficult when you had a color human character standing in a B&W world. That was an amazing achievement given how limited the available LUTs, scanners, and film recorders were at the time. Very easy to do with digital projection, but nearly impossible to do with 35mm release prints.
    Paulo M. de Andrade likes this.
  16. Thanks! I quoted your post in the OP.
  17. Great thread Felix.

    If you are on Nucoda you could also do this with an Inverted Skin Key along with the HLS tools which are nicely mapped to a trackball and ring on the Precision and Tangent Panel.
    Adam Hawkey and Felix Hüsken like this.

  18. bad moms? really? i will give you the 10 bucks myself and invite you to watch the movie in a theatrical environment as intended.
  19. I've been trying this look again and the one thing that always bugs me, however I try to achieve the look, is that I often get people's hair going an unnatural blue colour, where it was originally a shiny de-saturated brown. The blend from areas which are orange to areas which are teal is where the effect often breaks down. I don't really like the keying approach but it's getting closest to good results apart from the low saturation hair.
    Did anyone mention the look on Stranger Things? I liked it, it wasn't over the top teal-orange. Lots of costume and art direction helped there too...
    Marc Wielage likes this.

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