Grading Royce da 5'9" | ‘Cocaine’

Late last year I graded the music video for ‘Cocaine’ by Royce da 5’9”, directed by Joe Lafleur for Safehouse Productions and shot by Eric Talesnick on an ARRI AMIRA.

The video’s split between Royce rapping in the present day and flashbacks visualizing the story he tells in the track. Joe and Eric had shot the video with the intention of the flashbacks being in black and white, so the question was how faded and beat up the look should be.

The series of images below shows the ungraded ARRI image with just the standard LogC to 709 LUT applied to give an idea of the base tonal range of the image, then the image with just the black and white LUT that I chose applied, then the final image with contrast adjustments and a grain layer.

The image came in looking great so I didn’t use many windows, would estimate that 90% of shots were only primary grades. One exception is the shot below where I wanted to take the emphasis off the window frame and bring some more texture into young-Royce’s hand and face.

For the flashback sequence I tried using Resolve’s Contrast Pop FX for the first time, which helped give the image a little kick.

For the present-day shots the intent was to support the story Royce is telling rather than distract from it. The earlier verses are more sombre so we cooled off the LA sun to give the image some grit.

All the present-day shots went through a LUT I built to combine the colour of Kodak 2383 stock and contrast of the ARRI LCC. I use it less for the look it creates on its own but more the way it reacts to contrast and printer points. The above series of images is the ungraded image with the LogC to 709 LUT applied, then the image with my LUT at 60% opacity, then the final grade with grain applied.

If saturation in the LUT’s putting too much of a cast onto the image then I key back the opacity; here we wanted to push some cyan into the image but when combined with the 2383 emulation at full strength this was too overpowering, so by dialling back the strength of the LUT I could ease some cyan into the shadows without it feeling like a cheap filter.

The LUT also has a heavy soft clip in the highlights allowing contrast to be punched into the image without a harsh cut off at the top end.

Similar to the effect of the Contrast Pop tool for the black and white sequences I used a bleach bypass emulation to add a little more edge to some shots. Images 3-5 above show the image before the effect, the black and white matte I used to imitate a silver retention process, and the final image with grain.

As the track goes on the tone shifts and the goal was to reflect this in the grade. The grade for the middle section was straight forward now that we could lean into the LA sun we’d been fighting earlier.

The track ends on a more upbeat and hopeful vibe so we warmed the image up to compensate for the overcast light. The pinker look was something Joe’d played around in the edit so we used that as a base while making sure Royce’s skin stayed natural and the black in his jersey and beard stayed true.

I created smart filters in Resolve to sort between the two sections that allowed us to quickly look at just the colour or black and white shots in sequence and make sure they were staying consistent. This also let me globally tweak the level of grain on each section rather having to adjust it on a shot-to-shot basis.

Flashback shots were tagged with a navy marker, present day olive, groups were then made based on the colours tagged to certain shots. Resolve’s standard workflow of adding/removing shots to groups is clunky and by having the colour tag in each thumbnail I can quickly see which group of shots I’m looking at (less obvious in other projects where the split isn’t as clear as colour vs. monochrome).

I was stoked to be involved on the video for such a well received track, and although we never met in person Eric and I had both worked on Deadpool 2, me as part of the dailies team and Eric in shooting some promos for the marketing campaign, so it was another instance of the film world being a small one.