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What's Up With "The Skin Tones" PT 1: A Filmmaker's Obsession With Skin Color


If you've been around filmmakers for more than 5 minutes you've probably heard someone mention "The Skin Tones". Whether its in praise, admonition or even horror, It's a phrase thrown around between filmmakers with frequency and weight. No we're not all a bunch of closeted racists, though the film industry does have serious problems with race and colorism that I'm under qualified to speak on.

What I am qualified to speak on however is...well...the"Pretty Colors". I went for fun over practicality when picking my career.

Truth be told "Skin Tones" is definitely a strange phrase to see filmmakers focus so intently on, you'd think there were bigger things to worry about or draw attention to when talking about a $10,000 or even $50,000 video.

And well yes, when on a film set just about every detail demands an exorbitant amount of attention to ensure smooth sailing and result in a beautiful, effective piece of art for your brand. But the focus on skin tones isn't misplaced at all, and in fact is reflective of the key to The Secret Sauce that often separates amateur productions from the commercials people see and immediately resonate with.


A secret sauce that when applied poorly or is omitted entirely can have serious consequences. This is a problem plaguing commercials everywhere and detracting from brands and their messaging. I see it everyday and I want to make sure you don't waste time and money on a commercial whose look detracts from your brand. More importantly I want to give you the tools to communicate about and correct the issue.

It boils down to color. Color and its leverage over a video's, tone and atmosphere. Your messaging's believability and your audiences emotional connection with it all rest on a video's color grading...and a half dozen other equally convoluted elements but we're talking about color today.

Human's are ethereal and shifting, inside and out. As such, translating us onto a flat surface where millions of colored dots are programmed to act in unison, like some sort of insect hive mind, can get...complicated. And then you have high-minded concepts like subsurface scattering, where light penetrates the skin, is refracted and diffused by blood and spit back out. This phenomenon gives people a slight but perceptible red tinge in the shadows of our skin on a sunny day.


The intricacies of the human presence and the image overall are often lost to the incomplete nature of less experienced productions. This is crucial as when your subject doesn't feel reel or believable the efficacy and impact of your video suffers.

All this is a lot to juggle and makes accurately reproducing the fluid and transient mesh of reds, oranges, yellows and blues (yes blues) that make up our skin an ever-present challenge for colorists everywhere. And to make matters more difficult every single person has an entirely unique tone and quality to their skin. The texture of which is also carefully poured over in order to create a flattering aesthetic. This is why, among colorists you often see a disproportionate density of discourse around " The Skin Tones".

But what is a colorist...

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