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Tone Mapping: The Techniques That Makes Movies Beautiful

July 25, 2023


(Based on the Article: HDR Production—Tone Mapping Techniques and Round-Trip Conversion Performance for Mastering with SDR and HDR Sources)

Film and television are visual mediums and said visuals need to be gorgeous, glamorous, and engaging. While film techniques can make for cool shots, the colors and tones of a film can create a vibrant experience for audiences. As technology improves, however, it’s difficult to keep color and tone consistent, especially across different formats. This is where tone mapping techniques come into play.

Tone mapping refers to image process techniques that map one set of colors and tones to another set. There are two main types of tone mapping techniques. The trendiest form is just referred to as tone mapping, and it refers to mapping colors in images to approximate the appearance of said images in the high dynamic range (HDR) on displays that are designed to display the standard dynamic range (SDR). The other popular technique is called inverse tone mapping, which focuses on directly upscaling SDR videos to HDR.

So, what are SDR and HDR? SDR is the traditional display format that has been around for decades. While it’s been improved over time, SDR has limited contrast options, which meant film makers had to get creative when it came to filming their content. HDR, on the other hand, is the cool new technology making waves in the industry. HDR has a much wider range of contrast and colors, allowing for the creative freedom film makers crave. However, HDR is still relatively new, which means it’s still being experimented with.

Because of these challenges, many productions often go through an HDR production and derive an SDR version from that. Production companies then use these tone mapping techniques to edit the tones and colors of each individual image to create the best possible visuals for both SDR and HDR content. This ensures that the film maker’s intent still comes across to audiences in the most vibrant way possible.

Many people enjoy films without ever even thinking about the work that goes into them, especially when it comes to color management, contrast, and tone. The work being done in this field deserves acknowledgement and the first step to that is learning some of the techniques that are involved. Tone mapping techniques are just the tip of the iceberg, but they are imperative to modern film making. Tone mapping makes the films we love that much more visually interesting and it’s a tool that every color manager and editor should be familiar with.

Tag(s): Skin Tone

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