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Help with grading a car ad composite

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  • Help with grading a car ad composite

    Hi everyone,

    I'm applying to a retouching studio and they sent me a test image that I have to work on and send it back to them. I'm not going to post the image because I'm not allowed to, but it's not what matters anyway.

    They have also sent me two other reference images that are part of the same series, so that I can match the mood to those.

    Here's an image I found online that has a similar mood to their references, just so you get the idea (rain, colours, perspective, etc...): 1.jpg

    Basically their reference images are dramatic looking car ads. What they have given me is a layered PSD of such an ad, but without the dramatic effects. The image looks raw and it's still visibly a composite, nothing is color matched.

    The instructions say that the image has been compiled from a purely structural point of view, and now needs balancing and grading to a finished level, to sit as a family with the other two examples they sent me. All elements need to fit well together, while the mood and drama needs to focus on presenting the car as amazingly as possible, matching the paint to the colour reference shown. They will be assessing my understanding of light and aerial perspective, technical approach, interpretation of the brief and overall creative excellence.

    This all makes sense, and I'm sure I can do all this because I have quite a bit of Photoshop experience. However, as I've never worked in a production studio, nor have I worked on other people's composites, I'm not sure what is expected from me at this so called "grading" stage of the workflow:
    • Am I supposed to add in any elements, such as birds, water splashes, etc... at all, or just strictly stick to what they have given me?
    • Am I meant to add in light flares or is that the composite team's job?
    • Am I supposed to fix mistakes they made or just keep whatever they sent as it is and only deal with "grading"?
    • What exactly is "grading": is it purely color/tone/contrast work, or does it mean something else?
    • If all I have to do is match the colors and the contrast, that seems like a fairly easy job. I'd imagine they have given me something very challenging, so I can't seem to figure out where the challenge is.

    I'm aware that this might not give you much info at all, plus you probably don't know what they have in mind either, but for those of you who have production studio experience with things like car ads, you might have an idea of what exactly is expected at this precise stage. I imagine this is a routine thing that a dedicated team does and I'm just wondering what their typical responsibilities are.

    For example, with a Beauty image, I would already know that it's very important to preserve skin detail, make skin look flawless, clean up eyebrows and eyelashes, etc... But with a car composite, I'm not sure what the typical "to-do" things are.

    Thanks so much, and sorry for the vague description/question!

  • #2
    Re: Help with grading a car ad composite

    If possible ask them these questions. Somehow given the location and reference, I suspect the name starts with an S. One of their guys used to post on here. Disclaimer: I've never worked on car ads, but I'm examining this as an illustration in itself. Anyway

    1. take inventory of elements, any alpha channels/masks, and paths. Make sure they are all labeled correctly and organized. Also put up your reference images on a second monitor if possible.

    2. draw out vanishing point references to assist with perspective balancing. This isn't a painting, and they won't align perfectly. They are guides and will be deleted before submission.

    3. Create any additional paths or masks you will absolutely require for isolation. Make sure they are appropriately named and organized.

    4. Create overall layers to get a bit closer in tone and color feel/contrast. It doesn't matter if those layers make it to the final. There are some things that are obviously needed.

    5. Perspective correction. Looking at the reference, you can probably tell whether the backplate can be changed. Make sure the tires match the road. You'll want to balance the largest details first, then balance splashes and crap like that to them.

    6. This is where I would start to go into regions and sub regions. Glancing over at the reference art as you work, you should start to deal with the larger regions. This means some judgement about the lighting of the scene. Foreground road darker or clouds need more definition or whatever.

    7. At this point I would move onto smaller and smaller details, like getting the color right for paint, headlamps, etc, followed by the addition of some of the smaller reflections and highlights in metal and lamps. In your example I can see a lot of this, like subtle adjustment where the fender meets the body, the reflection on the door, color corrected high beams, lights turned on for low beams and fog lights. I don't really like this example that much. I mean I feel more emphasis could go to the vehicle. In that kind of rain the falloff in visibility would be much more significant, and the reflection off water droplets and fog would be more pronounced. You would see less of the building in the background relative to the truck. My point of reference is the passenger side headlamp. It's already looking a little foggy there. That house would just be a blur. In my case I would go a little bolder with the vehicle, especially given the brightness of that door reflection. Trailer feels slightly off to me, but it's not too bad. It's a little too monochromatic for me. That should be more pronounced in the foggier areas further back, and less pronounced in anything that is directly lit. Anyway on the off chance that you want to PM me screenshots of reference files and the ones you're supposed to match, I'll give more specific opinions. Otherwise I'll have to stick to slightly more generic advice.


    • #3
      Re: Help with grading a car ad composite

      Thank you very much for taking the time to respond! It's very helpful!

      So if I understand correctly, my job is to take what they gave me and finish it, to make it into an image that should not have more work done to it I guess. It just doesn't seem like that much of a challenge, since most of the work is already done. I feel like I'm missing something super difficult here that's meant to take me days to do, whereas now I can pretty much get the look they want in a few minutes with just a few adjustment layers.

      I promised not to show the images anywhere, so I won't be able to unfortunately, but what you said is still very helpful.


      • #4
        Re: Help with grading a car ad composite

        That's perfectly understandable and respectable. No company would give you a "test" that takes days to complete, nor should you accept one. That would be a lot of uncompensated time, where in this case it could just be a company testing your ability to match aesthetics. As I mentioned I wouldn't take my words as absolute. It's okay to ask them specifics of what is expected. I am telling you from the information provided how I would proceed and what details I would take note of. I think it's important to look at little things like emphasis, not just assume that it needs a few broadly applied adjustment layers. Without seeing the work, it sounds like you were given a high resolution version of an fpo (for placement only). In other words low resolution elements were already swapped out, but the work hasn't been done to bring it together as an image.


        • #5
          Re: Help with grading a car ad composite

          Don't underestimate the 'easy job' - if you get that wrong you're toast! Follow their brief and then take it a bit further to show enthusiasm - a very desirable trait in an employee.


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