“To get started, try watching films with colour grading you admire! I've watched Iron Man, Blade Runner, Transformers, Battlestar Galactica, Oblivion, and many others - it's great to pick apart what others are doing, and see why it's effective. ” says Iestyn Lloyd of Lloyd Digital. He also finds Instagram’s filters quite inspiring.
Lloy’d Unity 5 Dropship demo, before and after color grading. Asset is Orbital Reentry Craft by Andromeda Station.
When you know what you kind of style you want to go for, take a screenshot of a scene in your game and open it in Photoshop. Play around with everything under Image > Adjustments until you reach the style you’re happy with. There are plenty of tutorials online (like this one) that can help you along the way.
But how do you transfer that look to your game? Color grading is basically mapping every possible color to another color. Imagine all these mapped colors are stored in a cube, with red value on the X axis, green value on the Y axis and the blue on the Z axis.
A 2D representation of this cube is called unwrapped volume texture, also known as LUT (color look-up texture). After you perform the same color adjustments on a new neutral LUT as you did on your screenshot, you can save it as a new LUT. Then assign the new LUT to the effect and hit Convert & Apply. More info on this workflow is in Unity Documentation, but it’s far from the only way to get color grading.
“There's a number of plugins that don't require Photoshop at all - that's where I got started!,” says Iestyn. “Colorful has a number of easy-to-use presets which can be easily tweaked to give a pleasing result. Chromatica is very clever and is my tool of choice right now. It gives you a number of colour grading tools similar to the ones found in Photoshop right in the Unity editor and allows for split-screen before-and-after previews, among many other features.”
For artists and any professionals that have experience with image editing software, he recommends Amplify Color: “Amplify Color makes it extremely easy to send screenshots directly to Photoshop for colour grading. It also supports volumes, which can be a very easy way to change the grading throughout areas of your game.”
Amplify Color is a script you apply to camera. After you set up remote connection with Photoshop, you can then send a screenshot from Unity to Photoshop with one click, adjust in Photoshop and then click Read screenshot from Photoshop in Unity when you’re done. Apply it to camera by dragging it to the correct slot.
It also has a “File Mode” that allows users to export an image to any kind of professional software they are familiar with such as Davinci Resolve, Nuke, After Effects or even Gimp, grade it and import it back into Unity.
“Grading film and VFX is easier since all the shots are mostly predetermined. Grading an interactive and free moving game might be quite tricky. Amplify Color offers volume based color grading and a way to bind third party effects to the scene mood in order to simplify the process. It also provides support for dynamically generated color grading masks, a great way to isolate and grade specific assets,” says Ricardo Teixeira of Amplify Creations, the publisher of the asset.
Another advantage of Amplify Color is it’s flexibility. “We offer Full Source Code with all our products, users can build upon and improve their their tools whenever needed and Amplify Color 2.0, as a free update, is already in the works with an easy-to-use LUT editor within Unity and a few other surprises” he adds. This month, Amplify Color is half-price to all Level 11 members.
Whatever workflow or tool suits you, color grading opens up a whole new world of possibilities for the final look of your game. With so many new games hitting the market these days, showing off an interesting level of visual polish can help you stand out.
“Just feel free to experiment and be creative! It's so easy to start playing around with colour grading. There are no rights or wrongs - it's all about the aesthetic you want to convey to the player of your game,“ says Iestyn.