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Color grading Childish Gambino’s ground-breaking ‘This Is America’ music video


A brighter and “less stylized” approach was taken so that the viewer would also focus on the action taking place in the background behind the singer.

Childish Gambino (aka Donald Glover) has sparked a national debate with his latest music video ‘This Is America’ – a cultural phenomenon full of symbolism and political undercurrents that has become YouTube’s biggest first week debut in 2018. A true collaborative effort, the project saw MPC Colorist Ricky Gausis working once again with top director Hiro Murai and cinematographer Larkin Seiple.

Music videos bring their own set of creative challenges when color finishing, for example long takes where the camera goes in and out of different light pools; as such, subjects catch varying degrees of light that often need to be adjusted. “For shots that are already stitched together when we receive them, it can be a real technical minefield smoothly transitioning from one to another,” said Gausis. But one that can be successfully navigated with the right combination of artistry and technology in place.

While the primary objective in color grading is to complement the footage and the narrative, in this case it was also in service to the impactful statement being made.

As Gausis explained: “We wanted ‘This Is America’ to be a little brighter and slightly less stylized so the viewer could get a good read on all the action that is taking place behind Donald (Glover, aka Childish Gambino) and for the color interplay to not be too distracting from the message and the content. When neutralizing the environment in the grade, I had to make sure I did so in a way that skin tones offset against the coolness in a natural but interesting way, and that other colors felt rich and retained the integrity of Larkin’s film.”

On the last shot in the warehouse as we are leaving the artist on top of the car, the viewer may notice that the image gets sharper. “This is a tool that I have at my disposal in the suite and I used it on this occasion to create a more jarring and uncomfortable visual, which I think tied in really well with Larkin pulling away from everything, almost abandoning what’s gone before,” concluded Gausis.


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