The teaser for Zack Snyder's "Man of Steel" arrived in July 2012, nearly an entire year before the film would ultimately be released in theaters. Trailers are pieces of art unto themselves, and must tell a story in a much different way than the final film; sometimes artistic choices are made in service of the trailer, regardless of how it might affect the final product.
In many cases, the color timing for promotional material is handled by the trailer house, whose sole job is to serve the needs of the trailer; the context of the greater, final film is of little or no significance. In contrast, the final color timing of a finished film serves to underline and enhance the emotional beats of a film.
From a practical point of view, color grading smooths out inconsistencies from shot to shot (slight differences in color temperature, exposure, etc.). The process also enhances and underlines emotional beats of the story. Just like the musical score and sound effects, color grading with a 'color script' of the film can accentuate the 'feeling' of a scene; for example, cold, emotionless scenes can have a cool tint, while passion-filled sequences could go golden if the director so chooses.
"The Matrix" (1999) movie bar code
"Pleasantville" (1998) movie bar code
The fascinating Movie Bar Code Tumblr illustrates a film's color script by compressing film frames into a single average color, then displaying all those frames in a giant bar code. Just look at the differences between films like "The Matrix" (which hops in and out of the green Matrix world and has deep, dark sequences) and "Pleasantville" (which starts in color, jarringly shifts to black and white, then slowly reintroduces color again). A few curated, contrasting color scripts have been collected by Visual News.
The "Man of Steel" teaser, containing footage released nearly a full year before the finished film allows audiences who are interested in visual effects and color timing to peek behind the curtain and witness some of the choices made by the filmmakers over the course of that year.
As you can see from the still frame comparison, a few changes were made from teaser to final film:
- snow - Falling snow was added to the final film with visual effects. The surrounding shots in the final film are significant time cuts, so the snow was not added for continuity reasons.
- color grading - The environment has been cooled off, draining any warm values away, skewing towards cyan (underlining the cold isolation Clark Kent is feeling at this moment). Clark's skin tones have been warmed up a touch, while it appears some blue was taken away from the sky, possibly in an effort to balance the shot. Without the sky tint, the shot could have appeared monochromatic and dull. The slight bit of yellow in the sky fights with the predominantly blue/cyan frame, giving it a counterbalanced palette.
- lens flare - The addition of a lens flare in the final film is what inspired me to investigate the shot in the first place, since I didn't remember seeing the flare in the teaser. One could argue that the flare adds a bit of punch to the shot, but one could also argue that the shot doesn't need any additional punch. Conceptually, a lens flare adds visual excitement to a shot. Does this particular shot need it? The shot is about isolation; at this point in the film, Clark is on a solitary journey, hopping from job to job like a nomad, in an attempt to conceal his true power and identity. Does this shot require a visual exclamation point to convey these feelings? Also, from a practical point of view, the exterior scene is completely overcast, and the synthetic flare's source is the side of the truck's headlight housing, which makes the addition of the lens flare that much more curious. The camera is nowhere near the light cone of the bulb.
Another curiosity noticeable on the single frame comparison is the significant difference in clarity of Clark's eye. Even more strange: the final film frames before and after this particular frame do not have this 'touch up'. Why would this single frame be isolated for a paint job on Clark's eye?
When the shot is lined up both temporally and spatially and run through a difference filter, we can see the changes between the teaser and final film more clearly. The warm/red tones of the difference composite indicate the areas that were cooled off. One can also notice the addition of the lens flare (which shows up as a bright glow in the difference composite).
The difference composite also solves the mystery of Clark's eye. His eye socket is actually being lifted (and warmed) due to a soft lens reflection, tied to the additional animated lens flare. Careful study of the difference composite reveals the lens reflection in his hair on the frame before, and against the sky in the frame after. The reflection element is effectively boosting Clark's eye on that single frame which clears up his sunken eyes, which gives the feeling of increased clarity. Watch the HD video for the complete analysis.