Color grading choices

If buzz equals sales, then Blackmagic Design has a hit on its hands with DaVinci Resolve for the Mac. They have successfully cashed in on DaVinci’s mystique with the desktop crowd. Blackmagic Design even seems to be getting the interest of Apple Color users, in spite of the fact that Resolve really doesn’t have anything significantly better to offer, aside from the brand name. Ironically, a number of big DaVinci users have told me off the record that they are moving on to Quantel, Autodesk and other advanced systems. For these customers, “big iron” support is something they’ve grown to rely on and that clearly isn’t Blackmagic Design’s plan for DaVinci.

My experience is primarily as a desktop software user, so I’d like to compare and contrast some of the options at this level. If you are looking for a dedicated desktop color grading tool, there are four viable options – Avid Media Composer, Apple Color, Adobe CS5 (using Synthetic Aperture Color Finesse within After Effects) and Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve. I’m going to skip over Avid DS and Autodesk Smoke simply because I’d like to concentrate on the under-$5,000 solutions. Likewise, I’ll exclude Avid Symphony – partially out of cost and partially because most of the toolset matches that of Media Composer. As a past Symphony user, I know that it has a few really nice bells-and-whistles that improve grading efficiency, but the inherent toolset – what you can do with an image – is largely the same.

When you look at those four solutions, you find that they all offer a similar toolset – curves, lift/gamma/gain color balance adjustments, trackers and secondary color correction. When it gets to this last point, Media Composer comes out pretty weak. There’s no integrated secondary correction (note: Symphony does have limited secondary control), but you can get to a similar result using the animatte/intraframe editing/paint tools, plug-ins and nesting techniques.

When you use Color Finesse within After Effects, you do have color-isolation-based secondary correction, which is much like the same feature that’s in Symphony (but not included in Media Composer). The downside of After Effects is the lack of a true shot-to-shot color grading workflow. (There is a standalone version of Color Finesse, which uses a similar roundtrip approach to that of Apple Color, but it has never caught on and is not included with the CS5 bundle.)

Unless you are a masochist, it’s a really only a choice between an integrated tool, such as Avid’s, and a dedicated grading application like Resolve or Color. Although I’ve done really nice grading work with Avid Symphony and Media Composer, I really consider them to be mediocre grading tools given the competition. For dedicated grading, it really does boil down to a Color versus Resolve choice. Let me interject that I’m mainly talking about grading for commercials and long form projects that need grading for a “look”. If grading is an integral part of a complex composite for a visual effects shot, then none of these solutions is good enough. In those instances, advanced applications like Avid DS or Autodesk Smoke really do have an edge. Some of those results can be achieved with Avid Media Composer, Final Cut Studio and Adobe CS5, but often require a healthy set of special-purpose plug-ins to augment the built-in tools. I’ll skip that for now and concentrate on standard grading.

One of the things that struck me as I worked with Resolve for the review was just how good Color actually is. Resolve has some very limiting hardware requirements, while Color will run on most newer Mac Pros and Macbook Pros and use just about any monitor. People tend to forget about the fact the Apple has done a good job of enabling Final Cut Studio to work across a wide spectrum of OS versions and hardware combinations.

Not so with Resolve. What this tends to mean is that Color functions quite nicely in a multipurpose suite for editing, graphics, audio, effects and grading. Resolve, on the other hand, dictates a machine and room that is built around the needs of Resolve. On the plus side, DaVinci leverages the CUDA power of certain NVIDIA cards for greater real-time performance. Unfortunately this chews up your slot space and limits you to one brand of graphics card. I personally would never build a “DaVinci room” unless I knew it would primarily serve as a color grading suite.

Both toolsets feature primary and secondary grading (vignettes and HSL keyer), but only Color integrates with Final Cut Pro using an XML roundtrip. Color also includes the Color FX room with a plug-in architecture and available third party plug-ins. Both apps work well, however, for me the only reason to pick Resolve over Color comes down to three reasons: 1) you haven’t invested in the FCP/Studio suite, 2) you feel the DaVinci name will bring you clients, or 3) you have a talented colorist available to you who performs better with Resolve. Given these points, it would seem to me that Resolve has a greater appeal to Avid editors than to owners of Final Cut Studio.

As I mentioned before, you might need to deal with color grading as an integrated feature within the editing interface itself. If this means desktop solutions like Premiere Pro/After Effects, Final Cut Pro/Motion or Media Composer, then you’ll want to add some filters specifically geared around color. The most recognized solutions are Magic Bullet Looks, Mojo and Colorista II, but don’t forget the others. Each of the popular packages from Boris, GenArts, CoreMelt and Noise Industries includes filters for color manipulation. The stand-outs include DV Shade, PHYXSapphire and Luca Visual FX.

© 2011 Oliver Peters

Automatic Duck ProImportAE5

Even though many NLE vendors are integrating the ability to import AAF and XML project formats, Automatic Duck remains the leader in timeline translation. The company started in 2001 with Pro Import for After Effects. The main goal at that time was to move Avid Media Composer sequences into After Effects for advanced compositing work.

Automatic Duck has recently released Pro Import AE 5.0 for After Effects CS5 (Mac is shipping now, with a Windows version to follow.) The application will also work with After Effects CS3 and CS4. Pro Import AE elegantly handles the process of importing Avid OMF/AAF, Final Cut Pro XML or Motion projects into After Effects as a composition. In this file conversion, it will connect clips to the original media files, translate as many applicable effects parameters and keyframes as possible and apply matching filter settings whenever a common filter occurs in both the NLE and After Effects. Version 5.0 adds even a few more twists that are hard to beat.

I tested Pro Import AE 5.0 with both Final Cut Pro 7 and Media Composer 5. Simply export an Avid AAF composition file or an FCP XML file as a starter. Automatic Duck also offers a free XML exporter for Final Cut. Both it and the built-in FCP exporter work, but I had more consistent results using the Automatic Duck XML exporter. If your Media Composer 5 sequence consists of AMA-linked media, then you’ll first need to transcode the timeline into Avid MXF media before an AAF export is possible.

Start a new After Effects project and use the Automatic Duck Pro Import AE option to open the target XML or AAF file. Pro Import AE offers some settings choices to control how media is to be handled and how to configure the After Effects timeline. For example, you can opt to bring all clips in as individual media in one timeline – or nest all clips from a single NLE video track into a mini-composition within a larger After Effects comp. You may also choose to include audio or not. QuickTime media files from Final Cut open natively in After Effects, but Avid’s MXF format typically can’t be read. Automatic Duck adds the neat trick of creating QuickTime reference files for Avid media. This takes very little time and makes it possible to open an Avid sequence in After Effects. Since a clip on the After Effects timeline is linked to the full-length media clip, you still have the ability to slip, slide and otherwise trim your edited sequence even in After Effects.

A very interesting option added in version 5 is the ability to handle native REDCODE .R3D camera files. If you edited a RED project in FCP using transcoded proxy media (created by FCP’s Log and Transfer – NOT the camera-generated QuickTime reference movies), Pro Import AE can be set to automatically replace the proxy files with the camera raw .R3D files. The imported After Effects composition now includes the RED files in all their 4K goodness. Since the media file sizes have changed in this process, you will need to make some scale adjustments in After Effects. At the moment, this media replacement feature only applies to Final Cut XML and not to Avid AAF files.

I tested a number of complex sequences from both Avid and Final Cut with good success. In fact, this process worked far better than Adobe’s own XML and AAF importer built-in into Premiere Pro. I’ve never had Adobe’s AAF import work and XML import frequently had errors. Pro Import AE seems far more bullet-proof. Unsupported effects showed an error message, but never stopped the import from working. When a filter is used that doesn’t exist in After Effects, like FCP’s 3-way color corrector, the timeline clip will show a little flag with the name of the filter.

Text generators seem to be the biggest issue. FCP’s Boris titler resulted in a blank, color slug in After Effects. Standard FCP text generators were partially translated. The text itself and opacity keyframes were there, but the font style, size and position were wrong. I had far better results when I applied common filter sets. For example, the same Noise Industries and CoreMelt filters install into Final Cut, Motion and After Effects. If you use Final Cut on the same system as After Effects and apply one of these filters in your sequence, it will appear with the correct parameters in the translated After Effects composition. That’s because the same filter has been installed into both applications.

Out of curiosity, I also moved the After Effects sequence into Premiere Pro. I first imported an XML file via Pro Import AE into After Effects CS5. Next, I copied-and-pasted the After Effects clips from its timeline into a Premiere Pro sequence. Much easier and more reliable than using the Adobe importer! After Effects stacks timeline clips onto adjacent tracks like a continually ascending or descending staircase. When I pasted the After Effects clips into Premiere Pro, they returned to the track order used in Final Cut. Pretty cool!

Automatic Duck continues to be in a class by itself. Pro Import AE is a must-have for anyone using After Effects to augment their NLE for advanced effects or as a finishing tool. With the new RED replacement option, Pro Import AE becomes the ideal bridge between a Final Cut creative edit and a 4K finish in After Effects. Not to mention that it’s still the best way for Avid cutters to tap into a word-class desktop compositor. Once again proving why Automatic Duck Pro Import AE is an essential item in the toolbox.

Written for Videography and DV magazines (NewBay Media LLC)

©2010 Oliver Peters

RED Post – the Easy Way III

If you’ve read some of my past articles about RED, you know I’m not a huge fan of “native” editing using the camera raw files as source clips. I find that an offline/online workflow is still best for smoothly editing RED projects, yet it still retains access to the raw color data during the finishing process. Previously I discussed an easy workflow for Apple Final Cut Pro and Color users, but this isn’t the only solution. As you know, Avid Media Composer 5 and Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 have both integrated support for RED’s camera raw files. In this post, I’m going to discuss a couple of ways to use these tools in a non-native fashion.

Option A:  Avid Media Composer 5 offline-online RED workflow

Thanks to AMA and RED camera’s SDK, Media Composer 5 offers access to RED’s .R3D files. You can import camera files and adjust the source color settings from within the NLE’s interface. You can either edit directly from these files or transcode them to Avid media for a smoother and faster editing experience. Here is a short step-by-step explanation of a Media Composer-based workflow.

Step 1. Access/import RED .R3D files via AMA (Avid Media Access). Camera clips will open inside Media Composer bins, complete with camera metadata.

Step 2. If you want to change the levels/gamma/exposure/balance of the file by altering the camera raw data, then open the Source Settings for each clip and adjust the video.

Step 3. Adjust the clip framing by opening the bin Reformat column and set the option for each clip (center cut, letterboxed, etc.). Remember that your RED clips may have a 2:1 aspect ratio, but your Avid sequence will be either HD 16:9 or SD 16:9 / 4:3.

Step 4. Set the Media Creation render tab to a video resolution of DNxHD36 with a Debayer quality of “quarter”. Since the objective is a good rough cut – not “finishing” – this quality settings is more than adequate for editing and screening your creative edits.

Step 5. Transcode all source clips. This process runs at close to real-time on a fast machine. When transcoding is done, close all AMA bins and do not use them during the edit. You’ll edit with the transcoded media only.

Step 6. Edit as normal until you get an approved, “locked” picture.

Step 7. Now it’s time to switch to “finishing”. Move or hide all Avid media (the transcoded DNxHD36 clips) by taking them out of the Avid MediaFiles/MXF/1 folder(s) on your media hard drive(s). You could also delete them, but it’s safer not to do that unless you really have to. Best to simply move them into a relabeled folder. Once you’ve done this, your edited sequence will appear with all media off-line.

Step 8. Open the AMA bins (with the .R3D files) and relink the edited sequence to the AMA clips. Make sure the “Allow relinking of imported/AMA clips by Source File name” is NOT checked in the Relink dialogue window. When relinking is completed, the sequence will be repopulated with AMA media, which will be the native, camera raw .R3D files. If you want to change the raw color data at this point, you will need to change each source clip and then refresh the sequence to update the color for clips that appear within the timeline.

Step 9. Change the Media Creation settings to a higher video resolution (such as DNxHD 175 X) and a Debayer quality of “full”.

Step 10. Consolidate/transcode your sequence. This will create new Avid media clips at full quality that are only the length of the clips as they appear in the cut, plus handles. Since a transcode using a “full” Debayer setting will be EXTREMELY SLOW, make sure you set very short handle lengths. (Note: If you have a Red Rocket card installed, Avid supports hardware-assisted rendering to accelerate the transcoding of RED media.)

Step 11. Finish all effects and color grading within the NLE as you normally would.

Option B:  Apple FCP / Automatic Duck / Adobe CS5 workflow

You might be asking, why not just edit in Final Cut Pro or Premiere Pro? The hitch is that Final Cut doesn’t support 4K files and Premiere Pro has a good native, but not a good offline-online workflow for RED files. FCP users clearly outnumber Premiere Pro users among professional film and video editors, however, both After Effects and Premiere Pro offer some interesting finishing options. In fact, a number of feature films have used both for all or part of the finishing process. A combination of Apple and Adobe tools creates some interesting scenarios for RED post. (Note: Automatic Duck Pro Import AE 5.0 is required.)

Step 1. Ingest your RED .R3D clips into Final Cut Pro using Log and Transfer. Set the preferences to use ProRes Proxy (NOT “native”). Set the color to “as shot”. This requires that the RED plug-in for FCS has been installed. (Refer to the previous article for a more in-depth explanation of this first step.) Please note that it is important to do this with the R3D files and not to start by simply dragging the in-camera-generated H, M or P QuickTime reference files into the FCP browser. Many RED users erroneously consider these to be “proxy” edit files. They are not. They are reference files at different resolutions/sizes that are linked to the R3D files and do not work correctly in this process.

Step 2. Edit normally in FCP until the cut is “locked”.

Step 3. Export an XML of your Final Cut sequence. I prefer using Automatic Duck’s free XML exporter and have had more reliable results with it, but the built-in FCP XML exporter will also work.

Step 4. Launch Adobe After Effects CS5. (Pro Import AE 5 works with CS3 and CS4, too, but you need to use an Adobe CS version compatible with native RED files.) Import the XML file using Pro Import AE 5. Make sure your Automatic Duck preferences are set to “Replace proxy footage with .R3D files.” The result will be an After Effects timeline with settings that match the Final Cut Pro sequence settings, except that all the clips will now be linked to the original camera files.

Step 5. Since the ProRes Proxy files were most likely 2K files, and the newly relinked camera files are the original 4K size, you will need to reset the scale value of each clip in the composition. This reframes the shot to fit inside the 2K frame, just as they did in FCP. Or you can creatively reframe the shots, since you have all the “bleed” of the full 4K frame. Alternatively, you can change the After Effects composition setting to match the 4K size.

At this point you could completely finish the project in After Effects, and there are a number of folks who would advocate that. From my point-of-view, After Effects is a compositing tool, rather than a DI or editing application. With the changes in Premiere Pro CS5, my druthers would be to get the media into that application. I’m only using After Effects as a conduit between Final Cut Pro and Premiere Pro in this process.

You could go from After Effects to Premiere Pro via Adobe’s Dynamic Linking, but I’d rather not. That simply nests the After Effects composition as a single clip on the Premiere Pro timeline. I want the shots available as individual timeline clips, so follow these steps.

Step 6. Launch a new Premiere Pro CS5 project and select a new sequence setting from one of the RED presets, such as a 4K timeline.

Step 7. Highlight all of the .R3D clips in the After Effects composition and Copy.

Step 8. Switch to the Premiere Pro sequence window and Paste. All of the RED clips will now fill up the Premiere Pro sequence. At this point you should have a native 4K sequence with .R3D camera raw media. Corresponding master clips will show up in the Premiere Pro project window.

Step 9. To change the camera raw color settings of the .R3D files, open a clip from the project window and alter its source settings. These changes will automatically update that clip on the timeline.

Step 10. Finish effects and color grading as desired. If you are using this process with the intent of sending files to a DI house for film finishing, then your settings and any grading should be very neutral to allow for maximum latitude at the next stage.

Step 11. Export media. A big selling point of Premiere Pro CS5 to RED users is that it allows you to export DPX image sequences, in addition to all of the standard media options. DPX is the preferred format of most high-end DI solutions, like Quantel Pablo, Autodesk Lustre, etc. Premiere Pro CS5 is one of the few desktop solutions that enables an export of full-resolution 4K DPX files from the edited timeline.

OK, I’ve given you a lot to chew on. In three articles on RED post, I’ve covered quite a few ways to finish RED-acquired projects. Don’t get overwhelmed. Remember that you don’t have to use them all. Simply pick the one that’s best for you and have fun.

©2010 Oliver Peters

PHYX Color

I find the many color correction tools to be the most useful of the various plug-ins on the market. For me, they become the most often used, because they don’t lock you into a trite look, characteristic of many special effects filters. Noise Industries, whose filters are a cut above the norm, has accrued a nice collection of FxFactory filters that can be used for grading and color correction, thanks to their partnership with developers, such as DV Shade and Luca Visual FX.

A recent addition to the fold is PHYX, who has been a developer of plug-ins for Apple Shake. Their association with Noise Industries now brings two powerful tool groups (PHYX Keyer and PHYX Color) to Final Cut Pro, Final Cut Express, Motion and After Effects.

Click any image to see an enlarged view

PHYX Color is a deceptively simple set of five color correction/grading filters: Bleach Bypass, Glow Dark, Selective Saturation, Shift/Suppress and Techni2Strip. The names might imply a one-trick pony, but that’s hardly the case. I’ve pulled a sample frame from a recent Canon 5D project I posted for DeBortoli Wines. This frame is of their lovely Yarra Valley, Australia winery estate. The image is as it came from the camera – in other words, I haven’t done any correction to it prior to applying these filters.


The look of the Technicolor process came back into vogue with The Aviator and a few filter sets include a plug-in similar to this. Techni2Strip attempts to authentically simulate the process of photographing through green and red filters and offers two methods. Above is an example of Method A, which offers the most control and is supposed to be the most accurate simulation of the process. In general, adjustments shift the image between being more yellow or more cyan.

Here’s an example of Method B, which offers less control and according to PHYX is a less authentic simulation.


This filter is analogous to using a colored gel in either an additive or subtractive process. Shift (seen above) moves the colors in an image towards the selected color. In this example, teal.

When set to Suppress, the selected color is removed from the image. Here, I’ve selected a blue, which is then pulled out or suppressed as a component of the foliage, hills and sky in this shot.

Selective Saturation

Selective Saturation is a similar effect to Suppress but uses a different sampling technique. More of a specific color is removed and it is a better filter if you are trying to isolate a specific color. In this example, I sampled the darker vineyard area and desaturated it. This left saturation in the main building and hills in the background.

Glow Dark

This filter diffuses the darker area of the image. It is intended to be used on very crisp, synthetic images – like computer-generated scenes – and make them look more “real”. The diffusion removes the harshness of edges. Its use shouldn’t be limited to CGI, however. In this first example, you can see that an extreme setting gives you a very diffused look for a more dream-like result.

This second example with different settings yields a different result entirely. Note how the ridge in the middle of this scene feels almost three-dimensionally offset from the distant hills in the background.

Bleach Bypass

A bleach bypass filter has been a staple of many effects packages since the look first cropped back up in Three Kings and Savings Private Ryan. This one gives you an authentic look, which characteristically is desaturated, high contrast and has blown-out highlights. Unlike many others, PHYX Bleach Bypass can also be useful as a general grading filter and doesn’t need to result in the typical “skip bleach” look. Above, I’ve set it to have a very hyper-real, colorful appearance.

This second example is more like what you expect to see when you think of the look of a “bleach bypass” or “skip-bleach” or “ENR” process.

Mix and match

Like any filter in Final Cut Studio or After Effects, you don’t need to stop at just one! Often you get the best result when you stack up a few to establish a “look”. In the following examples, I’ve applied four PHYX Color filters (Bleach Bypass, Glow Dark, Suppress and Shift) to the image, which is shown neutral above.

First, I’ve applied Bleach Bypass and cranked up the settings for a very punchy result.

Second, Glow Dark adds some diffusion.

Third, I’ve used Suppress to pull some of the lushness out of the green of the foliage.

Fourth, I’ve used Shift to add an overall peach-color tint to the image.

©2010 Oliver Peters

Color Grading Effects Demystified

Color correction – or color grading – has taken on more importance these days, with new tools like Apple Color and digital cinematography cameras like the RED One. It is both the objective task of matching shots and evening out differences between them – and the subjective task of creating an artful “look”. Some facilities have dubbed their rooms as “color perfection suites” – and rightfully so.

I am going to revisit the topic of color grading inside Final Cut Pro. Although Color is a great tool, it’s not right in all situations and can be very challenging on many machines. Quite frankly, an awful lot of color grading is done right inside the NLE timeline. I am writing this from the point-of-view of Final Cut, but the processes can be utilized with any editing or compositing tool that can apply a stack of filters to each clip. My comments are valid for such apps as Premiere Pro, After Effects, EDIUS and others. This even applies to Avid Media Composer, although that has a very healthy color correction mode, so I’m not sure why you’d want to; except in the case of special looks requiring other filters.

Many inexperienced editors think that all you need for good color grading is a copy of Red Giant Software’s Magic Bullet Looks. Apply a preset effect and bingo, you’re done. Of course, it’s never that easy and quite frankly they are, in effect, looking for a “magic bullet” solution. Now, I do like Looks, but there’s no reason you can’t do great work without it and that’s what this post is about. FCP comes with many useful built-in effects filters located in the Color Correction, Image Control and Stylize filter palette branches. Plus, you have timeline Composite (“blend”) modes that can also be used to affect the look of a clip. There are plenty of filters you can purchase or pick up for free to augment the included tools. Just check out the Ecosystem page for links.

(NOTE: A follow-up article may be found at this link.)

Image 1

Click on the images to enlarge

A while back I wrote about using Looks with RED footage and I linked to this ShootWithRed blog post. For this article, I decided to snag the same image. The starting point is a very flat looking image of an actress shot with a RED One camera. Flat images are great for color grading because you can push the image pretty far for drastically different looks. For the sake of composing my frame grabs, I’ve flopped the image to bring the woman and the filter tab closer together. So all of these examples have a horizontal “flop” at the top of the stack. FCP uses a top-down order, so the first filter applied will be at the top of the list and the last will be at the bottom. In many cases, changing the filter order will change your color grading results.

Image 2

On this image, I have applied the basic FCP 3-way Color Corrector for a pleasing image and relatively standard grade.

Image 3

The first step in color grading is usually adjusting brightness and contrast levels. Changing the luminance curve is a way to make an image more “filmic”. CoreMelt makes some nice filters in their Pigment package, complete with a custom UI and “heads up” curves display.

Image 4

This is the same image as above, but with Magic Bullet Colorista applied after the CoreMelt filter. I’ve used Colorista to change the overall exposure and saturation of the image.

Image 5

Now I’m back to the built-in FCP controls from the Image Control tools. Equalize and Saturate let me do much the same as above – adjust tonal and saturation qualities.

Image 6

Joe Maller sells a  whole slew of useful effects filters under the Joe’s Filters banner. I’ve added one of Joe’s Soft filters to the previous image for a diffused vignette around the actress. This filter uses blend modes, so this is the look with the filter set to “normal”.

Image 7

The image is the same as above, but with the Soft filter in “multiply”.

Image 8

CHV develops plug-ins to sell, but includes a couple of freebees. Here is Silk and Fog. The key is that it comes with five very different settings: silk, fog, shadows, borders and flatten. In this image, I’ve applied a basic FCP Color Corrector and then the Silk and Fog filter in the Borders setting.

Image 9

CHV Silk and Fog using the Shadows setting.

Image 10

CHV Silk and Fog using the Silk setting.

Image 11

Colorista is a deceptively powerful color grading tool that is available as a plug-in for many different applications. You can use it for masks that work like DaVinci’s Power Windows or secondary vignettes in Apple Color. Colorista can be applied to the whole image, but can also be applied inside or outside of elliptical and rectangular masks. In this next series of images, I’ll build up a look by applying a series of Colorista filters to one clip. This is the first instance of the filter, used to apply a base look to the whole shot.

Image 12

When applying a Colorista mask, using the “red overlay” setting allows you to see the mask as you position it.

Image 13

Now with the correction applied within the mask area. I have used this to increase color saturation on the shoulders and face.

Image 14

Here is a third instance of Colorista, using an inverted mask for the rest of the shot. I have desaturated the area around the woman and shifted it to a more blue tone.

Image 15

Two freebee filters I use a lot are the Haiku plug-ins called Face Light and Vignette. You can do much of the same as you would with Colorista masks. Face Light brightens and/or blurs an area inside of a mask and Vignette will darken an area outside of one. Essentially like “dodge” and “burn” in Photoshop. Here I’m using both on top of the FCP Color Corrector.

Image 16

Bleach Bypass is one of those trendy grading effects. Nattress makes a nice one, but the general principle behind most variations of this effect is to decrease saturation and increase contrast.

Image 17

In a second step, I have applied Nattress’ Temperature to the Bleach Bypass filter. The Temperature filter is shifted to the warmer setting, resulting is a somewhat monochromatic, but reddish tone to the whole image.

Image 18

Color or chromatic glow effects are popular to bloom highlights in an image. In this one, I’ve combined Colorista with Joe’s Color Glow to get the booming effect off of the actress’ shoulder.

Image 19

One new entry to color grading is DVShade, a Noise Industries development partner. Here’s an example of their EasyLooks filter. It is applied as a single plug-in effect, but actually combines within it, many different functions and presets.

Image 20

I mentioned earlier that you can use FCP’s timeline Composite mode for color grading. In this example, I’ve stacked two of the same image onto V1 and V2. The top clip is set to “overlay”. FCP’s Color Corrector is applied on V1 and adjusted to taste, while an FCP Glow filter is applied to the clip on V2. The result is more contrast with glowing highlights on the actress.

Image 21

These next two images use another blend mode effect. This is the V1 clip with a Color Corrector and Prism effect.

Image 22

Now I have edited the same clip onto V2 and applied the Color Corrector filter and made adjustments to taste. The V2 clip is in “overlay”, which lets some of the normal image show back through. The result is that the fringing of the Prism filter becomes more subtle.

Image 23

Compound Blur is another useful built-in FCP filter. When used at a very light setting, it adds image diffusion and can be used to soften rough skin complexion.

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This next set of images utilizes three built-in filters: Levels, Saturate and Gradient Colorize. The last one is a bit wacky and I’ve honestly never used it; however, it does seem that you can get some very cool looks with it.

Image 25

A different gradient setting.

Image 26

A third gradient setting.

Image 27

Same as above, but with the addition of the CHV Silk and Fog filter in the Flatten setting.

Image 28

The acid trip’s over! Now we are back to a “standard” look. This image combines Colorista and the FCP 3-way. I’ve used Colorista for the base grade. Next, I’ve applied the 3-way, but turned on the limit controls. In doing so, I’ve isolated the general range of her skin tones. This creates a mask (which I have inverted), used to control the application of the 3-way. In this case, to darken and desaturate the rest of the image – i.e. the luma/sat/hue range outside of her skin tones.

Image 29

This is another example of a lot of tweaking to “relight” an image. I’ve used several instances of Colorista to grade the image and enhance certain masked areas. For example, to change the grade on her face, back and the background area to the right. Lastly, I’ve added film grain using the Magic Bullet Looks MisFire filter.

Image 30

This is a combination of the built-in HSV Adjust filter and CoreMelt’s Filmic Look.

Image 31

This image stacks a series of Joe’s Filters: Levels, Saturate and Soft Gradients. The latter is used to diffuse the right hand side of the frame. This creates a bit of the “swing-and-tilt” lens look.

Image 32

My final image combines two layers for a composite. The V2 clip is in the “additive” blend mode. The clip on V1 has a Light Rays effect, while the blend with V2 makes the effect more subtle. Both have FCP Color Correctors applied to them, which are adjusted to taste.

© 2009 Oliver Peters

FxFactory adds diversity to your toolkit


For the past few posts I’ve been looking at a number of new plug-ins and applications designed to augment an editor’s toolset. I’m going to round off this “Plug-in Summer” with a fresh look at FxFactory. Noise Industries was one of the first developers to leverage the power of Apple’s Core Image technology for real-time filter application – first with Factory Tools for Avid (AVX) and then FxFactory for Apple’s FxPlug architecture. They found the most success with FCP editors and have focused primarily on FxFactory, but current versions of Factory Tools can still be purchased for Avid systems.




FxFactory operates with the three primary FxPlug hosts (Final Cut Express, Final Cut Pro and Motion), as well as Adobe After Effects CS3 and CS4. It actually installs as two components – the FxFactory filter management application and a package of plug-ins. The FxFactory application isn’t used to apply filters. Instead, this is where you control license registrations, hide filters you don’t want to use and disable trial versions. It also provides one place to get a quick visual overview and access to user instructions for all the effects. Last but not least, adventurous editors can use this as a portal for Apple’s Quartz Composer in order to develop their own custom plug-ins. That’s a unique part of FxFactory not offered by any other plug-in developer.




Noise Industries has developed their business through a partnership with various plug-in developers, who design specific filters to work with the FxFaxtory engine. These developers currently include idustrial revolution, yanobox, Boinx Software, SUGARfx, Futurismo Zugakousaku, DVShade and, of course, Noise Industries itself. In its most basic form, FxFactory is a free download. This means that you get the FxFactory application, a few free plug-ins and 15-day trial versions of the other filter packages. This is a great way to get started, because if you only care to buy the yanobox Motype title animation generator or the DVShade color correction EasyLooks filter, then that’s all you have to pay for. If you want a more comprehensive package, then get FxFactory Pro, which includes over 140 filters, generators and transitions, as well as the other trial packages. You also get a free 15-day trial period with the Pro package.




ParticleMetrix example




Boinx example


This partnership arrangement is an interesting aspect of the Noise Industries approach. Most plug-in vendors develop their filters with an in-house programming staff, resulting in a similar style and focus to the plug-ins that are developed. Since FxFactory plug-ins come from a variety of different programmers – each with a different vision of what they’d like to create – the total sum of filters provides more diverse choices than the competition. For instance, there are lots of glow filters on the market, but I’ve rarely seen anything as organic as idustrial revolution’s Volumetrix 2 package. FxFaxtory didn’t include particle effects until idustrial revolution came out with ParticleMetrix and Boinx Software was added as a partner. Now there are two of the most gorgeous particle packages under the same umbrella.




Much of this expansion has happened in the past year, giving you a lot to choose from in 2009. For instance, Final Cut Pro 7 will introduce alpha transitions, but idustrial revolution has been there for at least a year or more with SupaWipe. The new Final Cut Studio package will drop LiveType, so if you don’t want to do the effects in Motion 4 (or an older version of LiveType), yanobox Motype is a good alternative. Motype offers a wealth of presets with tons of customization so you can create very graceful title animations, all within a single track and single application of an effects generator. Remember, all of this installs into the Final Cut Studio apps, as well as After Effects, so editors who like to do their heavy lifting in After Effects can maintain filter compatibility.




It’s hard to cover the whole breadth of what’s possible with these effects in one single post. A relative newcomer is DVShade, whose EasyLooks provides FxFactory with a color corrector. This filter is deceptively simple, because it shows up as a single filter in the palette. Nevertheless, it includes a slider-based 3-way corrector, diffusion, gradient and vignette tools and a ton of preset looks. Unlike other 3-ways, target colors selected for the low/gamma/high color wells are used to tint those color ranges in an additive or subtractive fashion. This approach yields some interesting results. Like all the Noise Industries filters, if you are confused about its use, simply click on the logo at the top of the filter control pane to launch a PDF help guide. In the past year, Noise Industries has added a number of video tutorials to its website to further improve the customer experience.




As you look through the many options for filters, generators and transitions, it’s hard to decide which product is the best, if you assume that you only can purchase one package. Noise Industries offers some diverse and powerful options, but remember that it’s not “all or nothing”. Many companies are breaking down their comprehensive packages into smaller sets of filters. That’s great for the user – allowing you to get color correction filters from Company A, titling tools from Company B, keyers from Company C and so on. It’s a model that Noise Industries helped to start and one that let users customize their ideal working environment.


©2009 Oliver Peters

A little mocha in your video?


Tracking is the key to believable visual effects and one of the leaders in this technology is Imagineer Systems. Mocha, a 2D standalone tracker, is one of their better known products. If you purchased one of Adobe’s Creative Suite 4 bundles that included After Effects, then you already own mocha for After Effects, whether you know it or not. This year Imagineer released mocha for Final Cut Pro, bringing the same tracking power to FCP editors.


Many software packages already include tracking technology. Avid Media Composer, Apple Motion and Adobe After Effects all include built-in trackers. So, why buy another? All of these trackers are “point” trackers. You isolate one or more obvious targets on an image and position a tracker over it. Usually this is an area of a few pixels with a high contrast difference, like a clear logo or sign in the frame that moves with the object you are tracking. As the object moves through the frame, the tracker hopefully stays “locked” onto this target area while the software does an analysis pass of the video clip. If the tracked point moves off screen or out of focus, most point trackers will have trouble following and new tracker targets have to be picked where the first track leaves off. Often tracks have to be manually adjusted.




The information generated by tracking results in keyframe data that can be applied to stabilize shots, corner pin objects or to moving masks for filters and other effects. More accurate tracking is achieved by adding more point trackers. Corner pinning – used to replace one logo with another – generally requires four trackers. Mocha differs from these other tracking systems because it is a planar tracker. Instead of tracking isolated points, you draw a spline shape around an object and mocha will analyze all the pixels within that shape. This results in a more accurate track, even when part of the tracked area moves off screen, goes out of focus or when a foreground object briefly cuts across part of the tracked area.




Mocha for After Effects and for Final Cut are not true plug-ins, but are separate applications. The difference between them is the export module. To work in either version, simply import the clip to be tracked. At this point you are in mocha, which is basically the same as the full-blown, standalone version. Once you have completed the track, made adjustments and are satisfied with the results, you are ready to export the data. This last stage is where the plug-in versions differ. Both generate either basic motion information (translate, scale, rotate) or distort (corner pinning) values. The After Effects version generates text files that can be copied-and-pasted into AE as keyframes. The Final Cut version exports XML files that can be imported into FCP.


The data can also be inverted during the export. For example, if you are using the tracking data to stabilize an image, you’ll want to invert the data, so that the image is stable and stationary, but the frame around it appears to be moving. If you intend to use this tracking data in Apple Motion, then you first have to import the XML into FCP and “Send to a Motion project” from FCP.


When you import the XML file, the clip is imported along with motion tab data applied to it. Depending on which data you exported, this will either consist of scaling/position/rotation keyframes or distort keyframes for each corner. The keyframe data can be copied-and-pasted (paste attributes) onto a logo or mask. To place a new logo into a shot, cut the clip onto V1. Highlight the clip and copy. Cut the logo onto V2 and paste attributes (which came from the V1 clip). Now remove attributes from the clip on V1. If you used corner pinning, you can still adjust scale/position/rotation of the V2 logo for a better fit – or – if you applied basic motion, then you can still adjust the corner positions (distort).




I recently used both versions of mocha (AE and FCP) on a commercial for several shot repairs. The clips were of a large stadium video screen and above the screen was an LED sign with the words “Kansas City”. Unfortunately on the day of the shoot, the panel containing the middle “S” was not completely working. The production couldn’t be held up, so the decision was made to fix it in post. When I first saw the shots, I thought the fix was going to be a piece of cake inside FCP. Simply duplicate the clip so the same clip is on V1 and V2. Offset and crop the V2 clip so that the second “S” overlapped and hid the first “S” and all would be fine. Both clips would be moving in sync and the two letters would match perfectly. So much for theory! The shots were Steadicam shots with a right-to-left movement throughout the shot. These were also low angle shots resulting in enough optical difference between the positions of the two letters to make a simple fix impossible.


The next approach was tracking. Let me point out that mocha is a 2.5D planar tracker. In the real world it does a good job with objects that stay on the same plane relative to the lens, including with perspective changes. You won’t be immune from problems created by arcing or trucking 3D camera moves. All of the nice demos and tutorials are often done using moving subjects that are within static camera shots. Rarely are both moving.




Another consideration is film and 3:2 pulldown. These spots were shot on 35mm film and transferred to Digital Betacam. As with most NTSC footage, I had to contend with the whole-frame/split-field-frame cadence of film transfers. Although mocha can track across these split-field frames, the resulting data doesn’t necessarily composite well back in Motion or Final Cut. My solution was to first remove the pulldown in After Effects – one of the best tools for that. Then simply render out a 24fps progressive-frame file.


( Note: Most video apps express the video-friendly version of 24p as 23.98. That’s a rounded-up value. After Effects uses the 3-digit version of 23.976. Most apps make no distinction and use the same math, but in the case of AE, there is a difference between 23.976 and 23.98. So, use 23.976 in AE and you’ll still be OK as 23.98 back in FCP. )


Step one done. My clips were now progressive frame media at 24fps (23.976). Now for the fun. I pulled a single frame into Photoshop, fixed the “S” and cut out the sign to form the new foreground element. I would track this onto the clip to replace the original sign. In order to get the most rock solid lock, I ended up using a whole slew of tracking solutions, including Motion, After Effects and both versions of mocha. I exported both motion data and corner pinning data to try it either way.


In all cases, I found the track from mocha to be more precise than After Effects or Motion, but that didn’t always translate to the best compositing results. Corner pinning data sometimes results in information that is too precise and the object appears to jitter in a composite, because of the minute changes in each corner at each of the many keyframes. On the other hand, motion data results in an objects that appear to float too much and don’t look as locked as you’d like. As I said, mocha provided a great track, but this doesn’t mean that the keyframe values are precisely interpreted in the host compositor.


The last shot gave me the most fits, even though it looked the easiest. The sign was large in the frame and tracking points stayed in frame. Any of the trackers should have done well, but they didn’t. As the camera moved, someone in the foreground crowd was clapping and his hand intersected one of the corners for a few frames. I couldn’t get a good track with any of the point trackers. In this situation mocha shined. The analysis ignored the hand, since the larger spline area covered the entire shape of the sign. Instead of corner pinning, I used basic motion data and composited the shot in FCP.


( Note: After I was done tracking these shots, I stumbled upon this quick tutorial by Mathias Mohl, which combines his After Effects MochaImport script and Red Giant Software’s Warp to better deal with such perspective distortion issues. )


Once I had fixed all of the shots and had new 24p media, I brought these files back into After Effects. There I rendered new 29.97 clips with new 3:2 pulldown, so that the clips could be cleanly cut back into the spots.


Although no single solution provides the silver bullet to fix some of these issues, Imagineer Systems’ mocha goes much farther than the built-in solutions. If tracking is something you need to do often, then mocha for FCP is a pretty cost-effective answer.


© 2009 Oliver Peters