FCP X grading styles and tools

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One of the aspects I enjoy about Final Cut Pro X is the wealth of tools and methods for color correction, grading or whatever you want to call the process. There simply is no other NLE on the market with as many built-in and third-party tools for making adjustments to image color and style. I’m not limiting this to simply color correction, but also glow, diffusion and stylizing filters that increasingly are a part of  a grading session. It’s about getting the right look for the best emotional impact and with FCP X there are a host of choices at very little expense.

In addition, the filters being developed for FCP X include more photographic correction functions than we’ve been used to in the previous class of effects filters. For example, many of these plug-ins include color temperature, tint and contrast controls that add a nice dimension past the usual three-way correctors.

Below is a quick potpourri of plug-ins (built-in and third-party) that you can use with FCP X. Click the thumbnail images for an enlarged view. My sample image is from the John Brawly Afterglow clips used to promote the Blackmagic Cinema Camera. A few of these clips have been posted online in both CinemaDNG and ProRes formats. In this case, I started with an already-corrected clip that I created in Adobe Lightroom. This is my starting point, which is typically what most editors encounter when color correcting a job. It’s nice to get flat, log-profile images for grading, but that’s not always the case. Often you start with a good-looking Rec 709 image that needs some pizzazz. That’s what I’m demonstrating here.

Remember that getting the right look is often a matter of using a combination of filters, rather than just one.

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A combination of Alex Gollner’s Levels and YUV Adjust filters. These are two of a set of free FCP X filters.

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A combination of three built-in FCP X filters – Hard Light, Hue/Sat and Crisp Contrast.

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CoreMelt has released several free filters, including a curve adjustment used to correct “flat” HDSLR images. Of course, you can play with it on non-flat images, too.

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CoreMelt’s SliceX masking tool includes several filter variations. One allows extra color correction control within the mask area.

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CineFlare has released several free sampler filters. This QuickLooks Teal filter gives you an “orange-and-teal” look. Note that Mac OS color picker controls allow you to tweak the tinting colors.

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Developer Simon Ubsdell has posted a number of free filters at the FCP.co forum. This Cross Process filter simulates film processing effects, which, when pushed to extremes, offers a nice way to stylize an image.

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Tim Dashwood’s Editor Essentials package includes several image adjustment tools, including Levels and Camera Gamma correction.

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Digital Film Tools’ Film Stocks is an external application that’s accessible from FCP X via a plug-in. The adjustment is customized in the external window, with many controls designed to emulate various film emulations.

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DV Shade EasyLooks is a full correction suite within a single plug-in. In addition to grading, it also offers controls for gradients, diffusion, warm/cool hue shifts and vignettes.

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Rubber Monkey Software’s FilmConvert Pro is available as both a standalone application and as a plug-in. The filter version has a limited range of color correction controls, but like DFT Film Stocks, is designed to emulate film. You can also change the intensity of the grain structure by selecting between film options from 35mm to Super 8mm.

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Noise Industries’ FxFactory Pro package includes several color correction filters, including Bleach Bypass, Crush Color and Film Process (their version of the Technicolor 2-strip look).

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Hawaiki Color has been jointly developed by Simon Ubsdell and Lawn Road as a full-fledged color corrector, using the color wheel model. In also features blur and sharpening, plus a wealth of color controls. The unique interface may be used as a HUD overlay or surrounding the image. I’ll take a detailed look at Hawaiki in a future post.

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Lawn Road also offers other color correction filters, such as Color Grade. Like others, they use the Mac OS color picker controls as a form of three-way color correction without building a separate grading interface.

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FCP X’s built-in Teal & Orange look. Like most of the built-in filters, slider control is kept to a minimum, but real-time (unrendered) performance is superior to third-party effects. That’s thanks to under-the-hood optimization done by the Pro Apps engineers, which isn’t available to external developers.

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Luca VFX Lo-Fi look is another tool to stylize an image with grunge effects. This is an “animated” effect with built-in flickering. It also includes an image drop well for custom pattern used within the effect.

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Luca VFX Vivid Touch is more of a standard color correction filter.

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Red Giant Software’s Magic Bullet Looks is the best-known external image stylizing/color correction application. Like DFT Film Stocks, the correction is done in the external application and accessed via the plug-in from FCP X.

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Nattress Curves is a venerable tool that been updating from the FCP “legacy” days to work in FCP X. It adds a valuable missing ingredient to the built-in correction tools.

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This is a combination of the PHYX Color Bleach Bypass, Glow Dark and Techni2Color effects. By stacking the skip-bleach style (but with more control than usual), a localized contrast function and the 2-strip process, you end up with a very unique look.

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Pomfort’s filters are designed to work as LUTs used on ARRI ALEXA images, but can also be used with other clips. Naturally, when you do that, the colorimetry is technically wrong, but offers some interested color options.

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Sheffield Software’s Vintage filter is another that’s been ported over from FxScript.

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CrumplePop’s ShrinkRay X is designed to create a tilt and shift look with defocused outer edges.

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FCP X’s built-in Super 8mm filter is useful, though not as realistic as FilmConvert, because the built-in effect maintains the image sharpness.

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Tokyo’s Lomography Look is another Ubsdell filter posted over at FCP.co. It mimics the current photo trend of grunge images created with vintage or poor-quality lenses.

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The built-in FCP X Color Board is actually one of my favorites, but you have to get used to its color control model. Slider/puck controls tends to be a bit coarse. Thanks to optimization, the performance is great and beats anything else offered for FCP X. You can stack many instances of the Color Board onto one clip, giving you great primary and secondary color correction control.

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Yanobox Moods uses a different approach to color wheels within FCP X. Unlike Hawaiki, Moods uses different color science for its controls, including a silver control and black wash (tints black levels).

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Like Dashwood’s Essentials, Ripple Training’s Ripple Tools also includes a grab bag of effects. These include several color correction effects, such as Color Balance and Glow. A unique aspect of their filters is that they are all filter adjustment layers, which are applied as FCP X connected title clips. They will alter any image below this adjustment layer and therefore, may be used as a single filter over more than just one clip.

©2013 Oliver Peters

The NLE that wouldn’t die II

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With echoes of Monty Python in the background, two years on, Final Cut Pro 7 and Final Cut Studio are still widely in use. As I noted in my post from last November, I still see facilities with firmly entrenched and mature FCP “legacy” workflows that haven’t moved to another NLE yet. Some were ready to move to Adobe until they learned subscription was the only choice going forward. Others maintain a fanboy’s faith in Apple that the next version will somehow fix all the things they dislike about Final Cut Pro X. Others simply haven’t found the alternative solutions compelling enough to shift.

I’ve been cutting all manner of projects in FCP X since the beginning and am currently using it on a feature film. I augment it in lots of ways with plug-ins and utilities, so I’m about as deep into FCP X workflows as anyone out there. Yet, there are very few projects in which I don’t touch some aspect of Final Cut Studio to help get the job done. Some fueled by need, some by personal preference. Here are some ways that Studio can still work for you as a suite of applications to fill in the gaps.

DVD creation

There are no more version updates to Apple’s (or Adobe’s) DVD creation tools. FCP X and Compressor can author simple “one-off” discs using their export/share/batch functions. However, if you need a more advanced, authored DVD with branched menus and assets, DVD Studio Pro (as well is Adobe Encore CS6) is still a very viable tool, assuming you already own Final Cut Studio. For me, the need to do this has been reduced, but not completely gone.

Batch export

Final Cut Pro X has no batch export function for source clips. This is something I find immensely helpful. For example, many editorial houses specify that their production company client supply edit-friendly “dailies” – especially when final color correction and finishing will be done by another facility or artist/editor/colorist. This is a throwback to film workflows and is most often the case with RED and ALEXA productions. Certainly a lot of the same processes can be done with DaVinci Resolve, but it’s simply faster and easier with FCP 7.

In the case of ALEXA, a lot of editors prefer to do their offline edit with LUT-corrected, Rec 709 images, instead of the flat, Log-C ProRes 4444 files that come straight from the camera. With FCP 7, simply import the camera files, add a LUT filter like the one from Nick Shaw (Antler Post), enable TC burn-in if you like and run a batch export in the codec of your choice. When I do this, I usually end up with a set of Rec 709 color, ProResLT files with burn-in that I can use to edit with. Since the file name, reel ID and timecode are identical to the camera masters, I can easily edit with the “dailies” and then relink to the camera masters for color correction and finishing. This works well in Adobe Premiere Pro CC, Apple FCP 7 and even FCP X.

Timecode and reel IDs

When I work with files from the various HDSLRs, I prefer to convert them to ProRes (or DNxHD), add timecode and reel ID info. In my eyes, this makes the file professional video media that’s much more easily dealt with throughout the rest of the post pipeline. I have a specific routine for doing this, but when some of these steps fail, due to some file error, I find that FCP 7 is a good back-up utility. From inside FCP 7, you can easily add reel IDs and also modify or add timecode. This metadata is embedded into the actual media file and readable by other applications.

Log and Transfer

Yes, I know that you can import and optimize (transcode) camera files in FCP X. I just don’t like the way it does it. The FCP 7 Log and Transfer module allows the editor to set several naming preferences upon ingest. This includes custom names and reel IDs. That metadata is then embedded directly into the QuickTime movie created by the Log and Transfer module. FCP X doesn’t embed name and ID changes into the media file, but rather into its own database. Subsequently this information is not transportable by simply reading the media file within another application. As a result, when I work with media from a C300, for example, my first step is still Log and Transfer in FCP 7, before I start editing in FCP X.

Conform and reverse telecine

A lot of cameras offer the ability to shoot at higher frame rates with the intent of playing this at a slower frame rate for a slow motion effect – “overcranking” in film terms. Advanced cameras like the ALEXA, RED One, EPIC and Canon C300 write a timebase reference into the file that tells the NLE that a file recorded at 60fps is to be played at 23.98fps. This is not true of HDSLRs, like a Canon 5D, 7D or a GoPro. You have to tell the NLE what to do. FCP X only does this though its Retime effect, which means you are telling the file to be played as slomo, thus requiring a render.

I prefer to use Cinema Tools to “conform” the file. This alters the file header information of the QuickTime file, so that any application will play it at the conformed, rather than recorded frame rate. The process is nearly instant and when imported into FCP X, the application simply plays it at the slower speed – no rendering required. Just like with an ALEXA or RED.

Another function of Cinema Tools is reverse telecine. If a camera file was recorded with built-in “pulldown” – sometimes called 24-over-60 – additional redundant video fields are added to the file. You want to remove these if you are editing in a native 24p project. Cinema Tools will let you do this and in the process render a new, 24p-native file.

Color correction

I really like the built-in and third-party color correction tools for Final Cut Pro X. I also like Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve, but there are times when Apple Color is still the best tool for the job. I prefer its user interface to Resolve, especially when working with dual displays and if you use an AJA capture/monitoring product, Resolve is a non-starter. For me, Color is the best choice when I get a color correction project from outside where the editor used FCP 7 to cut. I’ve also done some jobs in X and then gone to Color via Xto7 and then FCP 7. It may sound a little convoluted, but is pretty painless and the results speak for themselves.

Audio mixing

I do minimal mixing in X. It’s fine for simple mixes, but for me, a track-based application is the only way to go. I do have X2Pro Audio Convert, but many of the out-of-house ProTools mixers I work with prefer to receive OMFs rather than AAFs. This means going to FCP 7 first and then generating an OMF from within FCP 7. This has the added advantage that I can proof the timeline for errors first. That’s something you can’t do if you are generating an AAF without any way to open and inspect it. FCP X has a tendency to include many clips that are muted and usually out of your way inside X. By going to FCP 7 first, you have a chance to clean up the timeline before the mixer gets it.

Any complex projects that I mix myself are done in Adobe Audition or Soundtrack Pro. I can get to Audition via the XML route – or I can go to Soundtrack Pro through XML and FCP 7 with its “send to” function. Either application works for me and most of my third-party plug-ins show up in each. Plus they both have a healthy set of their own built-in filters. When I’m done, simply export the mix (and/or stems) and import the track back into FCP X to marry it to the picture.

Project trimming

Final Cut Pro X has no media management function.  You can copy/move/aggregate all of the media from a single Project (timeline) into a new Event, but these files are the source clips at full length. There is no ability to create a new project with trimmed or consolidated media. That’s when source files from a timeline are shortened to only include the portion that was cut into the sequence, plus user-defined “handles” (an extra few frames or seconds at the beginning and end of the clip). Trimmed, media-managed projects are often required when sending your edited sequence to an outside color correction facility. It’s also a great way to archive the “unflattened” final sequence of your production, while still leaving some wiggle room for future trimming adjustments. The sequence is editable and you still have the ability to slip, slide or change cuts by a few frames.

I ran into this problem the other day, where I needed to take a production home for further work. It was a series of commercials cut in FCP X, from which I had recut four spots as director’s cuts. The edit was locked, but I wanted to finish the mix and grade at home. No problem, I thought. Simply duplicate the project with “used media”, create the new Event and “organize” (copies media into the new Event folder). I could live with the fact that the media was full length, but there was one rub. Since I had originally edited the series of commercials using Compound Clips for selected takes, the duping process brought over all of these Compounds – even though none was actually used in the edit of the four director’s cuts. This would have resulted in copying nearly two-thirds of the total source media. I could not remove the Compounds from the copied Event, without also removing them from the original, which I didn’t want to do.

The solution was to send the sequence of four spots to FCP 7 and then media manage that timeline into a trimmed project. The difference was 12GB of trimmed source clips instead of HUNDREDS of GB. At home, I then sent the audio to Soundtrack Pro for a mix and the picture back to FCP X for color correction. Connect the mix back to the primary storyline in FCP X and call it done!

I realize that some of this may sound a bit complex to some readers, but professional workflows are all about having a good toolkit and knowing how to use it. FCP X is a great tool for productions that can work within its walls, but if you still own Final Cut Studio, there are a lot more options at your disposal. Why not continue to use them?

©2013 Oliver Peters

DaVinci Resolve Workflows

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Blackmagic Design’s purchase of DaVinci Systems put a world class color grading solution into the hands of every video professional. With Resolve 9, DaVinci sports a better user interface that makes it easy to run, regardless of whether you are an editor, colorist or DIT working on set.  DaVinci Resolve 9 comes in two basic Mac or Windows software versions, the $995 paid and the free Lite version. The new Blackmagic Cinema Camera software bundle also includes the full (paid) version, plus a copy of Ultrascope. For facilities seeking to add comprehensive color grading services, there’s also a version with Blackmagic’s dedicated control surface, as well as Linux systems configurations.

Both paid and free versions of Resolve (currently at version 9.1) work the same way, except that the paid version offers larger-than-HD output, noise reduction and the ability to tap into more than one extra GPU card for hardware acceleration. Resolve runs fine with a single display card (I’ve done testing with the Nvidia GT120, the Nvidia Quadro 4000 and the ATI 5870), but requires a Blackmagic video output card if you want to see the image on a broadcast monitor.

Work in Resolve 9 generally flows left-to-right, through the tabbed pages, which you select at the bottom of the interface screen. These are broken into Media (where you access the media files that you’ll be working with), Conform (importing/exporting EDL, XML and AAF files), Color (where you do color correction), Gallery (the place to store and recall preset looks) and Deliver (rendering and/or output to tape).

Many casual users employ Resolve in these two ways: a) correcting camera files to send on to editorial, and b) color correction roundtrips with NLE software. This tutorial is intended to highlight some of the basic workflow steps associated with these tasks. Resolve is deep and powerful, so spend time with the excellent manual to learn its color correction tools, which would be impossible to cover here.

Creating edit-ready dailies – BMCC (CinemaDNG media)

The Blackmagic Cinema Camera can record images as camera raw, CinemaDNG image sequences. Resolve 9 can be used to turn these into QuickTime or MXF media for editing. Files may be graded for the desired final look at this point, or the operator can choose to apply the BMD Film preset. This log preset generates files with a flat look comparable to ARRI Log-C. You may prefer this if you intend to use a Log-to-Rec709 LUT (look up table) in another grading application or a filter like the Pomfort Log-to-Video effect, which is available for Final Cut Pro 7/X.df_resolve_1_sm

Step 1 – Media: Drag clip folders into the Media Pool section.

Step 2 – Conform: Skip this tab, since the clips are already on a single timeline.

df_resolve_3_smStep 3 – Color: Make sure the camera setting (camera icon) for the clips on the timeline are set to Project. Open the project settings (gear icon). Change and apply these values: 1) Camera raw – CinemaDNG; 2) White Balance – as shot; 3) Color Space and Gamma – BMD Film.

Step 4 – Deliver: Set it to render each clip individually, assign the target destination and frame rate and the naming options. Then choose Add Job and Start Render.

The free version of Resolve will downscale the BMCC’s 2.5K-wide images to 1920×1080. The paid version of Resolve will permit output at the larger, native size. Rendered ProRes files may now be directly imported into FCP 7, FCP X or Premiere Pro. Correct the images to a proper video appearance by using the available color correction tools or filters within the NLE that you are using.

Creating edit-ready dailies – ARRI Alexa / BMCC (ProRes, DNxHD media)

df_resolve_2_smBoth the ARRI Alexa and the Blackmagic Cinema Camera can record Apple ProRes and Avid DNxHD media files to onboard storage. Each offers a similar log gamma profile that may be applied during recording in order to preserve dynamic range. Log-C for the Alexa and BMD Film for Blackmagic. These profiles facilitate high-quality grading later. Resolve may be used to properly grade these images to the final look as dailies are generated, or it may simply be used to apply a viewing LUT for a more pleasing appearance during the edit.

Step 1 – Media: Drag clip folders into the Media Pool section.

Step 2 – Conform: Skip this tab, since the clips are already on a single timeline.

Step 3 – Color: Make sure the camera setting for the clips on the timeline are set to Project. Open the project settings and set these values: 3D Input LUT – ARRI Alexa Log-C or BMD Film to Rec 709.

df_resolve_4_smStep 4 – Deliver: Set it to render each clip individually, assign the target destination and frame rate and the naming options. Check whether or not to render with audio. Then choose Add Job and Start Render.

The result will be new, color corrected media files, ready for editing. To render Avid-compatible MXF media for Avid Media Composer, select the Avid AAF Roundtrip from the Easy Setup presets. After rendering, return to the Conform page to export an AAF file.

Roundtrips – using Resolve together with editing applications

DaVinci Resolve supports roundtrips from and back to NLEs based on EDL, XML and AAF lists. You can use Resolve for roundtrips with Apple Final Cut Pro 7/X, Adobe Premiere Pro and Avid Media Composer/Symphony. You may also use it to go between systems. For example, you could edit in FCP X, color correct in Resolve and then finish in Premiere Pro or Autodesk Smoke 2013. Media should have valid timecode and reel IDs to enable the process to work properly.

df_resolve_5_smIn addition to accessing the camera files and generating new media with baked-in corrections, these roundtrips require an interchange of edit lists. Resolve imports an XML and/or AAF file to link to the original camera media and places those clips on a timeline that matches the edited sequence. When the corrected (and trimmed) media is rendered, Resolve must generate new XML and/or AAF files, which the NLE uses to link to these new media files. AAF files are used with Avid systems and MXF media, while standard XML files and QuickTime media is used with Final Cut Pro 7 and Premiere Pro. FCP X uses a new XML format that is incompatible with FCP 7 or Premiere Pro without translation by Resolve or another utility.

Step 1 – Avid/Premiere Pro/Final Cut Pro: Export a list file that is linked to the camera media (AAF, XML or FCPXML).

Step 2- Conform (skip Media tab): Import the XML or AAF file. Make sure you have set the options to automatically add these clips to the Media Pool.

Step 3 – Color: Grade your shots as desired.df_resolve_6_sm

Step 4 – Deliver: Easy Setup preset – select Final Cut Pro XML or Avid AAF roundtrip. Verify QuickTime or MXF rendering, depending on the target application. Change handle lengths if desired. Check whether or not to render with audio. Then choose Add Job and Start Render.

df_resolve_9_smStep 5 – Conform: Export a new XML (FCP7, Premiere Pro), FCPXML (FCP X) or AAF (Avid) list.

The roundtrip back

The reason you want to go back into your NLE is for the final finishing process, such as adding titles and effects or mixing sound. If you rendered QuickTime media and generated one of the XML formats, you’ll be able to import these new lists into FCP7/X or Premiere Pro and those applications will reconnect to the files in their current location. FCP X offers the option to import/copy the media into its own managed Events folders.

df_resolve_7_smIf you export MXF media and a corresponding AAF list with the intent of returning to Avid Media Composer/Symphony, then follow these additional steps.

Step 1 – Copy or move the folder of rendered MXF media files into an Avid MediaFiles/MXF subfolder. Rename this copied folder of rendered Resolve files with a number.

Step 2 – Launch Media Composer or Symphony and return to your project or create a new project.df_resolve_8_sm

Step 3 – Open a new, blank bin and import the AAF file that was exported from Resolve. This list will populate the bin with master clips and a sequence, which will be linked to the new MXF media rendered in Resolve and copied into the Avid MediaFiles/MXF subfolder.

Originally written for DV magazine / Creative Planet Network

©2013 Oliver Peters

Offline to online with 4K

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The 4K buzz  seems to be steam-rolling the industry just like stereo3D before it. It’s too early to tell whether it will be an immediate issue for editors or not, since 4K delivery requirements are few and far between. Nevertheless, camera and TV-set manufacturers  are building important parts of the pipeline. RED Digital Cinema is leading the way with a post workflow that’s both proven and relatively accessible on any budget. A number of NLEs support editing and effects in 4K, including Avid DS, Autodesk Smoke, Adobe Premiere Pro, Apple Final Cut Pro X, Grass Valley EDIUS and Sony Vegas Pro.

Although many of these support native cutting with RED 4K media, I’m still a strong believer in the traditional offline-to-online editing workflow. In this post I will briefly outline how to use Avid Media Composer and Apple FCP X for a cost-effective 4K post pipeline. One can certainly start and finish a RED-originated project in FCP X or Premiere Pro for that matter, but Media Composer is still the preferred creative  tool for many editing pros. Likewise, FCP X is a viable finishing tool. I realize that statement will raise a few eyebrows, but hear me out. Video passing through Final Cut is very pristine, it supports the various flavors of 2K and 4K formats and there’s a huge and developing ecosystem of highly-inventive effects and transitions. This combination is a great opportunity to think outside of the box.

Offline editing with Avid Media Composer

df_4k_wkflw_04_smAvid has supported native RED files for several versions, but Media Composer is not resolution independent. This means RED’s 4K (or 5K) images are downsampled to 1080p and reformatted (cropped or letterboxed) to fit into the 16:9 frame. When you shoot with a RED camera, you should ideally record in one of their 4K 16:9 sizes. The native .r3d files can be brought into Media Composer using the “Link to AMA File(s)” function. Although you can edit directly with AMA-linked files, the preferred method is to use this as a “first step”. That means, you should use AMA to cull your footage down to the selected takes and then transcode the remainder when you start to fine tune your cut.

Avid’s media creation settings are the place to adjust the RED debayer parameters. Media Composer supports the RED Rocket card for accelerated rendering, but without it, Media Composer can still provide reasonable speed in software-only transcoding. Set the debayer quality to 1/4 or 1/8, and transcoding 4K clips to Avid DNxHD36 for offline editing will be closer to real-time on a fast machine, like an 8-core Mac Pro. This resolution is adequate for making your creative decisions.df_4k_wkflw_02_sm

df_4k_wkflw_08_smWhen the cut is locked, export an AAF file for the edited sequence. Media should be linked (not embedded) and the AAF Edit Protocol setting should be enabled. In this workflow, I will assume that audio post is being handled by an audio editor/mixer running a DAW, such as Pro Tools, so I’ll skip any discussion of audio. That would be exported using standard AAF or OMF workflows for audio post. Note that all effects should be removed from your sequence before generating the AAF file, since they won’t be translated in the next steps. This includes any nested clips, collapsed tracks and speed ramps, which are notorious culprits in any timeline translation.

Color grading with DaVinci Resolve

df_4k_wkflw_03_smBlackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve 9 is our next step. You’ll need the full, paid version (software-only) for bigger-than-HD output. After launching Resolve, import the Avid AAF file from Resolve’s conform tab. Make sure you check “link to camera files” so that Resolve connects to the original .r3d media and not the Avid DNxHD transcodes. Resolve will import the sequence, connect to the media and generate a new timeline that matches the sequence exported from Media Composer. Make sure the project is set for the desired 4K format.

df_4k_wkflw_09_smNext, open the Resolve project settings and adjust the camera raw values to the proper RED settings. Then make sure the individual clips are set to “project” in their camera settings tab. You can either use the original camera metadata or adjust all clips to a new value in the project settings pane. Once this is done, you are ready to grade the timeline as with any other production. Resolve uses a very good scaling algorithm, so if the RED files were framed with the intent of resizing and repositioning (for example, 5K files that are to be cropped for the ideal framing within a 4K timeline), then it’s best to make that adjustment within the Resolve timeline.df_4k_wkflw_05_sm

Once you’ve completed the grade, set up the render. Choose the FCP XML easy set-up and alter the output frame size to the 4K format you are using. Start the render job. Resolve 9 renders quite quickly, so even without a RED Rocket card, I found that 4K ProRes HQ or 4444 rendering, using full-resolution debayering, was completed in about a 6:1 ratio to running time on my Mac Pro. When the renders are done, export the FCP XML (for FCP X) from the conform tab. I found I had to use an older version of this new XML format, even though I was running FCP X 10.0.7. It was unable to read the newest version that Resolve had exported.

Online with Apple Final Cut Pro X

df_4k_wkflw_11_smThe last step is finishing. Import the Resolve-generated XML file, which will in turn create the necessary FCP Event (media linked to the 4K ProRes files rendered from Resolve) and a timeline for the edited sequence. Make sure the sequence (Project) settings match your desired 4K format. Import and sync the stereo or surround audio mix (generated by the audio editor/mixer) and rebuild any effects, titles, transitions and fast/slo-mo speed effects. Once everything is completed, use FCP X’s share menu to export your deliverables.

©2013 Oliver Peters

FilmConvert

With the proliferation of digital video cameras, everyone has been trying to make them look more like film. Assuming that your camera shoots at the right frame rate and offers film-like motion blur and highlight handling, the rest gets down to grain and colorimetry. That’s where various software tools and filters come in. A new film stock emulation application is FilmConvert, from New Zealand-based developer, Rubber Monkey Software. They are best known as one of the early developers of processing and rendering software for the RED One camera, but have now expanded that expertise into tools designed for a wider appeal.

FilmConvert is available as a standalone application and as plug-ins for Adobe After Effects/Premiere Pro (Windows or Mac), Photoshop and Apple Final Cut Pro X/Final Cut Pro 7/Motion. The standalone FilmConvert Pro goes beyond just film emulation to include a powerful three-way color corrector and render management. The software works with QuickTime files and native RED .r3d files from a RED One or EPIC. It also supports roundtrips between FilmConvert and your NLE using XML and EDL files.

(Click any of these images for expanded views.)

Film stock emulation

At the time of this writing, only the film emulation module is available in the plug-in versions. (Rubber Monkey plans to add color correction to the filters in the near future.) To create the film stock emulations, the developers analyzed scans from a variety of color and black-and-white motion and still photo stocks made by Kodak, Fuji, Ilford and Polaroid. By shooting color charts with these various stocks, they were able to engineer custom color curves that enabled them to produce digital camera images, which closely resemble the same appearance as these scans. That color science forms the basis of each film stock preset.

FilmConvert Pro and the FilmConvert filters work slightly differently from each other. The standalone version allows you to set the initial color profile of the image as either a default sRGB or as StatusM Log – a flat setting similar to ARRI Log-C, BMD Film or RedLogFilm. If your camera file was already encoded with a flat gamma profile, then leave the viewer set to sRGB, so you don’t apply a log curve twice. Thanks to their work with the RED cameras, native .r3d files can be imported and are automatically detected, so that the “as shot” metadata may be applied. Native Canon and other specific digital cameras (GH2, Alexa, C300 and the Blackmagic Cinema Camera) are currently being profiled by Rubber Monkey engineers. The After Effects plug-in includes a pulldown menu to select the camera profile as a starting point for any adjustments, but log-to-video conversion must be done with other filters. There are no camera profiles in the FCP X version of the filter, yet.

The film emulation module itself includes the same controls for all versions. These break down to exposure and color temperature sliders, the film stock selector and a percentage slider for how much of the emulation colorimetry to apply. Grain is added by adjusting a percentage slider for the amount of grain and selecting the film type that determines grain size. 35mm Full Frame would be the finest level of grain, while 8mm would be the coarsest. You can zoom the viewer for a 1:1 pixel view, which will give you a better sense of how the grain will actually look on your image.

Color correction tools and RED in FilmConvert Pro

FilmConvert Pro includes a color correction toolset as part of the standalone application. The color correction module includes color balance wheels and luma sliders for shadows, midtones and highlights. There’s a saturation slider and a levels pane for black, mid and white points. Between the color corrector and levels, you get much of the same horsepower as the primary grade settings available in any high-end color corrector. FilmConvert comes with a series of presets, like “70s Home Movies” or “Matrix”, but you can also create and save your own. Any of these may be applied to clips on your timeline.

You won’t find the typical RED color science and debayer settings seen in Redcine-X Pro or some of the RED SDK importers. Rubber Monkey explains their approach this way, “For extract settings with .r3d, we choose the best extract settings for our emulation. If the user changes the extract settings then the starting point will be different and it will throw out the film emulation. If our film emulation is applied at 100% you get an sRGB film emulation, not a variation of a RED colorspace – so the actual input color space is not quite significant in this case. The .r3d debayer always uses the size that is greater than (or equal to) the size being rendered. So if you are rendering to 1080p, then we will render at 1/2 debayer. Basically we made it so that we are always scaling down, never up, but also going with the fastest debayer that would not sacrifice quality.” FilmConvert Pro also supports the RED Rocket card for hardware-accelerated rendering of .r3d files.

Render management

The FilmConvert filters work like any other plug-in, where the host application controls how the media is sent to the plug-in and then the subsequent renders. The standalone version includes its own render management tools. Render options include QuickTime (H.264, MPEG-4, ProRes or uncompressed) and image sequences (DPX or TIFF). The default export sizes can be up to 2048×1152 (or larger custom sizes) with fit width/fit height/stretch controls. This is great for RED projects that are rendered into HD or 2K formats.

There are two workflows to handle renders. The first is to simply import one or more clips into FilmConvert Pro, apply the look you want for each clip and set these up to render as complete, individual clips. The other option is to edit the footage first without effects in an edit system and then export an XML or EDL file for the completed sequence. FilmConvert Pro will import the file and locate the clips. In the case of RED camera files, you can choose to link to .r3d files instead of QuickTime .mov files that may have been used for edit proxies. Each clip is loaded onto FilmConvert’s timeline with markers for each section of a clip that was used in the edited sequence. Unfortunately, you can only apply one setting to the full clip. If it was an outdoor shot and you used a portion that was overcast and then a later section of the same clip where the sun came out, there is no way to split the clip in order to have two different adjustments.

When you render these clips as QuickTime movie files, the complete duration of the file is rendered, but images are only rendered for the sections that show up in the EDL or XML file. The rest of the file appears with a placeholder graphic. Rubber Monkey took this approach to maintain one media file when multiple portions are used in the edit – rather than to render separate, shorter clips for each portion. A single media file keeps the same file name and is easier for applications to relink. New, multiple media files require an additional naming convention – such as appending a numeric suffix to the file name, like .001, .002, .003, etc. – in order to preserve unique file names. The latter method is how Resolve, SpeedGrade and Baselight handle such renders. This requires the generation of new EDL, AAF or XML files so that the media can be correctly relinked in the roundrip back to the NLE.

Rubber Monkey promotes its render prowess and speeds were good on my 8-core 2.26 GHz Mac Pro. I don’t have a RED Rocket installed, so a 4K 16:9 RED file (exported as a 1920×1080 ProRes file) took about 20 minutes for a clip of 4933 frames (about 3.5 minutes of footage). By comparison, 1080p QuickTime files rendered at near-real-time speeds – some faster, some slower. In most color correction applications, you can specify the length of render “handles”, where the clip gets with an additional second or two of media at the head and tail of the exported clip. It appears that FilmConvert adds five frames to the head and six at the tail (24fps clips), but there’s no place to increase that or to set a custom length.

FilmConvert Pro doesn’t support i/o hardware like AJA or Blackmagic cards, so you are making color correction judgments by viewing the interface on your computer screen. By eye, I would say that the display within the FilmConvert interface looked a bit “warmer” and more saturated than an exported file viewed in QuickTime Player X (not surprising), but also as compared with FCP X. It tended to look closest between FilmConvert and FCP 7. If issues such as SDI monitoring and clip control are critical for your workflow, then one of the NLE plug-ins might be a better option than the standalone application, especially once this plug-in gains color correction controls.

I’m sure as the application matures, some of these missing features will be addressed – along with better documentation. Rubber Monkey is also working on an OFX plug-in to cover Vegas, Scratch and Nuke users. Whether a plug-in or the standalone version is right for you depends on your need. Do you just want to augment a few shots or build a pipeline around this look? The film stock looks are spot-on and if you want something vintage, then the Polaroid emulation is really nice. If you want your digital media to come closer to the look of film, FilmConvert is definitely worth the investment.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine.

© 2012 Oliver Peters