Video sweetening

Color grading for mood, style and story

Video “sweetening” is both a science and an art. To my way of thinking, Color correction is objective – evening out shot-to-shot consistency and adjusting for improper levels or color balance. Color grading is subjective – giving a movie, show or commercial a “look”. Grading ranges from the simple enhancement of what the director of photography gave you – all the way to completely “relighting” a scene to radically alter the original image. Whenever you grade a project, the look you establish should always be in keeping with the story and the mood the director is trying to achieve. Color provides the subliminal cues that lead the audience deeper into the story.

Under the best of circumstances, the colorist is working as an extension of the director of photography and both are on the same page as the director. Frequently the DP will sit in on the grading session; however, there are many cases – especially in low budget projects – where the DP is no longer involved at that stage. In those circumstances, it is up to the colorist to properly guide the director to the final visual style.

I’ve pulled some examples from two digital films that I graded – The Touch (directed by Jimmy Huckaby) and Scare Zone (directed by Jon Binkowski). The first was shot with a Sony F900 and graded with Final Cut Pro’s internal and third-party tools. The latter used two Sony EX cameras and was graded in Apple Color.

The Touch

This is a faith-oriented film, based on a true story about personal redemption tied to the creation of a local church’s women’s center. The story opens as our lead character is arrested and goes through police station booking. Since this was a small indie film, a real police station was used. This meant the actual, ugly fluorescent lighting – no fancy, stylized police stations, like on CSI. Since the point of this scene isn’t supposed to be pretty, the best way to grade it was to go with the flow. Don’t fight the fluorescent look, but go more gritty and more desaturated.

(Click on any of these images to see an enlarged view.)

Once she’s released and picked up by her loser boyfriend, we are back outside in sunny Florida weather. Just stick with a nice exterior look.

Nearly at the bottom of her life, she’s in a hotel room on the verge of suicide. This was originally a very warm shot, thanks to the incandescents in the room. But I felt it should go cooler. It’s night – there’s a TV on casting bluish light on her – and in general, this is supposed to be a depressing scene. So we swung the shot cooler and again, more desaturated from the original.

The fledgling women’s center holds group counseling sessions in a living room environment. This should feel comfortable and inviting. Here we went warmer.

Our lead character is haunted by the evils of her past, including childhood molestation and a teen rape. This is shown in various flashback sequences marked by an obvious change in editorial treatment utilizing frenetic cutting and speed ramps – together with a different visual look. The flashbacks were graded differently using Magic Bullet Looks for a more stylized appearance, including highlight glows.

Our lead comes to her personal conversion through the church and again, the sanctuary should look warm, natural and inviting. Since the lens used on the F900 resulted in a very deep depth of field, we decided to enhance these wider shots using a tilt-and-shift lens effect in Magic Bullet Looks. The intent was to defocus the background slightly and draw the audience in towards our main character.

Scare Zone

As you’ve probably gathered, Scare Zone is a completely different sort of tale than The Touch. Scare Zone is a comedy-horror film based on a Halloween haunted house attraction, which I discussed in this earlier post. In this story, our ensemble cast are part-time employees who work as “scaractors” in the evening. But… They are being killed off by a real killer. Most of the action takes place in the attraction sets and gift shop, with a few excursions off property. As such, the lighting style was a mixed bag, showing the attraction with “work lights” only and with full “attraction lighting”. We also have scenes without lights, except what is supposed to be moonlight or street lamp lighting coming through leaks from the exterior windows. And, of course, there’s the theatrical make-up.

This example shows one of the attraction scenes with work lights as the slightly, off-kilter manager explains their individual roles.

(Click on any of these images to see an enlarged view.)

Here are several frames showing one of the actors in scenes with show lighting, work lights and at home.

These are several frames from the film’s attraction/action/montage segments showing scaractor activity under show lighting. In the last frame, one of our actresses gets attacked.

The gift shop has a more normal lighting appearance. Not as warm as the work light condition, but warmer than the attraction lighting. In order to soften the look of the Goth make-up on the close-ups of our lead actress, I used a very slight application of the FCP compound blur filter.

Naturally, as in any thriller, the audience is to be left guessing throughout most of the film about the identity of the real killer. In this scene one of the actresses is being follow by the possible killer. Or is he? It’s a dark part of the hallway in a “show lighting” scene. One of the little extras done here was to use two secondaries with vignettes to brighten each eye socket of the mask, so as to better see the whites of the character’s eyes.

A crowd of guests line up on the outside, waiting to get into the attraction. It’s supposed to look like a shopping mall parking lot at night with minimal exterior lighting.

And lastly, these frames are from some of the attack scenes during what is supposed to be pre-show or after-show lighting conditions. In the first frame, one of our actresses is being chased by the killer through the attraction hallways and appears to have been caught. Although the vignette was natural, I enhanced this shot to keep it from being so dark that you couldn’t make out the action. The last two frames show some unfortunate vandals who tried to trash the place over the night. This is supposed to be a “lights-off” scene, with the only light being from the outside through leaks. And their flashlights, of course. The last frame required the use of secondary correction to make the color of the stage blood appear more natural.

©2011 Oliver Peters

Cool Tools for Spring

Time to catch up on a few items that will improve your editing and make your daily tasks easier.

(Click on the images below for an enlarged view.)

DiscCatalogMaker

Editors are increasingly using inexpensive hard drives as a method of archiving. But how do you keep track of where your files are? As I started to look around, I realized I already owned a very functional utility, simply because I had Roxio’s Toast. One of the extra applications installed and in the folder is DiscCatalogMaker RE. It automatically catalogs all of the discs you’ve ever burned, but it can also be used to index hard drives. Simply start a new catalog and have it scan a target drive. This file can be saved and printed. It’s also searchable, so you can easily find files without mounting the drive. Once you add/delete/change files on the drive, just rescan it and re-save the updated file.

Red Giant Software Magic Bullet PhotoLooks

If you like Magic Bullet Looks and you do a lot of work with stills, then check out PhotoLooks. I touched on this in my Stocking Stuffers post, but it’s worth another mention. Like Looks for video applications, PhotoLooks runs in an external LooksBuilderPL application that is optimized for stills. PhotoLooks works as a plug-in for Photoshop, Aperture and Lightroom and uses the same chain of tools as the video version. As you can see in this Alamo photo, it’s quite easy to create very stylized still photos in post.

Digital Film Tools PhotoCopy

At first glance, PhotoCopy might seem like it’s doing the same functions as Magic Bullet Looks, but that would be wrong. Like Looks, the plug-in launches a separate, customized interface, but that’s where the similarities end.  DFT PhotoCopy uses representative samples from movies, paintings, photographs, etc. to apply color correction and texture to your target photo or video clips.

These can work like color grading presets – or in the case of paintings – apply brush strokes and texture to the image. This isn’t just a simple overlay. PhotoCopy does an analysis of the target image, in order to intelligently apply the right effect or colors to the appropriate positions within the shot. These can be further adjusted by slider controls in the interface. PhotoCopy runs in Final Cut Pro, Media Composer, After Effects, Photoshop, Aperture and Lightroom; however, different licenses must be purchased for the motion and the still photo versions of the tool.

Nick Shaw ALEXA Look-Up Tables (LUTs)

As editors start to wrap their heads around post workflows for the ARRI ALEXA camera, the biggest issue seems to be the best method of converting the Log-C profile recorded by the camera into nice-looking Rec. 709 images for the client. Log-C images are viewable, but appear flat and washed out prior to grading. UK-based post consultant Nick Shaw has developed a set of FCP plug-ins designed to convert Log-C images into Rec. 709. They include a few extra features, like saturation boost and timecode/text burn-in fields. For now, these are considered to be “preview” quality, since the LUTs truncate the bit-depth to an 8-bit scale. The current paid version supports the camera’s 3.0 firmware.

Luca Visual FX

I’ve covered the Luca Visual FX tools a few times in my color grading posts. Their plug-ins are offered as part of the FxFactory product line. In addition to plug-ins, Luca Visual FX also offers a set of Film FX and Light Transitions. They have recently released the Film FX 2.0 package. Unlike the plug-ins, these tools are a set of QuickTime movie files using the Animation codec with an alpha channel. As such, they can be used with nearly any NLE or motion graphics application and aren’t dependent on a specific plug-in architecture. In the case of Final Cut or Media Composer, simply place a clip on an upper track and the rest is done. In the previous post, I covered some ways in which these can be used with different fills or by combining several clips for a custom effect. The Film FX 2.0 package adds more grunge to the options in Film FX 1.0 for new and dynamic effects.

Noise Industries FxFactory Manifesto

A better Final Cut Pro title tool and it’s free. What’s not to like? Noise Industries launched Manifesto – a lightweight, yet powerful title generator – as part of the FxFactory toolset. It installs as two generator plug-ins – one for static titles and another for rolls and crawls. Text composition is very easy and the plug-in draws on many of the built-in frameworks of Mac OSX, such as fonts, colors and spell-checking. You can also import existing RTF files and Manifesto will use the formatting of that file.

Focusrite Scarlett

Another tool I touched on in the Stocking Stuffers post was the Focusrite Scarlett software filters suite. This set of four audio plug-ins (EQ, compressor, gate, reverb) installs in VST/AU and RTAS formats. On a Mac, they’ll work in most DAWs, as well as Media Composer (5, 5.5) and Final Cut Pro (sliders only – no custom GUI). These filters are designed to look and sound like their classic hardware brethren. In general, they run best in Avid Pro Tools, Adobe Audition and Apple Soundtrack Pro and provide a reasonably-priced filter package for those who want to go beyond the healthy set of options already included with these applications. Focusrite also sells other software plug-in products, including Midnight, Forte, Guitar FX and more.

Noise Industries FxFactory Photo Montage

Noise Industries just introduced a great new tool for assembling photographic montage sequences, called simply Photo Montage. There are several of these on the market, but the Noise Industries version is easy to use and offers plenty of presets, as well as many ways to customize the style, moves, transitions and other attributes. Like most of their plug-ins, Photo Montage is GPU-accelerated and works in Final Cut Pro, Final Cut Express, Motion and After Effects. It supports most common image formats including JPEG, PNG and PSD, so getting started is as easy as applying one of the generator effects, choosing the source image folder and applying a preset. From there, you can re-order the stills, alter the animation parameters and so on.

Digital Heaven Final Print 2.0

Many of Digital Heaven’s tools are designed around improving the editor’s efficiency and taking some of the drudgery out of non-editorial tasks. Often editors have to supply reports to clients, marker list print outs and more. A helpful application is Final Print, which has just been updated to version 2.0. You can start with XML files or directly load projects from FCP7. Final Print 2.0 will not only display various marker lists (which can be filtered by color), but also sequence lists complete with thumbnails and timecode. If you need to generate various reports out of Final Cut Pro – such as the director’s notes from marker text – Final Print 2 provides one of the best and most attractive ways to do that.

©2011 Oliver Peters

Magic Bullet Colorista II

Red Giant Software’s engineers have been busy this year expanding the Magic Bullet franchise. Products have included versions for Photoshop and the iPhone, as well as variations of the ever-popular Looks. This line of innovative color correction tools got its start with Colorista, a custom 3-way color correction plug-in for Apple Final Cut Pro, Motion and Adobe After Effects. Colorista is a deceptively simple grading tool, used by many editors who like the added power over other built-in correction filters.

Red Giant has released Magic Bullet Colorista II, a highly enhanced follow-up to the original. Colorista II is designed to work with Apple Final Cut Pro, Adobe After Effects CS5 and for the first time, Premiere Pro CS5. No other NLEs or Motion, yet. The original filter featured a standard design of three color/level wheels, augmented by exposure and saturation controls plus a power mask for vignettes. By stacking multiple instances of Colorista, an editor could grade shots with much of the same power as in more advanced grading products, like Apple Color.

Three grading stages in a single filter

Colorista II takes it up several notches by providing three stages of color correction in a single filter – divided into primary, secondary and master sections. Each section has controls for shadow/midrange/highlight color balance and levels, plus exposure, density (contrast) and saturation. A couple of new basic tools have been added, including a single auto balance control, which adjusts both white and black balance in one step, and a highlight recovery tool.

What sets Colorista II apart is a new 8-vector HSL control in the primary and master sections. If you’ve used Adobe Lightroom 3, then this will be familiar. Want a bluer sky? Push the blue dot on the saturation/hue color wheel outward and blues become richer. Orange coincides with skin tones. If you want to brighten a person’s face, adjust the orange dot on the lightness wheel and faces become brighter. You can also enable a Skin Overlay grid (taken from Magic Bullet Mojo) to steer you in the right direction of matching a cinematic skin tone. Another addition that’s bound to be popular is master curves. There you can adjust the S-curve characteristics of RGB as well as red, blue and green individually.

Enhanced secondary control

Colorista II still has power masks for rectangular and elliptical vignettes, but now there are two – in the secondary and master sections. These masks can be used individually or in a combined manner, similar to the way you can add or subtract selections in Photoshop. Colorista II adds a very accurate color keyer as part of its secondary correction tools. The keyer opens in its own GUI, where you can select a color and then expand or reduce the range. The keyer is interactive with the masks, giving you more precise control to include or exclude regions from your secondary correction.

Anyone familiar with Lightroom’s Clarity control will recognize Pop – another new secondary feature. Pop is a localized contrast control. Crank the slider to the right and edge contrast is enhanced as a “glow dark” effect, which makes the image appear crisper. Move the slider to the left and you get the appearance of highlight glows. The image will be softer, so if used very subtly, then it’s a helpful tool to smooth out facial textures. It works much like a “silk & fog” filter. One last little touch is that all tools with a custom GUI, like a color wheel, can also be adjusted using a numeric entry or a slider.

Performance

Wow! That’s a lot, but how is it to work with? When you install Colorista II, you also get the latest version of the original Colorista filter (including Colorista-Sliders). This is to maintain compatibility with previous projects. Since Colorista II is so drastically different, your existing effects cannot be “promoted” to Colorista II; therefore, you still need this updated version. Colorista II and Colorista 1.2 have been optimized for stability (including CS5 64-bit support), so you should remove older versions of Colorista.

I tested Colorista II in Final Cut Pro 7, After Effects CS5 and Premiere Pro CS5. The filter works in all three applications, but I did encounter differences in responsiveness. First, Colorista II works best inside After Effects, which has an API that is most conducive to plug-ins with custom GUIs. I found After Effects to have the most direct control. Move a slider or dot on a color wheel and the image changed immediately. No lag on the control or as the image updated.

Of the three applications, Premiere Pro CS5 was the least responsive when moving positions on a color wheel. This is instantly obvious when comparing against Premiere Pro’s built-in correction filters, which are very responsive. According to Red Giant, Premiere Pro’s API doesn’t work well with third-party custom filter interfaces. Adobe’s engineers can go outside of the bounds of the API with internal filters, but third-party developers can’t. If you are a Premiere Pro CS5 editor, I would recommend using Colorista II within After Effects and then bringing that clip back into Premiere Pro through Adobe’s Dynamic Link.

Performance in Final Cut Pro is similar to Colorista version 1. If you don’t push the controls too quickly, the interface will keep up with you. The big difference between After Effects and Final Cut is that After Effects’ image will actively update as you move a control. FCP updates the image (and videoscopes) after you stop pushing a control. This is less responsive than FCP’s built-in 3-way color correction filter, but once you get a feel for it, you can grade images quite quickly with Colorista II. According to Red Giant, not all Final Cut users experience this lag, and they are working with Apple to release a patch that dramatically improves performance. Of course, I’m primarily taking about the responsiveness of the color wheels and the HSL controls when you use their GUIs. Much of this speeds up if use the sliders or numerical entries instead.

Additional thoughts

In the week since Colorista II has been on the market, I’ve seen a number of forum questions about it and the core issue many have is “why?” If you own Final Cut Studio, you already have a great color correction tool in Apple Color. Why do you need Colorista II, or for that matter, any other color correction plug-in? I use Color and like it a lot, but it’s not the right tool for every project. There’s a definite process you must go through to roundtrip media between FCP and Color. Extra media files are rendered by Color and you can’t make editorial changes to the timeline while working in Color. If you added any other FCP filters, you won’t see them while grading. Lastly, Color uses a very complex GUI that scares many potential users. For these and other reasons, many editors prefer to “grade in context”, by applying filters to clips on the FCP timeline. I have used Colorista, as well as other correction filters, to grade complete shows and even features all while staying in Final Cut.

Another consideration is After Effects. If you don’t own Final Cut, then you don’t own Color. A lot of folks like to do the “heavy lifting” in After Effects, including color correction. After Effects CS5 owners already have Synthetic Aperture Color Finesse 3, which likewise is a very powerful tool. It doesn’t have masks, like Colorista and Colorista II, but otherwise is a very advanced grading solution. Unfortunately, you have to use Color Finesse in its Full Interface mode to go beyond the basic controls, which takes you outside of After Effects. By using Colorista II, you keep all of its horsepower, while still able to work with all of the other After Effects tools. Another situation of staying “in context”.

In these examples, it’s not an either-or situation. Add as many tools to the kit as you can learn and afford to buy. The versatility of the secondary masking/keying and the many controls Colorista II has to offer is amazing. It introduces much of the power of a full-blown color correction application in a single filter. Red Giant has raised the bar again with Magic Bullet Colorista II.

By the way, here are some very nice before-and-after grading examples using Colorista II.

Written for Videography and DV magazines (NewBay Media LLC).

©2010 Oliver Peters

Grind those EOS files!

I have a love/hate relationship with Apple Compressor and am always on the lookout for better encoding tools. Part of our new file-based world is the regular need to process/convert/transcode native acquisition formats. This is especially true of the latest crop of HDSLRs, like the Canon EOS 5D Mark II and its various siblings. A new tool in this process is Magic Bullet Grinder from Red Giant Software. Here’s a nice description by developer Stu Maschwitz as well as another review by fellow editor and blogger, Scott Simmons.

I’ve already pointed out some workflows for getting the Canon H.264 files into an editable format in a previous post. Although Avid Media Composer 5, Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 and Apple Final Cut Pro natively support editing with the camera files – and although there’s already a Canon EOS Log and Transfer plug-in for FCP – I still prefer to convert and organize these files outside of my host NLE. Even with the newest tools, native editing is clunky on a large project and the FCP plug-in precludes any external organization, since the files have to stay in the camera’s folder structure with their .thm files.

Magic Bullet Grinder offers a simple, one-step batch conversion utility that combines several functions that otherwise require separate applications in other workflows. Grinder can batch-convert a set of HDSLR files, add timecode and simultaneously create proxy editing files with burn-in. In addition, it will upscale 720p files to 1080p. Lastly, it can conform frame-rates to 23.976fps. This is helpful if you want to shoot 720p/60 with the intent of overcranking (displayed as slow motion at 24fps).

The main format files are converted to either the original format (with added timecode), ProRes, ProRes 4444 or two quality levels of PhotoJPEG. Proxies are either ProRes Proxy or PhotoJPEG, with the option of several frame size settings. In addition, proxy files can have a burn-in with various details, such as frame numbers, timecode, file name + timecode or file name + frame numbers. Proxy generation is optional, but it’s ideal for offline/online editing workflows or if you simply need to generate low-bandwidth files for client review.

Grinder’s performance is based on the number of cores. It sends one file to each core, so in theory, eight files would be simultaneously processed on an 8-core machine. Speed and completion time will vary, of course, with the number, length and type of files and whether or not you are generating proxies. I ran a head-to-head test (main format only, no proxy files) on my 8-core MacPro with MPEG Streamclip and Compressor, using 16 H.264 Canon 5D files (about 1.55GB of media or 5 minutes of footage). Grinder took 12 minutes, Compressor 11 minutes and MPEG Streamclip 6 minutes. Of course, neither Compressor nor MPEG Streamclip would be able to handle all of the other functions – at least not within the same, simplified process. The conversion quality of Magic Bullet Grinder was quite good, but like MPEG Streamclip, it appears that ProRes files are generated with the QuickTime “automatic gamma correction” set to “none”. As such, the Compressor-converted files appeared somewhat lighter than those from either Grinder or MPEG Streamclip.

This is a really good effort for a 1.0 product, but in playing with it, I’ve discovered it has a lot of uses outside of HDSLR footage. That’s tantalizing and brings to mind some potential suggestions as well as issues with the way that the product currently works. First of all, I was able to convert other files, such as existing ProRes media. In this case, I would be interested in using it to ONLY generate proxy files with a burn-in. The trouble now is that I have to generate both a new main file (which isn’t needed) as well as the proxy. It would be nice to have a “proxy-only” mode.

The second issue is that timecode is always newly generated from the user entry field. Grinder doesn’t read and/or use an existing QuickTime timecode track, so you can’t use it to generate a proxy with a burn-in that matches existing timecode. In fact, if your source file has a valid timecode track, Grinder generates a second timecode track on the converted main file, which confuses both FCP and QuickTime Player 7. Grinder also doesn’t generate a reel number, which is vital data used by many NLEs in their media management.

I would love to see other format options. For instance, I like ProResLT as a good format for these Canon files. It’s clean and consumes less space, but isn’t a choice with Grinder. Lastly, the conform options. When Grinder conforms 30p and 60p files to 24p (23.976), it’s merely doing the same as Apple Cinema Tools by rewriting the QuickTime playback rate metadata. The file isn’t converted, but simply told to play more slowly. As such, it would be great to have more options, such as 30fps to 29.97fps for the pre-firmware-update Canon 5D files. Or conform to 25fps for PAL countries.

I’ve seen people comment that it’s a shame it won’t convert GoPro camera files. In fact it does! Files with the .mp4 extension are seen as an unsupported format. Simply change the file extension from .mp4 to .mov and drop it into Grinder. Voila! Ready to convert.

At $49 Magic Bullet Grinder is a great, little utility that can come in handy in many different ways. At 1.0, I hope it grows to add some of the ideas I’ve suggested, but even with the current features, it makes life easier in so many different ways.

©2010 Oliver Peters

Grading with Color Wheels

Recently fellow editor Shane Ross and I were discussing the relative merits of grading in Avid Media Composer versus Apple’s FCP or Color, as well as using the Colorista plug-in. Our conversation got down to how each treated the image when you used the color wheels. After I did a quick test, it was obvious that FCP and Avid don’t process the image in quite the same way, even when you push what appears to be the equivalent control in the same direction. So I decided to dig a bit deeper.

The so-called “color wheels” (also called hue offset controls) are separate color balance controls for the shadow, midrange and highlight portions of the image. When you want to effect a change, such as make an image less red, you push the appropriate control in the opposite direction of red-yellow – towards the blue-cyan segment of the control. In addition to low/mid/high ranges, some applications also add an overall “master” balance control for the entire image.

The concept of these tools grew out of early “video shading” controls in studio cameras and color correction systems like DaVinci. To my knowledge, the first actual use of software color wheels originally appeared in Avid Symphony a decade ago.

Since the controls work within three distinct ranges of the image, a critical element is where that crossover occurs between low-to-mid and mid-to-high. Not only where, but also how gradual the transition. Some apps and plug-ins give you control over this and some don’t. If so, look for either a threshold control or a luma ranges control to adjust the transition point and the softness of that transition.

Some points to remember:

a) Not all color wheel adjustments give you the same degree of saturation. If I push the mids to blue, some apps let me really blow out the image with blue saturation, while others only slightly tint the image.

b) A proper color balance control should increase the saturation of the color component you add (or shift to), while reducing the saturation of the complementary colors. This should be evident on a waveform monitor’s RGB parade display. In fact, some only increased blue, while others also appropriately reduce red and green color components.

c) Some have a very tight default threshold at the low/mid/high crossover points and others are very gradual. The softer the threshold or transition between ranges, the more the color balance change looks like a tint or wash over the whole image. The tighter the default transition, the more likely you will see contouring artifacts at the edge of the transition.

The following are the results of my casual testing. I took the same image I’ve used for other color grading articles. This started out as a flat RED One image, which I’ve cropped to HD and increased contrast and saturation.

That’s the starting point for these tests. I wanted to use an image that looked like what you are apt to receive, rather than a flatter image, which would actually be preferable for grading. In each of these applications I have simply increased the blue balance in the mid-range control, without adjusted any thresholds or other controls. In most cases, I’ve pushed the control as far as it would go – either to the edge of its range – or to the point where I started to see some color artifacts. Most importantly, I was NOT going for the best-graded image. Instead, I’m trying to demonstrate how seemingly similar tools can actually give you wildly different results. A tool will an extreme range can often make grading more difficult, because it’s harder to achieve finesse.

Click on any of these image for a larger (and often expanded) view. At the bottom, I’ve included a series of exported images from each of these applications.

Apple Aperture

Aperture neutral

Aperture adjusted

Aperture is here only as a frame-of-reference. It offers similar color controls to some grading applications and presumably would have the most graceful processing of the image.

Avid Media Composer

Avid neutral

Avid adjusted

Avid Media Composer does a nice job of staying within the mid-range. It also tends to reduce red and blue while increasing blue.

Apple Color

Apple Color neutral

Apple Color adjusted

The interesting thing about Color is that the app not only made the image blue, but it also seemed to darken it, compared with the other grading solutions. You can see this below in the exported image. The Color image was round-tripped through FCP.

Apple Final Cut Pro (3-way color correction filter)

Apple FCP 3-way neutral

Apple FCP 3-way adjusted

Apple FCP’s 3-way had the most extreme range, but it seemed to just increase blue without reducing the other colors. You’ll see that a color segment can be completely blown out by this control.

Red Giant Magic Bullet Colorista color correction filter (Apple FCP host)

Colorista adjusted

Red Giant’s Colorista grading filter is the one that many editors gravitate to when the built-in controls aren’t enough. As you see, it offers more graceful color control in FCP than the standard 3-way. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the few FCP plug-ins I use that is extremely picky about versions. If you move a sequence between systems and have a mismatch of Colorista filters installed, it can completely crash FCP or Motion. I find that it’s much better behaved in After Effects. There you also get additional tools, such as a collection of Colorista presets.

Red Giant Magic Bullet Looks

Looks neutral

Looks 3-way adjusted

Looks lift-gamma-gain adjusted

Magic Bullet Looks is another powerful third party plug-in that lets you chain a series of internal filter together – all within its own interface. Looks offers several controls for color correction, including both a 3-way and a lift-gamma-gain control. The two sets of controls appear similar, but don’t work the same way. The lift-gamma-gain control works like Colorista, while the 3-way works more like Adobe’s built-in color correction. You’ll notice on the 3-way that the range isn’t as great and the default threshold is very tight (but adjustable). Note the contouring on the model’s shoulder blades.

Adobe Premiere Pro (3-way color correction filter)

Adobe Premiere Pro 3-way neutral

Adobe Premiere Pro 3-way adjusted

This is my least favorite filter in the batch. Like the Looks 3-way, the level of blue that was increased is pretty minor and the threshold is also very tight (but also adjustable). As one would expect with a tight threshold, there is also visible contouring at the bottom of her back in this image.

Synthetic Aperture Color Finesse color correction filter (Adobe After Effects host)

SA Color Finesse neutral

SA Color Finesse adjusted

Last in this set of comparisons is Synthetic Aperture’s Color Finesse 2 plug-in that ships with Adobe After Effects. Color Finesse offers a toolset that is very similar to Avid Symphony and has been included with After Effects for years. In addition to all the standard color grading models, Color Finesse also offers more advanced modes, like CMYK grading. If you have a two-monitor configuration, the Color Finesse UI displays a full-screen image on one of the monitors.

In my opinion, Synthetic Aperture Color Finesse produced the most pleasing results out of all of these video images. A version of Color Finesse is also available as a standalone grading application, which uses a similar workflow to Apple Color. In any case, it’s right inside Adobe After Effects, though many editors aren’t even aware of the power they already own if they have the CS3 or CS4 bundle!

Exported images

Starting image

Apple Aperture

Avid Media Composer

Apple Color

Apple Final Cut Pro (3-way)

Red Giant Colorista (FCP)

Magic Bullet Looks (3-way)

Magic Bullet Looks (Lift-Gamma-Gain)

Adobe Premiere Pro (3-way)

Synthetic Aperture Color Finesse

©2010 Oliver Peters