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

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.

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

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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.

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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.

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A different gradient setting.

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A third gradient setting.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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

RED One and Magic Bullet Looks

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A while back the folks at Video Resources, Inc. posted an entry on their ShootWithRed blog called One Image, Many Visions. You can download a source image showing an over-the-shoulder shot of a woman, then play with the color grading of the image and post your results to their web gallery. It’s interesting to see how many different looks one can get from the same basic image. I posted a few myself, which gave me the inspiration for my own blog entry on this subject.

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One tool that I really like for specialty grading is Red Giant Software’s Magic Bullet Looks. The software was developed by effects director Stu Maschwitz. Unlike other plug-ins, Looks is really an integrated suite of effects and filters all rolled into one package. It runs under many NLE hosts, but is probably most optimized for Adobe After Effects.

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Aside from its power, Looks relies on a well-designed custom user interface to edit and apply effects. Maschwitz’s breakthrough was to redesign the Looks GUI based on common tools that are part of steps in the production and post chain. Effects can be applied to these stages and in this order: Subject, Matte, Lens, Camera and Post. Some effects, like Fill Light can only be applied to a single stage, like Subject. Others, such as Film-like Curves, may be applied to difference stages in the chain, plus can be applied to more than one stage within the same effect chain. A single “look” is made up of a series of filters chained in sequence. For example, the Mexicali preset look consists of Curves + Exposure + Lift/Gain/Gamma + Curves + Auto Shoulder.

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In addition to custom settings, Looks ships with quite a few presets. Any preset can be applied and then modified to create your own original version of that preset. Presets become valuable starting points to create a look or to test out options if you are in the mood to experiment. The effected image is previewed within the active main interface window, but also in the mini-preview panes for these presets. This lets you instantly see how preset effects will appear when applied to your image. Your unique settings may be saved for later use and also applied as custom presets.

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Magic Bullet Looks is more than simply a grading application. The choice of tools includes not only a wealth of standard color correction filters, but also a variety of focus and distress effects. Drag-and-drop any filter onto the image and adjust the parameters to taste. I use Looks when I need to create something special, but generally not as an all-purpose color grading tool. First of all, grading an entire long-form project using only Magic Bullet Looks is overkill, but more importantly, it can greatly expand the project’s file size. Red Giant’s Magic Bullet Colorista is more appropriate when you simply need a standard color correction tool.

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The test image supplied by ShootWithRed originated in a RED One camera. The downloadable image is an uncompressed TIFF exported from a REDCODE camera file. As you can see, the image appears very flat, so it really lends itself to interesting color grading experimentation. I don’t know which export settings were used, but this look is indicative of a color space setting using one of the log modes. In addition, uncorrected film negative would also tend to look this way when transferred to video.

I think it’s important to note that their blog entry hails the power of REDCODE raw, but the color manipulation of this image really isn’t using the camera raw files. I didn’t use any of RED’s tools or any native workflow to create my examples. Essentially this same original, flat tonal range could have been achieved with any of the leading digital cameras, like a Sony F23, an Arri D-21, a Grass Valley Viper and many others. Nevertheless, this provides a good example of how much range there is to create beautiful and stylized imagery, when combining properly exposed RED One footage and a comprehensive tool like Magic Bullet Looks.

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One very interesting benefit of Magic Bullet Looks is the ability to use Looks on set. When you install Looks for Final Cut, After Effects or a different host, both a plug-in and a standalone application called LooksBuilder are installed. When you apply the plug-in to a clip and select “edit” in the effects editor, the clip you are grading opens into LooksBuilder. That’s where the actual adjustments are made. Then these settings are applied within the host when you are done.

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LooksBuilder exists as a standalone application, so you can also launch it separately and independently of your NLE. In this mode, you can open any TIFF or JPEG images available on your system, make adjustments and save either the settings as a “look” file or export the altered image as a new TIFF or JPEG. That process is not unlike working with iPhoto, Photoshop, Aperture or Lightroom. This is how I created all of my samples. Look files can be opened and applied on any other computer with Magic Bullet Looks installed.

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An on-set workflow would be something like this. The director of photography would shoot with a RED One and export a reference TIFF from one of the .R3D camera files using the RED Alert software. Next, open the TIFF in LooksBuilder and create a custom preset for the shot. This setting can be saved as a look file and sent to the post house. Assuming that the post facility also owns Magic Bullet Looks, this file would be applied to an exported/rendered version of the footage (uncompressed, ProRes, DNxHD, etc.). The end result is a custom look that exactly matches the one that the DP created on the set.

DPs often follow a similar procedure now, but typically use software like Photoshop or an on-set grading application. That’s a good reference, but in very few cases actually provides correct grading data that can be applied in post. Using LooksBuilder actually gives the DP a direct interchange with Final Cut Pro, After Effects and others, based on real data and not simply visual color approximation. Since the Magic Bullet Looks/LooksBuilder user interface is designed around terms and tools familiar to DPs, the application is much friendlier to the production process than Photoshop.

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The following 12 images show how Magic Bullet Looks can be used to create a variety of different visual styles from the same basic image.

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© 2009 Oliver Peters