LUTs and FCP X

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LUTs or color look-up tables are a method of converting images from one color space or gamma profile into another. LUTs are usually a mathematically correct transform of one set of color and level values into another. For most editors and colorists, LUTs are commonly associated with log profiles that are increasingly used with various digital cameras, like an ARRI ALEXA, RED One, RED Epic or Blackmagic Design Cinema Camera. (Click on the images in this article for an expanded view.)

The concept gets confusing, because there are various types of LUTs and they can be inserted into different stages of the pipeline. There are display LUTs, used to convert the viewing color space, such as from Rec. 709 (video) into P3 (digital cinema projection). These can be installed into hardware conversion boxes, monitors and within software grading applications. There are camera LUTs, which are used to convert gamma profiles, such as from log-C to Rec. 709. And finally, there are creative LUTs used for aesthetic purposes, like film stock emulation.

df_luts_02One of the really sweet parts of Apple Final Cut Pro X is that it offers a vastly improved color pipeline that ties in closely to underpinnings of the OS, such as ColorSync. This offers developers opportunities over FCP “legacy” and quite frankly over many other competitors. Built into the code is the ability to recognize certain camera metadata if the camera manufacturer chooses to take advantage of Apple’s SDK. ARRI, Sony and RED are among those that have done so. For example, when you import ARRI ALEXA footage that was recorded with a log-C gamma profile, a metadata flag in the file toggles on log processing automatically within FCP X. Instead of seeing the flat log-C image, you see one that has already been converted, on-the-fly into Rec. 709 color space.

This built-in log processing comes with some caveats, though. The capability is only enabled with files recorded on ALEXA cameras with more recent firmware. It cannot be manually applied to older log-C footage, nor to any other log-encoded video file. It can only be toggled on or off without any adjustments. Finally, because this is done via under-the-hood ColorSync profile changes, it happens prior to the point any filters or color correction can be applied within FCP X itself.

df_luts_03A different approach has been developed by colorist Denver Riddle, known for his Color Grading Central website, products and tutorials. His new product, LUT Utility, is designed to provide FCP X editors with a better way of using LUTs for both corrective and creative color transforms. The plug-in installs into both Final Cut Pro X and Motion 5 and comes with a number of built-in LUTs for various cameras, such as the ALEXA, Blackmagic and even the Cinestyle profiles used with the Canon HDSLRs. Simply drop the filter onto a clip and select the LUT from the pulldown menu in the FCP X inspector pane. As a filter, you can freely apply any LUT selection, regardless of camera – plus, you can adjust the strength of the LUT via a slider. It can work within a series of filters applied to the same clip and can be placed upstream or downstream of any other filters, as well as within an adjustment layer (blank title effect). You can also stack multiple instances of the LUT with different settings on the same clip for creative effect.

df_luts_04The best part of LUT Utility is that you aren’t limited to the built-in LUTs. When you install the plug-in, a LUT Utility pane is added to System Preferences. In that pane, you can add additional LUTs sold by Color Grading Central or that you have created yourself. (External LUT files can be directly accessed within the filter when working in Motion 5.) One such package is the set of Osiris Digital Film Emulation LUTs developed jointly by Riddle and visionCOLOR. These are a set of nine film LUTs designed to mimic the looks of various film stocks. Each has two settings designed for either log or Rec. 709 video. For example, you can take an ALEXA log-C file and apply two instances of LUT Utility. Set the first filter to use the log-C-to-Rec.709 LUT. Then in the second filter, pick one of the film LUTs, but use the Rec. 709 version of it. Or, you could apply one instance of the LUT Utility filter and simply pick the same film LUT, but instead, select its log version. Both work, but will give you slightly different looks. Using the filter’s amount slider, it’s easy to fine tune the intensity of the effect.

df_luts_05LUT Utility is applied as a filter, which means you can still add other color correction filters before or after it. Applying a filter, like Hawaiki Color, prior to a log conversion LUT, means that you would be adjusting color values of the log image, before converting it into Rec. 709. If you add such a filter after the LUT, then you are grading the already-converted image. Each position will give you different results, but most of this is handled gracefully, thanks to FCP X’s floating-point processing. Finally, you can also apply the LUT as a filter and then do additional corrections downstream of the filter by using the built-in Color Board tools.

I found these LUTs easy to install and use. They appear to be pretty lightweight in how they affect FCP X playback performance. I’m running a 2009 Mac Pro with a new Mavericks installation. I can apply one or more instances of the LUT Utility filter and my unrendered ProRes media plays in real-time. With the widespread use of log and log-style gamma profiles, this is one of the handiest filter sets to have if you are a heavy FCP X user. Not only are most of the common cameras covered, but the Osiris LUTs add a nice creative edge that you won’t find at this price point in competitive products. If you use FCP X for color correction and finishing, then it’s really an essential tool.

©2014 Oliver Peters

Typemonkey

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One of the ways to extend functions in Adobe After Effects is through scripting. These are automated macros to quickly perform tasks you could do yourself. By using scripts the results can be built more quickly without manually performing tedious, repetitive commands. Developers can create advanced scripts to automate complex creative treatments. These are installed like plug-ins, but show up as a module under the Window pulldown menu. One such script unit is Typemonkey – a kinetic text generator.

Kinetic Text

df_typemonkey_5We’ve all seen this current design trend for TV spots and marketing videos. The copy is presented via animated words, which move into position on screen. The view shifts from one word to the next in sync with the announcer at the reading pace of the viewer. Creating a kinetic text layout is relatively straightforward and can easily be created by an editor using After Effects or Motion.

The starting point for kinetic text is a large layout of stacked words. These are arranged horizontally and vertically in a bigger-than-raster field. It’s like taking a variety of building blocks and stacking them like a building. This word design can be created as a layered Photoshop document or as a series of layers in After Effects or Motion – one word per layer. To add energy and pace, you would next offset the timing of each layer and add an entry animation to the word on that layer, so that it flys, fades, rotates or types into visibility.

df_typemonkey_4Once this layout is created, the entire stack of layers is viewed with a 3D camera, which in turn is animated to create the moves from one word to the next as they appear inside the raster of your composition. This brings them full screen for a moment as the reader follows the context of this text. While this process is very easy once you understand it, the time it takes to build it can be quite long. In addition, a paragraph of words will result in a lengthy series of After Effects layers in your timeline pane.

Automating the process

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Where Typemonkey enters the picture is to streamline the process and reduce or even eliminate the manual steps. Once installed, you open the Typemonkey interface module from the Window menu. Set the starting font from After Effects’ normal text control pane, paste or type your text into the Typemonkey window and press the “Do it!” button. At this point Typemonkey operates as a macro to automatically build the layers, the moves and the 3D camera animation. The final result is a timeline that shows the 3D camera layer with all word layers shied. Moves from word to word are evenly space for the length of the composition or selected work area with markers at each change. This builds a very nice composition with kinetic text in a matter of seconds.

df_typemonkey_7Naturally, most editors and designers will want to customize the defaults, so that every composition isn’t identical. This can be achieved through both the Typemonkey pane and AE’s standard layer effects. Sliding the markers in the composition timeline will change the animation pacing of the 3D camera’s move from word to word. This lets you hold longer on some words and move more quickly through others.

df_typemonkey_3The controls within the Typemonkey pane let you adjust some of the move styles and interpolations. You can also set up a series of colors, so that each word changes color as it cycles through the five palette choices. Through adjustments at both locations, designers can get quite a large range of variations from this single tool. The actual effects are performed using After Effects expressions, rather than keyframes, so you cannot easily make individual changes to the internal moves. However, you can certainly add your own keyframed transform effects on top of what Typemonkey creates.

Typemonkey is a low cost tool that will pay for itself in the time saved on a single job. Obviously its use is specific to kinetic text creative treatments, but used sparingly and with taste, it’s a look that will bring your motion graphics up a notch.

©2013 Oliver Peters

Hawaiki Color

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Color correction using graphical color wheels was introduced to the editing world in the Avid Symphony over a decade ago and adopted by nearly every NLE after that.  Final Cut Pro “legacy” had a two nice color correctors using the color wheel model, so adopters of Final Cut Pro X were disappointed to see the Color Board as the replacement. Although the additive/subtractive color math works about the same way to change tonality of lows, mids and highlights, many users still pine for wheels instead of pucks and sliders. A pair of developers (Tokyo Productions and Lawn Road) set out to rectify that situation with Hawaiki Color. It’s the color correction tool that many Final Cut Pro X editors wish Apple had built. (Click any images in this post for an enlarged view.)

Both developers offer several different types of grading filters, which all perform similar tasks. Each has its own twists, but only Hawaiki Color includes on-screen sliders and color wheel controls. Based on how Apple designed FCP X, developers simply cannot create custom interfaces within the Inspector effects panel. They are limited to sliders and a few extras. One of these extras is to the ability to tap into the Mac OS color pickers to use color swatches as tonal controls for low/mid/hi color balance. A number of grading filters use this method quite successfully.

If a developer wants to introduce more custom interface elements, then there are two routes – linking to a separate external application (Magic Bullet Looks, Digital Film Tools Film Stocks, Tiffen Dfx3, GenArts Sapphire Edge) – or placing an overlay onto the Viewer. Thanks to the latter option, a number of developers have created special overlays that become “heads up display” (HUD) controls for their plug-ins. To date, only Hawaiki Color and Yanobox Moods have used a HUD overlay to reproduce color wheels for grading.

df_hawaiki_2_smThe Hawaiki Color grading controls can be adjusted either from the Inspector effects pane or from the on-screen HUD controls placed over the main Viewer output. Set-ups, like a reference split screen, must be done from the Inspector. The grading controls are built into three of the four frame corners with low/mid/hi/global sliders for exposure, temperature and saturation. The sliders in the fourth corner let you adjust overall hue, contrast, sharpening and blur. At the center bottom of the frame are three color wheels (low/mid/hi) for balance offsets. Once the Hawaiki Color filter is applied to the desired clips in your timeline – and you have set the filter to be displayed in a window or full screen with overlaid controls – it becomes very easy to move from clip-to-clip in a very fast grading session.

df_hawaiki_3_smI ran a test using Philip Bloom’s Hiding Place short film, which he shot as part of his review of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. He was gracious enough to offer an ungraded ProResHQ version for download, which is what I used as my test footage. The camera settings include a flat gamma profile (BMD Film), which is similar to RED’s RedLogFilm or ARRI’s Log-C and is ideal for grading. I edited this into an FCP X timeline, bladed the clip at all the cuts and then applied the Hawaiki Color filter to each segment.

df_hawaiki_4_smBy running my Viewer on the secondary screen, setting the filter to full screen with the interface controls overlaid and placing the FCP X scopes below, I ended up with a very nice color grading environment and workflow.  The unique aspect, compared to most other grading filters, is that all adjustments occur right on the image. This means your attention always stays on the image, without needing to shift between the Inspector and the Viewer or an external monitor. I did my grading using a single instance of the filter, but it is possible to stack more than one application of Hawaiki Color onto a clip or within adjustment layers. You can also use it in conjunction with any other filter. In fact, in my final version, I added just a touch of the FilmConvert Pro film emulsion filter, as well as an FCP X Color Board shape mask for a vignette effect.

df_hawaiki_5_smThere are a few things to be mindful of. Because of the limitations developers face in creating HUDs for an FCP X effect, Hawaiki Color includes a “commit grade” button, which turns off the on-screen interface. If you don’t “commit” the grade, then the interface is baked into your rendered file and/or your exported master. Like all third-party filters, Hawaiki Color does not have the same unrendered performance as FCP X’s own Color Board. There’s “secret sauce” that Apple uses, which developers are not privy to. Frankly, there isn’t a single third-party FCP X filter that performs as well as Apple’s built-in effects. Nevertheless, Hawaiki Color performed reasonably well in real-time and didn’t get sluggish until I stacked FilmConvert and a vignette on top of it.

df_hawaiki_6_smI ran into an issue with Bloom’s source file, which he exports at a cropped 1920 x 816 size for a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. FCP X will fit this into a 1920 x 1080 sequence with letterboxed black pad on the top and bottom. However, by doing this, I found out that it affected the HUD controls, once I added more filters. It also caused the color wheel controls to change possible in the frame, as they are locked to the source size. The solution to avoid such issues is to place the non-standard-sized clip into a 1080p sequence and then create a Compound Clip. Now edit your Compound Clip to a new sequence where you will apply the filters. None of this is an issue with Hawaiki Color or any other filter, but rather a function of working with non-standard (for video) frame sizes within an FCP X sequence.

df_hawaiki_7_smAs far as grading Hiding Place, my intent was to go for a slight retro look, like 1970s era film. The footage lent itself to that and with the BMD Film gamma profile was easy to grade. I stretched exposure/contrast, increased saturation and swung the hue offsets as follows – shadows towards green, midrange towards red/orange and highlights towards blue. The FilmConvert Pro filter was set to a Canon Mark II/Standard camera profile and the KD5207 Vis3 film stock selection. This is a preset that mimics a modern Kodak negative stock with relatively neutral color. I dialed it back to 30% of its color effect, but with grain at 100% (35mm size). The effect of this was to slightly change gamma and brightness and to add grain. Finally, the Color Board vignette darkens the edges of the frame.

Click here to see my version of Hiding Place graded using Hawaiki Color. In my clip, you’ll see the final result (first half), followed by a split screen output with the interface baked in. Although I’ve been a fan of the Color Board, I really like the results I got from Hawaiki Color. Control granularity is better than the Color Board and working the wheels is simply second nature. Absolutely a bargain if it fits your grading comfort zone!

©2013 Oliver Peters / Source images @2013 PhilipBloom.net

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

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