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

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