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

Adobe Premiere Pro CC

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Adobe started to receive serious interest from the professional video community with the introduction of Adobe Creative Suite 6 Premiere Pro. Many of these editors were looking for the next generation of nonlinear editing software after Final Cut Pro changed direction. Adobe responded with software that delivered both performance and a familiar look-and-feel. This year Adobe has introduced the next version – Premiere Pro CC – as part of its Creative Cloud subscription model. Let me cut to the chase. If you’ve been sitting on the fence about whether Premiere Pro CC is good enough to either adopt the Cloud or to move beyond FCP 7 or Premiere Pro CS6, then let me re-assure you. Yes, it is absolutely that good!

Installation

Let’s dive into the nitty-gritty. To install Premiere Pro CC, you first install the Creative Cloud desktop application. This manages aspects of your Creative Cloud account, including installation and updating your software. As an individual or Team subscriber, you have access to all of Adobe’s content creation tools; therefore, you should install as many applications as you find useful. I would highly recommend downloading and installing not just Premiere Pro CC, but also Prelude CC, Audition CC, After Effects CC, SpeedGrade CC and Photoshop CC at the very minimum. When you do this, you also get Adobe Media Encoder CC, Cinema4D Lite and the Color Finesse and Mocha plug-ins for After Effects.

df_pprocc_5If you already have CS6 versions of the software installed, the new CC software will not overwrite these files, but the Creative Cloud application will manage both versions for any necessary updates.  If you don’t want the CS6 versions on your system any longer, you’ll have to go through the usual de-authorization and uninstall steps as you have previously done with Adobe software. If you still need Adobe Encore for DVD/Blu-ray authoring, the CS6 version is still required, since there won’t be a new CC version. With the exception of the FxFactory filters, most plug-ins that you have installed for CS6 will not show up in your CC effects palettes. These plug-ins must be moved to the CC plug-ins folders or re-installed from updates, in order to be accessible within the CC applications.

Adobe has promised faster software updates thanks to this new subscription model and so far they have made good on that. At the time of this review, Premiere Pro CC has already been updated from version 7.0 to 7.0.1, which brought with it many new user features, as well as some bug fixes.

Features

df_pprocc_4Premiere Pro CC continues the enhancement of operator commands and features loosely referred to by Adobe as “editing finesse”. Essentially this means adding or changing commands to make editing more fluid, as well as integrate functions that are second nature to experienced Media Composer and Final Cut Pro editors. More of these were added in the 7.0.1 update. One example is the ability to move a clip vertically in the track hierarchy by selecting it and using the Option+Up/Down Arrow keystroke. Premiere Pro CC also sports a few minor user interface tweaks to get rid of a little more wasted space. Cosmetically the biggest thing most users will notice is the move to graphical half-waveforms, not unlike waveforms in Final Cut Pro X. Standard full waveforms are also available.

Adobe has integrated more use of compression codecs, like the ProRes and DNxHD families, but the design intent is to edit as much as possible with native camera media. There is no built-in transcode function, so if you prefer to work with transcoded media, use Adobe Media Encoder CC or Prelude CC to prepare your files before editing. However, it’s now easier to create custom sequence presets with ProRes or DNxHD as your render format. Premiere Pro CC and Adobe Media Encoder CC now take full advantage of these rendered preview files for faster exports, too.

Although I personally prefer to work with trancoded media, Premiere Pro CC is better than ever with a variety of native camera formats. Simply access the copied camera files using the Media Browser; import these into your project; drop clips onto the timeline and start editing. I slapped together a 1080p test sequence that included a myriad of files (4K RED One, ProRes, C300 XF MPEG2, GH2, 4K M-JPEG from a Canon 1DC, H.264 from a Canon 5D, AVC-Intra, etc.). These all played fluidly in real-time (using the half-resolution timeline playback setting), which is far better than I’ve experienced in Premiere Pro CS6.

Premiere Pro CC now changes the way editors cut media from one sequence into another. In the past, doing so caused the source sequence to appear within the target sequence as a single, nested clip that contained the original sequence. Now editors have a toggle to control whether a source sequence becomes a nested clip or whether individual clips edit across to corresponding tracks without being nested. This includes control of target track assignment.

df_pprocc_2The biggest feature for me is Link & Locate. In general, Adobe has improved the media management throughout Premiere Pro CC. Media linking at launch is faster and Premiere Pro CC is better at finding clips and staying connected. Nevertheless, there are times when editors need to change the clip-to-media connections. One example is when a project is color graded without the benefits of XML roundtripping. Here, the online editor may need to relink the graded files to an edited sequence built by the offline editor. Link & Locate makes it handy to match by timecode, file name or other criteria – making Premiere Pro CC very viable as a conform and finishing tool.df_pprocc_3

Engineering

Under-the-hood, Adobe has re-engineered both the audio and the video engines that drive Premiere Pro CC. The audio changes are to bring it more in line with Audition CC, which has now become a 64-bit application. The video changes introduce the same deep color science used in SpeedGrade. The SpeedGrade CC application itself has become a bit more “Adobe-fied”, but still operates like the CS6 version. This means the color correction flow is from Premiere Pro CC to SpeedGrade CC with no roundtrip back to Premiere. Adobe has sought to enhance the interaction between the two, by integrating the Lumetri color effects from SpeedGrade into Premiere.

Lumetri effects are color preset files (.look format) that may be used as color look-up tables outside of SpeedGrade. These Lumetri presets can be made up of several layers of primary and secondary corrections, but may be applied as a single effect. Premiere Pro CC installs with a set of stylized presets (bleach bypass, warm, cool, cinematic and so on) that are common to both SpeedGrade CC and Premiere Pro CC. In addition, users can create new, custom grades in SpeedGrade, which may be saved and/or exported as .look files.

df_pprocc_6When you apply a Lumetri preset in Premiere, you get one of the built-in styles. If you apply the Lumetri filter (rather than a preset), a dialogue box opens to link to a saved .look file. Either type of effect can be applied to individual clips or to a whole track or sequence using an adjustment layer. I’ve already used this feature for one client, by creating a series of custom presets for their project with SpeedGrade CC. I then e-mailed the .look files, which they in turn applied to their Premiere Pro CC sequence.

Performance

There have been tangible performance boosts with each new version of Premiere Pro since CS4. This is even more true with Premiere Pro CC. It uses the Mercury Playback Engine, which is a combination of technologies, including 64-bit optimization and GPU acceleration. In CS6 and before, GPU acceleration was limited to CUDA-enabled NVIDIA cards. Adobe had added some OpenCL-based acceleration with CS6, but this only applied to a few Apple MacBook Pro models. In Premiere Pro CC, Adobe has expanded OpenCL acceleration to now include such desktop GPUs as the ATI 5870.

I ran a number of render and export tests on my Mac Pro comparing CS6 and CC versions of Premiere. These tested software emulation, CUDA (Quadro 4000) and OpenCL (ATI 5870) acceleration modes for the Mercury Playback Engine setting. My test sequence was 7:24 long and made up of five ARRI ALEXA ProResHQ clips. I applied a Fast Color Corrector filter to these, which is an accelerated effect. My timeline render and export formats were both ProRes422. In these tests, Premiere Pro CC was generally twice as fast as CS6 on direct comparison, using the same GPU cards and modes. Renders using the Quadro 4000 card were only slightly faster than with the ATI 5870 and export times (using the rendered preview files) were about the same. Surprisingly, even the export times between CC and CS6 differed. In this case, Premiere Pro CC (via Adobe Media Encoder CC) was almost four times faster. My guess is that this relates to better optimization when ProRes is used.

Conclusion

There have been a few bugs at launch (like problems with multi-cam sequences), which Adobe is addressing. That’s to be expected with any software application. I like all of the “A” company editing products and use them professionally. Each has its pros and cons, but Premiere Pro CC is definitely the best direct replacement for Final Cut Pro “legacy”. It’s fast, handles a wide range of native media and is versatile in many situations. Although some might find the user interface a tad stark, it’s one of the most fluid to re-configure and resize. Minor user tweaks that will make editors smile, like the ease in altering track height, received a bit more love in this version.

Adobe Premiere Pro CC becomes the logical solution for editors who are most comfortable with a familiar track-based interface. Furthermore, it integrates well into a multi-editor, multi-suite facility. I’ve worked with it in a SAN environment and it’s easy to move projects and media between different volumes and editors. One selling point for a facility is easy project management to create consolidated projects with trimmed (I-frame formats only) media for archiving. A single, self-contained project file with all of your edit data is also welcomed. There are too many small enhancements to innumerate, but the bottom line is that Adobe definitely has a winner in Premiere Pro CC.

UPDATE – September News

Adobe has just announced a big update scheduled for mid-October that affects its Creative Cloud video applications. There are many improvements throughout, as well as a new application – Prelude Live Logger for tablets. The biggest feature to affect Premiere Pro editors is the new Direct Link (to SpeedGrade). This enables a seamless back-and-forth grading workflow between Premiere Pro CC and SpeedGrade CC. Simply click the Direct Link menu option and your Premiere Pro sequence is flipped over to SpeedGrade. Tracks, transitions, adjustment layers and multi-track composites are accurately represented in the SpeedGrade timeline. Apply grading as you usually would and then send this back to Premiere.

Within the Premiere Pro CC timeline, clips and adjustment layers each have a new Lumetri effect applied to it. The Lumetri .look file format is a LUT preset that can carry any number of SpeedGrade primary, secondary and filter layers within a single filter. All SpeedGrade corrections are accurately applied without any rendering in the roundtrip.

The procedural steps are somewhat similar to the roundtrip between Apple FCP 7 and Color. There, new media was rendered by Color to which the “returned” FCP 7 sequence linked. Not so with Adobe’s Direct Link, as no new media is rendered by SpeedGrade. This workflow also enables an easy return to SpeedGrade for further adjustments. To my knowledge, there is no other low-cost grading workflow that functions this way between an NLE and a separate color grading application.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine

©2013 Oliver Peters

Avid Media Composer 7

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Avid continues to be the dominant force in television and film editing in spite of being challenged by strong offerings from Apple, Adobe, Grass Valley and others. While it’s not always the flashiest product, Avid’s flagship Media Composer editing application delivers the toolset that professional editors rely on to be productive. Version 7.0 is no exception. Along with new features, it has been reduced in price to $999 and the big brother Symphony is now available as a $1499 add-on. Other options include Script Sync and PhraseFind.

Media Composer has traditionally ingested media and converted it into a native Avid format, but media handling has been undergoing big improvements. This started to change with the introduction of Avid Media Access a few versions ago. AMA is an architecture to directly link to native camera formats without conversion. With Media Composer 7, AMA takes a big leap forward, with linked files becoming Avid-managed media, just like Avid’s internal MXF files. When files are imported using AMA, a folder is created on the user’s hard drive with database information and small AAF files that point to the location of the actual media. Media Composer will track the AMA files, just like it does with its own MXF folders. This makes direct editing with AMA-linked files more solid than in earlier versions.

df_avidmc7_3Depending on the installed AMA plug-ins, Media Composer 7 supports a wide variety of native camera formats, including media from RED, ARRI, Canon, Sony and Panasonic cameras. Media that already matches native codecs, including DNxHD, XDCAM, ProRes, AVC-Intra and others, will “fast import”. That means files are only copied and rewrapped without alteration. Files that don’t match are transcoded on import, thus changing the video “essence”, such as the codec type. In short, there are three ways to bring in files: traditional import, AMA-linking (direct access to the files) or transcoding AMA files into MXF media.

New Features: background services and high-resolution formats

df_avidmc7_4One big new feature is the ability to transcode in the background, with the introduction of Background Services. When you opt to transcode AMA files, you can choose to run that in the background and set a priority level for these background services. This enables the editor to continue working without this operation holding up the system. Naturally, the speed of transcoding will depend on what else the computer is tasked with at any given time and the priority level assigned. When the computer is only engaged in the transcode function, the conversion occurs in less than the total running time of the footage (as tested on my 8-core Mac Pro). Foreground transcoding is even faster, but you can’t do any other work. Media Composer 7 gives you that option depending on your workflow needs.

Another background service is Dynamic Media Folders. This is a watch folder system that allows you to copy, transcode or consolidate media in the background. Depending on the rules you set up, the DMF Service can run whether or not Media Composer is running. It can be set to perform several functions, once you copy files into a designated folder. This can be as small of an action as setting up files for AMA linking or can include transcoding to a predetermined codec.

df_avidmc7_6Until now, Media Composer was locked to SD and HD video frame sizes and didn’t offer any source-side editing capabilities. Media Composer 7 is the first version to change that. The FrameFlex feature enables the use of video sources that are larger than HD is size without loss of resolution. These files are automatically resized when edited into an SD or HD sequence. Each clip can be opened as an effect with the ability to control frame size and position within the SD or HD raster. These positions can be keyframed and animated, allowing new creative options, like zooming from a wide to a close-up within a 4K RED frame. Along with reformatting options, this new source capability includes added color management within Media Composer. This enables the application of LUTs (look-up tables) for camera sources using log-style gamma encoding.df_avidmc7_5

User enhancements, new filters and more

There are a number of user enhancements throughout, including spanned markers (markers that have duration values), a master fader on the mixer and mini-faders that pop-up to adjust clip levels directly on the timeline. One thing that hasn’t been mentioned in many of the reviews, is that Avid has added a “starter pack” of filters from NewBlueFX, as well as their titler (in addition to the venerable Title Tool and Marquee). NewBlueFX’s Titler Pro v1 is a more modern titler than anything Avid has offered in the past, but it’s curious that Avid didn’t include one of its own graphics products, like Deko.

df_avidmc7_9The Media Composer package still includes AvidFX 6.3 (an OEM’ed version of  Boris RED), Sorenson Squeeze 8.5 and Avid DVD. All are cross-platform, except Avid DVD, which is Windows-only. The Boris Continuum Complete filter set is included with the Symphony option, but many of these filters, as well as the Final Effects Complete filters, are installed with AvidFX and can be applied through its interface within Media Composer.

The Symphony option adds a few more color correction controls, along with relational grading (correction by source, tape or clip) and program-level grading (adding a second level of correction to all or part of a timeline). Although Symphony is still powerful for most TV show finishing needs, it does not offer the level of grading power of DaVinci Resolve Lite (free), nor of FilmLight’s Baselight Editions plug-in ($1000). Its main selling point is an integrated workflow and the fact that the BCC filter set is included.

Media Composer in actual use

df_avidmc7_7Boxed editions are gone in favor of software downloads, but a single purchase authorizes you for both PC and Mac versions. With the flak Adobe has been receiving over its Creative Cloud subscription model, software ownership of Media Composer may be a big point of interest for many. Installation of Media Composer 7 is easy and straightforward. The license is activated and de-activated over the Internet, so for users who need to move back-and-forth among different machines can do so with a single license (only one running at any time). Without activation, the software runs in a fully-functioning 30-day trial mode. Avid has historically been good about backwards compatibility of projects and bins, but Media Composer 7 is only backwards-compatible to several earlier versions, due to changes in the data structure of the bins. These include Media Composer maintenance release versions 5.5.3.7, 6.0.4 and 6.5.3.

A few persistent issues are still there. A minority of users (including several of the systems I operate) have an unknown conflict with networking (usually for Internet access). In my case, the launch hangs for a long time on the “Initializing Avid Media Access Volume Manager” splash screen. Sometimes it takes several minutes for the application to respond and complete the launch. When done, there is no other problem with any editing operation. This issue also affects the new background transcoding on my Mac Pro, causing a clip that is a few seconds long to require several minutes to transcode. If this applies to you, one suggested workaround is to momentarily unplug your network Ethernet cable or turn off the wireless during launch or background transcoding.

df_avidmc7_8Avid is compatible with third-party I/O cards from AJA, Blackmagic Design, Matrox, Bluefish and MOTU. General performance with these is fine, with the exception of the trim mode. If you have one of these cards, trimming clips in the trim mode is slow. Turn off your card and the response improves, but still not as good as when you run in a software-only configuration. Likewise, when you work in the color correction mode, any parameter changes are relatively slow to update on screen. I have also had a few conflicts with third-party plug-ins, like Digital Film Tools’ Film Stocks.

With the introduction of Media Composer 7, Avid has taken an evolutionary, but not revolutionary step. In the year when 4K is the buzz – and all of their competitors can edit with native 4K sequences – Avid has only taken the first step in dealing with bigger-than-HD sizes. In their defense, Avid is trying to solve the issues of today for its users and not the potential issues of tomorrow. The vast majority of Media Composer editors aren’t – and probably won’t – use this tool to finish 4K masters. Media Composer is designed for the broadcast and/or film editor who needs a workhorse editing application or a great offline editor for feature films. In high-pressure, collaborative environments, no other single NLE is as proven as Media Composer. If you need an NLE that you can count on to deliver, then Avid Media Composer 7 still fits the bill. As those infamous car analogies go, it might not be a sports car, but it’s a heck of a fine truck.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine

©2013 Oliver Peters