Color Finale

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When Apple launched Final Cut Pro X, one of the items that users missed from previous versions was the popular three-way color corrector. Most built-in color correction modules and plug-ins use the common color wheel method for changing color balance. It’s based on the principle that to reduce a certain color cast you push the wheel in the opposite direction of that color. This decreases the color you want to reduce by shifting the balance towards the colors that are on the opposite side of the wheel.

Apple replaced the color wheel model in FCP X with the color board – a set of tabs for exposure, saturation and color (tint or hue). In the color tab, which controls balance, you see a color swatch field divided into positive and negative halves. To decrease one color, you simply move the puck into the negative range for that color. Although this may be intuitive to users who don’t know anything about color theory, it’s contrary to how most other color tools work.

As a result, many FCP X editors have been on the lookout for good color correction plug-ins that use the more common three-way color wheel method. The complication is that the FCP X user interface is very restrictive for software developers, which limits the sort of custom controls they can use. The usual workaround – if they don’t utilize the space of the Inspector panel – is a of HUD (heads-up display) or an overlay on top of the viewer image. To date, plug-ins that offer color wheels have included Yanobox Moods, Red Giant Colorista III, FilmConvert, and Hawaiki Color. Some, like Ripple Tools RT Color Balance and Lawn Road Color Precision, use the Mac OS color picker in a way that functions as a color balance control.

Layer-based correction

df1115_cf_2_smThe newest color correction plug-in for Final Cut Pro X is Color Finale from Color Grading Central. This is a layer-based color corrector that combines four tools into a single filter. These include color wheels, curves, LUTs, and vectors. To solve the interface issue, Color Finale uses a floating panel that lives on top of the regular FCP X interface. When you apply the Color Finale filter to a clip and click Open in the Inspector window, the floating control panel is launched. You can move it around in case it obscures part of the regular FCP X interface. Within this panel you can select any of its four tools for as many layers as you like and rearrange them into any layer order. Each layer has a separate opacity control and the filter has an overall “mix” slider in the Inspector window. This lets you adjust the intensity of the complete filter or of individual layers.

df1115_cf_1_smThese four tools combine most of the functions offered by other individual filters into a single plug-in. The three-way color corrector works as expected with balance and level controls for shadow, mid-range, and highlight sections, plus a global saturation slider. The LUT control is like Color Grading Central’s LUT Utility. Color Finale ships with several basic camera patch and creative look LUTs (same as with LUT Utility). These are installed into a standard Motion Templates directory for FCP X. You can add any .cube format LUT file to this folder and it will show up inside FCP X as one of Color Finale’s LUT options. The curves are unique among FCP X plug-ins, because these are true multi-point curves. Other curve tools are based on an s-curve, but not here. You can add numerous control points along any of the RGB or master curves and make precise adjustments. The vector tool is based on the six color vectors: red, green, blue, cyan, magenta, and yellow. You can adjust the luminance and saturation, as well as shift the hue, for each of these vectors.

df1115_cf_3_smIn a very, very loose sense, Color Finale is a bit like having Resolve inside FCP X and is most similar to FilmLight’s Baselight Editions color correction plug-in. You can easily mix and match tools as layers within the plug-in control panel. If you apply the Color Finale filter to multiple clips on the timeline, once you’ve opened the panel, you can move from clip to clip and add or adjust correction layers within this panel, as long as it stays open. If you’ve closed it, clicking Open in the Inspector will relaunch the control panel. Using “copy” and “paste attributes” enables you to copy-and-paste Color Finale effects from one clip to another. Unfortunately there is no way within the filter to split-screen the uncorrected and corrected image nor to store grades as presets. However, you can toggle individual layers on and off.

Impressions

df1115_cf_4_smAs with any tool, how the controls work for you is a very subjective thing. Most of the tools feel very good to me, but I have a few minor issues. For me, the range of the color wheels is too extreme. Once you get about 1/4 of the way out from the color wheel’s center, you’ve made a pretty large balance change. At the edges, the change is huge and unusable for anything other than a special effect. Therefore, I’d rather see finer granularity with less extreme change at the edges of the wheel – or the ability to exceed the limits of the wheel for a more extreme change.

df1115_cf_5_smI find the vectors very limiting for secondary adjustments, because you cannot select how wide the envelope is around that vector color. For instance, the red vector will affect a red coat, but not flesh tones that tend to fall into the orange range – and orange is not a true color vector. The developers feel that adhering to true vectors results in a cleaner image as opposed to an HSL model; however, HSL secondary correction (as in Colorista III or Avid Symphony) enables you to be more selective about the colors that you are grabbing for adjustment. I’ve also become used to having contrast, pivot, color temperature, and tint controls. These are a key feature of Adobe SpeedGrade and included with many other filters. Hopefully at some point these will also be added to Color Finale.

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A few key features that would be nice to have are tracking, masking, and keying. These aren’t built into the current version, but might be added natively into later versions. However, with the introduction of FCP X 10.2, filters gain a built-in shape mask function courtesy of the host application. This means that Color Finale gets a shape mask that can be use as a form of “power windows”. In addition, if you’ve purchase ColorMelt’s SliceX/TrackX package, its masking and mocha-powered tracking function can be combined with Color Finale grading.

Most importantly, the developers have done a fine job of balancing correction quality with real-time performance. Stacking seven or eight layers of various tools inside Color Finale still leaves you with real-time playback of a sequence with unrendered clips. You would not get this performance if you stacked the same number of individual color correction filters onto a single FCP X clip. Render speeds, when you do choose to render, are fast.

For many, Color Finale will be the color corrector that Apple should have made. It works well and combines a fine set of tools into a single package. Since it works as any standard filter does, you can use it in conjunction with any other effect and with Final Cut’s built-in tools. For example, you can use FCP X’s log processing to correct Log-C gamma-encoded clips upstream of the filter. You can still add a vignette or key mask on top by using the regular FCP X color board tool. As an added bonus, Color Finale also installs and works with Motion 5. If you’re an editor that prefers to do your grading inside the NLE and skip troublesome roundtrips, then Color Finale is a good addition to your Final Cut Pro X toolkit.

(Full disclosure: I was involved in the Color Finale beta team and participated in providing testing and feedback during the development phase.)

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetwork.

©2015 Oliver Peters

Greater LUT Control with Koji Advance

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For folks who like to use film emulsion LUTs (look up tables), Koji Color has recently updated its product line with Koji Advance. Koji Color is a collaboration between Dale Grahnthe highly regarded film lab timer (the film equivalent of a colorist) behind many blockbusters – and plug-in developer Crumplepop. Other products have included an iPad application and an earlier version of the Koji Color plug-in. (Click on any image in this post for an expanded view.)

Typically LUT packages require camera patch LUT files (to correct for each manufacturer’s log encoding scheme) and the “look” file. Some LUT developers split these into two sets of LUTs, while others combine both into a single 3D LUT file. Koji combines their LUTs, so each file is specific to a camera manufacturer and film stock type. The original version of the Koji Color plug-in was designed for Apple Final Cut Pro X and came in the form of two products – Koji DSLR and Koji Log. The lower cost DSLR package used emulation presets designed for Rec709 video signals. The Log package cost a bit more and added files and presets to be used with log gamma encoding, like ARRI Log-C. The FCP X plug-in itself also allowed for control over shadow, mid, and highlight exposure, plus saturation and a Film Stock Mix slider. The Mix slider controlled the amount of the LUT plug-in that was mixed into the image.

df3715_ka_10_smKoji Advance has replaced both the DSLR and Log plug-ins and added more controls and film grain. It is now also compatible with Motion, Premiere Pro CC, and After Effects CC, along with Final Cut Pro X. Koji Color also sells Koji Studio, which is a package of technical versions of these same LUTs intended for facilities outputting to DCI-P3 colorspace. It includes all of the Advance features as part of the package.

df3715_ka_2_smAll packages include presets built around one black-and-white and five color print film stocks. These presets were based on research intended to faithfully reproduce the look of specific Fuji and Kodak print stocks as a medium. 2302 is a black-and-white stock. 2393 is considered by Grahn to be the best print film made. 2383 is similar, but warmer. The other three options are on the cooler side. S versions are more saturation, N versions are more neutral, and LC is low contrast. There is also a 2302 HC (high contract) black-and-white stock.

At this point, it’s important to understand that these LUTs are not designed as creative looks like you’ll find in many other LUT products on the market. The application of any of the LUTs adds the color character of that medium and forms a starting point for your color grade.

When you install Koji Advance, you can opt to install it into any or all of the available host applications. A folder of the Koji 3D LUT files in the .cube format is also installed to your desktop. These are available to be used with other applications that allow LUT files to be imported, like DaVinci Resolve, Avid Media Composer, or Autodesk Smoke. You can move or copy this folder to any location you like.

Fine-tuning the look

df3715_ka_3_smTo use Koji Advance, drop the plug-in effect onto your clip. The first two choices you need to make are the camera preset and film stock. Pick these from the pulldown menus at the top of the control panel. If your footage is from a specific camera encoding scheme, such as ARRI Log-C or RedLogFilm, select the matching choice. If it is already a Rec709 color profile, then select the generic Rec709 choice. Various DSLR camera types also have available options. The film stock selector lets you choose from a number of presets based on the six film stocks and their variants. The LC preset is a brighter version that is more conducive to downstream color correction, which may be added on top of the LUT filter. As before, there’s a Film Stock Mix slider to control how much of this look is being applied to the image.

df3715_ka_4_smThe next series of sliders in the panel turns Koji Advance into a full-on color correction plug-in. You can opt for automatic white balance or manual control. If you pick auto, the controls still let you adjust the image further. There’s a Kelvin-based color temperature slider to warm up or cool off the image. Next are the three lift/gamma/gain controls, which are similar to the exposure sliders in the previous version. These act much like level controls in other applications and plug-ins. Lift adjusts shadow/black levels. Gamma for midrange. Gain for highlights.

df3715_ka_6_smDensity is a film-style control that’s probably unfamiliar to most video operators. It effectively works like an offset control that moves the whole signal higher or lower as you look at the videoscope. Using the density control doesn’t affect saturation in the same way as changing a lift/shadow control. Something to keep in mind is that Lift and Gain will clip the image at 0% and 100% on the scope. Density can move the image into the overshoot and undershoot areas below 0 and above 100. This is actually a good thing, because it preserves the full dynamic range of the image during the processing pipeline; however, it needs be corrected before any broadcast output. Therefore, when you make extreme adjustments, it’s a good idea to use a broadcast safe filter on the final output.

df3715_ka_8_smSaturation controls the chroma level, but this is only true for the color of the image, not including the coloration caused by the LUT file itself. In other words, if a film stock preset is designed to increase blue in the image and is thus a cooler tone, cranking the saturation all the way down will not result in a true black-and-white image. It will still have a slight blue cast. Only the black-and-white presets will be truly black-and-white.

df3715_ka_7_smThe last three color controls are printer point sliders. Again, this is for film-style “color timing” (color correction). The controls work globally for the whole image, so there are no separate color controls for shadows, midtones, and highlights. It works a lot like a single-wheel color corrector. Colors are grouped according to their opposites with sliders for red/cyan, green/magenta, and blue/yellow. To use these controls effectively, it’s best to understand how they work by viewing a vectorscope. If you slide the red/cyan slider all the way to red, it doesn’t increase the intensity of only reds within the image. It shifts the balance of the whole image towards red. Look at the vectorscope and you’ll see the entire chroma signal slide towards the red vector. Same for the other colors.

I’ve seen a few online comments questioning why not put a color wheel here instead of sliders. Apart from the UI issue (especially with design limitations in FCP X), it’s effectively the same thing. Let’s say on a system with color wheels you want to shift the balance towards orange. That’s halfway between red and yellow on the vectorscope. In Koji Advance, you would simply adjust the sliders for more red and more yellow, which results in a combined orange look. Two different methods to achieve the same goal, but sliders offer the advantage of a numerical value, which is easier to repeat for consistent results.

df3715_ka_5_smThe last section, which is new for Koji Advance, is film grain. They’ve picked five stock choices ranging from finer to coarser grain. Since adding grain contaminates the image, the grain section includes three adjustment controls – Film Grain Contrast, Film Grain Saturation, and Film Grain Mix. These let you dial in how subtle the presence of grain is within your shot.

In use

I’ve used the Koji film emulsion looks on previous jobs and they add a nice touch when it’s appropriate. You have to view this as the equivalent to audio engineers working with digital and analog recording systems. Analog tape is said to sound warmer, but that’s because the medium adds its own sonic character to the recording. Many engineers will record digitally, but then use analog somewhere in the final stages. Or, they’ll use a plug-in that emulates the attributes and coloration that analog tape recording gives to the sound. Using a film stock emulation for the purpose of adding character is exactly the same thing. The Koji LUTs are subtle enough that you’ll use them more frequently than some of the other choices. The controls offered by the plug-in enable you to do the work all within Koji’s panel, if you choose.

That being said, LUTs should be used as part of the grading process, not to be the process by itself. Typically I use the Koji plug-in together with other color correction tools, so it’s important to see how it affects the signal when it is part of a stack of several plug-ins. In FCP X, Hawaiki Color is still one of my favorite color correction tools. I like the on-screen controls, the tools are comprehensive, and the results are very pleasing. As a test, I stacked the two filters – Hawaiki Color, then Koji Advance. This let me grade upstream of Koji and use the two filters interactively.

df3715_ka_9_smAn issue I ran into was one of signal clipping. Hawaiki Color also permits overshoot and undershoot, meaning that dark areas can be pushed below zero on the scope. Video can be crushed for extreme contrast. This caused some sparkling color artifacts once those extreme levels hit the Koji plug-in. However, this was easily solved, by selecting Legalize in the Hawaiki Color controls. If you do this with another filter that doesn’t have a “clip” or “legalize” option and you encounter the same issue, then use any filter that does level clipping, such as the Broadcast Safe filter. Place it between your color correction filter and the Koji Advance plug-in and these artifacts will disappear.

The Koji Advance plug-in performance seems fine on most systems and shots I’ve tested. It’s an easy plug-in to understand and use, and will quickly become a tool you’ll use on every production.

©2015 Oliver Peters

Final Cut Pro X Organizing Tips

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Every nonlinear editing application is a database; however, Apple took this concept to a higher level when it launched Final Cut Pro X. One of its true strengths is making the organization of a mountain of media easier than ever. To get the best experience, an editor should approach the session holistically and not simply rely on FCP X to do all the heavy lifting.

At the start of every new production, I set up and work within a specific folder structure. You can use an application like Post Haste to create a folder layout, pick up some templates online, like those from FDPTraining, or simply create your own template. No matter how you get there, the main folder for that production should include subfolders for camera files, audio, graphics, other media, production documents, and projects. This last folder would include your FCP X library, as well as others, like any After Effects or Motion projects. The objective is to end up with everything that you accrue for this production in a single master folder that you can archive upon completion.

FCP X Libraries

df1415_organize_5It helps to understand the Final Cut Pro X Library structure. The Library is what would otherwise be called a project file, but in FCP X terminology an edited sequence is referred to as a Project, while the main session/production file is the Library. Unlike previous versions and other NLEs, the Library is not a closed, binary data file. It is a package file that you can open and peruse, by right-clicking the Library icon and using the “show package contents” command. In there you will find various binary files (labeled CurrentVersion.fcpevent) along with a number of media folders. This structure is similar to the way Avid Media Composer project folders are organized on a hard drive. Since FCP X allows you to store imported, proxy, transcoded, and rendered media within the Library package, the media folders can be filled with actual media used for this production. When you pick this option your Library will grow quite large, but is completely under the application’s control, thus making the media management quite robust.

df1415_organize_4Another option is to leave media files in their place. When this is selected the Library package’s media folders will contain aliases or shortcut links to the actual media files. These media files are located in one or more folders on your hard drive. In this case, your Library file will stay small and is easier to transfer between systems, since the actual audio and video files are externally located. I suggest spreading things out. For example, I’ll create my Library on one drive, the location of the autosaved back-up files on another, and my media on a third. This has the advantage of no single point of failure. If the Library files are located on a drive that is backed up via Time Machine or some other system-wide “cloud” back-up utility, you have even more redundancy and protection.

Following this practice, I typically do not place the Library file in the projects folder for the production, unless this is a RAID-5 (or better) drive array. If I don’t save it there during actual editing, then it is imperative to copy the Library into the project folder for archiving. The rub is that the package contains aliases, which certain software – particular LTO back-up software – does not like. My recommendation is to create a compressed archive (.zip) file for every project file (FCP X Library, AE project, Premiere Pro project, etc.) prior to the final archiving of that production. This will prevent conflicts caused by these aliases.

If you have set up a method of organization that saves Libraries into different folders for each production, it is still possible to have a single folder, which shows you all the Libraries on your drives. To do this, create a Smart Folder in the Finder and set up the criteria to filter for FCP X Libraries. Any Library will automatically be filtered into this folder with a shortcut. Clicking on any of these files will launch FCP X and open to that Library.

Getting started

df1415_organize_2The first level of organization is getting everything into the appropriate folders on the hard drive. Camera files are usually organized by shoot date/location, camera, and card/reel/roll. Mac OS lets you label files with color-coded Finder tags, which enables another level of organization for the editor. As an example, you might have three different on-camera speakers in a production. You could label clips for each with a colored tag. Another example, might be to label all “circle takes” picked by the director in the field with a tag.

The next step is to create a new FCP X Library. This is the equivalent of the FCP 7 project file. Typically you would use a single Library for an entire production, however, FCP X permits you to work with multiple open Libraries, just like you could have multiple projects open in FCP 7. In order to set up all external folder locations within FCP X, highlight the Library name and then in the Inspector panel choose “modify settings” for the storage locations listed in the Library Properties panel. Here you can designate whether media goes directly into the internal folders of the Library package or to other target folders that you assign. This step is similar to setting the Capture Scratch locations in FCP 7.

How to organize clips within FCP X

df1415_organize_8Final Cut Pro X organizes master source clips on three levels – Events, Keyword Collections, and Smart Collections. These are an equivalent to Bins in other NLEs, but don’t completely work in the same fashion. When clips are imported, they will go into a specific Event, which is closest in function to a Bin. It’s best to keep the number of Events low, since Keyword Collections work within an Event and not across multiple Events. I normally create individual Events for edited sequences, camera footage, audio, graphics, and a few more categories. Clips within an Event can be grouped in the browser display in different ways, such as by import date. This can be useful when you want to quickly find the last few files imported in a production that spans many days. Most of the time I set grouping and sorting to “none”.

df1415_organize_7To organize clips within an Event, use Keywords. Setting a Keyword for a clip – or a range within a clip – is comparable to creating subclips in FCP 7. When you add a Keyword, that clip or range will automatically be sorted into a Keyword Collection with a matching name. Keywords can be assigned to keyboard hot keys, which creates a very quick way to go through every clip and assign it into a variety of Keyword Collections. Clips can be assigned to more than one Collection. Again, this is equivalent to creating subclips and placing them into separate Bins.

On one set of commercials featuring company employees, I created Keyword Collections for each person, department, shoot date, store location, employees, managers, and general b-roll footage. This made it easy to derive spots that featured a diverse range of speakers. It also made it easy to locate a specific clip that the director or client might ask for, based on “I think Mary said that” or “It was shot at the Kansas City store”. Keyword Collections can be placed into folders. Collections for people by name went into one folder, Collections by location into another, and so on.

df1415_organize_3The beauty of Final Cut Pro X is that it works in tandem with any organization you’ve done in the Finder. If you spent the time to move clips into specific folders or you assigned color-coded Finder tags, then this information can be used when importing clips into FCP X. The import dialogue gives you the option to “leave files in place” and to use Finder folders and tags to automatically create corresponding Keyword Collections. Camera files that were organized into camera/date/card folders will automatically be placed into Keyword Collections that are organized in the same fashion. If you assigned clips with Mary, John, and Joe to have red, blue, and green tags for each person, then you’ll end up with those clips automatically placed into Keyword Collections named red, blue, and green. Once imported, simply rename the red, blue, and green Collections to Mary, John, and Joe.

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The third level of clip organization is Smart Collections. Use these to automatically filter clips based on the criteria that you set. With the release of FCP X version 10.2, Smart Collections have been moved from the Event level (10.1.4 or earlier) to the Library level – meaning that filtering can occur across multiple Events within the Library. By default, new Libraries are created with several preset Smart Collections that can be used, deleted, or modified. Here’s an example of how to use these. When you sync double-system sound clips or multiple cameras, new grouped clips are created – Synchronized Clips and Multicam Clips. These will appear in the Event along with all the other source files, which can be unwieldy. To focus strictly on these new grouped clips, create a Smart Collection with the criteria set by type to include these two categories. Then, as new grouped clips are created, they will automatically be filtered into this Smart Collection, thus reducing clutter for the editor.

Playing nice with others

df1415_organize_9Final Cut Pro X was designed around a new paradigm, so it tends to live in its own world. Most professional editors have the need for a higher level of interoperability with other applications and with outside vendors. To aid in these functions, you’ll need to turn to third party applications from a handful of vendors that have focused on workflow productivity utilities for FCP X. These include Intelligent Assistance/Assisted Editing, XMiL, Spherico, Marquis Broadcast, and Thomas Szabo. Their utilities make it possible to go between FCP X and the outside world, through list formats like AAF, EDL, and XML.

df1415_organize_11Final Cut’s only form of decision list exchange is FCPXML, which is a distinctly different data format than other forms of XML. Apple Logic Pro X, Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve and Autodesk Smoke can read it. Everything else requires a translated file and that’s where these independent developers come in. Once you use an application like XtoCC (formerly Xto7) from Intelligent Assistance to convert FCPXML to XML for an edited sequence, other possibilities are opened up. The translated XML file can now be brought into Adobe Premiere Pro or FCP 7. Or you can use other tools designed for FCP 7. For instance, I needed to generate a print-out of markers with comments and thumbnail images from a film, in order to hand off notes to the visual effects company. By bringing a converted XML file into Digital Heaven’s Final Print – originally designed with only the older Final Cut in mind – this became a doable task.

df1415_organize_13Thomas Szabo has concentrated on some of the media functions that are still lacking with FCP X. Need to get to After Effects or Nuke? The ClipExporter and ClipExporter2 applications fit the bill. His newest tool is PrimariesExporter. This utility uses FCPXML to enable batch exports of clips from a timeline, a series of single-frame exports based on markers, or a list of clip metadata. Intelligent Assistance offers the widest set of tools for FCP X, including Producer’s Best Friend. This tool enables editors to create a range of reports needed on most major jobs. It delivers them in spreadsheet format.

Understanding the thought processes behind FCP X and learning to use its powerful relational database will get you through complex projects in record time. Better yet, it gives you the confidence to know that no editorial stone was left unturned. For more information on advanced workflows and organization with Final Cut Pro X, check out FCPworks, MacBreak Studio (hosted by Pixel Corps), Larry Jordan, Lynda.com and Ripple Training.

For those that want to know more about the nuts and bolts of the post production workflow for feature films, check out Mike Matzdorff’s “Final Cut Pro X: Pro Workflow”, an iBook that’s a step-by-step advanced guide based on the lessons learned on Focus.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetwork.

©2015 Oliver Peters

Building FCP X Effects – Update

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A few weeks ago I built and posted a small FCP X color correction effect using the Motion template process. While I have no intention of digging deeper into plug-in design, it’s an interesting experiment into understanding how you can use the power of Motion and Final Cut Pro X to develop custom effects, transitions, and generators. In this process, I’ve done a bit of tweaking, created a few more effects, and gotten a better understanding of how it all works. If you download the updated effects, there are a total of three filters (Motion templates) – a color corrector, a levels filter and a DVE.

Color science

In going through this exercise, a few things have been brought to my attention. First of all, filters are not totally transparent. If you apply my color correction filter, you’ll see slight changes in the videoscopes even when each tab is at its default. This doesn’t really matter since you are applying a correction anyway; but if it annoys you, then simply uncheck the item you aren’t using, like brightness or contrast.

df2615_fcpxfilterupdate_3Secondly, the exact same filter in FCP X may or may not use the same color science as the Motion version, even though they are called the same thing. Specifically this is the case with the Hue/Saturation filter. My template uses the one from Motion, of course. The FCP X Hue/Sat filter uses a color model in which saturation is held constant and luma (a composite of RGB) varies. The Motion version holds luma constant and allows saturation to vary.

The quickest way to test this is with a solid red generator. Apply the FCP X Hue/Sat filter and rotate the hue control. Set the scopes to display an RGB parade, vectorscope, and the waveform set to luma. As you rotate the hue around the dial, you’ll notice that the color dot stays neatly in the boxes of the vectorscope and moves in a straight, diagonal line from vector to vector. The RGB parade will show a perfect combination of red, blue, and green values to achieve the correct RMBCGY coordinates. However, the waveform luma levels will move up and down with large changes.

Now compare this to the hue control in the Hue/Sat filter included in my template. This is from Motion. As you rotate the hue control around the dial, the saturation value moves in what seems to be an erratic fashion around the vectorscope; but, the luma display changes very little. If you apply this same test to real footage, instead of a generated background color, you’ll get perceptually better results with Motion’s Hue/Sat filter than with the FCP X version. In most cases, either approach is acceptable, since for the purposes of color correction, you will likely only move the dial a few degrees left or right from the default of zero. Hue changes in color grading should be very subtle.

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Expanding filter features

After I built this first Motion template, I decided to poke around some more inside Motion to see if it offered other filters that had value for color correction. And as a matter of fact, it does. Motion includes a very nice Levels filter. It includes sliders for RGB as a group, as well as individual settings for red, green, and blue. Each group is broken down into sliders for black in/out, white in/out, and gamma. Then there’s an overall mix value. That a total of 21 sliders, not counting opacity, which I didn’t publish in my template. Therefore, you have fairly large control over grading using only the Levels filter.

df2615_fcpxfilterupdate_4I thought about building it into the earlier Oliver Color filter I had created, but ran into some obvious design issues. When you build these effects, it’s important to think through the order of clicking publish on the parameters that you want to appear inside of FCP X. This sequence will determine where these values appear in the stack of controls in the FCP X inspector. In other words, even though I placed this Levels filter ahead of Color Balance within Motion, the fact that I clicked publish after these other values had already been published, meant that these new controls would be placed to the bottom of my stack once this was displayed in FCP X. The way to correct this is to first unpublish everything and then select publish for each parameter in the order that you want it to appear.

A huge interface design concern is just how cluttered you do or don’t want your effect controls to be inside of FCP X. This was a key design issue when FCP X was created. You’ll notice that Apple’s built-in FCP X effects have a minimalist approach to the number of sliders available for each filter. Adding Levels into my Color filter template meant adding 21 more sliders to an interface that already combined a number of parameters for each of the other components. Going through this exercise makes it clear why Apple took the design approach they did and why other developers have resorted to various workarounds, such as floating controls, HUDs, and other solutions. The decision for me was simply to create a separate Oliver Levels filter that could be used separately, as needed.

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More value from color presets 

An interesting discovery I made was how Color Board presets can be used in FCP X 10.2. When you choose a preset from the Color Board’s pulldown menu, you can access these settings as you always have. The downside is that you can’t preview a setting like you can other effects in the effects palette. You have to apply a preset from the Color Board to see what it will look like with your image.df2615_fcpxfilterupdate_5

FCP X 10.2 adds the ability to save filter presets. Since color correction using the Color Board has now been turned into a standard filter, you can save color presets as an effects preset. This means that if you have a number of Color Board presets (the built-in FCP X settings, mine, or any custom ones you’ve created) simply apply the color preset and then save that color correction filter setting as a new effects preset. When you do this you get a choice of what category to save it into. You can create your own, such as My Color Presets. Now these presets will show up in that category inside the effects palette. When you skim over the preset icon, your image will be previewed with that color correction value applied.

Although these presets appear in the same palette as other Motion templates, the effects presets themselves are stored in a different place. They are located in the OS X user library under Application Support/ProApps/Effects Presets. For example, I created 40 Color Board presets that can all be turned into Effects Presets visible within the Effects palette. I’m not going to post them that way, but if you feel ambitious, I would invite you to download the Color Board presets and make your own effects presets out of them.

All of this is a great way to experiment and see how you can use the resources Apple has provided to personalize a system tailored to your own post needs.

Click here to download the Motion template effects.

Click here to download the Color Board presets.

For some additional resources for free plug-ins, check out Ripple Training, Alex4D and FxFactory.

©2015 Oliver Peters

Building a Free FCP X Color Correction Filter

df2315_opcolor_1One nice aspect of the symbiotic relationship between Final Cut Pro X and Motion is that Motion can be used to create effects, transitions, titles and generators for use in FCP X. These are Motion Templates and they form the basis for the creation of nearly all third-party effects filters, both paid and free. This means that if you learn a bit about Motion, you can create your own custom effects or make modifications to the existing ones supplied with FCP X. This has become very easy to do in the newest versions (FCP X 10.2.1 and Motion 5.2.1).

I decided to build a color correction filter that covered most of the standard adjustments you need with the usual types of footage. There are certainly a number of really good color correction/grading filters already on the market for FCP X. Apple’s own color board works well and with 10.2 has been broken out as a normal effects filter. However, a lot of folks don’t like its tab/puck/swatch interface and would still rather work with sliders or color wheels. So as an experiment, I built my own color correction filter for use with FCP X – and you may download here and use it for free as well.

df2315_opcolor_4_smLet me point out that I am no Motion power user. I have nowhere near the skills of Mark Spencer, Simon Ubsdell or Alex Gollner when it comes to using Motion to its fullest. So all I’ve done is combine existing Motion filters into a single combined filter with zero modifications. But that’s the whole point and why this function has so much potential. A couple of these individual filters already exist singly within FCP X, but Motion has a lot more to choose from. Once you launch Motion, the starting point is to open a new Final Cut Effects project from the Motion project browser. This will default to a blank composition ready to have things added to it. Since I was creating a color correction filter, all I needed to do was select the existing Motion filters to use from the Library browser and drag-and-drop the choices into the composition.

df2315_opcolor_5I decided to combine Brightness, Contrast, Color Balance, Hue/Saturation and Tint, which were also stacked in that exact order. The next step in the process was to determine the state of the filter when you apply it and which parameters and sliders to publish. Items that are published, such as a slider, will show up in the inspector in FCP X and can be adjusted by the editor. In my case, I decided to publish every parameter in the stack. To publish, simply click on the right side edge of each parameter line and you’ll find a pulldown selection that includes a publish/unpublish toggle. Note that the order in which you click the publish commands will determine the order of how these commands are stacked when they show up inside FCP X. To make the most sense, I followed a straight sequence order, top to bottom.

df2315_opcolor_3_smYou can also determine the starting state when you first apply or preview the effect.  For example, whether a button starts out enabled or disabled. In the case of this filter, I’ve enabled everything and left it at a neutral or default value, with the exception of Tint. This starts in the ‘off’ position, because I didn’t want a color cast to be applied when you first add the filter to a clip. Once everything is set-up, you simply save the effect to a desired location in the Motion Templates folder. You can subsequently open the Motion project from there to modify the effect. When it’s saved again, the changes are updated to the filter in FCP X.

If you’ve downloaded my effects filter, unzip the file and follow the Read Me document. I’ve created an “Oliver FX” category and this complete folder should be placed into the User/Movies/Motion Templates/Effects folder on your hard drive.df2315_opcolor_2

Applying the filter inside Final Cut Pro X is the same as any of the other effects options. It has the added benefit that all parameters can be keyframed. The Color Balance portion works like a 3-way color corrector, except that it uses the OS color picker wheels in lieu of a true 3-color-wheel interface. As a combination of native filters, performance is good without taxing the machine.

UPDATE (12 June 2015) : I have added one addition filter into the download file. The second filter is called “Oliver DVE” and designed to give you a full set of transform controls that include XYZ rotation. It comes from the transform control set included with Motion. This provides you with the equivalent of a 2.5D DVE, which is not available in the default control set of FCP X.

UPDATE 2 (15 June 2015) : These filters are not backward compatible. They will work in FCP X 10.1.2 and Motion 5.1.2 and forward (hopefully), but not in earlier versions. That’s due to technology changes between these versions. If you downloaded these prior to June 15, for FCP X 10.1.2 or 10.1.4 and they aren’t working, please download again. I have modified the files to work in FCP X 10.1.2 and later. Thank you.

Download the free “Oliver Color” and “Oliver DVE” filters here. My previously-created, free FCP X color board presets may be found here.

©2015 Oliver Peters

FCP X Grading Strategy

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I’ve expounded on ways to tackle color grading in numerous posts. Recently in “Understanding SpeedGrade” I explained a workflow combining color grading tools with LUTs to create custom looks. In this post, I’m going to follow a similar process for FCP X users. (Note: This post was written before the release of FCP X 10.2. However, the fundamental items I discuss herein haven’t changed with the update. The main differences are that the Color Board has become a standard color correction effect and that all effects filters now have built-in masking.)

The approach I’m taking is using a creative LUT to define the overall look and then color correct individual clips for consistency.  A creative LUT should only be considered as spice, not as the main course. You can’t rely solely on the creative LUT for your shot. There is no “easy” button when grading shots on a timeline. In this example, I’m using one of the SpeedLooks LUTs from LookLabs. They offer a variety of styles from clean to stylized. To use any third-party LUT with FCP X, you have to use some plug-in that reads and applies LUTs as an effects filter. I use Color Grading Central’s LUT Utility. Any .cube formatted LUT copied into its folder (located in the Motion Templates folder) will show up as a pulldown option when LUT Utility is applied to a clip in FCP X. (Click images to enlarge.)

df1715_fcpx_clrstrat_11_smSpeedLooks LUTs are based on log or Rec 709 color space. If you have log footage and it has already been corrected to Rec 709, then you could simply use one of the Rec 709 versions. However, if you want to get the most out of their looks, then it’s best to shoot log and use a log-based LUT. Since log values vary among camera manufacturers, LookLabs designed their LUTs around a universal log value used within their LUT curves. To properly use one of their looks requires two stages of LUTs. The first stage is a camera patch, which shifts the video (by camera type) into LookLabs’ intermediate log space. They even include a patch for generic Rec 709 video. Once the first LUT has been applied, you may add the second LUT for the desired look. df1715_fcpx_clrstrat_12_smIn our grading strategy, the grading filters and/or tools are sandwiched between the first LUT (camera patch) and the second LUT (creative look).

df1715_fcpx_clrstrat_2Step 1. For this example, I’m using ARRI Alexa footage that was encoded with a log-C gamma profile. FCP X has built-in LUT processing to convert these clips into Rec 709 color space. Disable that in the inspector for all clips. df1715_fcpx_clrstrat_3Assuming you have installed the LUTs into the correct template folder, apply LUT Utility to the first clip. From the pulldown menu select a camera patch LUT appropriate for the camera (in this case, Alexa log-C). Now copy-and-paste-attributes for just this filter to all clips on the timeline (assuming all clips use the same camera and gamma profile).df1715_fcpx_clrstrat_10

df1715_fcpx_clrstrat_4Step 2. Add your preferred color correction effect to the clip. It will be stacked after the LUT Utility filter. I’m using Color Grade from Lawn Road’s Color Precision group. I like it because the controls are fast and I’ve grown fond of using exposure/contrast/temperature/tint controls in this type of grading. I could just as easily use one of the color wheel, color correction filters (Color Finale, Moods, Hawaiki Color, Colorista III) or even the FCP X Color Board. If the camera clips are reasonably consistent, the creative LUT you select is going to define the tonality of shadows and highlights, so there’s no reason to get carried away with big color balance changes in this grade.

df1715_fcpx_clrstrat_9Note: At this stage, you can copy-and-paste the Color Grade filter to all other clips or wait until later when you’ve actually started to make adjustments. If all shots are different, you might at well copy-and-paste now to have the filter in place with default starting values. If it’s a situation where you want to match the same cameras cutting back and forth – like A and B cameras in an interview – then you might opt to grade the first few clips and then copy-and-paste for the rest.

df1715_fcpx_clrstrat_5Step 4. Next it’s time to apply the creative LUT. Since you want to apply a single LUT across all clips, you’ll want to apply a blank, adjustment layer title effect as a connected clip. You can produce your own using Motion or download one of the free ones from the internet. The length of the adjustment layer should span the length of your timeline. To this title clip, add LUT Utility and select the desired SpeedLooks LUT (or any other you’ve added) from the pulldown menu. In this example, I used one of their Clean Kodak looks.

df1715_fcpx_clrstrat_7_smStep 5. I generally apply a slight vignette to most of my graded clips. This  is used to subtly darken the edge of the frame. FCP X won’t let you do this using a shape mask within the Color Board setting of a blank title, like the adjustment layer. (Note: This was corrected in 10.2. It is now possible to add a mask and color correction adjustment within an adjustment layer.) You will need to add a specific Vignette effect as another connected title. I’m using the Ripple Training RT Vignette in this example. Adjust the vignette’s size, shape, and darkening to taste. The RT Vignette lets you also blur of the edges and mix in an overall sepia toning to the clip as added features. I wouldn’t use these features as part of a standard vignette effect, but in some cases they might be appropriate.

df1715_fcpx_clrstrat_8_smStep 6. Finally! You’ve arrived. Now it’s time to do the real grade. Simply go clip by clip and only adjust the values of the Color Grade filter until you get the right look. Depending on the original shot and the way the LUT is being applied, part of what you are doing in this pass is adjusting the grade so that it looks optimum through the curves of the LUT. Generally you are working with smaller adjustments than without the LUT, since the creative LUT is doing most of the work to set your look.

©2015 Oliver Peters

Focus

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Every once in awhile a movie comes along that has the potential to change how we in the film and video world work. Focus is one such movie. It’s a romantic caper film in the vein of To Catch a Thief or the Oceans franchise. It stars Will Smith and Margot Robbie as master and novice con artists who become romantically involved. Focus was written and directed by the veteran team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy, Stupid, Love) who decided to use some innovative, new approaches in this production.

Focus is a high-budget, studio picture shot in several cities, including New Orleans and Buenos Aires. It also happens to be the first studio feature film that was cut using Apple’s Final Cut Pro X. The production chose to shoot with ARRI Alexa cameras, but record to ProRes 4444, instead of ARRIRAW (except for some VFX shots). At its launch in 2011, Final Cut Pro X had received a negative reaction from many veteran editors, so this was a tough sell to Warner Bros execs. In order to get over that hurdle, the editorial team went through extensive testing of all of the typical processes involved in feature film post production. They had to prove that the tool was more than up to the task.

Proving the concept

df1515_focus_5_smMike Matzdorff, first assistant editor, explains, “Warner Bros wanted to make sure that there was a fallback if everything blew up. That ‘Plan B’ was to step back and cut in either [Apple] FCP 7 or [Avid] Media Composer. Getting projects from Final Cut Pro X into Media Composer was very clunky, because of all the steps – getting to FCP 7 and then Automatic Duck to Avid. Getting to FCP 7 was relatively solid, so we ran a ‘chase project’ in FCP 7 with dailies for the entire show. Every couple days we would import an XML and relink the media. Fortunately FCP X worked well and ‘Plan B’ was never needed.”

df1515_focus_8_smGlenn Ficarra adds, “The industry changes so quickly that it’s hard to follow the progress. The studio was going off of old information and once they saw that our approach would work and also save time and money, then they were completely onboard with our choice.” The editorial team also consulted with Sam Mestman of FCPworks to determine what software, other than FCP X, was required to satisfy all of the elements associated with post on a feature film.

df1515_focus_4_smThis was a new experience for editor Jan Kovac (Curb Your Enthusiasm), as Focus is his first Hollywood feature film. Kovac studied film in the Czech Republic and then editing at UCLA. He’s been in the LA post world for 20 years, which is where he met Ficarra and Requa. Kovac was ready to be part of the team and accept the challenge of using Final Cut Pro X on a studio feature. He explains, “I was eager to work with John and Glenn and prove that FCP X is a viable option. In fact, I was using FCP X for small file-based projects since the fall of 2012.”

Production and post on the go

df1515_focus_1_smFocus was shot in 61 days across two continents, during a three-month period. Kovac and three assistants (Mike Matzdorff, Andrew Wallace, Kimaree Long) worked from before principal photography started until the sound mix and final delivery of the feature – roughly from September 2013 until August 2014. The production shot 145 hours of footage, much of it multicam. Focus was shot in an anamorphic format as 2048 x 1536 ProRes 4444 files recorded directly to the Alexa’s onboard cards. On set the DIT used the Light Iron Outpost mobile system to process the files, by de-squeezing them and baking in CDL color information. The editors then received 2048 x 1152 color-corrected ProRes 4444 “dailies”, which were still encoded with a Log-C gamma profile. FCP X has the ability to internally add a Log-C LUT on-the-fly to correct the displayed image. Therefore, during the edit, the clips always looked close the final appearance. Ficarra says, “This was great, because when we went through the DI for the final grading, the look was very close to what was decided on set. You didn’t see something radically different in the edit, so you didn’t develop ‘temp love’ for a certain look”.

df1515_focus_6_smA number of third-party developers have created utilities that fill in gaps and one of these is Intelligent Assistance, which makes various workflow tools based on XML. The editors used a number of these, including Sync-N-Link X, which enabled them to sync double-system sound with common timecode in a matter of minutes instead of hours. (Only a little use of Sync-N-Link X was made on Focus, because the DIT was using the Light Iron system to sync dailies.) Script data can also be added to Final Cut Pro X clips as notes. On Focus, that had to be done manually by the assistants. This need to automate the process spurred Kevin Bailey (Kovac’s assistant on his current film) to develop Shot Notes X, an application that takes the script supervisor’s information and merges it with FCP X Events to add this metadata into the notes field.

During the months of post, Apple released several updates to Final Cut Pro X and the team was not shy about upgrading mid-project. Matzdorff explains, “The transition to 10.1 integrated Events and Projects into Libraries. To make sure there weren’t any hiccups, I maintained an additional FCP X ‘chase project’.  I ran an alternate world between 10.0.9 and 10.1. We had 52 days of dailies in one Library and I would bring cuts across to see how they linked up and what happened. The transition was a rough one, but we learned a lot, which really helped down the line.”

Managing the media

df1515_focus_2_smFinal Cut Pro X has the unique ability to internally transcode quarter-sized editorial proxy files in the ProRes Proxy format. The editor can easily toggle between original footage and editorial proxies and FCP X takes care of the math to make sure color, effects and sizing information tracks correctly between modes. Throughout the editing period, Kovac, Ficarro, and the assistants used both proxies and the de-sequeezed camera files as their source. According to Kovac, “In Buenos Aires I was working from a MacBook Pro laptop using the proxies. For security reasons, I would lock up the footage in a safe. By using proxies, which take up less drive space, a much smaller hard drive was required and that easily fit into the safe.”

df1515_focus_3_smBack at their home base in LA, four rooms were set up connected to XSAN shared storage. These systems included iMacs and a Mac Pro (“tube” version). All camera media and common source clips. like sound effects libraries. lived on the XSAN, while each workstation had a small SSD RAID for proxies and local FCP X Libraries. The XSAN included a single transfer Library so that edits could be moved among the rooms. Kovac and Ficarra shared roles as co-editors at this stage, collaborating on each other’s scenes. Kovac says, “This was very fluid going back and forth between Glenn and me. The process was a lot like sharing sequences with FCP 7. It’s always good to keep perspective, so each of us would review the other’s edited scenes and offer notes.” The other two systems was used by the assistants. Kovac continues, “The Libraries were broken down by reel and all iterations of sharing were used, including the XSAN or sneaker net.”

Setting up a film edit in FCP X

df1515_focus_9_smAs with any film, the key is organization and translating the script into a final product. Kovac explains his process with FCP X, “The assistants would group the multicam clips and ‘reject’ the clip ranges before ‘action’ and after ‘cut’. This hides any extraneous material so you only have to sort through useable clips. We used a separate Event for each scene. With Sam and Mike, we worked out a process to review clips based on line readings. The dialogue lines in the script were numbered and the assistants would place a marker and a range for every three lines of dialogue. These were assigned keywords, so that each triplet of dialogue lines would end up in a Keyword Collection. Within a scene Event, I would have Keyword Collections for L1-3, L4-6, and so on. I would also create Smart Collections for certain criteria – for instance, a certain type of shot or anything else I might designate.”

Everyone involved felt that FCP X made the edit go faster, but it still takes time to be creative. Ficarra continues, “The first assembly of the film according to the script was about three hours long. I call this the ‘kitchen sink’ cut. The first screening cut was about two-and-a-half hours. We had removed some scenes and lengthened others and showed it to a ‘friends and family’ audience. It actually didn’t play as well as we’d hoped. Then we added these scenes back in and shortened everything, which went over much better. We had intentionally shot alternate versions of scenes just to play around with them in the edit. FCP X is a great tool for that, because you can easily edit a number of iterations.”

Engineered for speed

df1515_focus_10_smWhile many veteran editors experienced in other systems might scoff at the claims that FCP X is a faster editor, Mike Matzdorff was willing to put a finer point on that for me. He says, “I find that because of the magnetic timeline, trimming is a lot faster. If you label roles extensively, it’s easier to sort out temporary from final elements or organize sound sources when you hand off audio for sound post. With multi-channel audio in an Avid, for example, you generally sync the clips using only the composite mix. That way you aren’t tying up a lot of tracks on the timeline for all of the source channels. If you have to replace a line with a clean isolated mic, you have to dig it out and make the edit. With FCP X, all of the audio channels are there and neatly tucked away until you need them. It’s a simple matter of expanding a clip and picking a different channel. That alone is a major improvement.”

Ficarra and Kovac are in complete agreement. Ficarra points out, “As an editor, I’m twice as fast on FCP X as on Avid. There’s less clicking. This is the only NLE that’s not trying to emulate some other model, like cutting on a flatbed. You are able to move faster on your impulses.” Kovac adds, “It keeps you in the zone.”

The final DI was handled by Light Iron, who conformed and graded Focus. The handoff was made using an EDL and an FCPXML, along with a QuickTime picture reference. Light Iron relinked to the original anamorphic camera masters and graded using a Quantel Rio unit.

Filling in the workflow gaps

A number of developers contributed to the success of FCP X on Focus. Having a tight relationship with the editing team let them tailor their solutions to the needs of the production. One of these developers, Philip Hodgetts (President, Intelligent Assistance) says, “One of the nice things about being a small software developer is that we can react to customer needs very quickly. During the production of Focus we received feature requests for all the tools we were providing – Sync-N-Link X, Change List X and Producer’s Best Friend. For example, Sync-N-Link X gained the ability to create multicam clips, in addition to synchronizing audio and video, as a result of a feature request from first assistant Mike Matzdorff.” This extended to Apple’s ProApps team, who also kept a close and helpful watch on the progress of Focus.

df1515_focus_11_smFor every film that challenges convention, a lot of curiosity is raised about the process. Industry insiders refer to the “Cold Mountain moment” – alluding to the use of FCP 3 by editor Walter Murch on the film, Cold Mountain. That milestone added high-end legitimacy for the earlier Final Cut among professional users. Gone Girl did that for Adobe Premiere Pro and now Focus has done that for a new Final Cut. But times are different and it’s hard to say what the true impact will be. Nevertheless, Focus provided the confidence for the team to continue on their next film in the same manner, tapping Final Cut Pro X once again. Change can be both scary and exciting, but as Glenn Ficarra says, “We like to shake things up. It’s fun to see the bemused comments wondering how we could ever pull it off with something like FCP X!”

For those that want to know more about the nuts and bolts of the post production workflow, Mike Matzdorff released “Final Cut Pro X: Pro Workflow”, an e-book that’s a step-by-step advanced guide based on the lessons learned on Focus. It’s available through iTunes and Kindle.

For some additional reading on the post production workflow of Focus, check out this Apple “in action” story, as well as Part 1 and Part 2 of FCP.co’s very in-depth coverage of how the team got it done. For a very in-depth understanding, make sure you watch the videos at PostPerspective.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetwork.

©2015 Oliver Peters