Understanding SpeedGrade

df1615_sg_1How you handle color correction depends on your temperament and level of expertise. Some editors want to stay within the NLE, so that editorial adjustments are easily made after grading. Others prefer the roundtrip to a powerful external application. When Adobe added the Direct Link conduit between Premiere Pro CC and SpeedGrade CC, they gave Premiere Pro editors the best of both worlds.

Displays

df1615_sg_4SpeedGrade is a standalone grading application that was initially designed around an SDI feed from the GPU to a second monitor for your external video. After the Adobe acquisition, Mercury Transmit was eventually added, so you can run SpeedGrade with one display, two computer displays, or a computer display plus a broadcast monitor. With a single display, the video viewer is integrated into the interface. At home, I use two computer displays, so by enabling a dual display layout, I get the SpeedGrade interface on one screen and the full-screen video viewer on the other. To do this you have to correctly offset the pixel dimensions and position for the secondary display in order to see it. Otherwise the image is hidden behind the interface.

Using Mercury Transmit, the viewer image is sent to an external monitor, but you’ll need an appropriate capture/monitoring card or device. AJA products seem to work fine. Some Blackmagic devices work and others don’t. When this works, you will lose the viewer from the interface, so it’s best to have the external display close – as in next to your interface monitor.

Timeline

df1615_sg_3When you use Direct Link, you are actually sending the Premiere Pro timeline to SpeedGrade. This means that edits and timeline video layers are determined by Premiere Pro and those editing functions are disabled in SpeedGrade. It IS the Premiere Pro timeline. This means certain formats that might not be natively supported by a standalone SpeedGrade project will be supported via the Direct Link path – as long as Premiere Pro natively supports them.

There is a symbiotic relationship between Premiere Pro and SpeedGrade. For example, I worked on a music video that was edited natively using RED camera media. The editor had done a lot of reframing from the native 4K media in the 1080 timeline. All of this geometry was correctly interpreted by SpeedGrade. When I compared the same sequence in Resolve (using an XML roundtrip), the geometry was all wrong. SpeedGrade doesn’t give you access to the camera raw settings for the .r3d media, but Premiere Pro does. So in this case, I adjusted the camera raw values by using the source settings control in Premiere Pro, which then carried those adjustments over to SpeedGrade.

df1615_sg_2Since the Premiere Pro timeline is the SpeedGrade timeline when you use Direct Link, you can add elements into the sequence from Premiere, in order to make them available in SpeedGrade. Let’s say you want to add a common edge vignette across all the clips of your sequence. Simply add an adjustment layer to a top track while in Premiere. This appears in your SpeedGrade timeline, enabling you to add a mask and correction within the adjustment layer clip. In addition, any video effects filters that you’ve applied in Premiere will show up in SpeedGrade. You don’t have access to the controls, but you will see the results interactively as you make color correction adjustments.

df1615_sg_17All SpeedGrade color correction values are applied to the clip as a single Lumetri effect when you send the timeline back to Premiere Pro. All grading layers are collapsed into a single composite effect per clip, which appears in the clip’s effect stack (in Premiere Pro) along with all other filters. In this way you can easily trim edit points without regard to the color correction. Traditional roundtrips render new media with baked-in color correction values. There, you can only work within the boundaries of the handles that you’ve added to the file upon rendering. df1615_sg_16Not so with Direct Link, since color correction is like any other effect applied to the original media. Any editorial changes you’ve made in Premiere Pro are reflected in SpeedGrade should you go back for tweaks, as long as you continue to use Direct Link.

12-way and more

df1615_sg_5Most editors are familiar with 3-way color correctors that have level and balance controls for shadows, midrange and highlights. Many refer to SpeedGrade’s color correction model as a 12-way color corrector. The grading interface features a 3-way (lift/gamma/gain) control for four ranges of correction: overall, shadows, midrange, and highlights. Each tab also adds control of contrast, pivot, color temperature, magenta (tint), and saturation. Since shadow, midrange, and highlight ranges overlap, you also have sliders that adjust the overlap thresholds between shadow and midrange and between the midrange and highlight areas.

df1615_sg_7Color correction is layer based – similar to Photoshop or After Effects. SpeedGrade features primary (“P”) , secondary (“S”) and filter layers (the “+” symbol). When you add layers, they are stacked from bottom to top and each layer includes an opacity control. As such, layers work much the same as rooms in Apple Color or nodes in DaVinci Resolve. You can create a multi-layered adjustment by using a series of stacked primary layers. Shape masks, like that for a vignette, should be applied to a primary layer. df1615_sg_10The mask may be normal or inverted so that the correction is applied either to the inside or the outside of the mask. Secondaries should be reserved for HSL keys. For instance, highlighting the skin tones of a face to adjust its color separately from the rest of the image. The filter layer (“+”) is where you’ll find a number of useful tools, including Photoshop-style creative effect filters, LUTs, and curves.

Working with grades

df1615_sg_13The application of color correction can be applied to a clip as either a master clip correction or just a clip correction (or both). When you grade using the default clip tab, then that color correction is only being applied to that single clip. If you grade in the master clip tab, then any color correction that you apply to that clip will also be applied to every other instance of that same media file elsewhere on the timeline. Theoretically, in a multicam edit – made up of four cameras with a single media file per camera – you could grade the entire timeline by simply color correcting the first clip for each of the four cameras as a master clip correction. All other clips would automatically inherit the same settings. Of course, that almost never works out quite as perfectly, therefore, you can grade a clip using both the master clip and the regular clip tabs. Use the master for a general setting and still use the regular clip tab to tweak each shot as needed.

df1615_sg_9Grades can be saved and recalled as Lumetri Looks, but typically these aren’t as useful in actual grading as standard copy-and-paste functions – a recent addition to SpeedGrade CC. Simply highlight one or more layers of a graded clip and press copy (cmd+c on a Mac). Then paste (cmd+v on a Mac) those to the target clip. These will be pasted in a stack on top of the default, blank primary correction that’s there on every clip. You can choose to use, ignore, or delete this extra primary layer.

SpeedGrade features a cool trick to facilitate shot matching. The timeline playhead can be broken out into multiple playheads, which will enable you to compare two or more shots in real-time on the viewer. This quick comparison lets you make adjustments to each to get a closer match in context with the surrounding shots.

A grading workflow

df1615_sg_14Everyone has their own approach to grading and these days there’s a lot of focus on camera and creative LUTs. My suggestions for prepping a Premiere Pro CC sequence for SpeedGrade CC go something like this.

df1615_sg_6Once, you are largely done with the editing, collapse all multicam clips and flatten the timeline as much as possible down to the bottom video layer. Add one or two video tracks with adjustment layers, depending on what you want to do in the grade. These should be above the last video layer. All graphics – like lower thirds – should be on tracks above the adjustment layer tracks. This is assuming that you don’t want to include these in the color correction. Now duplicate the sequence and delete the tracks with the graphics from the dupe. Send the dupe to SpeedGrade CC via Direct Link.

In SpeedGrade, ignore the first primary layer and add a filter layer (“+”) above it. Select a camera patch LUT. For example, an ARRI Log-C-to-Rec-709 LUT for Log-C gamma-encoded Alexa footage. Repeat this for every clip from the same camera type. If you intend to use a creative LUT, like one of the SpeedLooks from LookLabs, you’ll need one of their camera patches. This shifts the camera video into a unified gamma profile optimized for their creative LUTs. If all of the footage used in the timeline came from the same camera and used the same gamma profile, then in the case of SpeedLooks, you could apply the creative LUT to one the adjustment layer clips. This will apply that LUT to everything in the sequence.

df1615_sg_8Once you’ve applied input and output LUTs you can grade each clip as you’d like, using primary and secondary layers. Use filter layers for curves. Any order and any number of layers per clip is fine. Using this methodology all grading is happening between the camera patch LUT and the creative LUT added to the adjustment layer track. Finally, if you want a soft edge vignette on all clips, apply an edge mask to the default primary layer of the topmost adjustment layer clip. Adjust the size, shape, and softness of the mask. Darken the outside of the mask area. Done.df1615_sg_11

(Note that not every camera uses logarithmic gamma encoding, nor do you want to use LUTs on every project. These are the “icing on the cake”, NOT the “meat and potatoes” of grading. If your sequence is a standard correction without any stylized creative looks, then ignore the LUT procedures I described above.)

df1615_sg_15Now simply send your timeline back to Premiere Pro (the “Pr” button). Back in Premiere Pro CC, duplicate that sequence. Copy-and-paste the graphics tracks from the original sequence to the available blank tracks of the copy. When done, you’ll have three sequences: 1) non-color corrected with graphics, 2) color corrected without graphics, and 3) final with color correction and graphics. The beauty of the Direct Link path between Premiere Pro CC and SpeedGrade CC is that you can easily go back and forth for changes without ever being locked in at any point in the process.

©2015 Oliver Peters

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Getting started with Adobe SpeedGrade

The addition of SpeedGrade to Adobe’s Creative Suite 6 line-up gives users yet another powerful tool for film-style color correction and grading. The Adobe SpeedGrade interface is minimalist with few menu commands, so it will help for new users to seek out some of the online tutorials before diving into their first project. I will briefly provide some pointers here to help you get started.

Configuration

Adobe SpeedGrade functions on dual and single monitor systems, but video output is only possible with SDI-equipped NVIDIA graphics cards (PC only). If you have a second display connected to a DVI or DisplayPort connection, then the video viewer can be moved to the second screen. In the Settings–Display menu, enable “Dual Display Output”. If you normally place the system menu on the right hand display of a Mac, then it’s possible that the interface will cover the viewer, leaving you to wonder where it went. In that case, a minus value for the left edge will reveal the image. I have two 20” Apple Cinemas, so a left value of -1680 pixels places the viewer on my left display and the rest of the interface on the right.

Getting media into SpeedGrade

There are currently three ways to bring media into SpeedGrade. If you are cutting in Premiere Pro CS6, then you can use the “Send to Adobe SpeedGrade” command. This will render intermediate, uncompressed DPX frames, which will relink automatically to clips on a new SpeedGrade timeline. The need for intermediate files is because SpeedGrade doesn’t support some codecs that are native to Premiere Pro, like AVC-Intra. DPX files maintain quality, but are unlikely to play in real-time without a fast drive array. You can also bring a complete show as a single file into SpeedGrade and use the scene detection function to “notch” the timeline at the cuts. The fastest method for most projects is to export an EDL (edit decision list) from your NLE, which will reconnect to the original media within SpeedGrade. For instance, if you are cutting a project made up of ProRes media, then this would be the preferred method.

Media and file imports are handled through the tabs at the top left corner of the interface. Next to the Monitor tab is a file navigation tab, which often defaults to the Desktop. Additional tabs can be added by clicking the plus symbol. Set the file type pulldown menu to “all files” and navigate to the location of the EDL file. Select the correct EDL and click the plus symbol in the corner of the selected icon for that EDL. This will add the blank EDL clips to a new timeline. Next, to reconnect the media files, set the file formats pulldown menu to “Movie Formats” and navigate to the location of your camera files.

At the bottom of the SpeedGrade interface, go to Timeline–Reels and choose “Load from Desktop”. This will now link all selected movie files based on the info from the EDL and populate your timeline clips with video. Make sure all frame rate settings match throughout the system, otherwise you might get an error message when combining media and EDLs.

Understanding the layout

Once you are ready to start grading, you’ll want to set the interface to the Monitor tab in the top portion and the Look tab in the bottom. The thin timeline strip separates these two portions. The Monitor is the place for scopes, transport controls and viewer, except when the viewer has been moved to a second screen. You can step through your clips by dragging the playhead underneath timeline bar, by using on-screen transport buttons or JKL keyboard commands.

One unique SpeedGrade function is the ability to have numerous “live” playheads at different points along the timeline. All can simultaneously playback in real-time, depending on the horsepower of your system. If you want to create a second (or more) playhead location, Command+Drag (Mac) the active playhead by its handle to a new clip on the timeline. This duplicates the playhead at that new location. You can click between the playheads for active color correction on each, which is great for shot-matching. The offset is maintained, and you’ll see both viewer windows update in real-time as the timeline is played. Multiple playheads can be configured to fit the screen or as splits. Their layout is controlled in the Timeline-View tab. To remove unwanted playheads, simply grab any inactive playhead by the handle and drag it to a blank portion of the interface until a red “x” appears in it and then let go.

Starting color correction

The Look tab is where the action occurs. This section is divided into three panes for layers, controls and presets. Layers are similar to those in Photoshop and can hold primary or secondary corrections, filter effects and LUT (look-up table) adjustments. You can show or hide a layer, adjust its opacity and change the stacking order.

The color correction controls appear in the center of the Look tab. Depending on preference, levels and balance can be adjusted using color wheels and sliders, only sliders or by numerical entry. The control of color parameters is very extensive, with four settings groups divided into overall, shadows, midtones and highlights. In the color wheel view, these are similar to the way such controls work on competing systems, using an offset/gamma/gain model. However, there are also sliders for input and output saturation, contrast and pivot point, and temperature and magenta (tint). Each of the shadow, midtone and highlight groups also have luma range sliders, which control the cross-over from shadow to midtone and midtone to highlight. This design leaves all the controls right in front of you and provides more versatility than other systems using typical hue offset color wheels and curves.

The bottom portion of the Look panel is reserved for preset and saved grades. SpeedGrade ships with a number of LUTs, filters and preset looks and masks. These preset examples are stored inside the application package and this is one of the few Mac OS X applications, which allows you to access media from inside the otherwise hidden, application package contents. Here you can pick from various Bleach Bypass, Day for Night, Sepia and other stylistic presets. I suggest copy-and-pasting these from the package contents to a documents folder for easier access. You can also save your own grades in the .look file format. These .look files may also be used in Photoshop CS6 and After Effects CS6.

Beyond the primary

When establishing a grade, you are adjusting the initial primary layer for a clip. If you want to give the client options – like a cool look or a warm look – simply add another primary layer, create the alternate color correction and toggle the eyeball icon between the two layers to show/hide the results for each. You can also mix between two or more full screen primaries by adjusting their opacity sliders. Click the inside or outside mask icon on a primary layer to “window” an area or apply a vignette effect. To control the mask, move to the Mask tab, select and apply one of the presets or create a custom shape. SpeedGrade includes a very handy on-screen widget for adjusting all of the mask parameters. The Mask tab is also where you’ll finder SpeedGrade’s tracker.

Secondary layers are used for HSL keying, such as isolating the color of a shirt to change its saturation or hue. In the Layers pane, add a secondary layer, which will reveal color-picker and keying tools, as well as a modified set of color correction controls. To view the keyed area, select a Gray-out value from the pulldown menu. Once you have tweaked the key the way you’d like it, you can select the alpha or inverted-alpha icon in the Layers pane to control how the correction is applied. One handy tip is to go overboard on a correction and then back off of the intensity by adjusting that layer’s opacity. Lastly, you can also apply a mask to a secondary, if you need to further restrict the keyed area.

One final type of correction is to add a custom look layer in the Layers pane. Clicking the plus sign on the bottom of the Layers pane brings up a pulldown menu with a long list of filters (emboss, blur, bloom, etc.) and looks (bleach bypass, day for night, etc.). When you apply one of these, adjustment parameters appear in the center of the Look tab. So, Gaussian blur control sliders appear where color wheels are usually seen when you select between a primary and a custom layer in the Layers pane.

In addition to building grades for each clip, it’s also possible to apply grades to all or a portion of the timeline. For example, if you want a common vignette on all clips, it may be more desirable to apply a grading layer across the entire timeline, set the vignette, which would then be applied to all of the clips below. This timeline grading layer can also be toggled on and off using the familiar eyeball icon next to the timeline track.

Output

The last step is rendering your work. There is currently no roundtrip back into Premiere Pro or any other NLE from SpeedGrade. To access the render controls, click the Output tab in the upper right corner of the interface. This is where you can set render format, framing, target location and other settings. If there’s no format preset for your desired target – for instance, ProResLT – simply create a new one. You can render out the complete timeline as a single, flattened movie file or the individual timeline clips with handles and source timecode. Separate clips with the new, baked in color correction can be reconnected to an edited timeline in any NLE, based on matching file names and timecodes. Other options, such as LUTs and burn-ins, plus native RED .r3d and ARRIRAW file support, are offered, which also makes SpeedGrade attractive for generating color-corrected dailies on set.

Remember, that if you get stumped, the F1 keyboard command brings up the Help documentation. To learn more about SpeedGrade, check out Adobe’s intro videos at Adobe TV.

Originally written for DV magazine / Creative Planet / NewBay Media, LLC

©2012 Oliver Peters