Highlights vs. Significant Highlights

As a television professional who spends most of his time dealing at the very end of an often lengthy, exhausting, all-encompassing process known as documentary film-making I’m often asked, “What could I have done to make my film look more... filmic?”

The First Law of Filmmaking tends to read along the lines of: Know Thy Camera

Eric Escobar’s excellent blog has a recent post that deals with this issue. He shoots the same image with two different cameras. One camera is the HV20 shooting with a 4:2:0 codec the other is the EX1 shooting at it’s highest quality at 4:2:2 with a lens adaptor.

Clearly the EX1 wins this shootout (if you click through, give the image a few moments to download). The HV20 is downright ugly in comparison.

Now - I don’t care at what frame rate you shoot, the EX1 is far more filmic. Yes? Will 24p make the HV20 feel any more cinematic? No way Josť.

Eric is onto something here... Know Thy Camera.

He mentions that he had trouble with the HV20, fighting all the auto controls of this consumer-oriented camera. Whereas on the EX1 he was able to get the exposure he wanted. This, I think, gets to the crux of the problem. And it’s a problem that I was reminded of recently re-reading the terrific book “Professional Photoshop” (the link is in the sidebar on the right). It’s the issue of Highlights vs Significant Highlights.

Go back to Eric’s post and look at those two shots again. To my eyes the biggest difference (besides depth of field) is exposure. On the auto settings the HV20 sees the brake-lights of the cars and the bright patch of light of the sky and thinks, “Gee, those are the highlights. I must protect for those highlights.” The camera ignores that this is a generally low-key image and acts as if the most important part of the image is the sky. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Eric, using his eye and experience, knows better than the auto-iris and sets up the EX1 much differently. Although he says he’s protected his highlights, he’s actually let his highlights blow out in the blur of a short depth-of-field and selective focus. He’s made the choice that the highlights of the sky and car lights are insignificant and instead chosen the significant highlight in the woman’s face. And he exposed accordingly.

The HV20 has the truly important part of the image, the woman’s face, completely compressed into a narrow range - as seen here in FCP’s waveform. In post, when we dig out that detail we’ll be pulling up noise and degrading the entire image. In that process we’ll let those highlights blow out because... who cares??? We want to see the babe!

And this takes me to a discussion I had recently with a colorist friend of mine who opined that he’s tired of the “protect your highlights” mantra. I tend to agree with him. We’ve both recently seen too many filmmakers walk in our rooms with footage that protects for the sky out the window and buries the truly significant detail - like human faces - into the bottom 30% of the waveform. No, not even Red can completely save you.

As Dan Margulis says in his book, there’s highlights and there’s significant highlights. Based on what I see coming through my doors I say filmmakers need to make sure they protect for the Significant Highlights and let the rest blow out. Especially on a camera like the HV20 where it’s far more damaging to try and dig out an underexposed face than to let a window blow out to white.

- pi

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Our Color Correction Demo Reel is up

After finding myself with some extra time on my hands - I decided to finally finish (actually - start) Fini’s color correction demo reel. You can find it here.

There are two types of demo reels for color correction. The traditional reel is a series of beauty shots. The less traditional reel is the Before / After reel.

I spoke to a few producers with lots of experience hiring film colorists. To a person they said the traditional reel was what I should produce. They felt that a Before / After reel was the sign of an inexperienced colorist. I thought about this long and hard... I decided to go against this advice. My clients aren’t their clients. I was talking to the wrong people.

Unlike clients buying $600 / hour telecine suites, my clients don’t have experience sitting with a Color’ist. At best they’ve worked with a good Avid Symphony online editor who does a good job but rarely approaches it as a career specialty. At worst, my clients don’t quite get it; after all, except for a few tweaks the footage already looks good.

So - unlike a film colorist, I have a ton of educating I need to do with my clients. The Before / After Reel is a tool designed for that job. In fact, I’ve already had one producer say to me, “Perfect - my client has been having a hard time understanding the need for color correction. This reel explains it clearly.”

And before you ask/complain, the music is temporary. A friend is scoring to it.

Any feedback on the reel is always appreciated!

- pi

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Silent Auction: 30 hours of Color Correction

NEWS FLASH: Fini is auctioning (3) 10-hour days on January 15, 2009 in New York City! The proceeds will go to Mopictive, an educational 501(c)3 serving New York City filmmakers. Details on the Fini auction can be found here. Mopictive's website is here. Up-to-date information on all the Silent Auction items here.

Help a good cause and post this info where appropriate!


Black Friday - Coming to you next January

Fini is going on sale!!!

Or rather, we’ll be auctioning off our color correction services to the highest bidder in a Silent Auction.

That’s right. We don’t care if it’s a short, your 20 minute student film, or your 120 minute feature going to the silver screen - if it’s ready to go by the end of March, we’ll color correct it!

Of course, there will be limitations (don’t bother trying to pull Artistic Creativity on us and take 3 weeks to work on one scene) - those details will be announced soon enough.

The silent auction will take place at the January meeting of Moptictive (the New York Final Cut Users Group). I’m their Treasurer and we’re a great 501c3 educational non-profit. We have big plans next year. We haven’t named this promotion yet but it’ll hopefully be the headlining auction of dozens of great products and services.

Feel free to pass around the news. Sometime before Christmas I’ll be putting up a web page with full details, including all the niggly restrictions and required workflow.

In the meantime, Happy Turkey Day!

One programming note: Yes, 5 months, no posts. Let’s just say it’s been busy around here... and this blog is undergoing some changes to better align with my needs. Mostly, it’ll spend less time talking to my peers and more time talking to my clients. But there’s some good stuff buried in these pages, so I’m just going to let this puppy lie. But beyond one or two more posts - this iteration of The Finishing Line will be going dormant.

And I’ll be posting at least once more before putting Finishing Line 1.0 to rest.

- patrick

Final Call : Tommorrow - Color Correction Workshop

Last Call! The 1-Day Color workshop I’m leading is happening tomorrow. In Manhattan. 2 seats are open. Registration closes early this evening. To sign up directly, go here. Below I’m re-posting full details that went up on this blog a few weeks ago.

Full Disclosure
: I am on the Board and Treasurer of Moving Pictures Collective (Mopictive is a DBA of the New York Final Cut Users Group and also a certified 501c3 not-for-profit) which is hosting the following event. You can be assured that over 50% of the proceeds will go to Mopicitive and furthering its mission to the training of Digital Storytellers. The instructors (including me) are paid only a nominal fee.

It's that time of year...

If you're in the New York City area in June or July, there are TWO color correction seminars being held. These seminars are a collaboration between myself, Mopictive, Manhattan Edit Workshop, and Alexis Van Hurkman (author of the Color user manual as well as several books on color correction and effects with Final Cut Studio). I'll be teaching a weekend of one-day seminars with Jamie Hitchings on the basics of working in Color. Alexis will be teaching another weekend of one-day seminars on Advanced Color Correction techniques with Color.

These will be jam packed days. I last did this class several times last year and they were pretty well received. Jamie and I cover the basics of color theory, FCP -> Color workflow, the Color interface, and solving real-world problems on real-world footage. In July Alexis presents his own material, picking up where I leave off. He'll cover the ColorFX Room, advanced grading techniques in the secondaries, and how to get Color's tracker to work properly. Both of us will leave time to make sure you get your questions answered.

The best thing about all of these classes - every enrollee will have access to their own computer running Color. These are hands-on classes designed to get you feeling comfortable on the software and giving you a strategy for sculpting your own images.

Cost: $300 / class with 50% of the proceeds going to Mopictive (the NY Final Cut Pro User Group) and the remaining split between the facility providing the equipment and the instructors.

Sign-up: To sign up directly, go here. For more info on the June workshop, go here. And for more info on the July workshop, go here.

Questions? Feel free to use the Comments.

- pi

MCS Spectrum works with Eclipse Software

I only have time for a quick post tonight...

The last 3 weeks (and for the next month) I’ve had the opportunity to work on JL Cooper’s MCS- series of hardware controllers. Last week I posted on the Color-L mailing list that the customization software for the Spectrum colorist control surface basically... well, sucks. It’s buggy and it doesn’t have half the controls that the Eclipse software has. I was very disappointed. My buddy Mitch responded that he was told at NAB the Eclipse software would drive those panels.

The thought hadn’t occured to me. On Monday I installed the Eclipse software (instructions here) and it worked. I imported my keyset and that worked as well! Joy, oh happy day.

One small tweak had to be made since the Eclipse does have one extra button that the Spectrum doesn’t.

So Spectrum users - get out there and behold the power of a fully functioning control surface. I promise, you won’t be disappointed!

- pi

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