Isolating Colors in Color's ColorFX room

On the Apple Discussions forum for Color someone asked about isolating several colors simultaneously while de-saturating the rest of the image. There are two approaches. The first involves using the Saturation Curve in a Secondary room. The second approach, as I answered on the message board, is to use the ColorFX room. What follows is a more detailed explanation of how to use the ColorFX to accomplish that goal - I've even included pictures (click on a image to open it full size).

So, here's the initial image (just happened to be up on the screen at the time I decided to write this posting):

We'll isolate 3 different colors; blue sky, red building, yellow equipment. The rest of the image will be Black & White.

Here's the final node tree to create that result (click for a full screen image):

The first thing we do is pull three different keys using the HSL Key (for detailing instructions on how to use any of these nodes - check out the user manual available from inside Color under Help > User Manual). In this case I'm using the nodes HSL Key3 and HSL Key to pull the red and yellow elements. Then I combine those two into a single image using the first Add node. The output of that first Add node looks like this:

Next we use another HSL node (HSL Key2) to pull the blue sky. We combine that key with the initial Add node using another Add node (labeled Add2).

It's output looks like this:

One thing to keep in mind when using Add nodes... they have Bias controls which are initially set at .5. This means it'll add the sources feeding it at 50% of their initial values. If we leave them at these settings, we'll end up with alpha channels at 50% intensity. We don't want that, so we need to set them to 1.0 (or 100%) like this:

Next, we need to make our desaturated background. Back on the ColoFX tree you'll see the B&W node feeding a Curve node - this is to set the final look of the background image and gets fed into Source 1 of the Alpha Blend node. The Source 2 input doesn't have anything feeding it, so it defaults to output of the Primary In + Secondary rooms. The third input is the Alpha input and we feed that the output of the Add2 node (which, I've softened with a Blur node).

Here's the end result:

That's it!

- pi

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Review: Magic Bullet "Looks" - Slick, Sexy, A Few Flaws

I've been a long time owner of the Magic Bullet filters. Originally - back in 2002 - I bought it to emulate the 24p "Look" for a job. Even then, I've never been enamored with post-processing 29.97fps to 24p. I've found most filmmakers use it as a crutch. As if it were some sort of... magic bullet. I'd much rather filmmakers forget about frame rate and focus more on framing, lighting, and exposure. Those elements get you far more production value than simply emulating 24p.

But times, they are a-changing. True 24p cameras are affordable and available. With some forethought these cameras mitigate much of the need for 24p emulation (yay!).

Far more in demand is the ability to create the ever elusive "Look". Whether for a flashback, dream sequence, historical recreation, emotional impact, stock emulation, or mimicking an in-camera technique (diffusion) - coming up with some "Look" (always - one which nobody has ever seen before) is a frequent request. The Magic Bullet Looks subset of filters has always been a stand-by of mine - though, unfortunately, it stands-by a bit more than I would have preferred.

Why? It suffered from having to work within the Final Cut Pro (or After Effect) filter User Interface.
Old Magic Bullet UI
The Looks Suite consisted of long run-on lists of numerical entry boxes and sliders. It's like trying to color correct with the 3 Way Color Corrector's numerical rather than graphical interface; it's powerful, but it gets old fast...

..and that sums up how I've long felt about the older Magic Bullet Editors package. Powerful, but it gets old fast.

In mid-October Red Giant Software released Magic Bullet Looks. It's an upgrade for Magic Bullet Editors - and my first impression was, "Wow. Sexy".

New Magic Bullet Looks Interface

My second impression: This is easily the best-looking, best-feeling interface I've seen... anywhere. It's fast. It's responsive. And best of all - the 100+ Look presets all update to show you a preview using the current frame you've got loaded! What a time-saver.

Preset display updates live

The point of the presets isn't to just apply it and move on (you know who you are) - but to use it as a starting point. With the new Magic Bullet Looks, if a client asks for a contrasty diffuse look - I can open the presets tab, reveal the Diffusion presets, and by looking at the small thumbnail pick the preset that seems to get me closest to the desired look. Once applied, I can start tweaking until I dial-in a pleasing result.

In comparison, the ColorFX room in Apple's Color makes much of the same promise as Looks. It has a bunch of prebuilt presets. But the thumbnails provide zero insight into how any particular preset might react with the current image (unless my image is a low-angle shot of the Golden Gate B
Presets display in Color
ridge). Either I've got to go through and apply every preset to find my jumping-off point, or I'll just start from scratch.

I offer this up as my highest praise: In many respects, I wish Looks was the ColorFX room in Color. The nodal approach that Color uses to creating a look is very powerful but very unintuitive. To be fair, Looks doesn't have the kind of repair (RGB split), grain management, and math tools of the ColorFX room. But the Color interface doesn't try to help me along as Looks does. MB Looks has a nifty help feature that describes every filter I can apply as I hover my mouse over the filter. Unfortunately, the help text is unhelpfully located at the polar opposite end of the screen from where my mouse is hovering. The font size of the help text also assumes I've got my 20-something set of eyeballs. Us "experienced" folk need a little more help than that, please.

Another shortcoming of Looks is that as I'm working on a Look, I can't see it output to my external monitor. I'm finding color decisions I make within Looks have to be tweaked once I press the "Apply" button and my monitor updates to show me what's really happening with the image. I don't think I can blame the Red Giant folks, I believe this is a limitation of the Final Cut plug-in architecture. Color Finesse suffers from the same problem when used as an FCP plug-in.

Lastly, it's clear that much thought went into assisting us in designing a look. Looks uses a Subject / Matte Box / Lens / Camera / Post metaphor, guiding a filmmaker in deciding what effects to apply in what order.

Filters are applied in a order that mimicks real-world workflow

For a more general audience I think this is fine. But I would like to be able to toggle into a PowerUser mode that doesn't restrict me from placing filters that exclusively belong to the Camera elsewhere in the chain. At times, I felt more restricted that I should have been. I understand the metaphor / paradigm that Looks is using and that much of its target audience is actually freed by following this logical workflow. Still, I'd like the opportunity to be freed from the shackles of reality when creating unreal or hyper-real looks.

Overall, Looks is a fantastic product. There are a dozen nice little interface elements I haven't mentioned that really speed up user interaction. It's an amazing upgrade for anyone who owns the previous version of Magic Bullet Looks. And if you find yourself constantly trying to implement specialty looks, it's worth the full purchase price. I hope Apple's Pro Apps team takes a close look at this software... while it's missing some of the power features I'd like to see (flexible re-ordering of filters), it has a certain "fun-factor" missing from much of today's professional apps. And the rendered results look great.

Be sure to check out the blog of the creator of Magic Bullet Looks. There's a secret feature that I haven't gotten into that's very nifty.

You can download a demo here.

- pi

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The Vaule of Specialization

Whatever your business, I believe there's huge upside to specialization. Not only does it allow you to become really good at something - it increases your value and helps you differentiate from your competition.

But don't take my word for it...

One of the students in the last Color Correction Workshop I helped teach emailed me the other day. Here's the last line in his email:

Btw, I did a CC job last week on a tv spot...the skill has allowed me to charge an extra $15 per hour.


Woo Hoo! Go Harold!

Yes I'm training my competition. As did the editors who trained me 18 years ago... I do this in honor of them.

- pi

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