I'm a big fan of colorist control surfaces. My company invested in the JL Cooper EclipseCX. I'm approaching the 6 month mark of ownership and I've found that it's not without its own set of quirks and annoyances. Prime among those annoyances is the fact that Apple's Color natively offers only limited support for this control surface. From my original review:
Important keyboard commands are missing, as well as the missing Master Gain/Gamma/Lift controls. Moving quickly between shots using the transport buttons is too unresponsive. When copying and pasting grades there are too few buttons chasing too many controls. . . Keyframe management is clunky and should work better if placed elsewhere on the panel. . . Overall, I think the Color team really should to take another look at their control surface support for the JL Cooper and tidy things up a bit.
Here's the bad news: The software is an initial PITA to setup. Royally. Unpredictably. Frustratingly. PITA.
I've complained mightily to the JL Cooper Powers That Be about the nonsensical installation problems that surround getting the Eclipse software up and running for the first time. Why does it take so long? I have no fracking idea. But I've installed this software a dozen times in two different locations and it generally takes about 45 minutes - and I (think) I know what I'm doing.
But I've finally developed a few methods for making the install problem as painless as possible. Here's how I do it, in its mind-numbing detail:
Disclaimer: The current b6 software is just that, beta. It's available for download off their website. Here's the link. Like me, use at your own risk. I am not employed or any way associated with JL Cooper other than as an end-user. If you want to bitch at them, please do so. Here's their contact page. If you, however, want help with setting up the software and ask for help in a nice manner - I'll be happy do so either via the comments for this posting or, preferably, on the Yahoo Color-L mailing list (the latter is the preferred choice, since it can take me a few days to respond on the website).
The first time you do this - set aside a few hours. Don't try to squeeze this in 20 minutes before a session - you're asking for trouble. Let's start:
- Begin by making sure your control surface is talking to Color using the methods outlined in the Color manual. Don't bother with the Eclipse software until you've done this step. This will ensure you don't have other networking issues getting in the way of your install. Once it's working, write down the IP address and port you've entered into Color.
- Download the JL Cooper software from this page.
- Have you ever installed any version of JL Cooper Eclipse or MCS software before? If so, you must absolutely uninstall it using the provided uninstaller. Then go into ~/Library/Preferences and delete the .plist file associated with the JL Cooper software. If you leave that prefs file in there it'll destroy you. And it doesn't seem to be removed by the uninstaller. Removing this file clears up 80% of the issues I've had in the past. You should do the same.
- Restart the machine.
- Install the JL Cooper software
- Go into System Preferences > Universal Access and click Enable access for Assistive Devices.
- Restart the machine.
- Open the EclipseCX software. Go into prefs and enter the
networking info that you wrote down in Step 1.
- Import the Color keyset from ~/Applications/EclipseCX Software/keysets/. You've now loaded the keyset that talks to Color. Modifications here effect how the Eclipse "talks" to Color.
- Test this software by moving a trackball and spinning some knobs. You should see the software interface respond. If not: Quit out of the software, turn off the control surface. Turn it back on. Log out of your account. Log back in. Open the EclipseCX software and re-test by pushing buttons, moving knobs, etc. It should be working now. If not, restart the computer and try again. NOW it should be working. If not, make sure the EclipseCX software prefs match the network settings on the Eclipse (which it should if you managed to have the control surface talking with Color directly.)
to the menu setting Actions > Set Ethernet Port for Color Keyset and select the top choice.You can go with the default port number. I find that 61000 is a number that works better for me. It's rather arbitrary. Write this number down, we'll need it in a moment. Keep in mind, you might need to change it later, if things don't work so well.
- Quit from the Eclipse software. If you're feeling confident, you may launch Color and proceed to the next step. If you want to be safe: Power cycle the Eclipse, the log out / log back in. I find this tends to clear things back to a normal state and increases my chances for success on the next step.
- Launch Color. Change the control surface Ethernet setting to: 127.0.0.1 Set the Port to match what you entered two steps above. If you're lucky - the EclipseCX is now talking to Color. If you're not lucky, do the 'normalization' tasks in the previous step. If it's still not working, reboot the machine.
Does all that seem like a pain? It sure does to me. Drives me nuts. Here's the upside: Once I have it working, it's pretty much bullet proof. It doesn't go down. I've had it working for weeks at a time... until I install the next Beta version and I have to go through this whole routine again! It seems at least a few of the Tangent users aren't quite so lucky (cheap shot, I know... but Tangent users are a mighty quiet lot so I'll take it when I can get it).
Next time: I'll take you through how to customize the control surface and why you should bother. But here's a payoff until then - grab this file. It's the Color keyset I created for the b6 version of the software. It's quite different than what JL Cooper ships, but I think much more useful for the working professional. Be sure to read the pdf with it, it describes how I've set up the panel.
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First question: Is The Art and Technique of Digital Color Correction worth reading?
Answer: Yes! Absolutely.
Second question: Is it targeted at newbies or advanced users?
Yes. To both.
The first two thirds of the book "Primary Color Correction" and "Secondary Color Correction" deals with the fundamentals of our toolsets: monitoring, understanding waveform monitors and vectorscopes, balancing shots, vignettes, HSL isolations, and more. While this part of the book can be safely skipped over by more advanced users to whom all that info is second nature, Steve Hullfish does a nice job of surveying how different software apps approach the same concepts. And when a particular software package has a unique tool for achieving a particular task, he breaks it down for the reader.
The upshot: Even if you're experienced colorist on a Symphony you'll walk away with a strong understanding how other software apps work and what you might be missing (or what advantages you may have that you didn't realize). My advice, advanced users should at least skim through these parts paying particular attention when Steve takes a moment to pull a quote from the working professionals he features in the last third of the book. There are some great tips in these sections - especially on how different colorists set up multi-display scopes to help them nail black balance or tweak color values. I ended up changing some of my displays and found a few new setups that I really like.
Overall, the first two parts are not a dumbed down discussion. While Steve starts by laying down the ground-work emphasizing monitoring and external scopes (the latter being a deep discussion that permeates the entire book - which I very much appreciate), he seems to anticipate some of his readers finding material redundant and thankfully breaks out basic terminology to sidebars. Appropriately, those early chapters work through the subject matter in the same order a colorist will typically approach their problem-solving.
The final third of the book "Pro Colorists" is likely where the advanced users will want to begin. Why? That answer leads us to our third question...
Third Question: What makes this book different than other color correction books (or DVDs)?
The soul of this book is contained in the last few chapters and on its supplemental DVD. Steve sits with over a
Even better are the transcripts Steve provides on the DVD that didn't make it into the book but he thought were informative. I've just started to read those and already I've gotten some new ideas about different approaches to common challenges.
Another thing that differentiates this book is its largely software-agnostic approach. Color, Avid Symphony, After Effects, Color Finesse, even Photoshop are all been featured in the first 2 Chapters alone. Where interfaces are similar, Steve picks a software package and follows it through - pointing out where users of other apps might find things different. I suspect that if iMovie had a color correction module Steve would have a found a place to feature it.
Fourth Question: Any final thoughts?
This is clearly a book about concepts, not tools. As much as it necessarily covers the How To of working with color correction software, it's the Why Do that is emphasized.
In fact, Why Do is the whole point of the book.
Read it. Live it. Learn it.
- end book review -
On a related note:
This posting has prompted me to update my links for recommended reading. On the right side of this blog I've put up The Finishing Line's Library Shelf. These are a list of books I've found invaluable in furthering my education and understanding of color correction, finishing, or editing. They're linking to Amazon via my affiliate account. If you appreciate the time I spend from my day job to keep the Finishing Line something more than a corporate News blog, buying through those links are a nice way of showing your support. Or, you can send me an email. Or both.
Just remember, supplement that book knowledge with the practical experience of color correcting a few hundred thousand shots - and then you'll find yourself well on the road to becoming a craftsman.
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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.
I just got an email from Martin Baker, a friend in the U.K. He caught the airing on BBC of one the first HD jobs that ran through Fini. "Come Rain or Shine" is a 90 minute behind-the-scenes documentary of the band Genesis' most recent European tour.
It was also the only moment where the footage was nearly un-watchable. It was the first day that the crew had used the camera they were shooting and the color balance was so far extreme into the reds there was zero information in the blue channel. You can see the before / after on the homepage of this website. It took some fancy footwork to save the shots in that sequence - mostly on my own time, as I worked on it on nights and weekends. (It turned out the scene required two solutions since the exposure changed in the middle.)
I want to give a special Thank You to the film's Director, Anthony Mathiel. He allowed me to fulfill a dream. Hopefully some last minute hair-pulling didn't overshadow what I think is a final product we can both be proud.
The 3-disc DVD of their final performance on their European tour is coming out this month. "Come Rain or Shine" is packaged as one of the three discs. There doesn't seem to be a release date for the BluRay version. SD only.
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In this previous post I lamented how Apple seemed to be dragging its heels on providing BluRay authoring tools in its Pro Apps suite.
I got at least one fact wrong: Compressor 3 does export for BluRay.
Where did I go to find this out? Adobe!
Specifically, the DAV TechTable blog - which is filled with useful how-to's on BluRay authoring and I've placed into my RSS reader (now that I'm an owner of the Adobe Production Suite CS3 bundle, which supports BluRay authoring on the Mac).
Here's the post which gives explicit instructions on how to export from Compressor for BluRay authoring in Encore DVD. It's not a built-in preset in Compressor, so you'll want to build and save these settings as a Custom Preset.
If you're a glass half empty person, you've got to wonder why this setting isn't shipping as a preset in Compressor. Is it an ominous sign of Apple trying to keep its boot on the neck of BluRay? If you're a glass half full person, hopefully this is a positive omen that the next version of Final Cut Studio will have much more explicit support for BluRay authoring.
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Stu Maschwitz on the ProLost blog today points to a filmmaker who used both Colorista and Magic Bullet Looks to finish an entire feature. The film is Wasting Away and has won numerous awards on the film festival circuit. The filmmaker, John
"Because of the tight deadline, Apple Color was not a viable solution. The film had been shot on a Viper FilmStream Camera, which gives footage a strange kind of greenish tint, and Color was taking way too long to export footage after color correction had been applied. We needed a solution which allowed us to try different looks, iterate very quickly through them, then export the footage from Final Cut Studio at full resolution once color correction was applied."
He had 10 days to finish this show - which doesn't seem like a particularly rushed deadline to me. Although from the picture of his edit room accompanying this post I infer that the color correction in Color would have been driven by a mouse, rather than a control surface. I've found the control surface easily doubles my productivity (you can read my initial experience here). So a 90 minute feature color corrected with a mouse could easily take 5 working days... just for the initial grade. And that's without even getting into establishing a look. And look creation in Color is an exercise in patience + fortitude + luck, as his Producers seemed to have discovered:
"In late 2007, I worked with Sean and Matthew Kohnen to provide Color Correction on the film Wasting Away. The film had already been graded in Apple's Color (formerly "Final Touch") but the color just wasn't what they wanted."
Without talking to anyone involved in the production, I suspect they tried to use the ColorFX room in Color. They probably found it both slow to render and inflexible. If I were them, I wouldn't want to tread over the same ground again either. And so John's decision to give the Colorista / Magic Bullet Looks isn't just reasonable, it was smart. In my review of Looks I wrote:
"I offer this up as my highest praise: In many respects, I wish Looks was the ColorFX room in Color."
I still stand by that assessment. In fact, my preferred workflow today is to color correct in Color to set the initial grade and then move into Looks to stylize the image. Setting the base grade, whether in Color or FCP is important. Once you've graded an entire scene and all the shots match, applying Looks on top of it helps increase the likelihood that the look you've developed will apply consistently across those shots - minimizing the need for time consuming tweaking and re-rendering.
Why Color over Colorista? In two words: Secondary Rooms. The ability to mask/isolate multiple areas of an image really help us sculpt an image. In fact, you could say that one of the main themes of the new excellent book by Steve Hullfish The Art and Technique of Digital Color Correction is how to use masks to enhance your image and tell your story.
And while you could do the same thing with multiple layers of Colorista or FCP's built-in 3-Way Color Corrector - it's nowhere near as fast and flexible.
But here's the thing that got me really intrigued and why I'm writing about this today... (from Stu's blog)
So if you read Flowers's excellent article and see his screenshots and ask yourself, "Is Stu listening? Does he realize that filmmakers want powerful and easy-to-use color correction tools that turn their NLE into a proper finishing tool? And that they're already using Magic Bullet for this, despite his intentions?"Well rest assured, the answer is yes.
If Stu adds control surface support and healthy secondary controls in his Color-killer - I'll be his bestest friend for life. Oh. And yes. I'll buy the software.
I like Color for it's ability to help me take the craft to a higher level. I curse Color for its idiosyncrasies that do nothing but inhibit our ability to be assured that the timeline we feed it is the timeline it returns to us. Not to mention the (not so) little bug that kills many interlaced workflows.
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This post is a shameless plug for a great workshop being held in NYC on Saturday May 17th. If you know anyone who might be interested in the following, please forward them any of the URLs listed below.
One of the hot workflow topics these days is "tapeless acquisition". Whether it be P2 cards for your HVX-200 or those little SD cards for a Red camera, managing that data while on-set has become a valuable asset. Frequently called the "Data Wrangler", the person who manages the off-loading, verification and subsequent re-initializing of these cards is a position of tremendous responsibility. Given that it's a relatively new crew assignment, training opportunities are few and far between - while the stakes in getting it wrong can be hazardous to one's career development.
If you live in New York City metro area, next Saturday May 17th The Moving Pictures Collective (Mopictive) is offering a Tapeless Acquisition Workshop. By the end of the day you'll walk away with a system for data management that can be applied to any tapeless shoot. It's being taught by Michael Vitti - the Fearless Leader of Mopictive who has extensive experience with "data wrangling" - and Jamie Hitchings - an Apple Certified instructor - who will walk the attendees through the entire Log & Capture process. Special Guest is a great guy I've known for many years, Michael Woodworth of Divergent Media, developer of the software app, ScopeBox. He'll be talking up scopes (how read them, how to use them, and why you need them) and monitors - a great ancillary skill for anyone who's trying to break in onto the set.
Here's the rub - signups have been light. If a few more people don't get signed up before next Tuesday or Wed, the event will be cancelled. Keep in mind, class size is limited to 10 people. This is nearly a one-on-one workshop. You'll have full access to the instructors and plenty of time to get all your questions answered. You'll learn the theory which can be applied to any tapeless situation as well as practical applications that'll allow to immediate implementation of that theory.
You can find out more details about the workshop here.
You can sign up here. Price is $300.
Full Disclosure: I am the Treasurer of Mopictive (which is a DBA of the New York Final Cut Users Group and also a certified NYS 501c3 not-for-profit). Over 50% of the proceeds will go to Mopicitive and furthering its mission to the training of Digital Storytellers.
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It's a rumor that won't die.
This years' rumors have a slightly different tenor. Apple pulled out of NAB. For whatever reason they state, with $18 billion cash in the bank - money isn't the issue. Or - at least, potential access to money isn't the issue. This non-MBA imagines that Jobs forces each division to stand on its own and if ProApps has money problems such that they didn't think a booth was worth the expense... perhaps they're having trouble meeting their margins. At least Avid has an excuse for its NAB disappearing act that Apple doesn't, Avid is undergoing a major re-organiztion. They'll be back at NAB once their new strategy is ready to roll.
If you want to read what I consider the most interesting analysis on Apple selling ProApps, then check out this article by Robert X. Cringley.
Cringley's analysis helped me gather my thoughts on something else that is bothering me about Apple's handling of its ProApps division. And its has me starting to wonder if Apple is the best company to manage the Final Cut Studio array of products. Specifically, it's Apple's handling of BluRay that's the heart of my misgivings.
None of Apple's ProApps support BluRay DVD creation. Final Cut won't export to BluRay. Compressor won't encode to BluRay. DVD Studio Pro won't author BluRay. Not a single Mac ships with BluRay playback or burning. And my wife's business is getting weekly calls for BluRay duplication and authoring.
For the first time in my memory, Apple has fallen behind my customers!
Why? Why? Why is Apple forcing me to consider buying Adobe Encore or (hissssss) a PC-based authoring tool for a need my clients want today?
It drives me nuts that a company so forward-thinking is dropping the ball on next-generation content creation. As Cringley points out in an earlier article on Apple's (lack of) BluRay strategy, the answer is probably summed up in one concept: High-Def Downloads.
In other words: Apple's consumer strategy is now at odds with its development of its ProApps product line.
Is it possible that Apple no longer deserves to handle the ProApps division? Has Apple finally reached its inflection point where it will sacrifice its traditionally strong and loyal ProApps customers for its newfound success in content delivery?
I don't know.
I know this: For the first time in 7 years I'm not discounting the Cringley analysis. For once, the rumors may be true.
If Apple does sell the Pro Apps division at a time when it's still holding back on delivering BluRay creation tools... I'll say, good riddance - it was a great ride but it will have been time for both businesses to move on.
UPDATE 1: Not everyone buys Cringley's analysis.
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