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.
Right????

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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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
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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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Installing JL Cooper's EclipseCX customization software (in 13 tedious steps)


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.

cooper_inspector
I still agree 100% with the above assesment. But here's the good news: We don't have to wait for the Color team to address these concerns. JL Cooper has their own customization software that solves every problem I've outlined above. And if you're willing to dig into the software, nearly every feature JL Cooper users have requested is available - save one; the Inside/Outside toggle.

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:
  1. 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.
  2. Download the JL Cooper software from this page.
  3. 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.
  4. Restart the machine.
  5. Install the JL Cooper software
  6. Go into System Preferences > Universal Access and click Enable access for Assistive Devices.
  7. Restart the machine.
  8. Open the EclipseCX software. Go into prefs and enter the networking info that you wrote down in Step 1.
    cooper_ip_address
  9. 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.
  10. 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.)
  11. Go
    cooper_set_port
    to the menu setting Actions > Set Ethernet Port for Color Keyset and select the top choice.
    cooper_set_port_2
    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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
At this point you should have the JL Cooper customization software up and running, talking with Color. If it's not working, the first place to check is the Ethernet Port for Color Keyset. The most likely place for a foul-up is the Port setting. Each time you change the Port, I suggest running through the whole Power Cycle / Log Out-In normalizing routine. It's a good routine that works just as well as rebooting. But, sometimes, a reboot fixes things and suddenly the whole EclipseCX Software > Color thing just suddenly works. If you're still having problems, pick a new port number and enter it in both the Eclipse software and in Color. Then, Normalize the control surface and try Color again. If after a couple shots it still isn't working, reboot.

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.

- pi


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Book Review + The Finishing Line Library Shelf


SafariScreenSnapz001
On The Finishing Line I've previously listed links for learning color correction. A book I've been reading for the past few months has prompted to me to update / refine that list (now in the sidebar). I pre-ordered this book, The Art and Technique of Digital Color Correction, almost a year ago. It finally shipped in the middle of January 2008. I wrapped reading it in April. What follows is my review:

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 half-dozen accomplished, professional colorists and puts them in front of a common software color grading platform, Apple's Color (at the time called Final Touch HD), with a JL Cooper control surface Tangent control surface. He gives them all the same set of footage (also provided on a DVD), presses 'record' on a tape recorder and grills the colorists about the approach they are each taking to color correcting those images. The result is the author presenting up to three colorists approaching the same shot using different techniques. Or the same technique being used on different shots. Usually in the words of those colorists. It's a great education.

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.

- pi


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Color Correction Masterclasses - June 28 & 29 / July 19 & 20

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
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A shot across Color's bow???


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 Waters Flowers, has posted a nicely detailed explanation on how he used Colorista and Magic Bullet Looks to streamline his workflow and turn the film around in 10 days. One reason I'm writing about it here is some comments John has made in his opening paragraphs about why he chose not to use Color:

"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.

- pi

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Color'ist Stamina


I'm just bubbling up to the surface after 2.5 weeks of non-stop Color'ing. 10 hour days. 600 shots / day. Fair amount of secondary isolations with vignettes. Exhausting. More exhausting than I expected.

I usually have a few intense days of color correction that are followed by a day or two of finishing. I switch gears fairly regularly. 10 hour days are common and not too stressful.

On this past job I was downtown at Outpost Digital working as a freelancer on a Discovery series (all other details of the job are embargoed). I had the luxury of an Assistant Editor prepping timelines for the Color roundtrip and a Finisher to handle the graphics, formatting, & outputs. For me, it was all color correction all the time.

I was able to turn around 50+ minutes of footage, about 600-700 shots, in 13-16 hours across two 10-hour days. Essentially, an episode every 1.5 days (including client revisions). By each Friday I was completely wiped out. Far more so than if I put in a 50-hour week doing finishing. I contacted a friend who's a long-time colorist about his stamina on the job. I was wondering if his eyes were used to the routine.

Apparently not.

While he's no stranger to much longer days - he also finds diminishing returns after the 10-hour day. His words:

"I hear you 10 hours and I'm done.  I start to loose my peripheral vision and I know it's time to rest.  Longer than 10 hours the slower I go to the point when I realize how long this is taking and stop.  I've worked in a few places and when I was at the CBC they had a nice monitor surround to take some of the stress off your eyes.  In my new place I have some strips of white LEDs behind the monitor and until they finish the room this will have to do.  I had a killer week last week and I wish I had the Herman Miller chair that I had from my last company.  This makes a big difference as well."

Dittos on the Herman Miller chair (the one with lumbar support and tilt forward control).

In the future I need to dial back client expectations so my eyes are as fresh on Friday as they are on Monday.

- pi

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Give Me Some Skin!


Is one of the reasons you subscribe to this feed (and if you don't,  here's the link to do so) because you want to learn about the art of Color'ing? If yes, then I have a great treat for you today!

Go: here

Stu Maschwitz of the ProLost blog (being the least of his credits) has a great posting on colorists' herculean efforts to maintain skin tones while pushing radical grades.

As always, a great posting - he even provides some homework material. ProLost is a must in your RSS Feed.

Enjoy!

Have a great weekend.

- pi

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The Color Conundrum


UPDATE 2:
It's been commented to me that my opening line, "Color is broken" is a bit extreme. I'd agree - if you work in a purely progressive frame workflow or a purely interlaced workflow that involves no resizing, distorts, or anamorphic flags - Color is fine. For the rest of us... I think it's broken. (In fact, I had a meeting this afternoon where I made clear my preference for progressive with no mixed formats in a single timeline)

But absolutely - decide for yourself if this bug breaks Color for you.

---------------


UPDATE 1:
More on the Geometry Room issue I mention in the original posting - A posting on the Apple message board mentioned that he uses the Geometry Room to zoom in on skin tones to check them in the scopes to see that they properly lay on the skin tone line (something I first saw suggested in the Ripple Training Color tutorials ). He'd then click the reset button in the Geometry and move on to his next task. In my own testing I've confirmed that this is enough to force Color into flame blending mode of interlaced footage. Pressing reset doesn't help. Once a shot is flagged as having touched the Geometry Room - that shot is toast.

If you have an external CRT hooked up to your system (you do, don't you?) it's easy to confirm that this is happening. Just park on a frame that exhibits the typical jitter of interlaced footage (most evident when there's lots of motion on the screen). Go into the Geometry Room and change a setting. The jitter disappears. Color has suddenly decided to frame-blend this shot. Click Reset. The jitter doesn't re-appear (like it would in previous versions of Color). The shot is still flagged for flame-blending. Switch to a new grade. Still no jitter. Whatever else is happening, switching grades doesn't fix the problem.

I haven't found a workaround to this particular problem.


--------------------------

Color is broken.

But before I get to the specifics, some quick background.

There's an old problem that dates back to Color's Final Touch days, before the Apple purchase. In those days (and to a certain extent, these days as well) you had to be very very careful how you handled interlaced footage. Color was originally designed for high-end Digital Intermediate work - which means it was optimized to for a film-based progressive RGB workflow.

It wasn't until after development was well under way before the original management team decided to open up the software to High Def and Standard Def formats. In doing so, they never really solved how to get Color to handle interlaced footage if that footage had to be blown up, shrunk down, or repositioned. If you "repo'ed" a shot and that shot was recorded on an interlaced codec, all you got back was mush. That "mush" ranged from slightly softening the image to horribly destroying the image, depending on the nature of the content.

To get semi-technical: The problem exhibits itself as really bad frame blending.

When Color was released, Apple decided to avoid the whole "mushy image" problem by having Color ignore all Motion Tab effects and let FCP handle that portion of the job. It was a smart way to address the issue. And it worked. With emphasis on the past tense.

Interlace footage is broken again in Color 1.0.2.

In my testing last week I found that when it comes to handling Standard def footage there was only one way to avoid the "mushy image syndrome". That's by being sure both these are true for any project I send to Color:

1. No repo's, distorts, or anamorphic flags on the footage.

2. The FCP timeline frame size must be a preset that exists in Color. For instance, 960x720 always renders with frame blending - no matter what and regardless of the previous Condition #1.

(Note: A recent posting on the Apple Discussion Board suggests that even doing a "repo" in the Geometry Room and then canceling it out is enough for Color to frame blend its renders)

What does this mean to those of us still working in the SD world?

It means we now have to go through our timelines and strip all motion effects from our timelines before color correcting. And then add them back one-by-one after color correcting.

This is NOT progress. It's been a year since I've had to do this and I had hoped we had put this behind us.

For all the nifty improvements in Color 1.0.2 - for me and my clients - this workflow is not worth the pain. But there's a question that, after a weekend of pondering, I haven't found an answer:

Is it safe to reinstall just Color and upgrade it only to Color 1.0.1?

The Color 1.0.2 upgrade happened in conjunction with the entire Final Cut Studio 6.0.2 upgrade. And that upgrade contain some very important bug fixes within Final Cut Pro.

So do I add a half day to every job to handle the new bugs in Color 1.0.2? Or do I add a half day to every job because Final Cut Pro 6.0.1 loses my renders and I have spend 4 hours re-rendering?

My head's spinning here. And my favorite people in the world who've I've never met (the entire FCP and Color teams) are responsible for it.

Is this the perfect Monday morning blog post, or what?

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- pi
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How To Talk To A Colorist


DV Magazine has a nice article titled DV 101: How to Talk to A Colorist:


"[T]he first session with a real colorist can be a bit intimidating for the novice filmmaker. Understanding the basics of what is possible and what the colorist is doing to manipulate the image will help alleviate some of the trepidations you might have going in for your first session."


After going through some basic terminology and example grades the author, Jay Holben, offers up this stellar piece of advice,


"It’s a good idea to start with a defining shot for a particular sequence... but the most important shot for the scene is the close-up of the actress that happened to be the 10th shot for the day. It’s a good idea to start with that 10th shot, establish the look that you want for the sequence on that hero shot and then have the colorist go back and match the rest of the sequence to that key shot."


Sage advice. The whole article is a good read for anyone new to color correction.


Hat Tip: Ted Langdell via Telecine Internet Group email list


- pi

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Tip: Managing Grades in Color

Quick refresh: In Color you can save your color corrections in two manners. First, you can save your Primary In, Secondary, ColorFX tree, and Primary Out settings individually. Color calls these "corrections". I tend not to save out my corrections. No reason, other than it gets to be a lot to manage. The exception is ColorFX trees. I tend to save those corrections.

Second, you can save everything you've done to a shot - Primaries, Secodaries, ColorFX, and Geometry Room - collectively as a single file. Color calls those "Grades". I use grades extensively. Organizing grades tends to be fairly straight forward. Park on the shot whose grade you want to save, go into the Setup Room (under the Grades tab) and type in the name of your grade. Typically you'd name it something meaningful, "attorney_v001" for instance.

name_your_grade

When you're finished with your show you might have a list of saved grades that looks something like this:

named_grades

You'll notice I have all my grades grouped together by names. eric_ruddy_couch has several variations followed by eric_2shot, also with several variations. And so on... resulting in all my Eric grades staying grouped together - and then sub-grouped by scene, angle, etc. No rocket science here. Pretty basic stuff.

But what happens when the number of grades you want to save for retrieval quickly expands beyond your ability to come up with meaningful descriptive names?

This happened to me recently on doc that had 3 main subjects - but also a few dozen repeating interviews . There was no way I was going to individually name each and every setup. But at the same time, I needed a way to quickly find a saved grade for each subject.

I started by (1) switching the Grade bin to Icon view and (2) allowing Color to Autoname my grades.

Color's auto-naming system is less than useful. As you'll see in the following image Color uses a Date/Timestamp to generate names (thus the need to work in Thumbnail View):

autonamed_grades

And yet, in the midst of its generic naming style how did I keep my grades organized by location and sub-grouped by person?

bunched_grades_small_icons

The answer: I used the Unix-style file name quick-fill feature that can be accessed in most Save dialog boxes on OS X.

Here's how it works in this context:

1. After switching into the Grade bin, decide where you want the Grade to show up inside your bin. If you want it at the end of the bin, then simply accept the auto-generated name from Color. It'll be placed at the end of the line.

2. If you want to place a Grade specifically next to another thumbnail simply highlight - DON'T double-click - just highlight / single-click the Grade. The name of that grade will automatically fill the File Name box.

3. Move your cursor to just before the .colorgrade extension and append it with a number. I usually start with the number 2 (applause, applause), from there I'll increment upwards.

If I want to sub-group I'll append my numbers with letters so that datetimestamp2a falls between datetimestamp2 and datetimestamp3.

The other side-benefit of this naming style - it's fast.

I'm not sure, but if this post reads confusing post a comment and I'll try to clear it up.

- pi


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The EclipseCX review is now posted

My review of the EclipseCX is now posted to this website. You can read it here. I'm just now sending it to Ken Stone, on whose terrific FCP Resource site it'll also be posted (for wider circulation).

It's written in a diary format, since I found that my perception of the device changed as I used it and became more proficient on it. I think it'll help mouse-driven Color'ists better understand what the transition to the control surface was like.

I've got a few blog postings on Color workflow that have been bottled up as I was focused on (1) working on paid jobs and (2) writing the review.

- pi


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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):
isolate_colors_original

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):
isolate_colors_CFXtree

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:
isolate_colors_add1_result

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:
isolate_colors_add2_result

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:
isolate_colors_add_bias

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:
isolate_colors_blend_result

That's it!

- pi


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The Law of Unintended Consequences - 6500k Wrap-up

What happens when a finishing room with 6500k bulbs has light spilling in from the hallway because the door is mostly a large pane of frosted glass? Do you cover the inside of the glass with black fabric?

Not me.

No, no, no.

I decide to change the hallway light bulb to 6500k. What happens next falls directly under the header of "The Law of Unintended Consequences"...

You see, my room is at the end of a hallway - so changing the bulb outside the door solves the problem of mixed light temperatures filtering into the edit room. But when you walk down the hallway, suddenly that one light fixture stuck out like a sore thumb. It's a lone brand-new bulb shining in its glory - a full 3000 degrees hotter than any other light in the hallway.

In a world of dull orange lighting, the bright blue bulb became an eyesore. The next step?

That's right, I changed all the bulbs in the hallway to 6500k. The hallway brightened considerably (I figure the previous bulbs were at least 3 years old and were quite tired).

And then came my co-workers headaches. It seems the new bright blue light filtering out of the hallway and into their offices was mixing color temperatures with their 3000k orange overhead fluorescent lights. I'm guessing the constant white balance adjustments their brains were forced into executing tired people out.

So, what's a geeky finisher to do? That's right...

We installed a total of 25 6500k fluorescent lights!

All this because I wanted a properly lit edit suite and didn't want to close in my already small-ish space by covering the door with black fabric...

- pi

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6500k & the REAL point of Industry Standards

Following up my previous post on implementing 6500k lighting in the edit room...

I did a search in the TIG (Telecine Internet Group) mailing list on this issue. Bob Currier of Synthetic Apeture (and creator of the very good Color Finesse color correction plug-in and software) had the discussion-ending post on why colorists follow the SMPTE standard for using D65 light in their suites:

"There is a standard and it's 6500K.

This has nothing to do with making the image in the grading suite match the image at home.

Instead, it has to do with consistency so that all our 6500K standards-based grading will appear compatible when shown on Aunt Millie's badly mis-adjusted 9300K TV. If some of us are grading on 6500K monitors and some on 9300K monitors, things will look rather poor indeed when they air back-to-back. Not only will commercials not match the programming, but commercials won't match each other.

Besides, Aunt Millie likes her over-saturated, blue look. If you start making that look "normal" she'll think you broke her TV."

'Nuff said. Final word. I'm satisfied.

Thanks Bob.
------------------------

On a related note, I also found a link from a TIG posting showing the difference in spectral output from a blackbody radiator (the Sun) and a human device attempting to imitate that black body radiator. If you go to the link, click on the "Back to the calculator" button, then select D65 and then enter 6500 for Blackbody. D65 would be your TV set or your room's 6500k ambient lighting. Blackbody would be the sun.

Try punching in other values - a typical incandescent emits at around D35 (click on the graph to update). Notice how much more red it emits. If your camera was white balanced for daylite (D65) while shooting an interior under an incandescent light, what do you think would be the predominate color?

- pi

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Dr. Daylight - Or How I Learned to Love 6500k

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2 things have happened in the past 3 weeks that led to my decision to upgrade the lighting in my Finishing Room:
  1. I put money down on a JL Cooper Eclipse CX (at a very good price). More commentary on that device can be found here and here and expect a full review once it's in-house.
  2. I visited the color correction room of a new colleague, Alexis Van Hurkman.
Inspired by both events happening in close proximity and because Alexis turned me on how to do it cost-effectively (a necessary pre-condition); this week the lighting at Fini is going 6500k.

Why 6500k? You'd have to ask SMPTE, the folks who handle television signal standards and decided that the proper white point for television sets is 6500 degrees Kelvin (the equivalent color temperature of daylight at noon in North America (if you have to ask, I suspect they took their temperature readings in Las Vegas)). In theory, the most neutral environment for color correcting video is with ambient lighting that has the same color temperature (white point) of video. 6500k. Or, technically, D65. This way we're not trying to compensate our color correction for the light surrounding us - which, if you're using a normal bulb, is much more red/orange.

One might then ask: Why'd I wait until now to make the change to 6500k lighting? Good question... Thanks for asking. Two reasons, actually:

  1. First, I don't know a single person who lights their living room / home theater with 6500k lighting. And since nearly 100% of my work has been for home viewing - I didn't worry about my room not meeting some industry specification which was designed by soulless engineers in a vacuum (so to speak). I mean, these are the same geniuses that gave us non-drop and drop-frame timecode (not to mention the idiotic array of HD formats and frame rates).
  2. Second, even in the heyday of post-production Standards & Practices (pre-miniDV) - only Film-to-Tape guys ever bothered to meet these specs. Yes, us video folks took our specs seriously back then (how many editors reading this post can figure out if their blanking is too wide?) but the general industry attitude didn't extend to 6500k lighting. Why? Probably because our stuff looked the same at home as it did in the edit room (see the preceding paragraph).

One might then follow up: Why are you doing this now? If the status quo has been good enough for the past 17 years, why bother implementing the change now? Another excellent question. There are several reasons:

  1. Fini started out focusing on providing an array of post-production services, of which color-correction was only one. Providing other more traditional online services was my bread-and-butter. But with the change of focus last year color-correction moved front and center. (Similarly - that's also why Fini is investing in a JL Cooper control surface. Not because it's necessary to create great pictures, but it dramatically increases productivity).
  2. Part of the reason why Online rooms didn't implement 6500k lighting is because, except for sports, almost all our footage came to us color corrected. Either from a film-to-tape session or "shaded" by an engineer in a studio. And outside of specialty tape-to-tape rooms, we had very crude controls over our images. Today, it's almost exactly the reverse. Not only do we have sophisticated color correction tools, 80% of the our work hasn't been color corrected - in fact, it's why clients are coming to Fini in the first place! That shift in client needs has shifted our need for the type of controlled lighting specified by SMPTE, previously the domain of telecine and tape-to-tape rooms.
  3. A recent posting by Martin Euredjian of E-Cinema on the FCP-L mailing list put this perfectly (though he was specifically speaking of color-critical monitors):

    "Audio seems to be easy for people to use as an analogy. I don't think that professionals would propose doing serious mastering work using an iPod. Or an iPod with headphones. And, even if you did connect great speakers to an iPod...would anyone propose doing so without at least attempting to calibrate the thing to reasonable professional-level standards? Would we want to know if we can achieve the frequency response and harmonic distortion targets that are deemed as minimum-acceptable for professsional work? Probably. And, then, would anyone propose to use such a system in a listening enviroment that was devoid of proper acoustic treatment in order to ensure that what was coming out of the speakers was being perceived correctly? Probably not."


Probably not. And that's why I've gone 6500k in the Finishing Room. As I've made the decision to provide more color-critical services to my clients I've got a responsibility to know what the signals I'm creating actually look like. I've got to know that anyone who keeps to professional specs will see what I see. And given that it's no longer hard to find 6500k lighting for your media room, the average viewer has an above-average chance of seeing the image as its meant to be seen.

- pi

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Thoughts On The Tekserve Red Event


I attended the "Red Event" last night at Tekserve.

It was a generally uncomfortable event in which 150 people were jammed onto their showroom floor with inadequate air conditioning (Tekserve is always on uncomfortable place to shop) and stood for an hour. It seemed most people watched the event from screens throughout the store and the tallest people in the room had been given priority access to the first row, blocking everyone's line-of-sight... chairs would have been better.

I'm not going to go into Red workflow specifics because so few people have access to the Red camera. The people that are now shooting Red have workflows that are far beyond the scope of the clients I choose to serve. In a few more months we'll be able to test and refine a Red workflow "for the rest of us". But Red is an amazing technology and it was great to see the owners of Red #6 & #7 presenting to the NYC community.

Here are some of my impressions:
  • Red should be hugely desirable to the Fini client base. It's affordable, accessible, scalable, and future-proof. It's a disruptive technology an order of magnitude larger than Final Cut Pro was disruptive. It will put a lot of people out of work... but give opportunity to far more people.
  • Red is a complex workflow - largely because of its scalability. There will be several unique and distinct workflow's for different deliveries. Some purists will rail against the DV-crowd taking up this camera... they will argue that everyone should be delivering 4K all the time... they will be wrong. But the clients they serve will also feel the same way, so there's no need to worry that the Red camera will bring us all together in a Kumbaya / We Are The World oneness.
  • The Red team isn't telling how many cameras are reserved, only that the number is in the thousands (which I take to mean more than two thousand). Compare that to the number of Vipers and Dalsa's out in the field shooting today - that's as if Apple would have sold 10 million iPhones by November, it's a crazy-big number.

Also showing at Tekserve last night was Scratch - a high-end software-based color correction app. I was intrigued by its power, flexibility, and depth. And unlike Color, it can read the RedCode directly - no need to transcode to some intermediate codec like ProRes. But at $50k a seat - it's not for my clients. It's priced for facilities running the Autodesk products (Flame / Smoke). In fact, the GUI looks like Autodesk funded the project. It's a total and complete Flame rip-off. There are some nice breakaway 'widgets' for moving between modalities, but it's an interface partly designed to make high-paying clients comfortable that their money is going toward hefty lease payments.

I was disappointed that the Scratch guys never got around to showing us Red Alert (I think that's the name of the app), which is currently shipping with Red. It's designed for evaluating and modifying images from the camera, both in the field and in post. Considering this was a Red event, I was a bit peeved that Assimilate turned the demo room into a Scratch event. Poor showing, boys.

The Big Takeaway

The presenter at the event (one of the owners of Off Hollywood Studios) made a point that I think is relevant to anyone creating pictures. He mentioned how the images coming off the sensor don't look all that pretty. He said the goal with a camera like Red is concentrate on latitude - don't clip highlights or shadows. Pretty is done in post, capturing as much dynamic range should be the objective. I think he's dead-on correct. But I don't think this is only true for the Red camera. In fact, this is especially true for DV or DV50 shooters.

Yes, you want good lighting and a talented DP is as critical as ever. And a talented DP will preserve as much detail in the image as possible.

Image Detail = Production Value

One ingredient to make your video look like not-video is to preserve your highlights and and don't let your shadows fall into total blackness.

UPDATE - Two quick notes:
  1. When I say the Scratch GUI looks like a Flame rip-off, I don't mean that disparagingly... just that, to me, it looks like Flame. It doesn't seem a friendly or approachable interface but rather is very deep and filled with identical pop-up style gray buttons.
  2. Don't confuse Image Detail with the "detail enhancement" option on many cameras. That option is as bad as turning on gain and should be avoided unless you're looking for a "video" look. And even then, that kind of sharpness can be added in post - so save it for post...

- pi
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Upcoming Presentations on Color Correction and Color-ing

Interested in learning more about the color correction tools that ship with Final Cut Studio 2?

I'll be teaching and if you live in the NYC area, here are two dates to mark on your calendar...

  • Thursday September 20 - User Group meeing, Apple Store, Soho : I'll be giving a presentation at the Mopictive User Group (formerly the Final Cut Pro User Group, of which I'm the Treasurer) exploring the differences between FCP's built-in 3-Way Color Corrector, the 3rd party color correction plug-in Colorista and Apple's new color correction software Color. At the end of the presentation you should have a good idea of which of these tools best suits your workflow and inclination.
  • Saturday, November 3 - Color Correction Masterclass : I kind'a hate the name of this class, since I don't consider myself a Master - just someone who has taken a keen interest in the topic and pursues it professionally. Anywho - this class is a full day seminar covering the theory behind video-based color correction techniques and then the application of those techniques to Final Cut Studio 2. This seminar is a collaboration between myself, Mopictive, and Manhattan Edit Workshop (which will provide an Apple-Certified instructor to cover material contained in the Apple Pro Series book Advanced Techniques and Color Correction in Final Cut Pro). It's a jam packed day. I last did this class in the Spring and it was pretty well received. This class has a cover charge of $300 with 40% of the proceeds going to the User Group and the remaining split between the facility providing the equipment (every enrollee gets their own workstation) and the instructors. You can sign up over at Manhattan Edit Workshop's website.

- pi

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Red is Not Funny?

No. I'm not talking about the Red One camera... I'm talking about the color red. Specifically, the psychology of the color red.

In a blog post discussing the use of the color red in film titles and posters, JTylerHelms.com makes the point that use of the color Red in movie promotional materials is the color of the doomed comedy. In the comments of that posting two criticisms of his survey of unfunny comedy posters ring true...

  • His survey of movie posters suffer from selection bias.
  • Some funny movies do make garish use of the color Red.
To get by selection bias, I decided to do some quick research myself and went over to Netflix. I have about 350 movies that I've rated over the past several years. I pulled up Comedies and sorted by Star Ratings. Here are the movie posters (from IMDB) from my top eight comedies, in no particular order:

red_is_not_funny copy

The red in Airplane is muted by the liberal use of blue in the background. Thank You For Smoking uses red as irony, both in its structure as a Lucky Strike package and its opposition to the normal red "No Smoking" signs scattered around our public squares. Clearly, red is a minority color amongst my favorite comedies - but it does have its place.

Now let's glance at my 8 worst rated comedies:

red_is_not_funny_worst

Given the low sample size, I'd say unfunny comedies are statistically as likely to use red as funny comedies. Though it might be fair to say funny comedies seem to use red more deliberately.

Red may indeed be unfunny (and you may think I don't have much of a sense of humor) - unfortunately, looking to movie posters doesn't seem to be the best way to confirm that thesis.

- pi

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