Color Correction

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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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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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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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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Eclipse CX Is In The House

Over the holidays the JL Cooper Eclipse CX arrived. I hooked it up the day before starting a 75 minute doc and have been pounding on it for several days. I promised the guys at JL Cooper a review to be posted online (they gave me a good price) and I'll be doing that. I have another job coming in next week. After that wraps I'll post all the gory details.

I'm going to do it as a running diary, so those considering making the switch from mouse to control surface get an idea of how my transition went.

In the meantime I will say this: Productivity is going through the roof!

- 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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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.

Yay!

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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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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Color Correction Masterclass - Nov. 3, 2007

Saturday, November 3, NYC - Color Correction Masterclass

I'm teaching a color correction class in a few weeks. If you're interested I suggest you sign up now - it's a small class size (20 enrollees, max).

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. 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 (a 501(c)3 non-profit (I'm a board member)), and Manhattan Edit Workshop (Jamie Hitchings, who is an Apple-Certified instructor and will 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 time around I'm going to add more material on properly setting up lighting as well as providing a list of online retailers to help you execute a lighting plan.

Cost: $300 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 (every enrollee gets their own workstation) and the instructors. You can sign up over at Manhattan Edit Workshop's website.

Sign-up: Call Amber 212-414-9570

Place: MEWShop, November 03, 10a - 5p

- 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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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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More on the JL Cooper control surfaces...

In a follow up to my previous post - if you visit the links in that post, you'll notice that the layout of the Eclipse ($7,000) and the MCS-Specturm + MCS-3000 ($5700) are exactly the same. They are both combo colorist + transport panels. Knobs, displays, and buttons are identically laid out. Last week I went a few rounds of email with Danny O'Donnell, National Account Exec at JL Cooper, and asked him, "What's different?" Here's his response:

  • "The MCS/3000/MCS-Spectrum was our first controller for advanced color correction.
  • The Eclipse CX is a newer generation of this same functionality.
  • The complete button/function layout is consistent between both designs.
  • The Eclipse CX has added lighted buttons for every control, Aluminum side panels and an overall lighter design.
  • The rings on the Eclipse CX are sealed and mounted with rubberized ring surface for more precise control.
  • The Eclipse CX uses just one power supply unlike the MCS-3000/Spectrum.
  • We have also finished it off with brushed aluminum knobs and a new grey and black finish.
  • Oh, we also made the front of the Eclipse with a single piece of metal top and also one piece bottom.
  • Finally, we have added a power supply with a locking connector."
Danny also sent along the software for customization of the control panel - looks very powerful... and immensely useful inside Final Cut, extending the utility of this hardware beyond Color. Essentially, any keyboard command can be mapped to a button. I'm still skeptical about using the panel for actual transport, though. I find JKL to be much more responsive than any outboard jog-wheel that I've tried.

Over the next two weeks I plan on demoing both the CX and the MCS-Spectrum. I'll report back my findings...

- pi

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Eclipse CX Telecine Control Surface - Shipping

I love control surfaces. I've long felt that one of the great drawbacks to Non-Linear Editing Systems is their lack of specialized input devices. From switchers to K-Scopes to mixers, all these staples of the linear edit bay were reduced to a QWERTY keyboard and the fingernail-tip of the point of a mouse. A year ago I invested in a Tascam FW-1884 mixing board, which allows me to control my audio levels in Final Cut Pro, live - without stopping playdown of the timeline. I adore that piece of hardware. And I want more. More. MORE.

JL Cooper telecine control surface
So it's not surprising that every month since NAB I've been 'pinging' the National Account Executive of JL Cooper about the shipping status of the Eclipse CX - their new colorist control surface. Yesterday I got word it's finally shipping. The shipping price is $7,000 + $300 ethernet controller . Currently there are three alternatives to the Eclipse:
The Eclipse is a redesign of the MCS-3000 series, which is a modular set of control surfaces that can be user configured. I'm not sure what specifically they changed in this redesign (besides the look), but word out of NAB is that the trackballs and control rings surrounding the trackballs are much smoother than the MCS-series panel (a common complaint of people using that panel).
MCS-Bridge-VF-4
However, if you look at the this configuration image you'll notice some interesting configurations that still make the MCS-series interesting to contemplate. Additionally, it's not clear if the nifty MCS Bridge VF-4 panel (image on right) is available with the Eclipse CX.

I'm definitely in the market for a control surface. And since I don't do leases (cash only, baby) I'm more price sensitive than I might otherwise be - accounting for my not having invested in one of these yet. But keep an eye on this space, as I'll report back once I've gotten my formerly nicotine-stained fingers on one of these control surfaces.

Oh, and it seems Tangent Devices is responding to the release of the Eclipse CX with a specially priced bundle. Gotta love competition.

- pi

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Learning to Legalize

encyc_color_correction
I just picked up the book Encyclopedia of Color Correction: Field Techniques Using Final Cut Pro. It's part of the excellent Apple Pro Training Series. I'll do a full review when I'm done but I had to note the excellent entry on Broadcast Legality and the following entry on Broadcast Safe Filter.

These two topics confuse hobbyists and professionals alike. This book does a better job explaining these topics than anything I've read anywhere else, ever. The author, Alexis Van Hurkman, also correctly points out the deficiencies of relying on the Broadcast Safe filter too heavily.

These two entries alone are worth the price of the book, especially if you find this topic perpetually confusing.

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