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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Isolating Colors in Color's ColorFX room

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's output looks like this:

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

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

Here's the end result:

That's it!

- pi

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