Color Grading - The Unseen VFX, Part 2

Color grading may be one of the most processing intensive special effects in post production, but many call it the “unseen VFX”. In the first installment of this three-part series we looked at its current state because, when done properly, the viewing audience is usually not aware of its contribution.

But there is a new factor to color grading’s imperceptibility, and importance. The Consumer Technology Association says that in 2017, 26% of all digital displays sold included High Dynamic Range (HDR). And all of the higher end UHD TV sets being sold for serious home theater installation will soon have HDR. Despite the advances in display technology, few sources outside of streaming sites like Netflix and Amazon are able to provide these image enhancements.

So it’s there. It’s just not being seen.

But that does not stop the best NLE manufacturers, specialized software providers, and top post houses from providing the latest color grading, or color timing, to protect the life of content for a future marketplace. Even if you don’t want to eat the gravy, you are getting it with your steak.

Autodesk’s Flame runs on Mac OS and Linux has always been known as a premium chroma keyer, color adjusting and tracking tool.

Autodesk’s Flame runs on Mac OS and Linux has always been known as a premium chroma keyer, color adjusting and tracking tool.

The Flame system from Autodesk runs on Mac OS and Linux has always been known as a premium chroma keyer, color adjusting and tracking tool. When sold as Flame Premium, it comes combined with Autodesk’s Lustre color correction software and Smoke advanced NLE as a total post production finishing package, although each module is often used in its own purpose built suite.

A dedicated colorist would choose the Lustre tool for long form color grading after the timeline had been conformed in Flame. After final grading, the project would then be sent back to Flame to finalize transitions, add closed captioning and create all the different deliverables demanded by today’s market. The last 7 Academy Award winners for cinematography have been graded on Lustre.

Autodesk also offers a software-only version of Flame called Flare on which creative assistants can offload some of the color correcting work. Often Flare lets them combine the DP’s LUT (Look Up Table) to the imagery before being be fed into Lustre.

The Adobe Lumetri Scopes panel is shown on the left (A) and the Lumetri Color panel with curves, color wheels, and slider adjustments shown on the right (B).

The Adobe Lumetri Scopes panel is shown on the left (A) and the Lumetri Color panel with curves, color wheels, and slider adjustments shown on the right (B).

Back in 2011, Adobe Systems became aware of the growing interest in integrating light and color directly into a post production workflow, so in September they acquired IRIDAS SpeedGrade color correction technology for their Adobe Creative Suite Production Premium and Adobe Creative Suite Master Collection. At the time, IRIDAS SpeedGrade was the only system with non-destructive tools for primary and secondary color correction that were optimized for multi-core CPU and GPU operation.

Making the decision that for the kind of productions Adobe’s Premiere Pro catered to, they would not go the separate color correction application route, the company integrated this color correction capability into their Lumetri Color panel as an integral part of the Premiere Pro CC interface.

Lumetri comes with a wide variety of LUTs, which is a relatively closed system, and also the more open user-defined Look color pre-sets that can be adjusted as required for each scene. This is especially useful for film stock emulation.

The Lumetri Color toolset has now been given a more refined color picker when working with HSL (Hue, Saturation, Lightness) secondaries or white balance, which gives graphic artists access to more expansive color correction and Look design tools in a dedicated color workspace. It’s also very handy that the Lumetri Scopes panel lets the user monitor color and luma information with customizable waveform and vectorscopes.

SAM’s Rio is a complete color editing and finishing tool for HD, UHD, 4K and 8K projects.

SAM’s Rio is a complete color editing and finishing tool for HD, UHD, 4K and 8K projects.

Snell Advanced Media, now known under the more friendly moniker SAM, has long touted the post production power of its Rio system. But in the past year, just like their name, they have made it more user friendly. Rio now can access COTS (Common Off The Shelf) storage and communicate over simple IP infrastructure. And, as a part of SAM’s VIBE workflow system, it offers collaborative capabilities that, with the help of Python scripting, extend even to a smart phone.

Rio’s color grading capabilities originated as the hardware-based Pablo, but when CUDA processing came along, Pablo was combined into Rio, now giving it RAW color workflow, wide color gamut, HDR, and multiple transfer curves.

As one of the most powerful color manipulating systems this side of the rainbow, Rio’s primary color tools include control of lift, gamma and gain, hue and saturation complete with master and individual channel controls. Its secondary color capabilities include unlimited cascaded secondary color corrections, HSL vector selection control of high and low softness for hue, saturation and luminance, providing highly precise results. 

The SGO Mistika Hero Suite production system includes support for VR, HDR and 8K imagery.

The SGO Mistika Hero Suite production system includes support for VR, HDR and 8K imagery.

The folks at SGO have decided to take an interestingly innovative approach to color correction. For years they have been bringing their awesome Mistika post production powerhouse to broadcast conventions to showcase what can be accomplished in editing and image wizardry when backed by sufficient processing power.

But now they have decided to make Mistika’s components available as separate breakout modules. We saw the first example of this at the NAB Show 2017 with the presentation of Mistika VR, a system designed to stitch the equirectangular image components of a 360 degree Virtual Reality presentation.

The next product due out will be Mistika Color, putting SGO’s renowned color grading capabilities onto its own platform. Because they are determined to create a brand new user interface, SGO won’t predict a release date earlier than “sometime next year” because they are re-thinking the whole human/system interaction. To help budding editors and colorists learn the system, they have already made Mistika Insight training software available as a free download.

But one breakthrough concept they have announced for Mistika Color will be Unicolor. This will let the colorist work in whatever color space they are most comfortable (i.e. Rec 709, generic RGB, etc.) and let the system convert it to whatever the release format requires (such as DCI-P3 or Rec 2020).

Once all the functionalities of SGO’s Mistika system have been presented to the post production industry on their own platforms, post houses will be able to re-combine them into a Hero suite that will then be called Mistika Ultima.

In the next installment of this odyssey through video hue and tint we are going to take a look at some of the major independent color grading software, a major studio that employs them, and one international company that applies the art to create an amazing number of deliverables.

Editor’s note:

Part 1 of this three-part series can be found here.

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