Do Work You Can Be Proud Of


“We make a lot of shitty movies,” Meyer admitted. “Every one of them breaks my heart.”

That was Ron Meyer, President/COO Universal Studios (excerpted from Movie|Line). No earthshattering revelations here. Heck, every organization makes mistakes, there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m fond of paraphrasing some quote or another to the effect of—if you don’t screw up once in a while, you’re not trying hard enough.

However, there’s another quote in the same article.

“[A critical hit is] great when it happens. But we did A Beautiful Mind, and I don’t know that we’d do A Beautiful Mind again. That’s the sad part. It’s great to win awards and make films that you’re proud of and make money, but your first obligation is to make money and then worry about being proud of what you do.”

God DAMN it.

It’s clear that what he’s getting at is that Universal Studios is not currently in the business of making art, or even great movies. Universal Studios is in the business of making profitable movies, and in the process shoveling as much cash into their shareholder’s coal chutes as possible.

This is not news. However, the hew and cry about “we’re heartbroken about our shitty movies” is grating, because what I’m hearing is that you’re not sorry you made shitty movies, you’re sorry your shitty movies didn’t make more money, a point that’s mirrored on another blog post written about this same interview at iO9 (Why We Can’t Have Great Movies).

You can’t say that your first priority is making profits, and then shed tears of woe because somehow, mysteriously, your company made shitty movies as a result. Studio executives ride the producers, the writers, and the director of a major motion picture like ponies in preproduction, during production, and in postproduction. Studio executives approve the pitches, then review the scripts, have them rewritten five times by seven people, shoehorn more marketable actors in the casting, lurk on the sets, and insist on changes to all the edits after test screenings in Southern California malls. Most big-budget films I’m aware of, the studios are all over the process. Mr. Meyer goes on to say that:

“We misfired. We were wrong. We did it badly, and I think we’re all guilty of it. I have to take first responsibility because I’m part of it, but we all did a mediocre job and we paid the price for it. It happens. They’re talented people. Certainly you couldn’t have more talented people involved in Cowboys & Aliens, but it took, you know, ten smart and talented people to come up with a mediocre movie. It just happens.”

Now, I happen to have liked “Cowboys & Aliens,” I thought it was a bit of goofy fun, but it clearly didn’t make the amount of money the studio was hoping for—it cost $163 million to make, and it’s worldwide gross has been $171 million, so he’s throwing it under the bus. It’s nice that he’s taking responsibility, but then saying “it just happens” is disingenuous. Someone from the studio had to have read the script, it’s not like the producers were working in a secret bunker and the studio bankrolled the project sight unseen. The title of the movie is COWBOYS AND ALIENS. What did they think they were going to make?

I suppose they thought they were getting a magic formula for profit. It was based on a comic book (comic adaptations are doing well, right?), it hit the teenage to thirty-something demographic, it was directed by Jon “Iron Man” Favreau (whom I have enormous respect for), starred Harrison “Han Solo/Indiana Jones” Ford, Daniel “James Bond” Craig, and Olivia “House/Tron: Evolution” Wilde, and was written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (Star Trek, Transformers, Mission: Impossible III). ILM did the many, many effects.

This is a massive collection of proven summer blockbuster talent. How could it have been such a $171 million dollar “failure” when its creative team was so carefully crafted from the perspective of making money? How can he complain about this film when it fits the profit-first production model so well?

Bottom line, if he didn’t believe in the project enough to defend it after the fact, then why did he green light it in the first place?

It was once represented to me that the old-time movie moguls had a two tiered approach to green-lighting projects. They’d approve the cheap and cheerful or expensive and crowd-pleasing projects that would (hopefully) make the money. Then they’d green-light a handful of movies that they knew full well wouldn’t make a ton of money, but were prestige projects. They were good (or at least they thought they would be), and would (a) keep the studios from looking like a bunch of no-taste assholes, and (b) win some academy awards that they could brag about for the next eighty years.

I’ve always thought that to be a fair approach. You want to make money, but you also want to make some good movies that you can take pride in having done, so you split the difference. Use the crowd-pleasers to finance the tough sells, and then stick to your guns with the difficult projects. Many actors follow a similar formula. Do some dumb big-budget nonsense for the payday, then do some risky or no-name indie projects that let you create a performance you’re proud of.

However, what I’m hearing is that the studios are increasingly unwilling to take on prestige projects. At all. They’ll bask in whatever awards they happen to get, and brag about how visionary they were to make such a prestigious piece of work, but they wouldn’t cross the street to get another one made. Instead, a movie adaptation of the board-game “Battleship” gets the go-ahead because it’s got name recognition (to be fair, Peter Berg, whom I respect, is directing; I hope he has fun with it).

I’ve observed a familiar story about a lot of Oscar-winning movies, which is some variation of “it took us years to get this project made, nobody wanted to green-light this movie.” Take “The Hurt Locker.” Kathryn Bigelow had to go forward with a measly $15 million budget to get it done, which tells me that none of the studios were particularly enthused. $15 million for an action-oriented war film. Let’s compare that to the budget for, oh, Kevin Smith’s “Cop Out,” which had a production budget of $30 million.

But she stuck it out, made a hell of a film, proved you don’t need a $150 million budget to do it, and won a well deserved Oscar. And then all of Hollywood got to vicariously bask in the glow of “we don’t just make shit” for one night at the awards ceremony, knowing full well that the next morning the execs would go right back to their desks to continue killing other projects just as worthwhile, while green-lighting other projects based on some imagined profit potential.*

What I find appalling is the naked, brutal admission that pride in making quality films has also become secondary to profits.

PRIDE. Why do any of us do the creative work we do? Are you writing that spec screenplay in order to drive a fast car and wear expensive clothes? You, on the left, did you go into motion graphics design so that you could maximize your profit-making potential? You in the middle, are you slaving away every night editing your independently financed film so that you can swim in an olympic-sized pool with all the money you’ll earn? And you, in the back row, are you honing your craft as a colorist so that you can install solid gold toilet seats in your mansion?

If you are, then you should stop, right now. There are much, much more predictable ways of making money. Ask anyone on Wall Street. Economic success is a terrible reason to pursue a creative career, because it’s so unpredictable. Great projects bomb, projects you might consider to be awful succeed, and one of the most widely quoted sayings in our industry is “nobody knows anything.”

We, and I squarely include myself here, shouldn’t be in this to create wealth. We may be well paid, and we ought to hope for financial rewards to all of our toil, but that will more likely just serve to balance out all the lean years that every freelancer and creative has.

No, we’re in this for pride of ownership. To create good work, quality work, work that we’re proud to stand behind even if it doesn’t turn out to do well financially.

And this ought to be true whether you’re a writer, a director, a post professional, or a studio head. Sure, you’ve got to stay in funds, and find ways of maximizing your revenues where possible. That’s just being sensible. But I sincerely hope that when you’re writing your screenplay, or editing your movie, that you’re saying to yourself, “I like this, this is good, this is something I’d want to go see,” and not “the audience should like this, and this ought to make money, and this should get the project by the studio.”

The studios are openly admitting that they’re bologna factories, cranking out head cheese for demographics that teams of execs have predicted will eat it.

But fuck them. Keep evaluating your work from a personal level. A question I constantly ask myself when I’m writing or working on a project is “why am I doing this?” Is this what I want to be doing, do I enjoy this, or am I pandering to some imagined theory of success?

In short, do I aspire to be a chef in a nice restaurant that tastes the food I’m about to serve, or do I want to work in the Oscar Meyer factory?

Creating media is difficult, arduous work. At whatever level you’re employed, you make important choices every day. Are you creating products that you think will sell to the widest audience, or are you creating projects that speak to you, stories that are important to tell with content that’s personally meaningful to you, whatever the genre?

Because I’ll tell you, the latter are the films I want to watch, and those are the projects I want to work on. Create something that makes you proud. Even if it later turns out to fail, you took your best shot, and you won’t have to stand up in front of an audience at a film festival and apologize.

*To be fair, as far as profits are concerned, Bigelow’s film didn’t make the kind of $200 million payday that studios crave. As good a film as “The Hurt Locker” was, Box Office Mojo reports the worldwide gross as being just under $50 million. That’s out of the park as far as its original $15 million budget goes, but simply making a profit isn’t what the studios are after; they require obscene profits to drive growth for the shareholders. Others have written about the value of sticking to smaller budgets to retain autonomy and to maximize your film’s chances of success. I suspect most non-crowd-pleasing films have the same potential to make about $50 million worldwide if given reasonable marketing support; if you’re making your dream project that appeals to a specific audience or type of fan, you have to accept that not everyone in the world will pay to see it.

Color Correction Handbook 2nd Edition: Grading theory and technique for any application.
Color Correction Look Book: Stylized and creative grading techniques for any application.
What's New in DaVinci Resolve 15: Covering every new feature in Resolve 15 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve Tutorials: Far ranging DaVinci Resolve instruction from Ripple Training.

The Letters H and D Are Now Meaningless

I was walking down the street a few weeks ago, and did a double-take as I spotted the familiar “HD” acronym on the door to a downtown business. Can you guess what that business is?

Just guess.

Okay, here you go.

Yes. Apparently you can get a high definition tan. Or perhaps a “highest defenestration” tan, wherein your newly bronzed body is thrown from a window of the top floor of the building.

Jocularity aside, this got me thinking about a topic I’ve seen others address, namely that the idea of High Definition, like a million dollars, isn’t what it used to be. More to the point, HD as a selling point for video equipment is probably as meaningless as “broadcast quality” once was, whatever that meant.

Now, if you’re a stickler, HD as defined by frame size, square pixel shape, and frame rate (granted, there are a bunch of acceptable frame rates) is a perfectly valid definition. And yet frame size, or more specifically the number of pixels that are recorded, is not in any way indicative of the quality of the overall picture, or how well it’ll hold up in post.

YouTube can now stream 1080p “HD” video. Hell, it can apparently stream 4K. Does this make it a mastering format? Or even acceptable as a source format? Please god tell me your answer was no (I know, I know, you use what the client gives you).

At this point, the wide variety of camcorders, cheap-o party digital recorders, point and shoot and DSLR cameras, and even our cell phones can record 720p or 1080p video. High Definition video. And yet, what does this really mean in terms of quality? Most of these devices record a highly compressed video stream, now usually a variation of the reasonably competent H.264 codec. On more inexpensive devices, the chroma subsampling is 4:2:0, meaning that roughly 3/4 of the color data is irretrievably thrown away when the image is recorded.

Both the compression and the chroma subsampling are significant compromises, and while you won’t necessarily notice anything untoward when playing these video clips as is, it’ll become apparent during postproduction, as compression artifacts are exposed (macroblocking and junk in fast-moving scenes) and your colorist is stuck fighting a losing battle for latitude vs. noise while trying to make various adjustments (a result of the low chroma subsampling). For all the pixels that are available in these highly compressed formats, the quality is not nearly so high as that of other HD formats that are more lightly compressed and have better chroma subsampling ratios (4:2:2 or 4:4:4), such as HDCam SR or AVC-Intra. And yet all of these formats are unquestionably “HD.” Then there’s the Alexa, and while it records a 1920 x 1080 sized image, I suspect the engineers at Arri would beat me senseless if I referred to this digital cinema camera as recording HD.

Now, lest I fall into a common colorist whinge-fest about shitty formats, I will say that in my own practice, I grade what I’m given. I’d love to be consulted prior to someone’s shoot so that I could recommend that everyone shoot either film, or the RED EPIC, or an Arri Alexa.

However, not many folks ask my opinion, and I grade a lot of low and no budget projects, so it’s really not my place to gripe about their source format. And fortunately the newer higher data rate profiles of various cameras H.264 formats are not impossible to grade assuming the initial exposure was fairly close to begin with. (Ironically, I’ve always felt that highly compressed formats require much more skill on the part of the DP then do higher quality formats that have more latitude.)

Now, this is the part where you ask what my point is with all of this.

I suppose I have several. It’s almost impossible to buy a new standard definition television any more. Furthermore, recording, editing, and playing of HD media which once required a hugely expensive series of equipment upgrades, can now be done with cell phones, iMovie, and online video hosting services. “HD” is no longer that descriptive, it simply differentiates from older, increasingly quaint Standard Definition formats.

So, if you’re shooting video and you’re excited about the fact that you’re shooing “HD,” just take one more look at the specifications of the recording device you’re using and make sure that the digital media that’s being generated is a format you can live with in post. If you’re calling up a post house and they ask “what was the shooting format,” please be specific about the camera and the type of media that was recorded, because it matters, and “HD” isn’t saying much. And if you’re mulling over what format to shoot, ask your DP for recommendations before setting your mind on an inexpensive format just because it’s High Definition. Because otherwise you risk getting tanned in post.

Color Correction Handbook 2nd Edition: Grading theory and technique for any application.
Color Correction Look Book: Stylized and creative grading techniques for any application.
What's New in DaVinci Resolve 15: Covering every new feature in Resolve 15 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve Tutorials: Far ranging DaVinci Resolve instruction from Ripple Training.

You Can, In Fact, Get My Book Cheaper Then This

While checking out The Color Correction Handbook’s listing on Amazon, I noticed that there were some, let’s say enthusiastically priced used copies available. As far as I know, you can order this book in a pinch from’s US store from nearly everywhere, so I’m hoping this kind of international pricing is some sort of bizarre fluke. That said, I’d be interested in hearing just how many countries’ localized bookstores have copies, or at least a means of ordering locally.

While I’m on the subject of my book, I just got my quarterly report from my publisher, and sales have been great. A huge thank you to everyone who’s bought a copy and gave truth to my pitch that “people really want to learn about this whole grading thing.”

Color Correction Handbook 2nd Edition: Grading theory and technique for any application.
Color Correction Look Book: Stylized and creative grading techniques for any application.
What's New in DaVinci Resolve 15: Covering every new feature in Resolve 15 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve Tutorials: Far ranging DaVinci Resolve instruction from Ripple Training.

On the Road Again

I’m remiss in not mentioning this earlier, but I’m doing a series of three presentations on DaVinci Resolve (sponsored by Blackmagic Designs). I believe my title sums up the content nicely–

Grade Faster Without Working Harder in DaVinci Resolve

I’ll be kicking off with a two-hour presentation; an informal overview of DaVinci Resolve, followed by a collection of techniques for manipulating key aspects of images quickly and efficiently using the software/hardware combination of DaVinci Resolve and its matching control surface. The third hour will be audience-driven Q&A (one of my favorite things). This is your opportunity to ask me anything you like about grading theory, practice, or DaVinci Resolve. I’m speaking at three different venues. Hope to see you at one of them!


Color Correction Handbook 2nd Edition: Grading theory and technique for any application.
Color Correction Look Book: Stylized and creative grading techniques for any application.
What's New in DaVinci Resolve 15: Covering every new feature in Resolve 15 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve Tutorials: Far ranging DaVinci Resolve instruction from Ripple Training.

Resolve 8.1–Do the Engineers at DaVinci Ever Sleep?

It seems like just yesterday that DaVinci released version 8.0.1 with its new color balance control interface, and DaVinci Lite, a free 2-node and HD-limited version. But, not content to rest on their laurels, DaVinci has eliminated a decimal place and announced DaVinci Resolve 8.1, with even more feature enhancements. Most are subtle, but welcome additions to a variety of users.

Top of the list is is enhanced AAF round trip support. A new Format popup in the Export Session dialog (that appears when you click the Export button in the Conform page) lets you choose whether to export XML or AAF (previously it only expoted XML). Choosing AAF generates a file for Media Composer that can be directly relinked to the media you output from Resolve.


Furthermore, when importing AAF files, Resolve now reads a variety of video transitions (dip to color, wipes, and iris transitions), composite modes, and transform parameters into your session. This will be welcome news for colorists wanting greater effects fidelity from project import.

Incidentally, transforms from Final Cut Pro (Position, Rotation, Scale) are now imported from XML projects, allowing you to render these effects using Resolve’s superior transform algorithms.

For those of you using EDLs day in and day out, a new contextual menu command–available from the Conform page’s Timeline–lets you load an EDL directly to a new track. If you’re the kind of person who needs this, you’ve just now come up with three different ways you’ll use this feature.

Next up is support for the new ACES “Academy Color Encoding Specification” standard. While comparatively few facilities need ACES right this second, it’s becoming clear that ACES is the future of media exchange in post, and DaVinci is being foward-looking by its inclusion. ACES support can be seen initially as a new option in the “Color Science Is” popup of the Project tab.

With “DaVinci ACES” selected, two new popups appear in the LUTS tab, which allow you to choose an Input Device Transform (a characterization of the source camera), and an Output Device Transform (a characterization of the target display or projector).

Finally, contextual menu item available from the thumbnails within the Browse and Color pages allow you to redefine the Input Device Transform on a per-clip basis, in cases where you’re mixing media from different cameras.


While we’re looking at per-clip options, a new contextual menu item for clips in the Media Pool lets you redefine the individual Data Level of clips. In previous versions of Resolve, the Data Level was a project-wide setting that determined which digital values in your source media mapped to the minimum and maximum levels in Resolve. In a nutshell, Y’CbCr source media typically used the “Normally Scaled Legal Video” setting, while RGB source media (think film scans) used the “Unscaled Full Range Data” setting.

However, you were in trouble if you had a mix of both kinds of media. Now, you can use this Media Pool submenu command to individually redefine clip data ranges in this situation.

If you’re still working with DVCPRO HD media (I continue to have documentaries coming in using this format), you’ll be pleased to know that DaVinci has finally added the DVCPRO HD pixel aspect ratio to the PAR dialog box.

Now, all these workflow features are nice and all, but there are also some solid additions for grading and effects. For example, if you hover your mouse over a node in the node graph, a tooltip appears showing you what adjustments have been made within that node, giving you an organizational heads-up.

Not impressed yet? Well, the Layer node, which until now simply combined multiple input nodes according to order and opacity (set via the Key tab’s Post Mixing Gain slider), now lets you choose a composite mode to use to combine all of the inputs. Now all you composite mode junkies can go nuts right from within the Node Graph.

Another valuable little feature is the ability to copy one node’s settings (select the node and press Command-C), and paste them into another existing node in another shot (select another node, press Command-V. Along with all dynamics (marks, or keyframes, whichever you prefer to call them). This is similar to Final Cut Pro’s “Paste Attributes” command, except without any options, you simply copy and paste all settings at once.

Lastly, 8.1 continues to refine the use of the Timeline in the Conform page, enabling you to copy and paste clips in the Timeline of the Conform page. Select a clip, press Command-C, and then move the playhead and click a track number button to determine where the pasted clip should go, and press Command-V. It’s the little things, right?

So those were the features that grabbed my eye. There’s more to the release, but honestly, those engineers deserve a break. And a beer.

Color Correction Handbook 2nd Edition: Grading theory and technique for any application.
Color Correction Look Book: Stylized and creative grading techniques for any application.
What's New in DaVinci Resolve 15: Covering every new feature in Resolve 15 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve Tutorials: Far ranging DaVinci Resolve instruction from Ripple Training.

The Tangent Designs Element, An Evolution

I posted an article a few weeks ago with information about the new Tangent Element color correction control surface to be unveiled at IBC. Well, IBC is upon us (almost), and Tangent Designs has posted some photos of the new surface.

As you can see, it’s a modular design that’s also able to “click” together via hidden magnets in the sides. They connect via USB, and so you can arrange the panels any way you like.

All of this you can read on their web site, but I thought it would be fun to show you a bit of history of how these panels were first designed. When Tangent Designs contacted me a year ago, they sent me some photos of their first stage of design, foamcore mockups wherein they tried to work out the ergonomics and overall desirability of the form factor.





To give an idea of what they were initially thinking, they also provided some theoretical desktop arrangements of the element panels alongside other input peripherals.


Now, you can compare these to the form factor that’s actually shipping. The biggest difference is that they added 12 buttons to the transport panel, along with a single trackball/ring that’s meant to do double-duty as a jog wheel/shuttle, depending on individual vendor’s implementations.


I wish I could be at IBC to see folks reactions. Personally, I think they’re a great set of budget panels. Granted, the Wave and Avid MC Artist panels are cheaper, but these will satisfy anyone with a yen for more knobs, and a higher-quality feel.

Furthermore, notice that every single control is dynamically labeled via monochrome OLED displays at the top. Granted, you can develop muscle memory for an unlabeled set of panels that you use day in and day out, but if you’re like me and you bounce around from task to task to task, with grading sessions sometimes separated by weeks, this is a big help.

Color Correction Handbook 2nd Edition: Grading theory and technique for any application.
Color Correction Look Book: Stylized and creative grading techniques for any application.
What's New in DaVinci Resolve 15: Covering every new feature in Resolve 15 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve Tutorials: Far ranging DaVinci Resolve instruction from Ripple Training.

The Insecurity of Media Creation

A strip from one of my favorite web comics—Scenes From A Multiverse

Please go to Jonathan Rosenberg’s comic site, Scenes From A Multiverse, and enrich yourself with his scalpel-like sense of humor. This strip made me laugh, and then gave me pause as I considered the possible futures of my own ventures. Then I bought a copy of his book to reward the part he’s played in filling the gnawing void within my soul.

Color Correction Handbook 2nd Edition: Grading theory and technique for any application.
Color Correction Look Book: Stylized and creative grading techniques for any application.
What's New in DaVinci Resolve 15: Covering every new feature in Resolve 15 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve Tutorials: Far ranging DaVinci Resolve instruction from Ripple Training.

Doing a Bit of Work On the Blog

My apologies if you’ve been trying to read something on my blog today, as it’s been in a somewhat unfortunate state of transition. I’ve decided to go for a more minimalistic look, and I’m trying out some different approaches towards readability. The current layout seems to be an interesting improvement.

What do you think? Leave me some feedback in the comments.

Color Correction Handbook 2nd Edition: Grading theory and technique for any application.
Color Correction Look Book: Stylized and creative grading techniques for any application.
What's New in DaVinci Resolve 15: Covering every new feature in Resolve 15 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve Tutorials: Far ranging DaVinci Resolve instruction from Ripple Training.

Free Isn’t Always Freeing

As a sometime producer of original narrative content, I’ve had an ongoing interest in online business models for content distribution. In particular, I’ve been trying to figure out how to move forward with an episodic series for the web for some time now. And by move forward, I mean solve the puzzle of how to pay for the help I need in its creation without bankrupting myself.

This entire article presupposes “budgeted” programming, where writers, editors, actors, and others involved with the production are getting paid real money so that they can at least pay their bills while spending six months to a year focused on creating a series of some kind. If you’re doing an all-volunteer project, then you have an entirely different set of fund-raising issues, and monetization is probably not the first thing on your mind.

Getting back to budgeted projects, I’m particularly interested in models whereby content producers can create media of ambition, where artists are getting paid for their efforts, that’s free from the notes of sponsors, executives, and network ratings systems. Content where the audience itself is the sole judge of whether a show continues or not, by voting with their pocketbooks.

Then there’s that whole Free thing.

I’m not talking about piracy. I’m talking about the ongoing discussion regarding the merits of free distribution for promoting awareness of a piece of media, be it a song, a short movie, or a series. I’ve been reading a lot of chat about the importance, necessity, and some say the inevitability of free distribution in reaching a meaningfully large audience.

Clearly it’s a lot easier to get eyeballs on something if it’s free to access/watch/read. Along with this, today’s audience is settling into an “I want to watch it where I want, how I want” set of expectations.

Fair enough, I can’t really argue with that. Of course making something free makes it easier for a lot of people to watch. Paywall barriers are enormous disincentives if they’re not already associated with a “one-click” account that you’ve already set up (say, the iTunes store or Heck, even unpaid password barriers are a disincentive; who wants to do all that typing?

However, I often see radio used as an example of how “free” has moved an industry forward. That’s a solid point, but I have to point out that radio has never really been free. You have to listen to ads.

Popularity in and of itself doesn’t pay for anything, unless the audience is buying the content, buying schwag, or buying access to live performances (for an episodic science fiction series, touring is probably not a realistic option). So, if you’re not charging your viewers, then most monetized free-to-the-public models of which I’m aware pay the bills with advertising, and then hope you buy something material like a t-shirt, DVD, book, or poster.

So yes, ads keep things free, and free stuff gets bigger audiences. But advertising necessarily results in selectivity of what will be aired to the public on the part of the advertisers. That’s a price. Let me put it thusly: when was the last time you listened to ad-supported music radio in your market? In another example, if you bemoan the difference in content available from network programmers, cable programmers, and premium cable channels, I think I’ll have made my point. (And don’t start blaming the FCC; they ban swearing and nudity, not bland writing).

Network programming is primarily ad supported and “parent-company” sponsored. No program is going to last long if it irritates the sponsors too much, or if it generates protests among a vocal-enough minority of the audience that they complain to the sponsors.

Even worse, no program is going to last if it doesn’t pull in the ratings necessary to justify how much advertisers are paying for those ads, regardless of its content or the passion of an audience large enough to make any internet series producer drool (have any of your favorite programs summarily canceled?).

On the other hand, lots of internet citizens hate ads. Some hate ads enough to endorse a total sponsorship model of content, straight out of the 1940’s, where a single company pays for the creation of a program and then gets product-placement and promotion that’s intrinsically associated with that program.

Financially, this solves a production’s budget issues nicely. Of course, instead of hoping you don’t lose half of your sponsors if you decide to write something controversial, now you have to focus on not losing your one and only sponsor.

Unless you’ve got the most open-minded corporate backer around, this is an extremely influential level of control over your content. Do you really think that a corporation that’s large enough to speculatively spend tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars on a program of ambition isn’t going to have opinions about its development? It’s their money, and they’re perfectly justified in wanting to make sure they’re being represented well, whether the script has anything to do with the company or not. Heck, I’d have plenty of opinions if it was my money.

This may be less relevant if your content is non-fiction, for example a podcast about post-production, or a series of cooking or home-improvement videos (although would any of those sponsored series say anything bad about their sponsor’s products?). But if you’re writing dramatic fiction, there are all kinds of decisions that may suddenly become important to a sponsor. Do you really need swearing in the script? Do you really need that many gay main characters? Isn’t the dramatic arc of the series a bit depressing? Are you sure that fifth episode really strikes the right tone? What if you made the series more all-ages appropriate? How about if the show all takes place inside of our store? How about if we did a different show altogether?

Let me put this another way. Would “True Blood,” “Weeds,” “Rome,” “Dexter,” “Deadwood,” “Nurse Jackie,” “Hung,” or “Game of Thrones” be possible in their current forms if they relied solely on corporate sponsorship?

You, the viewer, might not be paying money to watch sponsored shows, but you’re exchanging the possibility of watching a narrative as it was originally conceived, for a “sponsor-friendly” version that made its budget possible. Despite the freedom and democratization that internet distribution is supposed to engender, advertising and sponsor-driven content promotes an environment where only sponsor-friendly programming is conceived.

If paying for content is “old fashioned,” then ads and sponsorship will be the only way of raising enough money for a show that pays a writer, a director, a DP/camera operator, a sound recordist, some actors, an art director/set dresser/costumer, a couple of PAs, an editor/finisher/colorist, a sound designer/mixer, and maybe one or two VFX artists to do something interesting. And this, presupposing all of these folks are doing double or triple-duty to cover positions I haven’t included, is the minimum if you want to make something that’s even remotely polished.

Of course, you could save a lot of money by dispensing with all those people and producing something like this. And I’m not taking a cheap shot. That show I linked to is popular as hell, and I don’t even want to guess how low his budget is. And it’s free to watch; successfully ad-supported via YouTube’s partner program.

I’m not saying that advertising is evil. Advertising, in one form or another, subsidizes much of the content we all enjoy, content that employs tens of thousands of artists worldwide. However, it’s inarguable that advertising exerts influence. My point is simply to be mindful that you don’t ever get something for nothing, either as a content producer, or as an audience member. If viewers don’t want to pay directly for programming, then they’re losing their vote.

Color Correction Handbook 2nd Edition: Grading theory and technique for any application.
Color Correction Look Book: Stylized and creative grading techniques for any application.
What's New in DaVinci Resolve 15: Covering every new feature in Resolve 15 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve Tutorials: Far ranging DaVinci Resolve instruction from Ripple Training.

Element — A New Control Surface from Tangent Devices

While I was in the UK last month, principals Andy Knox and Chris Rose of Tangent Devices invited me up to their offices in picturesque Toddington (about an hour outside of London) to check out what they’ve been up to. Touring their offices, with prototypes and stacks of CP-100s (the last 3 they have in stock), CP-200s, Waves, and various parts, it was interesting to see the evolution of their designs from product to product.

They’d already contacted me almost a year prior to share some preliminary designs and mockups of a new control surface they’d been planning, and had shown me their first prototype that they were slyly sharing with select folks at NAB, but this was an opportunity to look behind the curtain and see what goes into the design of a control surface, from the inside out.

Tangent has named their new control surface the “Element,” and it presents some new thinking about creating a smaller, lighter, modular set of grading controls that, despite the size, feels robust and professional. Alas, I have no photos to share at this time, as they’re holding back for the big unveiling at IBC, but these panels not only feel great to the touch, they look fantastic.

They’ve not yet determined the final pricing, but I’m told they’ll sell for between $3,000 and $3,500. That will get you a base set of four panels:

  • One bank of 12 knobs (arranged 3 across by four down)
  • One bank of 12 buttons (arranged 3 across by four down)
  • One set of three trackballs, with ring contrast controls
  • One combination panel with a fourth trackball, transport controls, and another bank of 12 buttons

Each panel has a vertically angled OLED alphanumeric display on top that identifies each control, for dynamic labeling, along with shift buttons for stepping through different “menus” of parameters, depending on how they’re used by the software they’re controlling.

The panels themselves are thin, light, and strong, with durable metal construction. They’re small (there’s no wrist rest, reducing their footprint), so they’ll sit comfortably next to a keyboard and mouse or magic trackpad, and they’ve been designed to either sit loosely on your desk in whatever arrangement you prefer, or to “click together” magnetically to form a rectangular block of controls.

I’ve two uncles who are machinists, and my dad used to be a navel aircraft mechanic, so I’ve grown up around mechanical design enough to appreciate the details that go into something like this. Much thought has gone into the Element’s various details.

For example, the mechanisms of the push-for-detente rotary encoders (knobs) have been newly designed from scratch, and feel solid and smooth. These are NOT the Wave knobs, they’re completely different, and they actually feel nicer then the CP-200 encoders. A gel packed inside of each knob creates resistance that provides a smooth, expensive-feeling twist, and in fact they’re using the same gel that’s used by high-end audiophile gear (think of an expensive amplifier’s volume control) and professional telescope focus knobs. In fact, there’s a range of gels available, each enabling a different amount of drag, and Tangent tested a variety to determine the best “feel” for continuous use.

Furthermore, the buttons resting underneath each knob (for push to reset) were carefully chosen. Here again, they tested a grid of buttons from their supplier, each requiring different newtons of force, to find the best feel for the “click.” Not too light (or you’d accidentally push to reset all the time), but not too hard. I got to try the different buttons out myself, and the one I chose in my blind test was exactly one level away from the one they’re actually using (their choice was a tiny bit stiffer, to discourage accidental resets).

The push-buttons used by the Element panels will be familiar to anyone using Tangent gear, they’re the same ones that are used by the CP-100 and CP-200 panels (and the Wave, for that matter). I was told that most CP-200 users have reported they really like the buttons, and the failure rate has been incredibly small, so they’re sticking with a winning formula there.

Finally, the trackball/ring control encoder mechanisms are a completely new design, and are smoother and more precise then any of their previous surfaces. This is due both to improvements in optical sensors, and the evolution of Tangent’s mechanical engineering (in fact, a new rapid-prototyped encoder arrived while we were talking, and I got to see their latest tweak to the ring mechanism). Fans of ring-around-the-ball contrast controls should be thrilled, the rings are solid, with a nice smooth glide and good resistance to provide a controlled feel. The color balance trackballs are similarly refined, with smooth travel, and while they’re the same size as the balls found on the Wave (to keep the overall footprint small), they manipulate well. This is again due to a complete redesign of all components inside and out.

Having seen the development of these panels from the initial foam-core mockups through the first prototype panel, I can say that Tangent has put an enormous amount of thought into the Element panels, with numerous tweaks to rotary encoder and button spacing, knob shape, control arrangement, etc., to try and create the best experience. Ultimately, it’s impossible to know how comfortable they’ll be until they’re plugged into a system, but, in my hands-on with the prototype and various components, the fit and finish of the individual controls and the panels as a whole is top notch, especially at the prices they’re considering.

At the time of this writing I have no idea which software companies will be supporting these new panels, but I’m hoping the usual suspects will step up to the plate. Alongside the panels, Tangent is designing a new software control system that will make it possible to integrate nearly every panel that Tangent makes together under one SDK (including the Tangent iPad software). In theory, companies that are able to support the new Tangent control protocol would be able to support every panel Tangent makes. However, this will require reprogramming on their part.

Furthermore, the modular design of the Element means that it may be possible to purchase individual button or knob panels to add to the Element’s base set, if this is supported by a particular software application. This information is preliminary, so it’ll be interesting to see what is ultimately supported.

Bottom line, if you’re in the market for a compact control surface at an affordable price, you should wait to see the Element when it’s unveiled at IBC (it won’t ship until later). While it won’t replace the sheer scale and joy of a grading application’s custom-made, native control surface (for example Baselight’s Blackboard, DaVinci Resolve’s Control Surface, or the Quantel Neo), these large-scale control surfaces do cost 10-20 times more. The Element may be just the thing for a smaller shop on a tighter budget looking for a thoroughly professional set of controls, or for second room or on-set use where compact size and portability are important.

Keep in mind that this is not a review, as I’ve only seen prototypes on the workbench, not shipping units. As always, wait until you’re able to get your hands on one of these before making any kind of decision. Control surface preference is an intensely personal thing; everyone has their own reasons for liking one over another. That said, I think the Element will fill a need that’s not yet been addressed, at a price and level of quality that will be surprising.

Color Correction Handbook 2nd Edition: Grading theory and technique for any application.
Color Correction Look Book: Stylized and creative grading techniques for any application.
What's New in DaVinci Resolve 15: Covering every new feature in Resolve 15 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve Tutorials: Far ranging DaVinci Resolve instruction from Ripple Training.

Resolve Lite and the Color Correction Handbook

The new color balance UI implemented in DaVinci Resolve and Resolve Lite

I try to refrain from pimping my book too much here, but now that DaVinci Lite has become freely available to colorists and post professionals one and all, I thought the time was ripe to point out that DaVinci Resolve Lite has finally caught up with the Color Correction Handbook’s primary teaching interface.

Why am I mentioning all this now? Because if you’ve just downloaded Resolve Lite and asked yourself, “now what?” then you’ll really like the Color Correction Handbook’s methodical and in-depth explanations and demonstrations of how to use color correction applications, how to make many of the practical grades you’ll be using every single day, and why they work.

Since the vast majority of color correction interfaces (Baselight, Scratch, Film Master, Colorista, FCP7 and Premiere Pro plugins, etc.) employ color balance controls, more colloquially referred to as “color wheels,” that’s the interface my book uses to demonstrate all principles of color rebalancing and contrast manipulation.

Furthermore, since most serious colorists eventually get themselves a control surface (they’re more affordable then they’ve ever been), every example showing color balancing also shows how you’d make the same correction using the familiar trackballs and rings interface of a hardware panel. Here’s an example from the book:

Now, even though color balance controls and control surface UI are all generally similar, there’s enough difference so that I didn’t want to necessarily focus on any one particular application, so I created a generic illustrated UI for showing examples in the book. The problem was, DaVinci’s onscreen UI was vastly different, a bar graph interface designed for use with a dedicated control surface. That meant if you had a mouse-only setup, learning Resolve would be a bit of a pain.

No more. The very latest versions of Resolve and Resolve Lite now sport a conventional color balance control interface that’s completely relatable to the dummy UI I present in my book. Furthermore, while the first half of the book is tailored to beginners who need to focus on first principles, the second half of the book grows into advanced topics that guide you towards effective use of qualifiers, shapes and windows, and other advanced techniques.

While many different grading applications are shown, DaVinci Resolve is featured heavily, with many examples shown within the DaVinci Resolve interface.

So, if you want to learn how to grade using DaVinci Resolve or DaVinci Resolve Lite, you should consider the Color Correction Handbook, which is available right now. With healthy dollops of both theory and practice, you’ll learn how to make the adjustments you need quickly, why you’re making them in the first place, and you’ll be getting a cookbook of intermediate and advanced techniques that you’ll be using for the rest of your career.

For a free look at the book, go to the store, and open the Sample Content tab for a downloadable version of the chapter covering HSL qualification.

Available on in print

Available on for Kindle

Color Correction Handbook 2nd Edition: Grading theory and technique for any application.
Color Correction Look Book: Stylized and creative grading techniques for any application.
What's New in DaVinci Resolve 15: Covering every new feature in Resolve 15 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve Tutorials: Far ranging DaVinci Resolve instruction from Ripple Training.

Gamma Mea Culpa

This blog is a rewritten version of a creative cow post I made on July 25th, 2011.

Since the Color Correction Handbook was published, a single error of a tenth of a percent has emerged to cause me some small regret. I’m referring to the display gamma value I cite for digital Rec. 709 displays in chapter 1 of the book. I’m an advocate for standards in all of the postproduction work that we do, and it pains me that in attempting to clarify a confusing issue, I’ve inadvertently added just a dash more confusion.

At the time I was writing chapter 1, I was going by information regarding the inverse gamma encoded by Rec 709 compliant cameras, and so the display gamma I derived was 2.5, which fit with my understanding at the time. This value wasn’t challenged by anyone, and it was difficult to find a quoted gamma standard for Rec 709 that was mathematically derived, so this is what I went with. Unfortunately for me, in light of new information it appears I was off by .1 in that section.

Since publication, it has been brought to my attention via Charles Poynton’s own open letter to the industry that there, in fact, has never been a formal display gamma standard for Rec 709, as gamma was an implicit characteristic of CRT displays that was simply “built-in.” The actual gamma employed by CRT displays is quoted by Poynton as falling between 2.3 and 2.4, but this was never a published standard.

Of course, now most colorists putting together brand new suites are getting digital displays of one kind or another, and these digital displays lack the inherent gamma characteristics of CRT. For a variety of reasons that Mr. Poynton explains far better then I ever could, gamma is still a desirable and necessary characteristic in a display (even CPU displays have incorporated gamma settings for as long as flat panels have been available). However, lack of an easily referenced, published standard is confusing.

In his open letter, Poynton advocates for a published display gamma for digital broadcast displays of between 2.35 and 2.4 (he seems to be hoping that SMPTE will pick one), and peak white of 80-120 cd/m(squared).

It’s worth pointing out that the display gamma for projected digital cinema is yet another value, 2.6 (with peak white of 48 cd/m(squared)), but that assumes a completely dark viewing environment. My understanding is that higher display gamma settings represent scenes better in darker environments, whereas lower display gamma settings represent scenes better in brighter environments (which explains sRGB’s gamma standard of 2.2 for lit office/computer environments).

With that rationale, 2.4 falls in the middle for a muted “evening living room” environment. This all reinforces the importance of a carefully controlled viewing environment, where your display settings match the characteristics of the display surround, for doing color-critical work. Personally, I hope Poynton is successful and that a single gamma standard is published, as this is a confusing topic that engenders a lot of disagreement and doubt.

Color Correction Handbook 2nd Edition: Grading theory and technique for any application.
Color Correction Look Book: Stylized and creative grading techniques for any application.
What's New in DaVinci Resolve 15: Covering every new feature in Resolve 15 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve Tutorials: Far ranging DaVinci Resolve instruction from Ripple Training.

Just When You Think You’re Being Original

Excerpt from a stained glass window in Prague, designed by Alfonse Mucha.

You take a trip and realize that someone beat you to it a hundred years ago…

This last winter my wife Kaylynn and I took a trip that ended in Prague. As we toured the city, we went to the cathedral within Prague Castle, the Basilica of St. Vitus (the patron saint of dancers, actors, and epilectics). It’s a magnificent structure, and I recommend it highly. As I walked around, I came upon a truly stunning stained glass window by Alfonse Mucha, one of my favorite artists (the window is excerpted above).

It’s a stunning work, filled with light and narrative, but one of the things that surprised me was the color scheme he employed. A look at the window in its entirety shows that the color scheme uses two rings of what I will crudely refer to as colored vignettes. Click the image to get a better look.

The reason I bring this up is that colored vignettes are a technique I covered in my Color Correction Handbook, as a way of creating a visually interesting treatment when you need to come up with something surreal. Of course, in the grading suite we cheat by simply drawing a shape to define the vignette, soften the heck out of it for a gentle transition, and then use either color balance controls or curves to create a wash of color over the edges, or within the middle (or both, if you’re really daring). Here are the two examples from my book.

The examples I use are really no comparison, except for the general concept of vignetting with color, rather then light and darkness. Still, it’s sobering to realize that whatever look you’re tinkering around with, some painter or another probably did the same thing a hundred or more years ago. Not that this is a fair comparison, since painters create their scenes from whole cloth, with total control over the art direction, composition, and palette. We film and video colorists get to work with what we’re given from the art and photography departments. Still, there are plenty of lessons to be learned, and ideas to be had.

Getting back to Mucha’s window, there’s another way to look at this example. If you click to enlarge the whole window, you’ll notice that, instead of simply washing color over the subjects indescriminantly in order to create the color scheme, the colors are built into the design of the costumes and items within the scene. Dark blue cloaks and shawls give way to light blue robes and props, giving way to green costumes, trees, and trim, which in turn surrounds a central region of yellow, gold, and red robes, chests, and blooming flowers.

Now, this is partially because each colored element needs to be an individual piece of glass, but I think an interesting lesson to be derived for the film and video colorist is that there may be circumstances where the art direction and composition of a scene lets you create the equivalent of a colored vignette by using HSL Qualification or hue curves to selectively isolate and emphasize rings of individual elements surrounding a central subject, be it foliage, sky and/or water, or architectural elements. The resulting correction will at the same time be a bit more naturalistic, yet highly stylized.

That’s the reason I love traveling. You never know what you’re going to see, and how it’ll relate to the work you do. (Oh, and Czech beer is fantastic, too!)

Color Correction Handbook 2nd Edition: Grading theory and technique for any application.
Color Correction Look Book: Stylized and creative grading techniques for any application.
What's New in DaVinci Resolve 15: Covering every new feature in Resolve 15 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve Tutorials: Far ranging DaVinci Resolve instruction from Ripple Training.

What I Came Home To

I’ve been out of the country, presenting at the SuperMeet, dashing about the UK having meetings and doing training, and then finally crossing the channel into France for a much-needed vacation in Saint-Malo and Paris. More on all that later.

For now, I’m rather pleased that I’ve finally gotten my new Panasonic 55′ VT30 series plasma delivered to my Saint Paul suite. Everything is now mounted, hooked up, and working. In fact, I’m so pleased with myself that I wanted to show off with the following photo.

Gray monitor surround, D65 backlighting, scopes and UI comfortably placed, and my new-ish DaVinci Resolve control surface dominating all available desk space. It’s a grading suite, all right.

To use a blatantly nerdish analogy, building out a new suite is like a Jedi assembling his/her own lightsaber. It’s always a custom job, you always try to make the new one better then the last one, and you’ll likely be doing much of the work yourself. This go-around, I’ve built a really comfortable, utterly professional suite that I’ll be very happy to work in for the foreseeable future. It’ll also serve me well as a color laboratory for my various other writing, training, and consulting projects, and will be a nice hub for controlling remote-grading Resolve gigs, should that come up.

I was a bit concerned that the 55″ display would be too big for the space, but it’s turned out to be perfect. My current room is too small to make projection practical, but factoring in the viewing distance, this is virtually a projection experience for myself and two clients as is. It’s probably worth mentioning that my initial impressions of the VT30 series displays are very favorable; they’re thin, relatively light (for a plasma), and the THX color mode should make lots of home theater afficionados quite happy. I’ve yet to calibrate it fully (via a LUT loaded into the HDLink Pro that’s converting the HD-SDI to HDMI), so I’ll likely have more to say once I’ve gone through that process, but so far I’m really liking what I’m seeing.

Color Correction Handbook 2nd Edition: Grading theory and technique for any application.
Color Correction Look Book: Stylized and creative grading techniques for any application.
What's New in DaVinci Resolve 15: Covering every new feature in Resolve 15 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve Tutorials: Far ranging DaVinci Resolve instruction from Ripple Training.

Music Videos and EPIC Go Together Like Chocolate and Peanut Butter

The Diamond brothers approached me last month about a music video they were about to shoot for Jackson Harris, and while I always enjoy grading music videos, another big draw was the fact that they had just taken possession of a RED EPIC, and I was eager to see how the media would handle.

When the media drive arrived and I loaded the project into Resolve (I used the Resolve v8 beta for this project, with zero problems), I had a phone chat with Josh Diamond to discuss their visual goals, and then jumped straight into the grade on a handful of shots to see what I could get away with before sending some test stills back for early approval.

The video was shot at 5K, with cinema prime lenses (I was told but I forget which ones), and excellent lighting, so the source material was great to start out with. The brief was for a look that both flattered the singer and kept him front and center during the entire video.

Ordinarily I don’t go cuckoo for secondaries, but this was a project that benefitted from tight saturation control of specific elements throughout the scene, so I let myself go. The potential issue was the fairly subdued palette of the art direction throughout the piece. This was by design, but I really wanted to, as best as I could, create a subtle but distinct separation between the talent and the environment.

This was where the EPIC R3D media really shined. In general, I found that if I could click something, then I could key it, even shots with the actors skin tones against an orange background. And not only could I key such small differences between analogous hues, but I could key them cleanly.

A stack of parallel nodes isolating different elements.

While I’m usually an advocate of trying to take care of as much business in the initial primary grade as possible, I’ll freely admit that for this project I keyed every single skin tone throughout the entire video. And in just about every shot, the result was a solid, controllable matte. On top of that, I did a lot of selective manipulation of luma within secondary grades. Again, this is something I rarely even attempt if I’m working with highly compressed media, the results usually expose too many compression artifacts to be worth trying. With the EPIC R3D footage, despite the fact that it is a compressed source format, I was able to get away with pretty much any isolated adjustment I wanted to. It was tremendously freeing.

Image segmentation with a bit of digital relighting.

Other things I could point out would be a significantly higher latitude in making contrast adjustments; this wasn’t HDR media, I just had the one exposure to work with but I was able to make pretty much whatever adjustments to image lightness I wanted to. There was low, virtually nonexistent noise in the shadows. And the color I was drawing out was consistently rich and free from artifacts.

Feeding a single tracked Power Window to multiple correction nodes to tease out some light.

So that was my EPIC experience. Having a RED ROCKET card certainly made things easier, but I disabled the card to see what the performance would be on my 8-core 2010 Mac Pro, and with quarter-rez debayering selected in the Source tab, my performance was perfectly acceptable. Of course, with the RED ROCKET turned on things went much faster, especially when it came time to render the final result.

One last funny tidbit. I was so eager to take a look at the media when I first got the hard drive via FedEx, I loaded the project straight from the bus-powered LaCie FireWire 800 drive I was sent. Unexpectedly, it turns out there was plenty of bandwidth to work in Resolve at real-time via my RED ROCKET, even though it was EPIC media and the R3D files were somewhat larger. Bandwidth was fine as long as I was only reading a single stream from the drive; when I tried to render back onto the same drive, my performance dropped precipitously. I eventually copied the media onto my local array, but it was actually pretty great knowing I could just work off the drive in a pinch.

Without further ado, here’s the video.

Color Correction Handbook 2nd Edition: Grading theory and technique for any application.
Color Correction Look Book: Stylized and creative grading techniques for any application.
What's New in DaVinci Resolve 15: Covering every new feature in Resolve 15 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve Tutorials: Far ranging DaVinci Resolve instruction from Ripple Training.