Looking Back at NAB 2011

Another Vegas NAB

NAB was great fun this year. Lots of new announcements for the color grading crowd, and a visibly big jump in attendance from previous years. As always, it was good to catch up with colleagues from around the world whom I only see at either NAB or IBC, especially at after-hours events like the Media Motion Ball (made sweeter by my winning a copy of Sapphire plugins for AE and all, apologies to Scott Simmons who was eyeing it from the next place in the winners queue).

At any rate, now that I’ve settled into my new house and have had a chance to more or less unpack my home office, I thought I’d share a few experiences I had at the show, as well as some interesting details of what was announced, from the colorist’s perspective. My apologies to the many companies I didn’t have time to chat with, at this point even four days is hardly enough time to see everything and talk to everyone I’d like.

Full disclosure, DaVinci invited me to spend some time at their booth, and I’ve been doing a bit of writing for them, so I had ample time to see the new features they unveiled on Monday. While there’s been plenty of chat about DaVinci’s various announcements, including XML import (with support for transfer modes and 12 different types of video transitions), multi-track timeline support, hue curves, RGB mixer, limitable noise reduction, improvements to 3D left/right eye color and contrast auto-matching, and 3D left/right eye auto geometry matching, what I find most interesting are the tiny implementation details of many of these features that shows they’re really listening to what colorists want in their day to day work.

DaVinci's New Features on Display

For instance, the hue curves can be used from the DaVinci control surface, with the primary and secondary colors being mapped to knobs on the panel, and the fourth trackball being useful for moving selected curve points around on the surface of the curve. For the mouse users out there, holding the Shift key while clicking on a curve places a control point without adjusting the curve (great for locking part of a curve off from adjustment), while a small button underneath reveals bezier handles if you want to go nuts with custom curve shaping. My favorite implementation of the hue curves, however, is the ability to sample a range of color by dragging within the image preview, in order to automatically place control points for manipulating that range of color using any of the hue curves, or the Sat vs. Lum curve. Oh yeah, and the Sat vs. Lum curve is a welcome addition (especially given the control panel implementation). Film Master and Quantel have had this feature for years, it’s nice to see it available to Resolve users.

The RGB mixer is really interesting. Its default mode lets you mix any amount of R, G, and B into any channel, but you also have the option to subtract any amount of R, G, and B from any channel. I played around with subtracting bits of neighboring color channels (subtracting G and B from R, then subtracting R and B from G, then subtracting R and G from B) while adding to R, G, and B by the amount I subtracted from the other channels, and the resulting subtle “color purification” boosted saturation, but in a wholly different way then using the Sat knob. And of course since it’s a standard tab within every correction node, it’s fully limitable. I’m sure there will be many crazy as well as utilitarian uses of this tool. An additional grayscale mode lets you mix the R, G, and B channels together to create different monochrome mixes, a welcome feature as I’d never quite figured out how to do this in prior versions of Resolve.

Sigi Ferstl (Company 3) was demoing the new 3D toolset on the show floor to keen audiences. I haven’t yet been required to do any amount of 3D, but the auto color and geometry matching features for making the left and right eyes align and match properly are welcome additions, as are various new monitoring modes for comparing the two eyes on one screen.

Resolve's 3D features being shown.

Speaking of 3D, it’s time to give Quantel some love. Speaking with David Throup, and with a great demo from Sam Sheppard, I got the lowdown on some of the new color-grading and 3D features that Quantel has come up with for Pablo.

Quantel has introduced improved auto fix tools for matching color and geometry between the left and right eyes in Pablo. There are also superimposed left/right eye vectorscope and histogram graphs (color coded per eye), which look to be a huge help when making those last few manual tweaks to parts of the image that just won’t auto-match (I’ve seen left/right eye demos on several grading systems now, and sadly there’s often a stubborn region that just won’t match, requiring manual fixing).

Most interestingly, two new measurement tools have been added for evaluating convergence. A “Depth Histogram” analyzes how much of the picture projects forward and backward from the center of the screen. As you can see in the image below, a center line represents the screen itself, and a histrograph analysis shows quickly and precisely how much of the image is projecting forward, and how much is projecting backward. This is a really handy tool for quantifying the disparity within your image.

Quantel's depth histogram, showing the overall spread of image disparity.

Additionally, a user adjustable “Curtain Delimiter” places a square pattern in 3D space to serve as a visual indicator of your chosen limits for stereo disparity. This is key as broadcasters add disparity limits to their QC guidelines (I was told the BBC has implemented Vince Pace’s recommendations for disparity limits of no more then 1% forward and 2% back of the screen for home viewing). Both this and the depth histogram really take the fear out of convergence adjustments, as far as I’m concerned.

Quantel's Curtain Delimiter, providing a visible boundary for guidance on disparity limits.

Quantel’s big new feature for color grading is a set of customizable “Range Controls” for the lift/gamma/gain color balance controls. Three curves let you set custom tonal ranges of influence for each control, which are fantastic for post-primary adjustments that need more influence over the image then a secondary, but finer-tuned control then the standard lift/gamma/gain overlap. That, and the results are clean at the edges due to the mathematical joy at work. And one other thing, customized range controls can be baked into a LUT in a way that HSL qualifiers can’t, which is an interesting approach to creating even more customized looks via LUTs. Overall, a very nice addition.

Quantel's new customizable range controls.

I also got a better understanding of Pablo PA. It’s a full software version of Quantel Pablo that runs on Windows 7, requires Nvidia Quadro GPUs, and sells for $14K. It’s not feature-limited as far as the on-screen experience goes, it’s got all the editing, color, and 3D tools of the full Pablo, and can handle all SD, HD, and film resolutions. However, there are hardware limitations. There’s no video output, so all monitoring must be done via your computer display (possibly an HP DreamColor monitor being fed via DisplayPort for a calibrated look at the image). Also, there’s no support for control surfaces. However, the main point of this software is to serve as an assist station for a Pablo-using post house, so I suppose that’s not a huge bother. I’ll be very curious to see if this software’s capabilities grow over time.

Over at Filmlight’s suite at the Renaissance, I spoke with Mark Burton, who showed me the insanely wonderful new Blackboard II control surface. At $62K, I have no problem saying this is something I’ll likely never own. On the other hand, I also have no problem saying that, to date, I consider this to be one of the most significant advancements in control surface design that I’ve seen. And it’s not just because of the hand shaped wooden top. Take a look at the video below:

[vimeo video_id=”22777705″ width=”400″ height=”300″ title=”Yes” byline=”Yes” portrait=”Yes” autoplay=”No” loop=”No” color=”00adef”]

Filmlight is patenting their method of placing a flatpanel display underneath banks of buttons, with individual lenses (one for each button) projecting each part of the screen at a different button. The result is that every button on the panel can have custom labeling for every single mode of the Baselight software. Furthemore, buttons aren’t limited to mere text, they can display icons, images, even motion video. All the while, they’re still physical, touchable buttons that you can find with your fingers (and muscle memory) and press without taking your eyes off the screen. I found the layout to be logical, with banks of knobs (okay, one quibble, there could have been more knobs), additional displays that can be used for UI, both a “virtual” keyboard (two button banks to the left can be remapped to be a QWERTY keyboard) and a “real keyboard” that can be flipped up from the bottom of the panel, and finally a touchpad for mouse navigation and graphics tablet pad for drawing round out the available controls.

It’s also worth pointing out that the Baselight grading software itself has just undergone a huge under-the-hood rewrite. At the moment, the biggest new thing being shown is a three-up monitoring UI layout, but more goodness to come was implied. I’m curious to see how the already impressive Baselight software continues to evolve, especially with such a flexible control surface.

I also took a look at one of the buzziest things at the show, the Baselight for Final Cut Pro plugin. Those who know are aware that Filmlight has had a Mac version of Baselight for a while, they just haven’t been interested in releasing it. This is their answer to folks wanting Baselight goodness on their Macs; essentially a version of Baselight that works inside of Final Cut Pro. It’s limited to four layers, but those layers can do everything that Baselight layers can do, and with exactly the same image quality. Of course, the real news is that with the Baselight plugin, exported XML from FCP to Baselight translates the “offline session” grades directly and precisely into Baselight grades for getting a start on the session. Of course, I don’t know how many colorists I’ve heard say “I don’t want the editor telling me what to do,” and I myself have blown away plenty of editor-created grades prior to creating my own take on the program. However, this would be a real boon for integrated shops where multi-disciplinarians can move from task to task, not having to worry about losing the work they’ve done.

The plugin they showed at NAB was still a work in progress (they’re planning on releasing at IBC in September), so I won’t comment on performance as it’s still being tuned. However, it’s an interesting development and a great option to have, and when they continue on to develop a Nuke version of the same plugin, and possibly plug-ins for other major NLEs as well, Filmlight will have created a remarkably smooth grading pipeline for Baselight-using facilities.

Thanks to Sherif Sadek I got to see the new features in Assimilate’s big release of Scratch 6. Among the announcements are Arri Alexa and RED Epic media compatibility, a new Audio Mixer allowing you to grade within context of audio tracks, multi-track video support (After Effects style, where additional tracks go down, not up), multiple shapes per scaffold (letting you do more with fewer scaffolds), blend modes that work with superimposed images, as well as additional blend modes that are useful for combining alpha channels and masks (a cool feature for the compositing minded). Also, proper AAF/XML import (although no XML export).

Scratch 6 offers AAF and XML import.

But that’s not all. Scratch 6 sports a bicubic grid warper that’s animatable (have an actor that needs to look a bit thinner?).

Scratch's Grid Warper in action

They’ve also added a dedicated Luma keyer (a convenience, really, as you could do this before by turning off the H and S of HSL), and a brand new chroma keyer for high quality green and bluescreen keying. Now that there are multiple tracks, Scratch is heading down the path of letting you do more compositing work directly in your grading app (you got your chocolate in my peanut butter!). The new chroma keyer is nice, the plates they were keying were fairly challenging, and the wispy hair detail that was preserved, as well as the built-in spill suppression, were all very impressive.

One interesting new feature for those doing digital dailies, an “auto sync” feature that was described to me as a “clap finder.” Once you find the visual clap frame in a clip, you simply move the paired audio clip’s clap close to it in the timeline, and then one command auto aligns the peak of the clap to the clap frame, saving you a few moments of dragging and adjustment. Of course, the ability to auto sync matching timecode between video and Broadcast Wave files is included for productions that are more organized.

Assimilate was also showing their new version of Scratch for Mac OS X (finally!), available for $18K. In addition to full feature parity with Scratch 6 for Windows, there is full support for ProRes output (Scratch on Windows can import ProRes files, but not export). That’s the good news, the bad news is that there’s no video output, although like Pablo PA you could always use an HP DreamColor monitor to view the image and UI in a calibrated manner. I also saw a Scratch configuration in the Panasonic booth, outputting both image and UI to a calibrated plasma display, which is an interesting way to work. You’re also limited to the NVidia Quadro 4000 (when oh when will NVidia and Apple make the rest of the Quadro line available for Mac users?). Still, this is a good start, and may be a useful option for Scratch shops that need an assistant station or two.

Supported media formats in Scratch 6 for Mac OS X.

Finally, Assimilate announced Scratch Lab, their on-set grading application. I didn’t see this in person, but was told it consists of Primary/Source/LUT/Curve controls only, no secondaries, no compositing tools. It’s designed to run on a Macbook using NVidia graphics (yes, you’ll need to buy a used one), and costs $5K. This actually interests me quite a lot, as I’ve been intrigued by the role of on-set colorists. Nice to see another tool available.

And yes, I went to the Apple event at the Supermeet. No hard feelings about being bumped as a speaker, honestly this was far more interesting. Many new things were shown, and I look forward to hearing what folks think once they get their hands on the newy newness of Final Cut Pro X. Although I’ll take a raincheck on endless speculation about what the new app will and won’t do until release, thank you very much.

Randy Ubillos showing off Final Cut Pro X.

I had a great chat with Mike Woodworth at Divergent Media, who showed me the new video analysis tools of Scopebox 3. While this software is also capable of digital capture for field recording, all I had eyes for were the new scope features, which are impressive. New gamut displays let you see out of bounds errors with composite and RGB analyses. A unique new “envelopes” feature highlights the high and low boundaries of excursion in the waveform monitors, making it a snap to see peaks (including a peak and hold display) without having to crank your WFM brightness up to 100%. I’ve longed for something like this in other scopes for years, it’s great to see it here. Alarm logs are available for QC environments, and it’s also worth mentioning that Scopebox does 444 analysis if your video interface supports it. All for the new low price of $99. Mike laughed when I told him for that price, I’d buy one for my living room TV. I wasn’t joking. I look forward to stacking Scopebox up against my Harris Videotek, as well as against Blackmagic’s Ultrascope, to see which I prefer.

The new version of Scopebox previewed.

On a lark, I had a conversation with George Sheckel at Christie (the projector company). I was curious about the total changeover of projector models that almost made my Color Correction Handbook obsolete before it went to print (I updated it). It turns out that on Dec. 31st, 2009, all projector companies made the shift from Series 1 projectors to Series 2, primarily to add additional layers of hardware security demanded by the major film distribution companies. This is serious, using the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) security for physical protection of the encrypted video stream. At this point, for DCI playback, an encrypted stream is sent by the playback server, over dual, quad, or even octuple-link (is that even a term?) HD-SDI, to the projector. This stream is not decrypted until it’s inside the projector, just before being sent to the TI DLP chipset that literally reflects the light to the screen. Any attempt to physically tamper with the internals of the projector results in the loss of the DCI key that makes decryption possible. This is serious encryption.

On a lighter note, Christie took the opportunity to add 4K resolution, as well as some other small improvements. I inquired which projector models were being recommended for 2K projection in a postproduction environment, and was told that Christie’s current best post projector is the CP2210, or the CP2220 if you need a color wheel for Dolby 3D. Both require 220 volts AC, with 20 amp circuits.

Alas, I hadn’t enough time to spend at the Panasonic booth to get all my questions answered, however I did get to stand in awe of their unsanely ginormous 152″ 4K plasma television. That’s 3D ready. It’s the TH-152UX1, if you’re planning on going to Best Buy to pick one up. However, like the Christie projector, you’re going to need to feed this beast 220 volts and 20 amps.

Is that a Plasma display or a tanning booth?

I also had a nice chat with Steve Shaw of Light Illusion. On Tuesday of the show I did a seminar on “Color Management in the Digital Facility,” during which I demonstrated monitor calibration with 3D LUTs using Steve’s Lightspace software, driving a Klein K-10 colorimeter (thanks to Luhr Jensen, CEO of Klein Instruments, for loaning me the K-10 for my class). It was a great three-hour session (I only went over by 9 minutes, a personal best), and was so fun to do I hope to have the opportunity again sometime.

Talking about color management for film and video at NAB.

Anyhow, the Light Illusion software works well, and Steve mentioned a new utility he and his team have developed called Alexicc, that essentially lets you batch convert Alexa media using Log-C gamma into Rec. 709 QuickTime media (ProRes, if you do that sort of thing), cloning timecode and reel number for later conforming to the original media. You can also convert into DNxHD if you’re an Avid sort of person. You’re not limited to a Log-C to Rec. 709 LUT, you can do other LUT conversions using additional tools. It’s a streamlined utility, available for £220 ($363 USD as of this morning), that you might find useful.

After years of correspondence with Graeme Nattress (I’d interviewed him for my Encyclopedia of Color Correction, and he was my technical editor when I wrote for Edit Well), I finally had the pleasure of chatting in person at the RED booth. While there, Ted Schilowitz was showing off an honest to goodness working Scarlet camera.

The mythical camera made real.

RED definitely won the “over the top camera demo” award for the live tattooing of a model on stage. I’ve seen models in camera booths working out (on a treadmill all day?), lounging, getting their hair cut, all kinds of wacky things, but this was definitely a first.

That's one way of testing resolution.

Shane Ross has already blogged about Cache A as a solution for LTO tape archival, so I’d direct you to his blog.

Cache A LTO integration with media applications.

One thing Shane didn’t mention that I thought was really interesting is the SDK that Cache A has developed, that enables their tape storage hardware to be used directly by software such as Media Composer, Final Cut Server, and Assimilate Scratch (though I’m not sure if Scratch support is coming or already available). With this kind of support, applications can directly request specific media for retrieval from tape backup. One example that was described to me was the ability to, during reconform, use an EDL to request only the media files used by that EDL for retrieval, rather then having to retrieve everything associated with that project. This is fantastic functionality that I hope more grading applications jump on board with in today’s world of terabytes of tapeless media.

Lastly, I was told that the entire Cache A product line is now compatible with the open source Linear Tape File System (LTFS) format. This means that each tape is self contained, and can be unarchived by any application and operating systems with LTFS compatibility. More information on this can be found on a handy Cache A press release.

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 14: Covering every new feature in Resolve 14 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve Tutorials: Far ranging DaVinci Resolve instruction from Ripple Training.

More Colorful—A Closer Look

NBC’s catchphrase gave me a chuckle, not the least bearing in mind that the Peacock logo was originally intended to promote the “new” color programming available back in 1956. This title appears at the end of a Law and Order promo that I saw on Vimeo (thanks to Graeme Nattress for pointing it out on Twitter).

First, I just want to get the fact that it was shot using the RED Epic out of the way. Yes, the Epic is a new and wonderful camera, and yes, it captures fantastic images with lots of latitude for grading etcetera etcetera and so on…

That’s not what I want to talk about.

What I want to talk about are the decisions that the DP (Rhet Bear) and colorist (I don’t know who) made while crafting the look of this piece. As with many promos, a bold look was created, but there are a lot of elements at play that immediately struck me as a good opportunity for discussion.

So, watch the video, and then read on.

It’s a very nice promo, visually interesting, with great lighting and effective grading, which is what I’d like to talk about. Now, as is typical for a visually beautiful piece, it’s difficult to know where the DP’s work ends and the Colorist’s work begins, so I’m just going to discuss the look of the piece as a whole. If by some happy coincidence the original DP and/or Colorist stumbles across this post and wants to comment, I’d be very happy to learn more.

Let’s take a look at an early frame, medium on the actor with a wide expanse of background.

There are some bright, soft highlights going on here, both in the blown-out background, and a hard rim light on the man’s face. I dig it, and in fact I’ve never been one to be afraid of softly blown-out highlights (for the right situation). However, the key word is softly.

Battlestar Galactica (the new series that is) also indulged in hot, blown-out highlights, but again, the overexposure was a smooth “blooming” effect, rather then the harsh digitally aliased crap that you end up with if you simply overexpose a digital signal. When you overexpose film, light bounces among the different emulsion layers and causes halation, which lends a soft blurry glow to blown-out highlights that can look quite nice (who doesn’t like a bit of glow). This is the quality we associate with “good” overexposure.

Another aspect of this shot that we can also see in the following shot is the willingness to allow a bit of overexposure on the face. Granted, this is a bit inevitable due to the shininess of a bald scalp, but still, since it’s motivated by an already high contrast ratio, and since the majority of the face is still well-exposed, letting a bit of rim light or forehead shine blow out won’t kill anyone.

I don’t know how many times I’m asked to do something to “patch up” a bit of overexposure on the face, when a) it may not be necessary since it looks just fine, and b) the fix can sometimes end up looking worse then the original bit of overexposure. Here’s another shot with high-contrast light on the face and bright highlights.

Even though the actor’s complexion is clearly darker, the highlight on his cheek is really quite hot, but that’s okay, because the lighting in the shot justifies it (more or less, it’s a promo after all), and there’s still plenty of detail in the midtones and shadows of the actor’s face. Now, I’m not saying this is how you should always grade faces, I’m just saying there are times when strong face highlights are perfectly fine.

The key is to make sure that the edges of the blown out areas roll off smoothly and softly into the rest of the midtones, which depends on two things. First, the original shot needed to have been exposed carefully so that the bright highlights aren’t clipped, because that will make the job ten times harder or virtually impossible (RED footage seems to have a softer knee at the highlights then lower-end digital camcorders, so that helps).

Second, you need to control your overexposure adjustments so that YOU don’t end up introducing harsh clipping. Granted, you’re going to need to push your highlights up beyond 100 percent to get the blowout, but you need to make sure that you compress the highlights as you do so, rather then simply clipping them past 100. There are a few ways you can do this.

  1. You can roll off the top of your YRGB curves (if you have them) so that the very top end of exposure is squeezed before clipping, which will give you some softness.
  2. You can use something like DaVinci Resolve’s Soft Clipping controls to compress the clipping at the highlights.
  3. You can selectively blow out the highlights by using HSL Qualification to isolate the top highlights, blur out the resulting matte, and push the entire keyed region up to, but not beyond, 100 percent to simulate a soft roll-off.

Another interesting thing about these shots is the selective use of saturation. Skin tones retain a fairly high degree of saturation, while the background saturation is a bit muted. This has the function of drawing our eye straight to the actors (the folks they want us to be looking at). However, the following shot shows another interesting use of selective saturation.

Yes, the actor’s face still has visibly higher saturation then the surroundings, but there’s also a fair amount of color ringing the light hitting the brick wall in the background (and it’s even an analogous color, no orange/teal going on here). Even though the overall image has fairly subdued saturation, the existence of an additional pool of color that’s of a distinctly different hue then the flesh color of the the man’s face increases the perceived colorfulness of the image, while keeping the viewer’s eye on what we want them to be looking at via the stark color contrast between the face and the rest of the scene. (If you’re wondering what colorfulness and color contrast are, there are a few sections in my book that explain)

Here’s another fun thing, and this I suspect was a bit of serendipity that the colorist was able to capitalize on. The alley scene has a lot of silhouette. Stark, striking, I love this kind of thing.

However, it can be tempting for clients to wimp out and say “I wish we could see the guys’s face a little.” Well, check out a few frames later.

Some flaring from the police car lights wraps around his face, providing a great excuse to see a bit of facial detail every other second. By carefully adjusting those blown-out highlights, we’re able to have both the stark silhouette, and short glimpses of the character’s tense expression.

Let’s take a look at one more shot; this time a wider, more colorful image.

There are a few things going on here. For one, we can clearly see the upper left/right corner vignette that’s been applied throughout the spot to give a bit of style, and focus our eyes towards the center of the image. Also, here we can see a lot more color, but what I want to point out in particular is the role that the costume department has played.

The clothes of the main players are all dark and muted (except for the purple tie). This choice of attire makes it easier to pull a high contrast look, easier to have the faces stand out amongst a pool of neutrality, and easier for the red and green of the background signage to stand out (although I suspect there was more then a bit of HSL qualification used to tune the tie and sign colors to be just right).

Beginning directors and cinematographers should never underestimate the impact that art department decisions will have on the final image. Sure, we colorists have all kinds of tools and toys for selectively playing around with individual colors in the frame, but a) color needs to be there to begin with, and b) it’s a lot faster to choose dark suits during a wardrobe meeting then it is to have a colorist rotoscope the actors in a shot to try and selectively make beige suits dark blue if you change your mind later.

Disclaimer—No, I don’t have permission to reproduce any of these images, so hopefully NBC’s lawyers don’t throw me into the pokey. Hopefully, as I’m saying nice things and, frankly, promoting their show, they’ll cut me some slack. And once again, my complements to the Cinematographer and Colorist who worked on this. Very pretty indeed.

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 14: Covering every new feature in Resolve 14 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve Tutorials: Far ranging DaVinci Resolve instruction from Ripple Training.

I’m Moving; And Going to NAB

I’m moving! Those of you following me on Twitter saw my announcement a couple of weeks ago, but as my wife Kaylynn and I are closing on our new house next week, it seemed appropriate to mention it here.

Specifically, we’re moving to St. Paul, Minnesota. A place where snow freely falls during long, long winters (as evidenced in the picture above). Fortunately, I originally grew up in Wisconsin, so winter doesn’t really bother me that much (although I anticipate more March/April vacationing then usual). Also, I love cross-country skiing, so I expect an abundance of opportunity to improve my skills.

The reasons are varied, but mostly relate to work. New York has been a wonderful home for the past 6 years, but new opportunities beckon, and the St. Paul area is really a wonderful midwestern metropolis.

I will obviously be moving my color correction practice there with me, building out a new and improved home-based DaVinci Resolve suite for my personal clients, and doing other freelancing as opportunity permits. This move is also strategically planned to allow me more time for writing (not that I’ve exactly lacked time for writing, but apparently I want to do even more).

So, if you’re a filmmaker/documentarian/video artist working in the midwest, I’ll be available come June (who knows, I may even update correctionforcolor.com by then).

In other news, literally the same week as a truck will be hauling our stuff to the new house, I’ll be attending NAB, and I’ve got all kinds of activities planned there what with a class on Color Management for the Digital Facility, a short presentation at the NAB Supermeet, and a book signing (likely at the NAB Store), all of which are listed on the sidebar over at the right. I may even be appearing at the Blackmagic Designs DaVinci booth, I’ll add that if it ends up happening.

Perhaps I’ll see you there.

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 14: Covering every new feature in Resolve 14 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve Tutorials: Far ranging DaVinci Resolve instruction from Ripple Training.

DaVinci Resolve Control Surface Unboxing

You may have noticed I’ve not updated in a while, due to an unexpected (yet delightful) spike in my workload at the moment. However, in between gigs, I managed to put in an order for the full-blown DaVinci Resolve control surface. Yeah, the expensive one.

When it arrived (at my home, as I’m getting ready to move), my first thought was to simply get it set up as quickly as possible in order to try it out. However, it occurred to me that I might share the vicarious thrill of the moment by offering that most blogerly of posts, the “unboxing” photo series.

In the process, you can see how the DaVinci control surface is connected, as well as the surprising amount of thought and care that has gone into packaging and delivering all 70 lbs (30 kilos) of hardware goodness.

So, here we go…

The box, as it arrived on my doorstep. My cat (Sieben) appreciated the sturdiness of the box, as well as how intact it was after the long trip from Australia, where they’re manufactured.

As I mentioned, it’s 70 lbs worth of kit, so I had fun carrying it up to my 4th floor walkup apartment.

Upon opening the outer box, a packaging extravaganza awaited me within.

As a result, I just had to pull the inner box out to fully appreciate the design that had gone into it. While this isn’t the kind of thing I’d expect to see sitting on a store shelf, it’s gratifying (if a bit of overkill) to see such a nice box enclosing something you’ve just dropped $29,995 on. Practically speaking, I was also glad to see something this expensive getting double-boxed.

Opening up the inner packaging revealed the cables, power supply, and software, each with its designated spot. Nothing loose and rattling around here.

This control surface connects via USB, so three USB cables are supplied, two to connect the side panels to the center panel, and one to go to the CPU. However, power is supplied via a set of seriously engineered cables, with distinct three-pronged male/female plugs.

The actual power supply is external, a brick-type supply that plugs into the wall via a standard CPU power cord. Interestingly, the cord wasn’t supplied, but I figure since they deliver these internationally it would be too much of a hassle to keep track of all the different socket types, and since anyone buying one of these likely has a box of these stashed in their gear closet (I do) this wasn’t a big deal.

Finally, the software itself comes in a DVD-style box, with the DVD-ROM and dongle inside.

Putting the cables and software aside, it was time to pull off the top styrofoam. My dog (Penny), who often spends time with my clients and I in the grading suite, appreciated the new upgrade.

Pulling the center panel out of its plastic bag and inspecting the back, it was immediately obvious how all the plugs are meant to be installed.

  1. The power supply plugs into the middle, with the left and right panel power pluggins into either side.
  2. A standard type B USB plug next to the center power supply connection goes to the CPU, while two standard type A USB plugs next to the two side-panel power supply plugs connect the data to those panels.
  3. An additional two type A USB plug allows the connection of accessories (and the dongle, if that’s where you want to put it.

Next, it was time to lift the center panel’s cradle of styrofoam, revealing the two side-panels cleverly nested underneath, within their own styrofoam cradle. I’m definitely keeping this set of boxes for future moving and transport.

Pulling the side panels out of their plastic bags revealed the logical set of plugs in the back of each; power daisy-chained from the center panel in the middle, and a standard type B USB plug to daisy-chain data from the center panel.

So, with everything unwrapped, it was time to set up the panels. My home office is a bit cramped for a set of panels this big, and the first thing I noticed after placing them on my desk is that the panel displays, angled as they are towards the user, obscured my monitors. This will be a consideration for anyone setting up a Resolve suite using these panels.

Ergonomically, this design makes sense, and it’s nice to be able to clearly see all of the labels without having to constantly look down, but you’ll need to position your other monitors and displays accordingly.

Needing to temporarily elevate them in a hurry, I used the one thing I have in abundance…

Since the power and USB plugs are so clearly positioned and strictly gendered, connecting the panels to one another and to the computer is a snap, and took me all of three minutes.

Plugging the power supply in, the panel displays light up with the Blackmagic DaVinci logo, against a pleasing cloudscape. A funny thing, these panels lack an on/off switch. If you want to turn them off, you pull the plug. Very “big-facility” (just like my Harris video scopes).

Looking closer at the DaVinci displays on the center panel. Interestingly, the three vertical displays corresponding to each set of four knobs are actually a single LCD, the push-for-detente knobs sit on a bracket floating on top. The result is that, in normal use, everything is labeled so that you’re never lost whenever you change modes (and despite the generous number of controls, you still have to change modes from time to time). I’m a big fan of dynamic labeling, so I’m happy with how much panel real-estate this functionality is given.

Starting up the Resolve software, here’s my temporary home office setup, a mere half-hour after opening the boxes. Honestly, the thing that took me the most time was clearing space on my desk, and finding something with which to elevate my monitors. Bear in mind, I’ve no actual grading monitor connected at the moment, this is simply a temporary setup to make sure everything on the panel works (and, let’s face it, to have fun with my new toy).

And now, the control surface as it appears in the dark with all the buttons illuminated. Incidentally, the color of button illumination is customizable from within the Resolve settings tab; they’re lit with red, green, and blue LEDs, so you can make them any color you like…

I’ve just started getting used to this surface. Even moreso then other surfaces I’ve used, the abundance of controls now available to me will require some practice to use efficiently; it’s like learning to play the piano, and I’m going to have to do a little bit of grading every day to develop the muscle memory I’ll need to use this to full advantage.

That said, having this at home is incredibly silly. I’ve been likening it to having a Lamborghini in one’s back yard, just for tooling around the patio.

I’m not going to even attempt any kind of formal review in this post, other then to say that, in the three days I’ve been casually using this, the build quality feels exceptional. The contrast wheels and trackballs feel large, easy to manipulate, smooth, and solid to the touch, and the buttons all depress with a satisfying “click,” soft enough to not be irritating, but firm enough to provide positive feedback. Lastly, the displays are bright and clear, and I really like the push-for-detente rotator controls.

Overall, I’m happy with my purchase so far, and looking forward to using these in a client situation after my move is complete (more on that later).

A DaVinci Resolve at home. Who would’ve thought?

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 14: Covering every new feature in Resolve 14 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve Tutorials: Far ranging DaVinci Resolve instruction from Ripple Training.

What (Inexpensive) Display Should I Buy?

Not a week passes without my getting an email that is some variation on the following:

I’m setting up a new computer for color correction, but I don’t know which monitor to buy for grading, and your book recommends broadcast displays that are out of my price range.

Sometimes folks are asking for recommendations of affordable color-critical monitors because they’re trying to set up a budget suite. Other times the request is for a learning workstation that’s good for getting started.

Whatever the reason, there are a bewildering array of monitoring choices currently available, and many of them are incredibly expensive. However, there are some affordably priced solutions that are available (relatively speaking) that will do the job, and here are three of the ones that have risen to the top over the last couple of years

HP DreamColor Monitor—In my opinion, the most economical monitor that can do Rec. 709 accurately is currently the HP DreamColor monitor, connected via HD-SDI (out of whatever video output interface you’re using) using Blackmagic’s HDLink DisplayPort adapter (HD-SDI out of your computer, DisplayPort into the DreamColor). The panel is 10-bit, and if you’ve set it up correctly it’s color-critical with blacks that are decently deep enough (at least for an LCD-based display). You will want to get the optional calibration probe to keep it on the straight and narrow. I know at least one professional colorist who’s using this as the monitor for his home system who quite likes it. Link.

Flanders Scientific LM-2461W—For a couple thousand more, you can also get into a Flanders Scientific broadcast monitor, for even higher quality monitoring. It’s got HD-SDI built in, so no signal conversion is necessary, and these monitors come pre-calibrated from the factory with impeccable settings; it’s the favored monitor of several of my grading colleagues, and I’ve been impressed overall. It also has more settings that make it appropriate for a professional broadcast suite, however it’s still quite affordable. Link.

Added 3/20/11—Just got wind that this model is about to be upgraded to the LM-2461W, with even better calibration from the factory, built-in 3G HD-SDI, remote control software, and other cool enhancements. Check out Walter Biscardi’s interview.

Panasonic Viera TC-P50VT25 (since superseded by the TC-P55VT30 VIERA)—The other possibility is to use a THX-rated Panasonic Plasma display. In fact, externally-calibrated Panasonic plasmas have been appearing in many professional grading suites. While there are many Panasonic models available (and the comparable models are updated every year), the previous year’s model was a recommendation from my colleague Robbie Carman. Forget about this monitor being 3D capable, what’s important is that it has both a THX mode and ISFccc rating for calibration. This just means all the controls are there for accurate calibration to the Rec. 709 HD standard. If you’re on a budget, you can have it calibrated using the services of a qualified THX video calibrator, running a signal to it via an HD-SDI to HDMI convertor (such as the BlackMagic HDlink Pro or the AJA HI5). Make sure the calibrator has references, though, because an unqualified calibrator will simply make a hash of things. You want measured Rec 709, not “uncle joe’s home theater settings.” The more professional solution to calibrating your plasma would be to buy a probe and calibration software to generate a 3D LUT of your own to load into either an HDLink or Cine-Tal Davio (either of which can apply a LUT transform to the video signal for calibration), but that will cost more. Link to the TV. Link to my article about 3D LUT calibration.

So these are the most budget-friendly monitoring options that I can wholeheartedly recommend. Please keep in mind that these aren’t all the options that are available, technology marches on and new monitors appear every year, so I encourage you to continue doing your own research.

Just remember, you get what you pay for. When it comes to color-critical monitoring for color correction and grading for broadcast or cinema, if you can’t accurately see the signal you’re adjusting, you can’t do the job. Do yourself a favor and get a good monitor.

Another Added NoteI’m amazed that folks are still referencing this article, as it’s going on two years old now, which is ancient in the fast-moving world of color critical displays. Check the comments for some interesting updates and back and forth, and check my more recent article about What Display Should I Buy which, while not making more specific recommendations, suggests how you should go about evaluating what type of display is best for your needs.

Updated 3/24/2013

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 14: Covering every new feature in Resolve 14 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve Tutorials: Far ranging DaVinci Resolve instruction from Ripple Training.

Keeping it Reel

All that's old becomes new again...

I’ve been grading Persona Films’ debut feature, Cargo, and I originally thought I’d see how well it would work to load the entire 86 minute timeline into DaVinci Resolve at one go.

A classic case of user error.

Having been shot on RED, I conformed the project to the original R3D media, and I took the shortcut of adding all the media from the shoot to the media pool, thinking it’d make conforming a snap. That was a bad idea. The resulting colossal project database ended up taking forever to save (and I do like to save frequently), and was a bear to manage.

At the advice of those who are wiser then myself, I went back to my previously standard operating procedure of working in reels (something I always do when working in Apple Color). Furthermore, I was more judicious about what media I added to the media pool.

I had the original Final Cut Pro sequence for the feature broken into four sequence “reels” approximately 20 minutes in length (with each reel starting and ending on whole scenes). EDLs were then exported from each.

After creating separate DaVinci Resolve projects for each reel, I did the smart thing and used the “Add Folder and SubFolders Based on EDLs” command in the Browse page to add only the R3D media referenced by each EDL to the media pool of its corresponding project. That saved me a boatload of hassle right there.

Once that was done, it was a simple thing to open each project and import its corresponding EDL in the Conform page. With less media in the media pool, and a shorter list of events in the timeline, saving is once again snappy, and everything is generally faster and easier to manage. Once the grade is finished, I’ll be exporting a set of four .mov files that will be stitched together back in Final Cut Pro, with final mastering to tape from there.

Moral to the story? If you’re grading a feature in DaVinci Resolve, divide the program into separate project reels, and only add the media you need to each one. Guess it just goes to show that reels never go out of style…

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 14: Covering every new feature in Resolve 14 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve Tutorials: Far ranging DaVinci Resolve instruction from Ripple Training.

Oh Yes, We’re Listening

Thanks, Dictionary.com!

While having dinner with fellow colorist Joe Owens in December, we got to talking about the grunts and interjections that sometimes pass for communication in the suite.

When not in a rush for time, I generally ask a client “so how do you like it?” before moving out of a scene or a shot that I’ve just graded. However, I’m listening to the tone of the reply as much as the words. If a client says, “Great!” then I’m done and we move on. However, if the response is “Uh, fine?” then my impression is that there’s something not quite right, it’s hard to articulate, and the client is trying to convince themselves that it’s all in their head.

My response to this is usually some variation on “so how can we make this shot better?” If I get an answer, then I try and take care of it. If I don’t, then the shot or scene is probably a ripe candidate for revisiting at a later time, when fresher eyes will have a better chance of spotting the necessary improvement. Never underestimate the power of simply walking away.

However, when I’m in the middle of an adjustment, I’m also listening for any little verbal sign of what the client thinks at that moment. My suite is set up with the clients sitting behind me as I work, so if I hear “Ahhh!” then I know I’m doing something right. If I hear “huh…” then I’m inclined to stop and ask what they think of the current state of the image, just to get a sanity check.

I don’t always do this. Some grades are like haircuts, and nothing is going to look good until I make the final adjustment. In these instances, I let folks know when the shot is ready for an opinion. Until then, I encourage them to enjoy the free Wi-Fi.

I remember one gig where the client, a lovely fellow, tended to grunt, noncommittally and often, and usually when I was in the middle of an adjustment. It worried me a bit, and I started checking in with him more and more frequently; “what do you think of this adjustment?” “Oh, it’s fine!” he’d reply enthusiastically, and after the sixth instance of this I simply bit my tongue and hoped for the best.

The session ended up going swimmingly and he was very happy with the result, but it’s worth knowing that, even when our backs are turned, all of us colorists, editors, and post people are paying attention to every syllable you utter.

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 14: Covering every new feature in Resolve 14 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve Tutorials: Far ranging DaVinci Resolve instruction from Ripple Training.

Two Ways to Highlight Keys in DaVinci Resolve

Here’s a small but useful tip I put up on Twitter, but given how ephemeral Twitter is, I thought I’d elaborate here. It’s about highlighting keys in DaVinci Resolve.

As of Resolve 7.1, there are two keyboard shortcuts for showing a highlight with which to evaluate the isolation you’re doing with either an HSL Qualifier (a key) or with a Power Window (shape), or even to view the interaction of the two. Shift-H for a regular highlight, and Control-H for a high-contrast highlight (both key shortcuts toggle the highlight on and off).

In this example, I want to isolate the highlights of the water in the following shot:

The original, ungraded image.

Assuming a sunny day, and a camera angle that’s near the surface of the water, lakes and ocean scenes tend to be two-tone, with highlights reflecting the color of the sky, and shadows reflecting the quality of the water (I plan on talking more about the color of water in a future post, it’s actually quite interesting).

By isolating the water highlights using an HSL Qualifier, I can manipulate the water color while at the same time keeping some interesting color contrast and interactions with the original color of the water shadows.

While I create and adjust my secondary qualification, there are two ways that I can preview the key I’m generating with a highlight. The default highlight that Resolve uses can be toggled on and off using Shift-H (this is also the default highlight you’ll get if you use the button on a WAVE) and shows the selected portion of the image with the original colors, and the unselected portion of the image with a flat gray:

The DaVinci Resolve default highlight.

While this view took me a bit of getting used to at first, it’s grown on me, and I now find it really useful to get some perspective on how the isolated portion of the image looks while I’m fine-tuning the key.

On the other hand, by pressing Control-H you can also show what’s called a “high-contrast black and white” highlight (so named via a checkbox in the Settings tab of the Config page that lets you change the default highlight that’s turned on via your WAVE button):

A high-contrast highlight in DaVinci Resolve.

This high-contrast highlight should be familiar to you if you’ve used other color correction applications and plugins; it’s a more typical display wherein the selected portion of the image is white, and the unselected portion of the image is black.

I find this high-contrast highlight is useful in situations where I’m trying to eliminate holes in a key, or evaluate how “chattery” a key is since irregularities are easier to spot when divorced from the original image. For example, the black & white highlight makes it easier to see the unwanted top portion of the man’s head that’s gotten selected along with the water. I’ll want to do something about that…

The great thing is, via either keyboard shortcuts or macro remapping to a multi-button mouse or other device, you have the option of easily and quickly switching between the two, or turning them off, as you see fit. It’s really handy!

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 14: Covering every new feature in Resolve 14 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve Tutorials: Far ranging DaVinci Resolve instruction from Ripple Training.

My Book Made It to Korea

Thanks to colleague Warren Eagles, who sent me a picture of Korean colorist and author (of a Korean-language book on Apple Color) Wonju Park, whom I’m told likes The Handbook.

Guess my book's got some competition in Korea!

All I can say is, awesome! If you happen to read this, thank you Wonju. I’d follow you on Twitter, but alas my Korean is nonexistant, and attempts at automatic translation were humorously tragic. I hope we cross paths someday!

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 14: Covering every new feature in Resolve 14 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve Tutorials: Far ranging DaVinci Resolve instruction from Ripple Training.

Eliminating Video Waste

It's Oscar season again...

My wife is an actress and member of SAG, so every year around this time she gets a handful of SAG screening discs. For those of you who know, this is not quite as exciting as it sounds. You see, these discs are watermarked—to prevent piratical distribution—with sentences of text that appear over the picture every fifth scene or so reminding you it’s a screener. So the excitement of “free movies!” is moderated by the downfall of getting kicked out of one’s suspension of disbelief every so often by an irritating subtitle.

The only reason I bring it up is that this year, for the first time that I’ve seen, my wife has received a postcard offering a free iTunes rental of the movies that studio has for Oscar consideration. This is brilliant, primarily because the “free” DVDs sent out in the past weren’t anything we’d want to bother keeping. If it was a movie we’d want in our library, the last thing we need is to see those annoying subtitles during every viewing, I’d just buy a clean copy once the Blu-ray version came out.

By using iTunes rental distribution, the studio can keep their bits secure, my wife can watch the movies she might care to vote on, and I don’t have to feel guilty tossing unwanted DVDs into a landfill. I consider this to be very forward thinking, and I must applaud the studios who are trying this out. The only disadvantage is that, for typical home viewing, one has to get an Apple TV (or possibly have a Mac Mini or other iTunes-outputting CPU hooked up to one’s TV). At $99 this isn’t a massive imposition, but it’s still a drag if you’re an underemployed actor struggling to make ends meet while fulfilling your dreams. However, there’s always the option of renting on your iTunes equipped computer.

It’s also been brought to my attention that Withoutabox.com has been allowing uploaded, online screeners (used by select festivals) for some time. I used Withoutabox.com in 2006 when I was submitting my feature Four Weeks, Four Hours to festivals around the world, and at the time I was crowing about being able to send a DVD instead of a VHS tape. However, the thought of how many hundreds of thousands of DVD submissions from indie filmmakers found their way into the trash makes me quail. The waste saved by online video submission ought to be tremendous.

Of course, one can only hope that the festival reviewers who are evaluating these submissions aren’t tempted to catch up on their review queue using their iPhone on the bus…

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 14: Covering every new feature in Resolve 14 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve Tutorials: Far ranging DaVinci Resolve instruction from Ripple Training.

Fun With Television Framerates

I got a question from a friend of mine, and I thought it might be worth sharing my answer with a wider audience. He asks:

“What’s the short answer for why new 120hz screens make films look like video? I don’t know if you have had a chance to observe this yet, but it will effect you because it makes everything look like the ‘behind the scenes’ footage on a dvd, or raw dailies. People seem to love it.”

Well, I can attest to the fact that not everyone loves it, in fact the cinemaphile/home theater boards are filled with invective regarding how this feature despoils the cinematic experience, and I completely agree with them. I’m all about respecting the filmmaker’s intent regarding how they wanted the film to look, so whatever framerate they created their program using, that’s the framerate I want to watch it at.

The reason for the difference in “look” between 24p video viewed natively and 24p video that’s been converted via 120hz digital magic is virtually identical to the difference between 24p film and 29.97 video frame rates. We’ve all grown up with juddery 24p frame rates looking “cinematic,” even though the motion sampling is, strictly speaking, pretty crude compared to what is now possible.

On the other hand, since the motion sampling of interlaced 29.97 video is effectively 60 fps, “video” motion has traditionally looked much smoother, more “real life,” or more like a TV newscast.

The newer 120hz displays use motion estimation to generate/interpolate new frames in-between the original frames of the 23.98 image stream on a DVD/Blu-ray, and so the “cinematic” motion of 24p is changed into the “non-cinematic” look we generally associate with video, all because of the introduction of a smoothness of motion where there was none before. The result, to my eye, is that classic motion pictures end up looking like a shot-on-video sitcom.

Incidentally, speaking for myself I find that the reverse can also be distracting. I’m increasingly seeing 24p-acquired video used in programs like the PBS newshour with Jim Lehrer, the result being a somewhat “cinema” look within traditionally interlaced video programming, which I confess looks a bit odd. I’m just not used to it, and I believe this effect is solely based in what we’re used to.

It’s entirely possible that, someday, the next generation may get so used to 60p that 24p will be looked upon as quaintly as silent film or black & white, (at least, if James Cameron has his way). However, there are so many advantages to the low-bandwidth of 24p that I suspect, similar to interlacing, 24p motion sampling will be around for a long, long time. (And I’m not even going to get into the debate over the “intrinsic” cinematic value of shooting one’s projects 24p and 24p only, this particular article is about watching movies, not making them.)

My friend went on to reply:

I can see that showing the same thing 5 times would look different than showing me the thing, and a thing, then a half a thing mixed with half of the next thing. [My note: this is a fantastic description of 3:2 pulldown insertion] I just wasn’t expecting it to change the character of the images so much. Seems like the old way is closer to what it looks like in the theater. I wish my dvd-blu-ray player could just do 24 frames without the pulldown. You kids, give me back my vinyl 78s!

I suspect most of you already know what my reply is, but for those who don’t, I’ll enlighten you.

If you’ve got a good flat-panel display (television or projector), and especially if you’re using HDMI (and really, who isn’t anymore), you should be able to set up your player/display combo to play back actual 23.98 right now.

You usually have to enable the settings manually within your gear’s menus, but the DVD specification (and now Blu-ray) has always allowed distributors to author a DVD with an encoded 23.98 video stream—all players are supposed to do 3:2 pulldown insertion when necessary in order to display content on a non-24p-capable TV. If the TV can handle 23.98, then the player can send it directly via Component or HDMI.

So there you go. If you get a new TV and your movies look like television news, do yourself a favor and disable that pesky 120hz interpolation mode. You’ll be surprised at the difference.

Added 1/12/11—There’s an interesting thread in the comments. Nothing is ever simple! Also, it was pointed out to me that Tom Lehrer, the mathematician, songwriter, and satirist, does not in fact host the News Hour. That would be Jim Lehrer. Would have been funny if I could, in fact, use a strikethrough, but alas I for whatever reason cannot, so I’ve resorted to simply making the correction.

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 14: Covering every new feature in Resolve 14 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve Tutorials: Far ranging DaVinci Resolve instruction from Ripple Training.

Anticipation of a New Year

Thanks to everyone who sent me their book "unboxing" photo!

Those who know me can attest that 2010 has been a year of significant change. One project in long-term development declined, other long-term projects ongoing, contracts altered, my video suite moved, months in seclusion writing my book, some fantastic travel, and new interesting projects emerging. Of course, as any freelancer will tell you, this is par for the course, but even so, this year has felt like a sea change in the way I go about my business.

It’s probably no surprise that the professional highlight of my year has been finishing and shipping my Color Correction Handbook. I’m trying not to make this the “all book all the time” blog, however this has been a big deal for me, and from the numerous emails, tweets, and posts I’ve seen around the web, it’s being well received.

While I’ve written many other books prior to this, what’s different now is the amount of actual direct feedback I’ve gotten. Prior to the Handbook, I’d write a book, send out a few review copies, and it would all sail into a black hole as I awaited my next quarterly report, wondering if anyone was buying or reading it.

Thanks to this blog, Twitter, and a more direct connection to other folks in our industry via both NAB and IBC attendance (a first time in years for me), as well as other more professionally oriented social networking sites such as LinkedIn, I actually have a much greater sense of who’s reading my book, and what they’re getting out of it. It’s really quite nice.

So a huge thanks to all of you who’ve made the purchase and shared thoughts with colleagues. There’s nothing better for book sales then word of mouth from professional peers, especially when shared via an online forum such as an Amazon.com review (one of which has been written already, I’m looking forward to more!).

But enough about the book. Moving forward, my recent vacation throughout Belgium, Germany, and the Czech Republic has given me much food for thought regarding the link between medieval, renaissance, expressionist, and even art nouveaux works, and the artistic component of what we colorists do. Now that the Color Correction Handbook has nicely summarized my investigations linking human vision, video engineering, viewer preference research and color theory, to grading technique in theory and practice, I’m turning my mind to the link between artistic visual representation and color grading adjustments. This blog should, in coming months, reflect some of these new investigations.

It’s also my goal to finally conclude a certain animated science fiction pilot, as well as to initiate some brand-new fiction-writing that’s long overdue, keeping in mind that all work and no play, well, you know the rest.

So Happy New Year to one and all! I hope your reflections on the past year are charitable, and that your anticipations of the coming year are filled with hope.

Special thanks to @ryan_connolly, @markusrytilahti, @coolHandLucas, @ayumash, and others who’ve shared their “book unboxing” photos with me on Twitter.

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 14: Covering every new feature in Resolve 14 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve Tutorials: Far ranging DaVinci Resolve instruction from Ripple Training.

Happy Merry Holiday

Whatever your religious persuasion (despite an alignment with secular humanism, I’m a Merry Christmas wisher myself), I did want to wish everyone happiness however you observe this time of the year. Frankly, it’s my belief that any holiday that discourages people from being assholes for at least a week or two deserves a shout out.

In the spirit of the season, I wanted to share a documentary short that my wife, the actress/stylist/filmmaker Kaylynn Raschke, produced and directed a few years ago, called “Give the Gift You Hate.” It’s a fun look at giving, receiving, and the holiday season that’s sure to make you chuckle and reflect on all the stuff we give each other this time of year.

It played at the Big Apple film festival last year, and this year Kaylynn decided to distribute it online for free. I hope you enjoy it!

[vimeo video_id=”18148734″ width=”500″ height=”375″ title=”Yes” byline=”No” portrait=”Yes” autoplay=”No” loop=”No” color=”00adef”]

Click through to see the movie via Vimeo.

(And in case you’re wondering, I edited it and did the grading.)

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 14: Covering every new feature in Resolve 14 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve Tutorials: Far ranging DaVinci Resolve instruction from Ripple Training.

Can You Hear the Words Coming Out of My Mouth?

Well, maybe not right this minute, but thanks to Patrick Inhofer and Tao of Color, you can if you click the following link to his blog:


I was pleased to sit down with Patrick a few weeks ago, with the result being a three part interview series (nobody ever accused me of running short). The first two parts are up now, with the third yet to come. We talked about a wide-ranging series of things, and it was interesting.

Things we talked about—Starship Detritus. Monitors. Client communications. How we see color. Why I write manuals. What colorists do. My new book. Stuff.

The feedback I’ve gotten on Twitter has been pretty positive, so check it out; and check out Tao of Color. There’s some good info there, and Patrick is a good guy for sharing it (I also understand there’s a podcast series with not just my interview, but interviews with other interesting and insightful folks, all about color correction).

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 14: Covering every new feature in Resolve 14 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve Tutorials: Far ranging DaVinci Resolve instruction from Ripple Training.

Rippling Grades Using Groups in DaVinci Resolve

Since I’m going on vacation later this week, I wanted to post one last article for the year, and I wanted to make it a good one. Grouping is one of DaVinci Resolve’s more powerful features. However, keeping control over changes you’re rippling among shots within a group can be a bit confusing.

In this post, I’m going to try and sort out the dos and donts surrounding grouping and rippling on Wave-equipped Resolve setups (if you’ve got the full-blown DaVinci control panel, you’ve got more options, and you probably know what you’re doing already).

I apologize in advance for the lack of illustrations, but this article is a big one, and I’ve had enough requests for this information that I judged it better to get this out the door a little faster for people who will benefit from it in their next few sessions, rather then to procrastinate until I have the time to screenshot everything lavishly. I think the content should be fairly clear, even without images. So let’s get to it.

Careful Grouping Workflows

In the following examples, I’m advocating a workflow of:

  • First, balance all shots in a scene to match using an identical number of nodes.
  • Second, create a group and add all shots in the scene to it.
  • Third, add more nodes to any shot to create a stylistic look for the whole scene.

Once grouped, changes made to one shot in the group are automatically applied to the entire scene. This is powerful, because it means when it’s time to make a revision, large or small, you don’t have to track down every single shot using the same grade so long as they’re in the group.

You can create (as far as I know) as many groups within a single project as you need. You can add or remove shots from the current group, and the current group is defined by the last shot you’ve selected (if it belongs to a group, that’s the new current group).

The result of following the very careful workflow I outline above is that your grouped scene starts out with one set of (balancing) nodes with varied settings relative to the other shots in the group. After grouping, you add a second set of (stylistic) nodes with settings that are identical to every other shot in the group. Both sets of nodes can coexist in harmony so long as you follow a few simple procedures and rules.

The Simple Case –
Grouping Graded Clips so that Changes Are
Rippled Relative to Each Clip’s Original Correction Settings

Let’s begin simply, by balancing all the clips within a scene together so that they all match, and then grouping them so that they’re still balanced, and any change we make to one member of the group ripples the settings of the other shots in the group so that the relative offsets are maintained. Let’s consider a two-shot example first.

  1. Adjust node 1 in clip A to create the desired look.
  2. Adjust node 1 in clip B so that it visually matches clip 1, using different settings.
  3. Right-click clip A and choose Add Into a New Group, named FirstScene.
  4. Right-click clip A again, choose FirstScene > Change Ripple > Relative.
  5. Now, Right-click clip B and choose Add to Current Group.

Here are the important parts of this procedure. First, each shot you group together must have the same number of nodes. If you attempt to group two shots that don’t have the same number of nodes, you’re presented with a dialog box that asks if you would like to do one of two things:

  • Overwrite the shot you’re adding to the group with settings from the group
  • Save the current grade as Version 1, and then create a new version in which to overwrite the current grade with that of the group grade

The second important part of the procedure is that we changed the ripple mode of FirstScene to Relative.

After following these steps, any change you make to a correction node of one clip will alter the same correction node in the other clips, by adding or subtracting the difference of your adjustment to the same node within every clip in the group.

In other words, if you lower Saturation by 5 in node 1 of clip A, saturation will also be lowered by 5 in node 1 of clip B, so that the relative difference in saturation between node 1 of each of the two clips is preserved. The practical result that the clips stay matched despite any further tweaks.

If you like, steps 3 and 5 can be consolidated by selecting each shot you want to add at once, to group them all together at the same time. Multi-select can be done using Cmd/Shift keys. If you change the group ripple mode to Relative last, however, you want to make sure you DON’T MAKE ANY CHANGES TO THE GRADES UNTIL AFTER YOU’VE SET GROUP RIPPLING TO RELATIVE.

Making changes while the group’s ripple mode is set to either Absolute or Static will result in you losing the relative offsets that you’ve worked so hard to create, and this is NOT UNDOABLE. I’ll repeat that, you cannot undo mistakes you make when making groups, so be VERY careful.

A More Complicated Case –
Adding More Corrections to an Already Created Group

Once you’ve created a group, and after you’ve set that group’s ripple mode to Relative, you can add more correction nodes, as many as you want. Each new node will be copied to all the other shots in the group, and any changes to new nodes will be rippled identically to every other shot in that group, since they were already identical in their initial state.

For example:

  1. In this same group, we add a second serial node (node 2) to clip A.
  2. Adjusting node 2, we push the highlights of the shot towards blue.

Node 2 will also be added to clip B, with an identical blue adjustment. Any further adjustments you make to node 1 continue to ripple, relatively, to the other clip in the group, so that the offset between node 1 of clip A and node 1 of clip B remains. However, changes you make to node 2 are identical.


Using undo or applying a saved grade eliminates all relative offsets!

When making adjustments to clips in a group (with Ripple set to relative), using Undo after making ANY adjustment to ANY node eliminates all numeric offsets in all shots within that group, making the grade of every shot in the group identical, and losing all of your careful balancing. That’s just the way that it is, so be careful.

Also, if you apply a Saved Grade to one shot in a group, that grade will overwrite every single node that was originally applied to that shot, and this total change will be rippled to every clip in the group, making them all identical. In this case, it doesn’t matter if Ripple is set to relative or not.

Introducing or Widening
an Offset Between Two Clips in a Group

If you want to introduce (or widen) a difference between two clips in a group by altering a node while the group ripple mode is set to Relative:

  1. Right-click the clip you want to grade differently from the other clips in the group,
    then choose Remove From Group.
  2. Make the necessary change to any node of that clip, but don’t add new nodes.
  3. When you’re done, Right-click the clip again and choose Add Into Current Group.

The new offset between the clip you’ve adjusted and the other clips in the group is preserved, but all changes you make from now on are rippled, relatively, across every clip in the group.

Eliminating Offsets
Between Clips in a Particular Parameter

If you change the group ripple mode to Static, then any change you make to any node parameter will be automatically and identically applied to that parameter of that node in every shot of the group, overwriting any previous offsets. In other words, if the saturation of node 1 of shot A was 20, and the saturation of node 1 of shot B was 50, then changing the group’s ripple mode to Static and readjusting the saturation of node 1 of shot A to 30 sets the saturation of node 1 of Shot B to 30 as well.

Even with Ripple set to static, previously existing offsets of parameters and nodes you don’t adjust retain their offsets.

Eliminating Groups

Lastly, to eliminate a group completely, breaking the group relationship among all shots that are members of that group, you need only right-click a shot belonging the group you want to eliminate, and choose “NameOfGroup” menu > Delete. This clears the group, while preserving the last applied grade within each shot.

That’s All, Folks

But that’s really enough. Groups will make your life much easier, but you need to handle them with care lest they make your life unwittingly more complicated. Good grading!

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 14: Covering every new feature in Resolve 14 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve Tutorials: Far ranging DaVinci Resolve instruction from Ripple Training.