How to Talk to a Colorist

Funnily enough, this last week I’ve had three conversations about the importance of communication in the grading suite, two with different colorists of experience, and a third with the audience of the Dec. 2nd AENY user’s group during my Q&A. I’d already started writing this article (months ago, actually), but now seemed an appropriate time to get it out the door.


Over the years I’ve worked with a variety of clients, both experienced and inexperienced. In the process, I’ve come to realize that it’s not enough to know how to evaluate an image, read scopes, make clever adjustments to enhance the talent and environment, have an awareness of the history of film and contemporary trends in cinematography, a knowledge of color theory,  an artistic sensibility, and the know-how to work quickly and efficiently so as not to waste the client’s time and money. These skills are all vitally important, but unless you only work on your own projects, there’s one thing missing.

The most important part of my job as a colorist is interpreting just what the heck the client is asking for.

The truth is, most people don’t spend their time talking in great detail about color. Color is such an experiential thing that unless you’re an artist, designer, cinematographer, or you work at an ink factory, you probably don’t need to articulate anything more detailed than to point at a loud shirt shirt to say “that’s ugly.” In our daily lives, we know what we like when we see it, and that’s probably the beginning and end of the conversation. “Does this tie go with this shirt?” No. “Does that color look good on the kitchen wall?” Maybe. “So what do you think of my new shirt?”

I don’t blame anyone for sitting behind me in the suite and saying something to the effect of, “I can’t tell you what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it.” I’m the one who decided to pursue this arcane task we call color grading, and as a specialist it’s my job to provide options and recommendations—that’s the whole point. So I see it as my job to bridge the gap between the image as it sits on my display, naked and quivering, and the inner vision of my client, longing for the visual greatness they know should somehow be there.

And yet this can be challenging. An anecdote I like to tell is of the client who insisted “you need to make the image brighter.” Now, since I’ve always tended to equate “brightness” with what is technically a “lightening of the luma of the image,” I raised the midtones a bit. I was wrong. “That’s not right, make it lighter.” Momentarily disarmed, I tapped my chair arm as I tried to think of what else he could mean. On a lark, I raised the saturation. “That’s it!” he exclaimed. “Perfect, it’s much brighter.” And so the session proceeded.

The point is not that the client was perhaps not using the terminology as I would have defined it. The point is that the client clearly articulated their need, and it was my job to interpret that need, and translate it into an adjustment. That’s fine, but in that vein I’ve often wanted to offer a sort of crib sheet, breaking down the fundamentals of image evaluation, in order to provide a glossary to help bridge the gap a little bit faster.

That said, here is a client-friendly image analysis primer, intended to provide a quick orientation prior to any grading session for folks who are looking for a bit of insight.

Brightness is Lightness

Top: The original, dark image. Bottom: Made brighter by boosting the midtones only.

The foundation of the image is whether things are darker or lighter. Most folks correspond “brightness” with how light something appears, although this isn’t always the case.

Usually when people talk about lightness, they’re talking about the midtones and highlights of the image. The way we colorists look at things, every image can be divided into three regions—the shadows, midtones, and highlights. The shadows and highlights speak for themselves. The midtones, as the name implies, include everything in-between the darker shadows and the ligher highlights (for example, people in the frame often fall into the average midtones).

Most color correction applications have a lot of control that can be exercised over the lightness or brightness of the image. Hilights can be made darker, shadows can be made lighter, and the image can be darkened or lightened either overall, or within specific regions of lightness or brightness. For this reason, it’s also perfectly fine to ask for a specific part of the picture to be darkened or lightened.

Here’s one other thing to think about: While the shadows and highlights are (usually) broad regions of the image, the black point represents the darkest thing in the picture and the white point represents the absolutely lightest highlights. It’s possible to brighten the lighter shadows while leaving the black point deep and dark. The result is a limited adjustment to Contrast (covered next).

With this in mind, the following are very useful requests:

  • “The image is good, but the shadows look washed out, could you make them darker?”
  • “I like everything, but could you brighten the highlights so they’re really strong?”
  • “I like the deep blacks, but could you lighten the shadows a bit so we can see her face?”

Image lightness and contrast are intimately linked.

Contrast Is a Stretch

Top: Original, low-contrast image. Bottom: Higher contrast by dropping shadows and boosting highlights together.

“Make it more contrasty” is a common request. It’s also a good request. Contrast is a measurement of the difference between the brightest and darkest parts of the image, so it follows that raising image contrast involves either brightening the highlights, darkening the shadows, or (frequently) both. The result of a reasonable contrast boost is often a more striking image that appears cleaner and crisper. The result of boosting image contrast too much can be clipped shadows, blown-out highlights, and increased noise in the middle of the image (but hey, some people like that too).

Of course, it’s not all more. Lowering contrast is often appropriate if the goal is to create a more subdued look (lowering the light levels to make it appear to be evening, for example). Day-for-night adjustments often benefit from compressed contrast.

Either way, don’t be afraid to be specific about contrast, since contrast can often be tightly controlled within specific regions of the image.

Here are comments that would make me perform a contrast adjustment:

  • “Could you make the image pop more?” (contrast is the first thing I’d try adjusting)
  • “Could you make the shadows darker and the highlights brighter?” (expand contrast)
  • “Could you lower the highlights to make the image dimmer?” (lightly compress contrast)
  • “The shadows are too black and chunky.” (raise the black point to compress contrast)
  • “Could you make the background more contrasty without affecting the actor’s face?” (make a targeted contrast adjustment)

Saturation Is Intensity

Top: A muted, low-saturation image. Bottom: A highly saturated image.

Saturation refers to the intensity of a color. Pale, pastel colors are less saturated, while vivid, rich colors are more saturated.

So, if an image looks a bit dull, it might be a matter of raising the saturation. Conversely, if an image seems busy or distractingly colorful, lowering the saturation is a good fix. As with all things, targeted adjustments to the saturation of specific elements within the image are possible, and in fact this is one of the most frequent types of  targeted corrections I make.

Here are requests that would make me reach for the Saturation knob:

  • “The image is a bit mute, could you make it more colorful?”
  • “I don’t know, it looks kind of, gray…”
  • “Whoa…that image is out of control.”

Comments that would make me try a targeted saturation correction include:

  • “Could you make the red car pop more?”
  • “Can you subdue the woman’s blue sweater?”
  • “The actor looks a bit pasty.”

Hue Is Just a Name

All available colors distributed around a standard video color wheel.

This is the one thing I don’t need to explain. Hue is simply the name of the color you’re referring to.

There’s no need to get tricky with fancy color names. Even though there are a zillion of ’em, I personally tend to stick with the ones that were used in the small box of crayons (I could never remember all the ones in the big box). The truth is, at this point in my career I often find myself thinking in terms of the Vectorscope’s angular distribution of hue, but you probably didn’t want to know that.

Hue is a great way to identify specific elements within a scene. Hue is also a great way to describe a colorful transformation you want made to an image, such as:

  • “I want to emphasize the orange in the sign.”
  • “Can you make the plants look healthier?”
  • “The sky is too sunset-like, could make it bluer?”
  • “I’d like their skin to have a nice orange glow.”
  • “Do you see that yellow in the lighting? Could you get rid of that?”

Cool and Warm Are Important Descriptions, Too


Top: A “cool” blue treatment. Bottom: An orangey “warm” treatment.

Describing an image as “cool” or “warm” might sound artsy, but don’t worry about sounding like a cliché. If you’re describing naturalistic lighting, the physics of the light sources all around us dictates that lighting actually does range from warm reddish-oranges to cool blues, relative to the temperature of the illuminating light source (the illuminant, if you like 25¢ words). Candlelight is considered warm, noon-time sunlight, especially on an overcast day, is considered cool.

  • Sunrise, sunset, candlelight, interior incandescent lighting, bonfires and sodium-vapor streetlights are all variations on reddish-orange, warm lighting.
  • Noon-day sun, overcast days, properly filtered fluorescent and compact-fluorescent lighting, and computer/TV/cell phone displays are variations on white-blue, cool lighting.

Nearly all natural and many man-made light sources fit along a sliding scale from red-orange at the warmest, to blueish at the coolest, so describing a “temperature” actually makes all the sense in the world. If you describe a shot as being hot, warm, luke-warm, cool, cold, or icy, I’ll get what you’re saying.

Along the same lines, there’s a question I’m fond of asking in the suite; “what time of day is it?” Whether an exterior or an interior, the time of day the audience is supposed to perceive gives me a valuable clue as to what quality of light will elicit the desired response.

On the other hand, don’t feel the need to limit yourself to the colors of nature. Even though artificial fluorescent lighting appears white to the naked eye, it can lend a “greenish” cast to a scene recorded to film or video as the result of being improperly filtered or white balanced. While technically that’s an error, many directors and cinematographers have also used this as a creative choice. So, even though it’s distinctly unnatural, greenish lighting has entered the repertoire of the contemporary colorist, as well.

What, Exactly, Do You Want Me to Change?

Top: The original grade. Bottom: selectively making the man’s shirt more vibrant (nothing else is changed).

This last point is a good one. Don’t be afraid to identify simple, specific things you want changed:

  • “Her face is too dark.”
  • “The yellow shirt is ugly, is there something you can do?”
  • “Her red sweater is distracting.”
  • “There’s a little purple in his blonde hair, could we get rid of it?”

Honestly, you don’t even need to articulate why you don’t like something; the important thing is that if there’s a visual element that’s bugging you, tell me, I’ll figure it out. And I’ll be sure to let you know when there’s something that I think needs addressing.

All modern color correction software has the technology to make specific, isolated changes like these. While there are a variety of tools with which to do so, all you need to do is tell me what needs fixing, and I’ll figure out how to get it done.

But Wait, There’s More…

However, those are the basics. While there is obviously much more to the art and science of color correction, in terms of general communication, this is a great foundation to start with, and I hope this helps you to identify individual specifics of images that you want manipulated when working with your friendly neighborhood colorist.

If you want to know more, you can always check out my new book, “Color Correction Handbook: Professional Techniques for Video and Cinema.” While it’s written for the practicing or aspiring colorist, there’s something in there for everyone who wants to know more about how color grading works. Furthermore, I’ve put together a great list of other books and DVDs at that address the art and science of color that you might also be inclined to peruse, available in the sidebar over at the right. As they said in the old G.I. Joe cartoons, “knowing is half the battle!”

Special thanks to Yan Vizinberg, Abigail Honor, and Chris Cooper for images from Cargo, Lauren Wolkstein for images from Cigarette Candy, and Bill Kirstein for images from Osiris Ford.

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’s On Shelves

There they are...

Yes, I got a haircut (if you’re used to my Twitter picture, I do need to update it).

I was in Barnes & Noble to buy a Blu-Ray copy of “Stardust,” a movie I quite like and wanted to watch with my wife and her family (visiting for Thanksgiving week). Honestly, I had no intention of feeding my writer’s ego going in, but it did occur to me to check whether my book was being stocked (one never knows).

Fortunately for my ego, it is. So if (two of) you happen to be looking for a copy of The Color Correction Handbook, and you’re at the 86th St. Barnes & Noble in New York, then you’re in luck. More to the point, the book’s being stocked on actual shelves by at least one large vendor, which means if you’re too impatient to wait for the FedEx/UPS truck to arrive, your chances of grabbing a copy at your local bookseller aren’t bad, at least if your local bookseller happens to be, well, you know, Barnes & Noble.

I’m curious to hear what other stores might be stocking copies (the idlest of curiosity, I assure you). If you spot any in the wild and are so inclined, please drop me a note in the comments. And if you’re a repeat visitor to my blog, please rest assured that I won’t be going on about my book in every post. However, it’s not every year I come out with a new book, so I hope you’ll indulge me.

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.

The Color Correction Handbook is Here

When you write a book, the publisher stipulates that you get a certain number of author copies, delivered straight from the printer. Well, the FedEx guy dropped off my two boxes of books this week, followed almost immediately by Amazon declaring the book’s availability. After seven months of intensive writing, research, experimentation, and editing, my new book on color correction is on shelves now!

To see the scope of it, click here for a downloadable table of contents in PDF form.

“The Color Correction Handbook: Professional Techniques for Video and Cinema” consists of over 530 pages of cross platform fundamentals, tips, and techniques covering the art and process of professional color correction for film, broadcast, or the web. I’ve worked hard to create a book that will be as useful to the novice who’s just starting out in this field as it is to the veteran colorist who’s looking for deeper information on the latest in vision science research that applies to the task of grading. No matter what level you work at or what grading application or NLE you use, this book will be a valuable addition to your library of color correction knowledge.

I’ve written my book to be applicable to as many applications as possible, with screenshots and information about Assimilate Scratch, FilmLight Baselight, Quantel Pablo, Iridas SpeedGrade, and Apple Color, this is also the first book to show techniques as they apply within the new version of DaVinci Resolve that’s available for Mac OS X and Linux. If you’re one of the many who are stepping up to using DaVinci Resolve for your color grading, this book is an absolute must have.

Building upon the best of the content found in the Encyclopedia of Color Correction, The Handbook is a complete rewrite focusing on dedicated grading applications, with considerable expansion to add more background, completely new examples with all HD media (most of which is included on the accompanying DVD-ROM), and entirely new chapters for subjects including grade animation, scene balancing, and memory colors & audience color preferences, much of which has never before been covered in a book on this subject.

The Handbook culminates with a 63 page chapter on creative techniques, providing a cookbook of highly customizable looks and stylizations that can be mixed and matched including cross-processing simulation, vintage looks, day for night techniques, bleach-bypass, and many more. Altogether, these techniques providing a valuable foundation of creative grading methodologies upon which you can build for any type of project.

Joe Owens, a colorist of long experience whom many of you will know from his extensive posts at online forums relating to color correction, was my technical editor on this book. Upon getting his copy he had the following to say on the Creative Cow’s DaVinci forum:

…it was an absolute pleasure to work on and I was able to stay in touch with my alma mater Engineering College’s motto “Thorough“.

…Alexis has put together a very nice progression and builds its complexity outward around a very deep core understanding. For me personally, it came home again that one gains a deeper comprehension—plus there’s always something out there to be discovered and/or re-modelled—when working through or teaching a process like this. It was like colorist college or daVinci Academy again for a couple of months of intense review! It’s the real thing.

Click here to check out the downloadable table of contents, and if you like what you see, click the link over to the right of my blog and buy yourself a copy. And please, let your colleagues know this book exists, I can really use your help to get the word out!

Lastly, for those of you who are interested in getting a digital copy of the book, rest assured that one will be available soon, I’ll let you know where and when just as soon as I find out.

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.

Combining Mattes in DaVinci Resolve, Part 2

Continuing where part I left off, it’s time to look at how we can combine the mattes that are output by several nodes using the Key Mixer node. It’s a long one.

A Key Mixer node combining multiple mattes generated by different nodes.

Before getting started, let’s get a bit of terminology out of the way, first. When I talk about a matte, what I’m referring to is a grayscale channel that’s used to define which areas get corrected, and which areas don’t. However, using the terminology of DaVinci Resolve’s UI, it’s more accurate to refer to this as the “key channel.”

Why is this important? Because the technique of combining mattes is accomplished using the Key Mixer node, which takes multiple key channels as its input, allowing you to combine them in various ways in order to output a single key channel, which you can then plug into any other node’s “key input” with which to define a secondary operation.

This isn’t a technique you’re going to use every day. However, the following example shows what I consider to be one of the Key Mixer node’s primary uses, which is to allow you to create mattes that combine multiple HSL-qualified keys for shots where you simply can’t get satisfactory results from a single HSL key.

But enough jibber jabber. Let’s check out an example.

The following shot (which happens to be available on the DVD-Rom that’s included on my new book), has a single primary correction to adjust contrast and color.

The initial correction node and its result.

However, the client wants to throw an orange-red wash into the room. Adding another node (to make it easier to back off this more stylistic correction in case the client changes his/her mind), we make the change.

Adding a second node with a stylistic correction.

Unfortunately, the amount of color the client wants gives the actors a sunburn, and changes the color of the man’s shirt from blue to a purple-pink that’s not quite what wardrobe had intended.

Now, one easy fix would be to apply the colored grade as a secondary operation, using HSL Qualification and Power Windows to isolate the skin tone of the faces, preventing the “accidental sunburn” look by limiting the correction to the outside of the secondary key.

Only keying the faces.

Unfortunately, this does nothing to preserve the color of the shirt and tie, and in fact trying to isolate the oranges, maroons, and blues of these features all in one operation would require an impracticably wide sample. This is a perfect instance when combining several discrete keys will give us a better result.

To do so, we need to do some rewiring of our node tree, but to understand how we need to take another look at how node connections work. The following illustration shows the two types of node connections that you can make.

The two types of node inputs and outputs in Resolve.

The circles at the top left and right are the targets used for routing RGB image data from one node to another, which is what we’ve been connecting nodes with so far. However, the triangles at the bottom right and left are the targets used for routing key channels from one node to another.

Connecting node 1’s key output to node 2’s key input lets you use the key from node 1 within node 2. However, this isn’t hugely interesting until we add another type of node to the mix.

Right-clicking within the Clip tab opens a shortcut menu, within which is a submenu you can use to create new, disconnected nodes. Within this list is a node called the Key Mixer.

Creating a Key Mixer node using the shortcut menu inside the Clip tab.

The Key Mixer node can take multiple Key channels from several nodes (as many as you’ll practically need), combining them into a single key that you can then feed into another node to use for secondary correction.

You can probably see where I’m going with this.

Let’s go ahead and wire up the node structure we’ll need. First, we’ll use that shortcut menu to create a Key Mixer node and three Corrector nodes (corrector nodes are the same type of nodes that are used when you add Serial or Parallel nodes); essentially we’re adding one Corrector node for each feature we want to independently isolate using HSL Qualification.

Once the nodes are created, we want to drag connection lines from the RGB output of our original primary correction node 1, and connect them to the RGB inputs of the three Corrector nodes we’ve created. Note that one RGB output can feed as many RGB inputs of different nodes as you like.

Next, we want to connect the triangular Key outputs of the first two corrector nodes to the triangular key inputs of the Key Mixer node. You’ll notice that the Key Mixer node only has two inputs; if we want more, we need to create them by right clicking on the Key Mixer node and choosing “Add One Input” from the shortcut menu. You can add as may inputs as you need, they’ll all get crowded into the space at the left of the node.

Adding a node input to a Key Mixer node.

With the extra Key input created, we can connect the last Corrector node’s Key output. Lastly, we want to connect the Key output of the Key Mixer node (which is outputting the sum of all keys that are input to it) to the Key input of the node that we had originally created to carry the “stylistic” color change. The result should look something like the following.

Connecting the third corrector node to the new node input.

You should note that, until all of the nodes are properly connected, their thumbnails won’t reflect the flow of image data, instead showing the generic node icon. This lets you know which nodes are connected and having an effect, and which nodes aren’t.

With the node tree wired up, now all we need to do is key each element we want to isolate as tightly as possible. Another advantage of this technique is that each individual node can use a combination of HSL qualification and Power Windows to create an aggressive and well-isolated key.

The three keys to be combined.

With the faces, tie, and shirt independently isolated, selecting the Key Mixer node and turning on the Highlight checkbox in the Qualifier tab now shows us the sum total of all three keys added together. By default, the Key Mixer is set to combine all input Keys in an additive way.

Examining the key created by the Key Mixer node with the "Mattes display high contrast black and white" option turned on in the Settings tab of the Config page.

Looking at the final result, we can see that while the stylized correction is still affecting the background, hair, and clothing of the actors, the areas we’ve keyed are now protected from this effect. This is exactly what we want, so we’re done.

However, that’s not the end of the story. Now, let’s take a look at how we can use the Key Mixer to subtract one node from another.

Using the image from Part I, we’ll recreate the same effect, this time subtracting an HSL-qualified key in node 3 from a Power Curve key in node 2, as set up in the following node tree.

Redoing the example in Part I using nodes, instead of internal window/HSL interactions.

When we first set this up, the two keys are automatically added together, just like in the previous example.

The initial, additive key combination that is the Key Mixer's default behavior.

However, what we really want to do is subtract the faces from the “headroom shadow” shape in order to preserve the highlights on the actors. To do this, we’ll select the Key Mixer node and use the controls found in the Key tab.

The Key tab contains additional parameters for altering the key data coming into a node, and the key data going out of the node.

The Key tab contains parameters that govern the keys that are connected to the Key Mixer node, specifically how they interact and whether or not they’re inverted. You’ll notice that there’s only one set of parameters even though there are two inputs coming into the node. This is because you need to select the connection line that corresponds to the node key you want to adjust in order to expose the parameters for that particular key.

Click a connection line to edit that key's parameters in the Key tab.

After selecting the connection line attached to the second input (selected lines are yellow), the Key tab shows the parameters for INPUT LINK 2.

These parameters are similar to those found in the Window tab. In particular, clicking Mask (subtract from), and then turning on the Invert checkbox sets this input up to subtract itself from the other key connected to input 1.

Setting one node's key to subtract from the others in the Key Mixer node's Key tab controls.

The result can be immediately seen if we turn the Highlight checkbox on in the Qualifier tab.

The key in node 3 is now subtracted from the key in node 2.

At this point, we’ve got the matte we need, and we can select node 4 and lower the midtones to darken the above area. Unfortunately, the result is that the black portion of the key has gone darker, instead of the white portion. What’s up?

You need to turn off the Invert parameter of the External key to get the effect you want.

If you open up the Key tab while node 4 is selected, you’ll see two sets of parameters. The External Key parameters govern the behavior of keys that are routed to that node via the Key Input connection.

By default, the External Key parameters of new correction nodes have the Invert checkbox turned on. Turning this off correctly sets the node to darken the top region, rather then the bottom.

Turning off Invert for the external key in node 4 to change which portion of the image we're grading.

The resulting node tree thumbnails show how all the keys are interacting as they’re fed from node to node to node.

The final node arrangement, with each node's thumbnail reflecting the current key settings.

The end result, while in need of refinement, shows the correct effect.

The final image, showing the result of all this fancy nodal footwork.

And that’s all there is to it. Good grading!

Special thanks to Director Bill Kirstein for clips from Osiris Ford.

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.

Upgrades, Upgrades

While I’ve been running DaVinci Resolve for the past three months at home (never thought I’d ever hear myself say that), and lugging my Resolve CPU back and forth from my home office to my client suite in NYC’s Chelsea district, I finally got sick of hefting my 45 lb (with drives & cards) Mac Pro back up to my 4th floor walkup, and upgraded my suite machine.

All the stuff I crammed into a 2010 8-core Mac Pro.

As I mentioned to one of my colleagues at Twitch Post (where my suite is located), this is the first time in years that I’ve stuffed every single slot and bay of a tower absolutely full. In this case, it’s a 2010 8-core Mac Pro. In the image at top you can see, from bottom slot to top, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 285, GeForce GT 120, DeckLink HD Extreme 3D, and RED Rocket. I moved the bootup drive into the unused optical slot (using Noiseblocker X-Swing drive brackets from OWC), and filled all four drive bays with 2TB Western Digital RE4 enterprise class drives, striped into a whopping 8TB array.

In other words, I turned the machine into a space heater (just in time for winter!).

After a late Friday night shakedown (conforming and lightly grading a RED spot I graded earlier in the year), all’s well and everything’s working. Updating Nvidia’s CUDA drivers via their System Preferences panel seems to be down at the moment, but downloading the newest CUDA drivers directly from Nvidia’s web site for installation did the trick.

Eventually I’ll investigate a PCIe expander chassis—the only reason I’m running an internal RAID is because there’s no extra slot for external accelerated storage—at which point I’ll probably invest in something like the Sohotank ST8. However, the Blackmagic disk speed test application claims that my internal array is getting just a bit over 500 MB/sec performance (which I have a hard time believing so I want to retest using other software), and in any event disk performance is completely fine for the ProRes and R3D-based projects I ordinarily work on.

So that’s it. New kit is always fun, and especially so when the upgrade is so painless. The system runs either Color or Resolve, but the truth is that I’ve migrated most of the client work I do over to Resolve at this point given the faster render speeds and RED Rocket integration.

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.

Combining Mattes in DaVinci Resolve, Part 1

Admittedly, it’s been a month since my last blog entry, but in my defense I’ve been a bit busy what with completing my new color correction book (which is at the printer as I type this) grading a pair of programs, and random other varied projects.

However, there’s a topic I’ve been really wanting to show, as it’s one of the things that Resolve’s nodal approach to grading allows that’s quite nice, and that’s how to combine multiple mattes in different ways. Combining mattes is an extremely powerful technique that any compositing artist should be familiar with. The general idea is that you can add two mattes together to create a more complicated matte, or you can subtract one matte from another to “carve out” elements you don’t want to be included.

To begin with, we’ll take a look at one of the most common examples of matte intersection, which can be accomplished within a single node.

The following ungraded night shot is generally lit the way the client wanted it.

The Original Image

I suggested cutting down the amount of ambient light above their heads to focus the lighting more on the actors, while portraying a “darker” night as a result. The quickest way to do this is using a custom shape (or PowerCurve to use DaVinci Resolve’s terminology), to isolate an arc above the actors heads, within which I can then use the contrast controls to darken the background.

Darkening the region above their heads with a Power Curve.

The result, while pleasing in terms of how the environment looks, unfortunately also darkens the man’s face. This is not helpful at all.

The man's head is undesirably darker as a result.

One solution would be to alter the shape of the “darkening” Power Curve to exclude his head, but thinking ahead, the man is going to be moving later in the shot, and animating the whole shape is going to be a pain in the neck. Instead, I’ll use Resolve’s ability to combine multiple shapes in different ways to subtract a Circular shape from the one I’ve already created.

First, I turn on the Circular shape in the Window tab. Each node in Resolve can have up to four shapes applied within, one of each type of window, Circular (oval), Linear (rectangle), Polygon, or Curve (bezier-based shape). To combine shapes, you merely need to turn on the ones you want, and in the case of the Polygon or Curve, draw them.

Combining Circular and Curve "windows" (or shapes) in DaVinci Resolve.

Next, I position the resulting oval shape to cover the man’s head, which I don’t want to be included in the large shadow I created at the top of the frame.

Intersecting a Circular window with a curve. The Circular shape covers the man's face.

At this point, the default behavior is for all the windows to be added together, so that the grade is applied to the total intersection of every shape you’ve positioned. The practical result is the opposite of what I want, and in fact the man’s face is now completely obscured in shadow. To create the effect we really want, we need to flip the appropriate “switch.”

Each of the four shapes in the Window tab has a Mask/Matte control at the right of the other onscreen controls. The default setting is Matte, which adds each shape you turn on to the rest. However, when you set a shape to Mask, that shape instead subtracts from the other shapes you’ve turned on.

Switching the Circular window to Mask subtracts it from the Curve, rather then adding it.

With the Circular window set to Mask, we can now see that the man’s head is subtracted from the original darkening matte.

The Circular window, seen subtracting from the original Curve window.

The practical result is that the man’s face is no longer darkened.

The man's face is now protected from this darkening.

The other advantage of this arrangement is that, as the man moves his head, we can now motion track the Circular window using DaVinci Resolve’s ridiculously fast, simple, and accurate tracker, and the “facial protection” window will move through the background shadow like we’d expect it to.

Motion tracking the man's face so that the Circular window follows him as he moves through the background shadow we've created.

So that’s the simple example. In part II, we’ll see the more complicated example, showing how to to do the same thing, instead using multiple nodes rather then multiple shapes, an even more flexible technique.

Good grading!

Special thanks to Director Bill Kirstein for clips from Osiris Ford.

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.

Wave & Resolve; What the F-Buttons Do

In the comments of my previous blog entry, Ron Nichols asked what the F-buttons (F1-9) do on the Wave control surface. Here’s a breakdown, arranged in a grid to show the logic of the arrangement:

F7 Undo                                        F8 Redo                                F9 Next Node

F4 Save Still                           F5 Toggle Split                      F6  Previous Node

F1 Add Dissolve Mark           F2 Add Mark                            F3 Lift Mark

To answer Ron’s last question, the ALT button doesn’t do anything to the best of my knowledge.

Since I’m talking about the Wave, it’s come to my attention that it’s not only useful for DaVinci Resolve and Apple Color. It turns out all kinds of applications are using the Wave, including:

  • Speedgrade
  • Neo 3D/HD
  • Bones
  • Piranha
  • YoYo
  • PF Clean
  • SilverStack
  • RedcineX
  • Color Finesse

Pretty neat for a low-cost grading surface.

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.

It’s Only Reset, Right?

Those of you who know my love of detail ought to get a chuckle out of this one, for I will regale you with a tale that begins, simply, with an explanation of the workings of one of DaVinci Resolve’s reset buttons, and ends with an explanation of the difference between the two different ways you can adjust luma contrast in Resolve.

However, let’s start with a look at the RGB reset button, specifically, found on either the Wave or DaVinci control surfaces (I’m not picking favorites, those are the only two that are compatible with Resolve at the moment).

Trust me, this is going to get interesting.

I’ll speak to current and future owners of the Tangent Wave panel first, as I suspect there are rather more of you out there. There are two reset buttons found next to each trackball/contrast dial pairing for lift, gamma, and gain. The top button (circle) resets both color balance and contrast to the détente position (a value of 0 for the Y’, R, G, and B channels).

Meanwhile, the bottom button (dot) resets only the R, G, and B channels. This arrangement is different then for Color, where one button resets RGB only, and the other resets Y’ only, but that’s the way it is with learning new software, something’s always different.

Simple, end of post, right? Well, let’s take a look at a straightforward series of corrections, and examine what happens when we actually use that RGB reset button. Here’s the original image:

#1 The original image

In the following image, I’ve expanded contrast by raising the gain and lowering the lift controls using the dials on the Wave control surface to create an image with excessive contrast.

#2 Increasing contrast with the Wave dials

Next, I’ll make a ham-fisted adjustment so the highlights of the image are really, really blue.

#3 Adding way too much blue

Coming to my senses, I decide that the blue adjustment is actually ridiculous, but I still like the expanded contrast, so I press the RGB reset button (dot) corresponding to the gain controls on my Wave panel to reset the color but not the contrast.

#4 Resetting RGB only, not contrast

The result is an image that’s now less saturated then it was in shot #2, before I made the blue adjustment. What gives?

The answer to that just happens to dovetail with one of the things I really like about DaVinci Resolve, which is that there are actually two very different ways you can adjust image contrast, depending on your goals.

The first set of controls are the three large dials on the Wave (or rings on the DaVinci surface) that adjust contrast by raising and lowering Y’RGB all together, which you can see if you look at the indicator bars on the interface.

The YRGB contrast dials on the Tangent Wave

Using these, expanding contrast also raises image saturation, and compressing or lowering contrast results in lowered saturation.

Before adjusting YRGB

After adjusting YRGB

These controls are great for making bold changes to color and contrast all together, and for expanding flatly shot images into their full glory without needing to also raise saturation.

ADDITION—It’s been pointed out to me that middle-clicking and dragging up and down within any Y’RGB slider group for Lift, Gamma, or Gain will uniformly raise or lower Y’RGB as if you’d used the control surface dials.

However, in the second page of commands for the knobs and buttons along the top of the Wave (or via a dedicated set of three knobs on the DaVinci surface) there’s a second set of Lift/Gamma/Gain controls that let you adjust the Y’ channel independently of the RGB color components.

Three left-hand rotary controls used for Y' only Lift/Gamma/Gain contrast control

Using these, expanding contrast does nothing to numerically alter image saturation, but saturation diminishes perceptually relative to the change we’re making to the Y’ channel. Conversely, compressing or lowering contrast with these controls appears to raise saturation. The effect is the same as if you used the Y’ vertical sliders and Lum Gain/Gamma/Lift horizontal sliders both adjust only Y’.

Before adjusting Y' only

After adjusting Y' only

These controls are great for altering shadow density, for getting punchier blacks without changing the color too much, or for fixing specific broadcast legalization issues.

I really like having access to both kinds of contrast controls, and use both regularly for different situations. This is also the key to understanding what’s happening when we use the RGB reset button. Looking at the Primary bars UI for Lift/Gamma/Gain of the original, unaltered image, we see:

Neutral YRGB adjustment bars

When we raise highlights, Y’RGB all go up together.

Adjustment bars raised with control surface dial

When we then alter the color balance towards blue, the R channel diminishes while the B channel increases and Y’ remains unaltered.

Adjustment bars after altering color balance

When we reset RGB,  the R, G, and B channels all go to 0, while the Y’ channel remains elevated where it was.

Resetting RGB

This is why saturation diminishes, because the net result is that you’ve raised Y’ independently of RGB.

So now you understand the default behavior of the RGB reset button, you can determine when its functionality best suits your needs, and as an added bonus you got a window into the dual sets of contrast controls that Resolve makes available to you.

Special thanks to Director Jake Cashill for clips from Oral Fixation.

9/27/10—Added a correction about the ability to adjust Y’RGB by middle-clicking and dragging onscreen Lift/Gamma/Gain sliders.

11/14/10—Added to the preamble of the article.

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.

Pancakes, Beer, and IBC

A bacon and cheese pancake and a beer at the Carousel restaurant.

After a nearly 8 year absence from both IBC and Amsterdam, the opportunity to meet several European colleagues I’ve not seen in a while was too good to pass up, so I decided at the last minute to attend the show. And I’m glad I did, it was a great time. I’d forgotten just how big IBC was, in fact it seemed quite a bit larger then NAB was this year, with packed-in booths taking up nearly every corner of the not-inconsiderably sized RAI center.

Frankly, I was there primarily to chat with other colorists and postproduction colleagues I’ve met over the years, as well as software and hardware vendors who’ve been generous with their time in terms of helping me with my book, so I didn’t really scour the showroom floor as thoroughly as other blogging-minded folks. However, given my obvious areas of interest, there are a few tidbits I picked up on that seem worth sharing.

The folks at Quantel showed me some of their new developments, which includes a new noise reduction option, Cinnafilm’s Dark Energy, that provides noise reduction, grain addition, and sharpening. I saw a demo which impressed, and I liked the simplicity of the interface—even though there’s a matrix of inscrutable values that you can tweak if you’re in the mood for excessive noodling, the core functionality is to sample a region of the picture with a bounding box to get the grain structure, and then dial the amount of removal up and down as needed. The “quickie” results were quite nice, I’d be interested in seeing how much more quality additional massaging of the other parameters would get you.

The Quantel Neo control surface was cooler-looking then the noise reduction UI (which worked great).

In an uncharacteristic move for Quantel, they also showed a software-only assist station, running on Windows 64. Positioned as a lower-cost way to provide assistants with an environment to do project management and other preparatory tasks for handoff to the hero room later on. Also, Quantel has added the ability to soft mount RED media in the Pablo and IQ, accessing the media directly without having to ingest it and convert the format. Now, this isn’t news in the desktop world, but this, in conjunction with compatibility with the RED ROCKET acceleration card, demonstrates their interest in getting involved more deeply with RED workflows of different types.

After thrusting a hand-held configuration of the new EPIC camera into my hands (yes, a working version) RED’s Ted Schilowitz also took some time to chat. Quantel’s support of RED features is indicative of the kind of support that pretty much every major color correction application provides these days, meaning that RED workflows aren’t the rare bird they once were. Additionally, support of the RED ROCKET by most current grading platforms means that real-time 4K post workflows are within $5K reach of most post houses existing investment if their platform is compatible (or $10K if you need two for 3D work).

Pretending like I know how to operate the Epic.

Getting back to the EPIC, it was amazingly light, given that it was entirely self-contained. The lens was one of the heavier parts of the rig (and it was a big piece of glass). One-armed use would not be out of the question, if you’re in fighting cameraperson trim.

Bopping over to the FilmLight booth (they’ve been giving me a lot of screenshot and information support on use of their software for my book), I chatted with Mark Burton briefly. While not showing any particularly new BaseLight features, he discussed some of their new workflow contributions, including the addition of 3D playback and convergence adjustment to their TrueLight Player, intended to provide support for on-set review during 3D shoots.

What’s interesting to me is that a list of shots can be assembled and aligned, and that list can be saved as a BaseLight project, moving the media and metadata smoothly into the beginnings of postproduction. The more shoots go all-digital for acquisition, the more interested I become in different application’s ability to manage not just the media, but the associated metadata communicating on-set decisions to the postproduction professionals who are grabbing the baton.

Speaking of color correction, DaVinci finally announced that they’re shipping Resolve (which I’ve been beta testing for a while). From my experience so far it’s a really stable application, despite it’s brand-new incarnation on the Mac OS X platform. Now, I try not to take sides; all the color grading solutions I’ve seen and tested have their high points, and I honestly think you can do great work on any of them.

However, having been using Resolve on OS X long enough to form an opinion, and being particularly interested in (relatively) low cost yet professional solutions available to mid-range post professionals, I do want to say that the performance I’ve experienced on my properly configured system (see the Configuration Guide) has been exceptional. They’ve also released a new version of the Resolve Manual, which I read on the plane over. You should check the docs out if you’re at all interested.

Speaking of Resolve, one of the only two control surfaces it supports is made by Tangent Devices, and I chatted with Andy Knox who showed me some of their technology. Tangent has been generous enough to loan me a Wave while I beta tested Resolve, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the performance and feel of this low-cost control surface solution. Interestingly, it turns out that the Wave uses exactly the same push-buttons as the more expensive CP200-series control surface, and that the trackballs, though smaller, also come from the same factory as the trackballs on their other products (fun fact, apparently it turns out that all the balls come from the same cue-ball factory).

The new laser trackball reading of the CP200 series control surface.

When I asked about the red color of the Wave trackballs (I don’t particularly care, but I’ve read some other folks complain), it turns out that the laser pickups used in the design of the Wave required the colorful texture to work, hence the brighter coloration. However, in other news the CP200 has just been upgraded and redesigned to use newer laser pickups that will in fact work with black balls of a specific type. The new CP200 trackball mechanism also has user-configurable inserts that let you adjust how much or how little drag the trackballs have when you spin them, according to your preference (a nice touch).

Lastly, they shared a couple of “technology demos” they had on hand. One was a “virtual” tangent control panel on an iPad, complete with spinning trackballs and rings. It looked similar, if simpler, to something I’ve been beta testing for Graeme Nattress (I’ll talk more about that in a future post), except that Tangent’s iPad app is simply a control surface that controls another grading application via that application’s API (they were showing it controlling Color at the show). It was very cool, and I liked how it could potentially give users who don’t initially understand the value of a true physical control surface a taste of what it’s like to manipulate multiple parameters at once (which it can do).

They also had another tech demo of a driver that allowed a single physical trackball (like a Kensington trackball) to control each of the shadow/midtone/gain color-balance controls via keyboard shortcuts. Again, it’s a very cool way to give people a taste of the full-blown functionality, without having to spend $1400 on something they’re not sure whether or not they want. They asked me if it was something worth distributing and I said heck yeah, joking that it would be a gateway drug that would probably get a lot more folks who are dabbling in color correction to eventually pony up for a panel of some type of their own.

I stopped by the Tektronix booth to have a look at their WVR4000/5000 series of low-cost rasterizer videoscopes. Colleague Robbie Carman told me that a firmware update had enabled four-up display and I was interested in seeing this. However, due to performance limitations, only two of the four quadrants can be set to video scopes, with the other two quadrants restricted to audio diagnosis and/or image display. This is still an attractive device for the price, especially since you get the Tektronix Diamond and Arrowhead displays for gamut checking, but it does mean that you can’t have a YRGB, Vectorscope, and Diamond scope onscreen all at once; you’ll need to switch one of your quadrants back and forth.

If you do want the full shooting match, you’re probably best moving up to the WVR8200/8300 series rasterizers, which are more expensive, but provide you with all necessary options including Dual Link monitoring, if you need it.

Talking about Video Scopes, I took another look at the BlackMagic UltraScope at the show, and was pretty impressed. No latency that I could see, lots of solid options for customizing the display, and on top of that they were showing off a beta of the application that adds actual gamut checking (using the existing displays) and an alarm log that reads VITC timecode for tracking QC errors, which is fantastic to have in a broadcast environment. Unbeknownst to me they’ve already released the PCIe version for the Mac (Intel only), and as I’ve got a spare 2007 8-core Mac Pro laying around, I think I’ll give it a shot on my home setup to see what it’s all about.

The Blackmagic UltraScope, showing the QC error log (in beta).

Robbie also pointed me in the direction of Eyeheight, makers of hardware legalizers that I’m told are popular in European post houses, who have distilled their uncompromising video legalizing technology into a Final Cut Pro plugin called complianceSuiteFC. Simply put, it’s a broadcast safe filter that works, and judging from the demo they gave at the show, this plugin doesn’t let anything through, at all. It’s not cheap at a suggested $1500 USD for the HD version, and Robbie pointed out that render times can be a bit long from what he saw, but if you’re working in a tapeless environment providing digital deliverables to major broadcasters and you don’t want to deal with getting a program bounced, this may be a good tool to have in the box.

I went over to the Nucoda booth to take a look at FilmMaster, and in particular to see the new control surface they were showing off. I didn’t get any really good pictures of it, but it’s massive, has as many controls as I imagine anyone could want, and includes touchscreen LCD displays enabling modal button remapping, although I didn’t get the opportunity to see the panel in action. My general opinion about control surfaces is that they’re like instruments, and it’s hard to form an opinion about a surface’s effectiveness without learning it, and in fact learning it well enough to get fast. On top of that, each vendor’s surface is tailored to the way their particular application works, so that’s another thing to factor in. However, it’s not lost on me that the touchpanel displays allow a degree of customization and future-proofing (adding control surface functionality for features that haven’t been imagined yet) that is interesting to have.

A horrible picture of the new Nucoda control surface.

Having seen FilmMaster in action a bit more at this show, it was interesting to see how they integrate the kind of layer-based compositing (complete with transfer modes, opacity settings, alpha channel support, and blue/greenscreen keying) more typically seen in an NLE within a comprehensive grading UI. In general, I liked what I saw, and colorist Kevin Shaw drove the system with aplomb using one of Nucoda’s previous control surfaces.

Elsewhere I met colorist and software developer Steve Shaw at the Mystika booth. He’s bullish on Mystika, and it certainly looks like they get a ton of performance out of a single GPU system. Interesting to see their take on integrated editing/compositing/color correction, it certainly looks like a complete toolset, although I didn’t have the opportunity to see the color correction component in action as they were pushing the new 3D capabilities that are now integrated into the software. Incidentally, I hadn’t realized this, but Mystika is from the same developers who created Jaleo back in the day, a name I’ve not heard in a while.

Steve’s shared some of his knowledge of 3D LUT generation software with me for the book, and he mentioned that his LightSpace color management suite has been doing quite well (in fact Quantel announced LightSpace support), which is nice to hear as it’s one of the lowest-cost professional color management solutions around, and has a lot of flexibility. One of these days I’m going to get around to giving it a whirl and putting it through its paces.

He’d also mentioned a high-end Norwegian video projection company called Projection Design, so I went to check them out. They were showing a Cineo35 series 2.5K (as in 2560 x 1600) that supports the full range of true 2K resolutions, using DLP technology. It looked great (although show-floor light leak was unflattering, as you can imagine) and looks like a solid mid-range solution for facilities that want a compact grading theater environment without having to install a ventilated and sound-proofed projection booth. It comes with HDMI 1.4 (which by the way supports 2K resolutions), but 3G SDI is available as an option.

While I was wandering around, I also stumbled upon RTI Film Group, one of the last companies still making Film Analyzers and accessories, who are also in both the optical and digital film printer/scanner business. I used the Hazeltine-style controls (RGB and Master click-wheels) for the first (and probably last) time in my life.

Four controls (RGB and Master) is all you really need...

It was also cool to see a unit retrofitted with digital accessories and a flat-panel screen.

I also took a look at their new LED film recorder. I’d not been paying attention, last I knew film recorders either used CRT or lasers, but now LED lit film recorders use LCOS technology (similar to my RS2 projector, in fact), have much more longevity then lasers, and none of the alignment hassles of CRT. The resolution is limited to 2K, but 2K is in wide use by the industry and as a filmmaker I sure wouldn’t complain about having a 2K film print. It’s not all digital just yet.

The Imager HSR digital film recorder.

Although apparently in Norway it’s about to be. Someone I know in that part of the world mentioned that in six months every cinema in Norway is going to be digital. I’m curious to see what the mix of projectors is going to be, and how many of those screens will be 3D capable, but that’s a pretty big milestone, and ensures that DCDM deliverables will be of major importance to post houses serving that market.

On the other hand, it sounds like HD broadcast in Europe is extremely slow to roll out. Another colorist I met from Switzerland told me there’s only one HD channel there—National Geographic. Now, to put things into context, most European countries have had higher-resolution widescreen television presentation for YEARS, so I imagine most viewers aren’t actively missing those extra lines of resolution. Still, this is the first time I’ve seen a new technology lag this far behind in Western Europe. It puts those PAL deliverables I’m occasionally asked to provide into perspective.

One last thing I saw on the show floor, Logic Keyboard has shown Apple Color a little love, with a custom keyboard highlighting Color key commands. If you’re an avid Color user and you like the Apple keyboard (they buy unprinted Apple keyboards in bulk and print their own designs on top), you can now have a custom version.

A custom keyboard for Color.

Finally, I attended my very first Supermeet in Amsterdam, and Daniel Berube was a gracious host. I didn’t manage to sit in on any of the presentations (though I had merry chats with a couple of the presenters during the mid-way mingle), but a highlight of the evening was a conversation with colorist Warren Eagles (whose notable work includes “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels”) about his experiences using Apple Color (he uses it with low-budget personal clients) the training he does via the International Colorist Academy (their class list is impressive, you should check it out), and the possibilities afforded by the remote grading capabilities of DaVinci Resolve now that it’s less expensive to set up the remote station that a faraway client would need to watch what you’re doing. It’s great to see a high-end colorist embrace a more affordable toolset like Color, and use it to get high-quality work done.

It’s the driver, not the car; although we sure like nice cars, don’t we…

Waiting for the bicycles to pass in Amsterdam.

Additional Notes—Much love to Caffe 500 (Albert Cuypstraat 59) for letting my friend Andy and I close the place down on Monday night. Fantastically authentic and fresh Italian food. Just go there. Also, Hotel V Fredriksplein was a fantastic place to stay. The rooms are small and efficient, but comfortable and the beds are bigger then in London hotels. The staff was uniformly friendly and helpful, the lobby is an excellent place to hang out on a late rainy night, and it’s in one of Amsterdam’s most relaxed yet entertaining neighborhoods.

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.

Three Things I Love About Node Organization in Resolve

As a Shake user, I learned to love the explicit image processing organization that node-based compositing afforded. Never mind trying to figure out which precomp corresponded to what part of the composite; one look at a well-organized node tree and you can see exactly what’s going on.

Furthermore, once you get the hang of using nodes, you can begin to work out your order of corrections in advance in a classic programmer’s tactic; flowchart your way through a complicated series of operations in order to think them through, except in this case, the flowchart is also the result!

I’ve been discussing node based operations with my friend and colleague Robbie Carman, who’s another DaVinci Resolve beta user, and in the process thought that it might be interesting to share some of my favorite operational aspects of Resolve’s method of node-based correction organization.

#0—A Quick Orientation

Similarly to the node-based Color FX room of Apple Color, node-based corrections in Resolve aren’t for the actual compositing of multiple images with one another. They’re for organizing and combining the different corrections you want to make to your image. Before I dive in, here’s a quick overview of how Resolve uses nodes.

Every clip has a corresponding set of corrections within a “Clip” tab. This tab is Resolve’s node view, where each correction is represented as a rectangular node, with a single input and a single output, which can be seen as little yellow dots to the left and right of each node.

A node tree in the Clip tab of DaVinci Resolve

A node tree in the Clip tab of DaVinci Resolve

The flow of image data goes like this: The left-hand bar is the source image on Disk. Connection lines (with small directional arrows) feed image data to the first node in the tree, represented by a thumbnail showing what that node is up to (literally; the correction performed by each node is represented by its tiny thumbnail if your eyes are sharp enough). Connection lines also connect each node you use to one another, feeding image data down the line until the last node is connected to the right-hand bar, which represents the final output.

#1—Organizing My Image Processing

In a very real way, a serial cascade of image processing nodes like that shown above is like a stack of filters in After Effects, Final Cut Pro, or Avid. The output of the top filter feeds the next one in the stack, and so on until you reach the bottom.

A stack of three filters in Final Cut Pro

You can think of nodes as a similar series of image processing operations. More poetically, you can think of nodes as individual waterfalls along a stream of image processing. Each waterfall alters the flow of data, which in turn feeds the next part of the stream, until you reach the end.

The key thing to remember is that, depending on what type of image processing operations you’re doing, your order of operations matters, a lot. One of the most frustrating things about working in Color is the occasional instance where I discover my order of operations isn’t quite right, usually after I’ve done several corrections. For example, let’s say a primary correction (the first node seen below) blows out the highlights in the sky.

Three nodes, a primary correction, a secondary sky operation, and a third primary for tweaking the color

I don’t really care until my client complains, but then I can’t retrieve it using a secondary correction (the second node in the tree above) because the image data is already clipped. As a result, my secondary HSL Qualifier only succeeds only in creating a bizarre darkened area in the sky:

An attempt to retrieve detail in a blown out sky ends in failure

Attempting to lower the level of the sky fails to retrieve clipped detail

When using Apple Color, my solution in these cases has been to save the Primary correction to the bin, reset the Primary In room, open the Primary Out room, and apply the correction that I saved there, effectively swapping the PI and PO rooms. At that point I can use a secondary of some kind to lower the highlights before I boost the rest of the shot, and so I get to preserve maximum image detail.

In Resolve, this is an even easier operation. All I do is either add a node with which to perform a secondary sky isolation operation before my primary correction (or, if I’d already tried a later secondary correction with no success, swap the two node’s positions in the tree).

Changing the order of image processing nodes

Swapping the secondary and primary operations

This allows me to isolate and duck the levels of the sky before boosting the overall levels of the shot in the next node. The result is smoother, more natural, and preserves all the image data that’s available, which is always a bonus.

Lowering the sky before brightening the shot preserves detail

Lowering the level of the sky before boosting the whole shot preserves detail

This gives me exactly what I need in terms of image processing organization. Now, I grant you there are several other ways of dealing with this particular scenario, but the point is that, using nodes, I control the order of operations, not the application.

Here’s the other nice thing—you can use as many nodes as you like to organize your grades. I like to keep significant operations within separate nodes, so I know where I need to go when I want to make an alteration. That means I might have one node doing a basic corrective grade, a second node adding a bit more warmth and contrast for stylistic effect (as I’ve done in node 3 of the previous example), and then a third node where I add a perhaps questionable alteration that was requested by the client, that I think they might backpedal on later. I could have done the entire series of operations within a single node, but by keeping these three operations separate, I’ve got more options regarding which aspects of the grade I want to continue tweaking, and which I can turn off entirely without affecting the rest of the grade.

#2—Serial and Parallel Organization

So that’s fun with serial node organization. However, Resolve also has Parallel node organization. This is another way of putting nodes together, so that instead of having a single long tree branch, you can stack up simultaneous corrections whereever it makes sense. For example, if you’re planning on using three secondary operations to affect an image at once, you could apply them as a serial operation, like so:

A serial node tree, organized as a linear set of image processing operations

A serial node tree, organized as a linear set of image processing operations

Or you could apply them as a parallel operation, with three stacked nodes feeding a Parallel node.

A series of secondary operations organized as a parallel node tree

A series of secondary operations organized as a parallel node tree

Resolve overlays the corrections to produce the result you’d expect, and the tree organizationally makes a lot more sense. However—and this is a big deal—the parallel node structure ensures that each secondary correction node samples the same version of the image. This is important, because I like…

#3—Choosing What My Key Source Is

This one’s easy. Remember I mentioned that the leftmost bar in the Clip tab represents the original state of the image? Well, if you’re adding a secondary operation via a parallel node structure, you can choose whether you want to pull your key off of the original state of the media, or from a particular node of the tree, simply by connecting that node’s input to the source you want to sample.

For example, suppose my look for the primary correction performed by node 1 results in a high-contrast, low saturation image.

A high-contrast, desaturated grade is the starting point

A high-contrast, desaturated grade is the starting point

If I wanted to add a second node and use HSL qualification to boost the color of the dress, I could do the simple thing and add another serial node:

Adding a serial node for HSL Qualification

Adding a serial node for HSL Qualification

Unfortunately, the image is so desaturated and stylized that it’s really difficult to pull a decent key. Here’s an example of my first sampling click:

Terrible isolation due to a poor source selection

Terrible isolation due to a poor source selection

Even though node 1 is doing what you want it to, the result is that the image is in a crummy state to have to pull a key off of.

However, there’s a better solution, which is to use the parallel node structure described previously, connecting the input of node 2 that’s pulling the key to the media source bar, instead of the previous node:

Pulling a key off the original state of the image using parallel node construction

Pulling a key off the original state of the image using parallel node construction

Now, using the original state of the media, it’s easy to pull a great key. Here’s an example of my first sampling click using this new node structure:

A better key, sampling from the source media

A better key, sampling from the source media

Now that we can get a better key, it’s easy to manipulate the color of the dress however we like, and then feed it back into the image.

Adding color back to the image, after the fact

Adding color back to the image, after the fact

So there you have it, complete control of image sampling, all through the power of selective node connectivity. I love me some nodes.

Image Credits

Photography by Kaylynn Raschke. Special thanks to Gal Friday and Sasha Nialla for modelling. Images excerpted from my new book, Color Correction Handbook: Professional Techniques for Video and Cinema.

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.

Digging in the Word Mine…

Writing. Writing. Sleeping. More writing. The periodic grading gig interruption.

Yes, it’s “the last month of writing my book,” and just like every other book’s last month, it’s a round-the-clock marathon of typing, research, setting up example projects that look good and explain the topic at hand, screenshot-taking, and illustration making; all amidst a vague feeling that I should be getting more sleep.

And the periodic beer.

However, amidst all the toil, there are still magic moments, and today was the culmination of a plan I’ve long had to more fully examine and portray the possibilities of human skin tone (one of the chapters of the book I’ve put particular emphasis on). After I identified the list of complexions I wanted to document, photographer Sasha Nialla assembled a terrific roster of models, and with me playing client shot all of them under controlled lighting conditions, allowing me to show an apples to apples comparison within the book of the basic categories of complexion, for analysis and consideration.

Photographer Sasha Nialla shoots our redhead sample subject. It's the sexiest science you're going to see...

My personal criteria for how good a technical book I’m writing is, happens to be the same as that I use for screenplays—if I’m having fun writing it, then it’s probably turning out well. It eases my mind that I’ve been getting solid feedback from Joe Owens, who generously agreed to be my tech editor, lending his experience (and subtle humor) in the evaluation of my assertions and techniques. And I must give credit to Peachpit Press, and my editors Karyn Johnson and Stephen Nathans, for continuing to provide the time, encouragement, and editorial support to get things right. These damn books aren’t easy to make, and I’m glad that PeachPit has lent their support.

Furthermore, I’ve been getting terrific support from DaVinci (who also graciously let me into their beta for Resolve on OS X), FilmLight, Iridas, Assimilate, Quantel, Tangent, DSC Labs, X-Rite, Light Illusion (Steve Shaw), and of course various friends at Apple, alongside others I am to my shame forgetting. All of which has enabled me to meet my goal of creating a color correction handbook that is truly platform agnostic, and aimed squarely at the budding professional colorist (and the casual colorist who aspires to professionalism). If you’re a complete beginner, this book should orient you with a foundation in color theory and basic operations; if you’ve been grading for a while, this book may fill in some conceptual gaps, provide additional theoretical food for thought, and toss out some nice tricks that you might find useful.

My criteria for which applications to discuss in the book has been based on color control surface compatibility, on the premise that a) if you’re a dedicated colorist, you’ll be wanting to use one, and b) most grading applications that are dedicated to the task are compatible with one or another, either custom made (Resolve, Baselight, Quantel) or off-the-shelf (such as a JLCooper, Euphonix, or Tangent Wave surface). On the other hand, most of the techniques discussed can be implemented using Colorista, Final Cut Pro’s Color Corrector 3-way, After Effects, Color Finess, or any plugin with 3-way color balance, HSL Qualifiers, and Masks. No matter where you’re making your corrections, there’s bound to be some information that will be useful to you.

So that’s why I’ve somewhat fallen off the edge of the earth. I’m due to finish soon, and look forward to getting my weekends back, getting the book out to the public, and maybe doing a book tour or something and seeing what you folks think of 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 14: Covering every new feature in Resolve 14 from Ripple Training.
DaVinci Resolve Tutorials: Far ranging DaVinci Resolve instruction from Ripple Training.

New Mac Pros–Mixed Feelings and Baseless Speculation

For a change of pace, I thought I’d toss out a small nugget of pure speculation (this time I’m really thinking aloud). However, in the event history proves me to be right, I thought it’d be fun to commit this thought to the internet.

I was originally going to rant about how much of a “#$%@ you” I felt the latest rev of the Mac Pro line is to the postproduction power-user. In fact, I was going so far as to compose an email to someone I know who might actually care, when for due diligence sake I decided to do a bit of research to find out just how far behind the specs of the Mac Pros are from our Windows and Linux workstation bretheren. In particular, I wanted to find out whether there was a better version of PCIe that we were missing out on.

Popping over to good ‘ol Wikipedia, I found the following nugget of information (emphasis mine):

The final specification PCI Express 3.0 has been delayed until 2011 and will be backwards compatible with existing PCIe implementations.[15]

So, the next major architectural update that will be useful to me (in the form of faster data throughput, faster GPU data pushing, etc.) isn’t going to be finalized until 2011.

Oh, and one other thing… I keep wanting faster FireWire. After all, FireWire 1600 and 3200 were announced back in 2008 as a response to USB 3, right? Well, here’s what Wikipedia has to say about that (again, emphasis mine):

S1600 (Symwave [23]) and S3200 (Dap Technology [24]) development units have been made, with the latter promising a consumer version by late 2010.

At the risk of sounding like an apologist, it seems entirely plausible that maybe, just maybe, somebody is waiting for PCIe 3.0 and FireWire 1600/3200 to become finalized/implementable before committing a ton of resources to redesigning and retooling the Mac Pro in a significant way. At least, that’s what I’d like to think.

And while that still doesn’t excuse the lack of USB 3, 10-gig ethernet, or port-multiplied eSATA (okay, so that’s really wishful thinking), I suppose I can understand. I mean, why do a bunch of redesign work when next year you’re just going to redo it all from scratch?

Guess we’ll see…

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.

Taking a Quick Look At Colorista II

When Stu Maschwitz started beating the drum for Colorista II, I had mixed feelings. I’m always happy about shiny new tools that threaten to make my life easier, but to be honest I wasn’t a particular fan of the original Colorista. However, software evolves, and a new version deserves a new look, so I downloaded the demo for Final Cut Pro, and gave it a whirl on a short scene from an old project.

Before I dive into the details of my first look, let me just give you my resulting impressions right up front. I feel that Colorista II is a worthwhile addition to the NLE colorists’s toolkit, and will live alongside the other plugins you’ve been using very nicely. Its ample feature set may even replace some plugins you’ve been using with a better mousetrap.

However, as well-thought out as it is overall, I do find some of the controls to be a bit unwieldy. Also, through no fault of its own, Colorista II is chained to the performance, effects interface, shot comparison mechanisms, and grade management capabilities, not to mention control surface compatibility, of your host NLE’s interface. Personally, as a colorist using dedicated applications, I don’t find that Colorista II provides a persuasive argument for me to abandon Apple Color’s efficiencies, especially for client work, to go back to NLE grading.

However, this is ultimately an unfair comparison. If you’re a DIY filmmaker with more time then money, who likes to color correct your own work, and you like the workflow of keeping it real inside of your NLE, you should absolutely download the demo and give it a try. You’ll probably like what you see.

That said, here are my more detailed observations.

The Color Balance Control

The heart of any color correction interface is the Color Balance Control UI. At a superficial level, I like the design of the wheels, with individual H, S, and L handles that are easy to understand and manipulate.

However, in practical use I find that the balance controls feel too granular. I dont know if this is simply the implementation on Final Cut Pro, or if it’s a limitation of my system (although my 8-core Mac Pro has no such problems with FCP’s Color Corrector 3-way or with Color’s) but there’s no smooth update within the image as I drag the color balance handle. Instead, the image color changes in pops, jumping from one set of values to another, which for me is unacceptable for making nuanced adjustments.

The color balance control UI also retains something I disliked in the original Colorista–the color balance handle jumps immediately to wherever you click within the color balance control. While this is fine for making massive corrections, its not that useful when you’re trying to make subtle re-adjustments to an existing setting and you don’t want to have to target the tiny balance handle to drag it relative to the previous correction. The jump-to behavior would be fine as a Command-click option, but as the default behavior, I don’t like it.

My last knock on the color balance controls is probably not Colorista’s fault, but I dislike the small size of the 3-way controls, and they don’t seem to scale up. I suspect this is a function of the API they’re using and the developers probably can’t do anything about it, but for a mouse-only color corrector it’s too bad the wheels can’t be enlarged for a more detail-oriented experience.

Time for something positive. I really like the calculator button that reveals a numeric UI (available for other controls in the plugin, too). It’s a very nice touch. It’s also an interesting design decision to express the color balance numeric controls in RGB values, more options are always good.

However, it would also have been good to provide an option for alternate HSL parameters for the balance controls. Furthermore, the lack of numeric UI for the three contrast sliders is an oversight, as is the lack of scroll wheel manipulation for the numbers. Perhaps this isn’t a big deal for dedicated UI users, but you never know when you’re going to want to compare numbers.

Lastly, I have mixed feelings about the Auto Balance control implementation. I like that it’s designed for you to sample a highlight of the image manually (which I generally feel provides the most flexibility for good results). However, I don’t like that it balances the shadows automatically at the same time. I’d honestly prefer separate shadow sampling, at least as an option. There are plenty of times where I want to leave the highlights alone (or perhaps just make a manual adjustment), but would like to auto-balance the shadows by themselves.

Contrast Adjustments

Shadow/midtone/highlight contrast control implementation is good, with plenty of room for making large adjustments. Relatively fine control is available if you move very, very slowly (insert Elmer Fudd joke here). However, like the balance controls they’re jumpy in practical use–again, this doesn’t lend itself to making subtle adjustments.

The Exposure and Primary Density sliders are very nice additions to one’s video grading toolset. My test footage was too well exposed to give me an opportunity to try out Highlight Recovery, but other reviewers have extolled its virtues, so I’m happy to believe them.

However, these sliders bring me to one other issue. Using a mouse’s scroll wheel to adjust any of the sliders in the UI is not useful–rolling the scroll wheel by any amount results only in a jump from the extreme left to the extreme right of the slider. I use my mouse wheel to adjust parameters elsewhere in FCP all the time, as it’s much more comfortable then constant clicking and dragging (especially for controls youll be adjusting in every single clip you touch), so this is an unfortunate oversight that I hope is changed in future versions.

RT Performance

Since colorists in a hurry often restrict themselves to color and contrast adjustments, I’m going to step out of the UI for a moment, to talk about real-time playback. I found Colorista II’s playback in Unlimited RT mode to be perfectly acceptable, though it could be better. I haven’t found it to be full frame-rate in real time, but it’s close for basic corrections, which at this level of work is fine.

The Fantastic HSL Controls

The HSL controls are extremely clever—in fact I feel this is the standout feature of Colorista II. They do the same thing as the Hue Curves or Secondary Curves in apps like Color, Scratch, and Baselight, but in a different way. I particularly like how control of Hue and Saturation has been unified within a single UI control, and unlike the Sat curve in Color (which I use all the time), it’s easy to boost saturation in targeted areas of the image by a large amount.

It’s worth noting that using using the Lightness HSL control breaks up highly compressed images a lot, but that’s no fault of Colorista, it’s a fact of life that’s true of any hue curve interface I’ve used when applied to highly compressed footage (this is one major pitfall of compression in grading). This feature fares no better or worse then any other comparable control I’ve used.

A minor nit, when comparing these controls to their curve equivalents in other apps, is that true curves allow additional control points to be added to finely sculpt hue and saturation. Colorista II’s controls, while fast and intuitive, lack this fine-tuning ability. However, I’m happily willing to concede that the majority of hue adjustments I typically make don’t really require that level of detail, so people will find these controls opening new vistas in creative (and quality control-fixing) possibility.

Personally, I feel that Colorista II is worth buying for this feature alone.

Bypass and Mix for Each Set of Controls

Bypass buttons for each set of controls (Primary, Secondary, Master) is a very nice touch, as you’ll probably find yourself doing before-and-after comparisons for specific secondary and mastering adjustments quite a lot. Even better, mix sliders also let you moderate how much each particular group of adjustments contributes to the overall correction. This is a small thing that will be extremely useful to anyone doing subtle work.

I also like the Mix slider at the very bottom of the filter, that lets you mix the overall filtered effect with the state of the image at that point of your filter stack. A very nice touch.

The Keyer

The keyer presents an evolved and forward-looking UI, that appears modally within its own window when invoked. I’m personally not convinced that it’s night-and-day better (as a UI) then the standard HSL controls found within every other color correction UI I’ve used (other then Avid), but on the assumption that the keyer is algorithmically unique and the UI supports this enhanced functionality, Im glad to see someone pushing the envelope.

More succinctly, I like it, particularly the vectorscope handles. Also, while they took some getting used to, I was glad to see the implementation of separate and de-selectable hue, saturation, and lightness controls over the key–pulling dedicated luma keys for various adjustments is a valuable technique.

For the click-to-sample crowd, the selection, add, and remove scrubber controls are well implemented, with a unique method of sampling initial image values via a bounding box, rather then as a drag operation. Other standout features of the keyer include the Clip slider that lets you adjust the contrast of the key to make it more solid, and the high quality blur of the Softness control.

One thing I miss, however, is the ability to play through a clip that I’m keying while adjusting the key; the keyer’s modal window prevents this. This is not insignificant, as keys that look perfectly fine on a still image often fall apart once you start playing the clip. At the very least, it would be nice to have a way to scrub through the clip while you’re working, to see how the key holds up when, for example, the camera pans towards the sun.

Knowing full well this is a feature request, something else I miss that I use frequently in Color is the ability to apply separate color and contrast adjustments both inside and outside of a key and/or mask. While the keyer provides an Invert button, that simply means you can choose whether to grade the outside or inside of the key, rather then being able to work on both with different settings.


The simple built-in Power Mask controls are handy, interface limitations aside. However, I can’t hold that against Colorista II since the shape UI is no less kludgy then that of any other FCP plugin. That said, I’d dearly wish for some type of outline in the Canvas as an additional View Mode, should that be possible.

Being able to combine the mask and keyer is a fundamental feature that’s nicely implemented, with several options for different boolean combinations of the two (an innovation as this isn’t a feature you often see).

Lastly, the Master Mask provides an additional mask you can use, with boolean options for using it to either restrict the Master controls (thereby providing one more secondary), or combine it in boolean fashion with the mask thats already being used in the existing secondary. This flexibility is a nice touch, even if the resulting stack of parameters and controls is a bit unwieldy.

Pop Slider

The pop slider is great, and when used positively it makes a nice little contrast bump to increase image definition that I typically accomplish using luma curves. Reverse pop is also a nice effect for lightly feathering harsh image definition, although I can unfortunately see this feature get tediously overused in undiscriminating hands.

Master Controls

I really like that there’s a post-processing set of 3-way, saturation, and HSL controls at the end of the Colorista image processing pipeline. This provides a built-in way of trimming a correction that you’ve made, although depending on the context of the operation being performed, there are still ample times where you’ll want to do such trimming with an additional plugin (such as applying a single adjusting filter to an entire pre-balanced scene worth of clips).

Workflow issues aside, it’s good to have the ability to further modify the sum of primary and secondary corrections, or to use these controls with the Master Mask to have a second secondary correction.

Curve Controls

The curve controls are clever, given the limitations of the FCP environment. While it’s no substitute for a true, customizable multi-point curve UI, it’s a nice addition and quite useful for making those contrast-a-riffic s-curves.

I’ll go ahead and take the liberty of making a feature-request aside now–a bias control for controlling the midpoint of the contrast curve would be a handy addition in future versions.


There are some interesting utilitarian options available at the bottom of Colorista II’s parameter stack. Flip Image is nice to have, except for the lack of independent control over vertical and horizontal orientation. As a result, it’s only good when you need to flip something in both dimensions. Of course, there are many other ways you can do this, so it’s not that big a deal.

Show Skin Overlay is a fun addition, although this is the kind of idiot-light I usually try to discourage people from leaning on too heavily, as it encourages overly specific skin tone manipulations that don’t necessarily interact with the illuminant of the scene in a convincing way (something I’ve been meaning to write an article about, but haven’t gotten to yet). I’d need more testing, but I’m also curious to see how much of the possible range of human skin tone hue this overlay encompasses–the tyranny of an overly strict adherence to the I-bar’s angle is also something I try to discourage in students.

I find it interesting that there’s a pop-up menu that lets you specify whether to render using your computers GPU or CPU. As there are usually subtle image processing differences when using different GPUs, this gives the potential for rendering reliably predictable grades in multi-computer shops with different graphics cards. I’ve not tested to see what the performance penalty is, if any, when switching between GPU and CPU on a more capable workstation with a beefier graphics card, but it’d be interesting to see if anyone cares to try.

Other Observations

The wealth of features in Colorista II is impressive, but they also reveal a deficiency of the FCP filter interface, which is the inevitable big stack of UI elements that necessitate endless scrolling up and down the Filter tabs list to make various adjustments. This isn’t Coloristas fault, it’s a foible of FCP, but Colorista’s numerous options force one to deal with it. It’s perhaps an unfair observation as the developers do their best to manage the clutter with disclosure triangles for each set of parameters, but even so I’m just not a fan of all the scrolling.

Another deficiency is the seeming lack of keyframing for the fancier UI controls (3-Way, HSL, Keyer). The keyer I can overlook (though keyframing the HSL controls of a Key has saved me once or twice in the past), but not being able to keyframe the 3-Way, and by extension the 3-way contrast controls, is a huge drag for instances where I’m correcting for an in-camera auto-control exposure change, or any one of innumerable instances where animating a correction is important. Hopefully I’m either overlooking the way to do this (although I’ve looked hard), or this feature makes its way into future releases.

Finally, in one last feature-request aside, I’d like to see a dedicated reset button for each stage of correction in addition to the plugin-wide reset (similar to the reset button on the Master Curves). It’s a small thing, but would be helpful since going into numeric mode and resetting a bunch of numbers one by one is kind of a drag.

In Conclusion

So those are my thoughts, good and bad. I’ll probably pick up a copy sometime down the road for instances where I’m working inside of Final Cut Pro on specific sections of a program. However, as I mentioned in my preamble, I remain a fan of the dedicated grading app. Specific color adjustment features are only part of the picture; the overall color correction environment provides many additional benefits in terms of session organization, working speed, operator comfort and efficiency, and artistic subtlety.

However, to end on a positive note, I want to emphasize that as critical as I am of specific features, I still think that Colorista II is a useful plugin that aims high, and will absolutely expand the range of creative possibility available to you from within your NLE of choice (or AE, if you swing that way). Give it a look.

UPDATE—I broke down and did what I should’ve in the first place—added some screenshots of the Colorista II interface and a link to the Red Giant website, and a few more edits for clarity.

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.

An Orbital Overview of Monitor LUT Calibration

A paper look-up-table

I let myself get pulled into responding to a thread at Creative Cow’s DaVinci forum on 3D LUT calibration, but felt that the subject might benefit from a bit more elaboration. I’ve been researching LUT calibration of prosumer display devices in greater detail for a small section of my upcoming book, which I hope will cast some more light on an admittedly arcane subject about which there’s a bit of confusion. However, LUTs are an example of high-end tools and methodologies that are increasingly within the reach of smaller facilities who aren’t afraid of a bit of research, and 3D LUT calibration, once the domain of high-end film facilities, is worth knowing more about if you require color critical monitoring.

To massively oversimplify, a 3D LUT is a three-dimensional look-up-table for taking incoming image data and converting it to another set of image data—in other words it’s a color and contrast transformation. 1D LUTs are suitable for calibrating a monitor’s gamma response, but a 3D LUT is required for changing the gamut, or range of color that a display shows.

LUTs can be used for many purposes, but in the case of monitor calibration, the process of using a 3D LUT is one of using software and a monitor probe to analyze your monitor, to figure out exactly what the difference is between your uncalibrated display and the ideal video standard that you want it to show. Once the software has figured out the difference, it generates a 3D LUT that can transform an incoming video signal in such a way so that it will appear, on the analyzed display, as if it has the perfect gamut (red, green, and blue primaries) and gamma response.

It’s a bit of a mathematical hat trick, but it works, is accurate, and is an accepted means of display calibration throughout the postproduction industry. Using 3D LUTs for outboard monitor calibration of any display requires three things:

  1. An outboard LUT calibration device (usually taking HD-SDI in from your workstation’s video-out and putting HDMI out to your display)
  2. Software for analyzing the monitor (using a probe) and generating a LUT that’s appropriate to your calibration device (there are many different formats)
  3. A probe for doing the analysis (good probes aren’t inexpensive)

Keep in mind that outboard 3D LUT calibration only works if the display you’re calibrating is capable of the color gamut that’s required by the standard you’re trying to calibrate to. In the case of Plasma displays, a 3D LUT will bring the typically oversaturated primaries back into line with, say the standard Rec. 709 RGB primaries that you want to be monitoring with, as well as setting proper gamma for the display.

There are several software and hardware solutions, some expensive, some more affordable. Here’s a list for your own research:

Hardware (All capable of 3D LUT processing)

  • Filmlight’s Truelight SDI
  • Cine-Tal’s Davio
  • Blackmagic’s HDLink Pro


  • Filmlight’s Truelight color management system (CMS)
  • Cine-Tal’s Cinespace
  • Light Illusion’s Lightspace CMS

Probes (different software supports different probes)

  • Filmlight Truelight Probe (for Truelight CMS)
  • X-Rite Hubble (works with Lightspace and Cinespace)
  • Klein K-10 (works with Lightspace)
  • Konica Minolta CS series (works with Cinespace)
  • Photo Research PR series (works with Cinespace)

Cinespace and LIghtspace probe support has slowly expanded over time, these notes are true as of a quick look at the company websites today. Don’t take my list as gospel, you’ll want to re-check. Also, I’m not picking favorites, each of these systems is in use in different post houses.

If you’re interested in more information, check the company sites at,, and In particular, the Lightillusion site (run by colorist and developer Steve Shaw) has some great whitepapers that he’s written that should shed a lot more light on the subject than my brief overview here. Check it out.

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.

Monitoring Peak Luma Funnies

I had some back and forth with friend and colleague Patrick Inhofer (Colorist and owner of FINI), about what the “official” peak luma setting should be for a monitor he’s evaluating. The long and short of my response was that SMPTE Recommended Practice document RP 166-1995 (now archived, but there’s no replacement just yet) calls for 35 footlamberts (ft-L) of light output for a calibrated CRT display, which when converted to cd/m2 is 119.92 nits (round up to 120). In other words, a 100 IRE white field, when measured, should be outputting 35 ft-L or 120 nits. This was decided in the CRT days, which are waning, but so far as I know it’s the only official peak luma standard in place for color critical monitoring on a self-illuminated display (the projection standard is 14 ft-L).

However, there are all sorts of posts where folks claim all sorts of peak luma values that they prefer to use for their own monitoring situation. When I’m asked to explain why, it’s always difficult to do so without either taking sides or wondering if one or another emerging monitor technologies really does merit revisiting the previous standard. For your amusement, my agnostic summary of the issue based on conversations I’ve witnessed over the years, is as follows:

Member of standards committee: “This is the standard.”

Random colorist guy: “But I like my number better.”

Member of standards committee: “I don’t care. This is the standard we experts chose for you. Use it.”

Random colorist guy: “But my monitor can’t handle your standard. I’m using my own number.”

Member of standards committee: “F@ck your monitor. We argued about this for years. We employed physics, math, and user studies. Use the standard.”

Random colorist guy: “No. And I’m telling all my colleagues that my way is better.”

Member of standards committee: “Fine. Guess what, we’re using new monitors now. They handle the standard just fine. Now f@cking use the standard already.”

Random colorist guy: “But me and all my friends got used to the number we were using before…”

Member of standards committee: “#@#$%#@ $@$*&# $%@%#…”

(continue ad nauseum)

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.