Film emulation is all the rage these days, from plug-ins to LUTs. Products like Koji Advance, Magic Bullet Film, FilmConvert, Visioncolor Impulz and many similar products aim to "emulate" popular film stocks to add a less "digital" look to your image, mimicking as if it were shot on film instead of a digital camera. Many would ask, "Why do such a thing? It looks so clear and sharp". It might sound like a strange idea but its easy to understand when you think about how pictures and "selfies" are typically shared: usually highly manipulated in some application like Instagram or Lightroom with a look that usually degrades the image in favor of a highly stylized feel. These "film emulation" type of plug-ins aim to do a similar effect with video, although to a far lesser extent than most of the photo based tools. The true accuracy of the "film emulation" to a specific film stock is always a big question, but its clear this hasn't been a detractor for many who enjoy using these effects for quick and easy color starting points.
For this review, we'll be focusing on the Koji Advance plug-in and LUT package. The plug-in comes from the same team that developed Koji Color, a set of film emulation LUTs developed under the supervision of color timer Dale Grahn. The Koji Advance plug-in is compatible with Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe After Effects, and Apple Final Cut X. However, they've also included a huge variety of LUTs, in case you want to do more manual color correction in DaVinci Resolve, Adobe Speedgrade, or any other application that accept 3D LUTs in a .cube format.
Koji 2393, Source footage courtesy of Phil Arntz
Koji 2393 N, Source footage courtesy of Phil Arntz
As a colorist, I crave control over the colors in an image and that control is not usually associated with plug-ins, look presets, and other "shortcuts". However, my numerous tests with Koji Advance left me feeling surprising creative. As a benchmark test, I regrading a project I had graded with a Kojicolor LUT in Resolve, and I was pleasantly surprised how close I had come (ignoring the secondary corrections, power windows galore, and other fancy business done in the Resolve version). This is partially due to the fantastic looking film stocks available with Koji Advance, no matter if we are discussing the plug-in or the LUTs. Although there are only 5 film stocks to emulate (each with a few variations), I found these subtle emulations to be fantastic starting points for a huge majority of my color grades. A key aspect I've found important to film emulation is using it as a "starting point" and never assuming its won't require additional color correction or grading. If you are looking for a one-touch button for color correction, you'll likely be disappointed with this plug-in (and with most plug-ins, for that matter. It just doesn't work that way....yet).
Koji 3523 S, Source footage courtesy of Phil Arntz
Koji 3523, Source footage courtesy of Phil Arntz
Moving onto the specifics of the plugin, it supports a huge variety of cameras and formats, both Rec709 and LOG. Essentially, if you have a somewhat recent camera, it is likely supported directly within the plug-in, but if not, they also support generic Rec709, Log, and Cineon options to cover you. White balance is offered within the plug-in, using manual kelvin (K) temperature or with the automatic function (which I found worked quite well for an "auto" function). Basic Lift, Gamma, and Gain controls allows you to adjust your image, should it be too dark or bright after the emulation is applied. Printer point controls allow for some quick but powerful adjustments over your image, should it have any type of color cast or white balance issue not fixed by the WB control. The appearance of printer points is a welcome addition, as its a control rarely seen in most recent color correction plug-ins or effects, except for dedicated color correction packages. Lastly, the plug-in allows you to add film grain to your image, sampled from a variety of different film stocks. Sliders for contrast and film grain saturation provide additional control over the look and feel of the film grain, allowing you to really customize its look and feel.
Depending on your system specifications, your NLE, and your graphics card set-up, this plug-in may or may not play in realtime for you, especially if you have numerous effects stacked on top of it. However, most tests using both HD and UHD material played back in realtime using Adobe Premiere CC 2015 for me. I did not get a chance to test the plug-in is Final Cut X.
Koji 2393, Source footage courtesy of Phil Arntz
Koji 2393 N, Source footage courtesy of Phil Arntz
The LUTs provided can almost be seen as a bonus for most, as the plug-in is really the main attraction, but for some, these may be of interest. Having personally used these LUTs (and previous versions of them), I can easily say they are the BEST film emulation LUTs I have used, period. They are extremely subtle, never imposing a "look" I am forced into, and they work on a huge variety of formats and cameras (as they supplied specific versions for each camera \ format).
As a quick note, I cannot state if the LUTS & plug-in exactly match the Kodak or Fuji print stocks represented, but I can say they provide a very pleasing image that seems similar to my research on the film stocks and several films that have used them. That being said, I cannot attest to their exact "technical" accuracy and in the long run, I do not think it truly matters to a certain extent. Many argue till end of days about film v. digital, and films emulation, but ultimately, I feel its all about the look and feel you prefer. I've found this product extremely useful, especially the LUTs, and would highly recommend it to those looking for a tool to help establish a good starting point for a color grade.
I put together a quick video demo \ review as well, if you would like to see it in action. Be sure to check out the plugin at www.kojicolor.com.
Koji 3521, Source footage courtesy of Phil Arntz
Koji 3521 N, Source footage courtesy of Phil Arntz
Koji 2303 BW, Source footage courtesy of Phil Arntz
The post production world certainly isn't lacking in quality tools, with numerous options to do just about everything from color grading to crazy specific 3D simulations. In fact, one of the biggest stressors I found myself continually noticing when I started working in post production was the HUGE amount of tools available and how I never understood how I'd learn half of them. What I slowly learned, after chatting with some more experienced post pros, is that you don't need to know everything: "pick your tools for the craft, and learn them inside and out. Its just a tool". Its sounded like a ridiculous idea, but it changed the way I thought. As much as I WANTED to simulate crazy explosions, I couldn't do that while trying to learn every little aspect of color and grading. There simply wasn't enough time.
That being said, there are a few applications that don't fit that mold, either because they are so useful or so different. In this case, I'm going to talk about a specific example of one such application: Imagineer System Mocha and Mocha Pro. After I switched over to color full time, Mocha was one of a few application I found myself using still regularly using, despite the fact my work had changed significantly. For those unfamiliar, Mocha is a planar tracker (or "texture tracker" if you may) that can be used for rotoscoping, visual effects,, tracking, and lots more.
Check out this article discussing some of our uses of Mocha and Boris FX in our color and finishing workflow. Huge thanks to Imagineer Systems and Boris FX for these amazing tools.
If you are an independent filmmaker who has dabbled in film distribution, or read my previous article reviewing CuteDCP, you may be wondering what you can do with these high quality Digital Cinema Packages (DCPs), aside from using them to play back your film in its highest quality at a cinema or film festival. Well, for many, it sits on a hard drive, waiting to be submitted to the next festival or used at a its next screening (should that ever occur). Luckily, we've gotten to the point where both computer hardware and software have given us alternatives to this and allow us to playback DCPs on any off-the-shelf mid-range PC.
Before I begin to discuss how awesome it can be to play a DCP on your computer, it has some major limitations that you should be aware of. These limitations are EXACTLY the reason many colorists & editors suggest you have a professional post house create and test screen your DCP with a calibrated cinema projector. I absolutely agree with this mentality, as a true cinema test screening will give you confidence in your DCP as you've seen it displayed properly. As fantastic as that is, its also a very expensive process that many cannot afford, should they want to participate in festivals or true cinema screenings of their film (meaning NOT a BluRay player connected to a projector). Recent developments in both encoding and decoding technology have allowed developers to create more affordable solutions, such as the one I'll be reviewing today: NeoDCP.
I discovered NeoDCP when I was searching for an affordable playback solutions for DCP playback that allowed me to control the Rec709 conversion, which makes the image look normal on a typical monitor or TV (geek talk for double checking the XYZ color conversion performed during the encoding process). This is simply one of MANY useful features offered by NeoDCP, as I discovered during my testing period with the application. Some of the features that colorists, editors, cinemas, and festival organizers might find useful include:
- Supports playback resolutions of 2K and 4K, along with stereo 3D output
- Playback support for both encrypted and unencrypted DCPs
- Supports both InterOp and SMPTE subtitle formats
- Separate Controller and Playback window, allows for full screen playback with an operator controlling the playlist on a second monitor (VERY useful for public screenings)
- Extremely responsive customer & technical support
- Frequent Updates
NeoDCP's Playlist Editor allows you to queue up multiple DCPs, adding black space in between, trailers, commercials, or whatever you need to automate. It can all be set, saved, and recalled as well, for future use. I imagine this feature being extremely useful for a film festival or theater, where one person could program the entire schedule in advance and it would be all set.
The Color Transform settings are something most people will set and forget. However, being able to adjust the gamma curve, conversion from XYZ, reference white and even adjust the XYZ color matrix manually makes NeoDCP ideal for almost any situation, and extremely helpful when you need to double check the conversion on a DCP. For example, if your film was mastered in Rec709 color space (typical HD) and converted to DCP, it will only look correct if played on a cinema screen. NeoDCP runs a reverse conversion that converts the video BACK to Rec709 so it looks normal when played back on a monitor, tablet, television, etc. If you compare the source file used to create the DCP and the output from NeoDCP on the same monitor and it greatly differs, there was likely an error in the conversion process. There WILL be some differences, but it should not be drastically different. Use your judgement, as your are most familiar with your film.
The Inspect DCP functionality allows you to dissect a DCP, seeing every bit of metadata and more. You can access the total running time, files, XML information, and more. I have found this feature useful when I accidentally misnamed a DCP and needed to determine what it was 100% without playing it back (as it was on a cinema server).
The KDM Manager is where you handle all certificates for encrypted DCPs, which tend to come from the DCP encoding facility. As I did not test any encrypted DCPs nor do I encode encrypted DCPs, I did not get to test this functionality.
The general video settings allow you to set scaling and masking settings, as needed. One unique aspect of a DCP is a higher resolution (4K) DCP can be played back at a lower resolution (2K) and even lower without much additional processing needed to rescale. This cannot be said about H264, BluRay, and most other distributable formats. Lastly, NeoDCP offers a compatibility based "resilient" decoder, which is better at decoding partially damaged DCPs. Overall playback performance on my quad core Intel i5 PC, 32Gb RAM, Nvidia GTX 660 graphic card, running Windows 7 was smooth sailing at 2K, offering smooth stutter free playback on a secondary monitor.
Overall, NeoDCP is an extremely impressive software DCP player. It offers a significant amount of control over the picture, sound, and other technical aspects typically hidden by most media players at a price that is extremely competitive, if not destructive to its more well-known competition. With licenses available starting from $83 for a basic license all the way up to $2166 for a fully-featured 4K public theatrical license, it may be one of the cheapest DCP players I'm aware of that offers high quality 4K playback, numerous options for video and audio customization, and a fully featured DCP toolkit. The biggest limitation is that NeoDCP is only available for Windows, so Mac users will need to stick with EasyDCP, FinalDCP, and QuVis DCP Player unfortunately. Be sure to check out NeoDCP and try out their 30 day trial. You'll be pleasantly surprised, compared to other "budget friendly" DCP playback and review solutions available. I certainly was.
Editors Note: I was provided a temporary license to NeoDCP Professional for the purposes of evaluation, testing and review of the application. The above opinions are my completely my own, uncensored and unbiased. I have no affiliation with NeoDCP or its developer.
If you are a filmmaker in this crazy age of technology, you've likely heard of DCPs, or Digital Cinema Packages. As 35mm film projectors have slowly been replaced by digital equivalents at most movie theaters and film festival, DCPs replace the expensive 35mm celluloid "film prints" that had to be created and distributed to each theatre playing the film. In other words, a DCP is a digital negative of the film, stored on either a hard disk, USB flash drive, or delivered via the Internet ("Cloud Delivery", as some call it). This is great news for distribution, especially for the independent and lower budget films, as it is significantly cheaper to create and distribute a DCP to thousands of theaters and festivals than it is to create a film print, possibly only to be seen in a few theaters over the life of the print. Long story short, DCP is a great choice for creating a cinema-quality deliverable asset for your film that is future proof (to a certain extent) and easy to distribute.
Now that we're all on the same page about DCPs, we can jump to the main purpose of this article: a review of Fandev's CuteDCP export plug-in for Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe After Effects. While there are free options, like OpenDCP, and included solutions with certain editing applications, such as the QuVis "Wraptor DCP" output options available within Adobe Media Encoder, they leave a lot to be desired in terms of customization, options, and specific to OpenDCP, quality. If you look for alternatives, you'll discover EasyDCP, FinalDCP, and the very commonly suggested "Have a professional post house create a DCP for you". The only issue with all three of those suggestions, accurate as they may be, is they are all quite expensive.
Enter CuteDCP: a unique export plug-in for Adobe After Effects and Premiere Pro that costs $163 for one version, or $270 for both. In comparison, the EasyDCP plug-in for Resolve costs almost $1300, FinalDCP costs a whopping $1631, and even upgrading the built-in Wraptor DCP in Adobe Media Encoder is a fairly pricey $699 (although you can at least rent that on a monthly basis). With the alternative DCP encoders broken down by price, its no question that CuteDCP wins by a mile, but it doesn't offer every feature, such as using a render farm and other computers to assist in the encoding process, so there are still reasons to consider using a higher end solution. Let's take a look at some of its features:
- Support resolutions of 2K and 4K at framerates of 24, 25, 30, 48, 50, or 60.
- A built-in Title Helper, which makes it very easy to name exported content exactly to DCP specifications. Some projector systems do not identify the various DCPs available except by this "title", so its important that it be easy to use without having to learn much for a DCP novice.
- Supports both the legacy standard, InterOp, and the latest standard, SMPTE.
- Supports import of CineCanvas (InterOp) Subtitles and SMPTE subtitles.
- Allows both stereo and 5.1 audio encoding straight from the timeline.
- Uses a multi-threaded CPU only encoding design for its internal Rec709 to XYZ color space conversion.
- DCP Metadata Control
I'm sure you are anxious to hear how about the quality of CuteDCP encodings, aside from its features. It was a major concern of mine, seeing the significant cost difference between it and other encoders. I'm happy to report that the quality was just as good as several other higher end encoders I blind tested, many times to the extent I could not tell which application encoded the DCP during a screening. The only limitations are based on the source application feeding the plug-in, so Premiere and After Effects. I did notice it being slightly slower than the included QuVis Wraptor output, but considering that its a "lite" version of a $700 plug-in, its not surprising its slightly faster than CuteDCP. Quality wise, I found no "visually perceptible" difference between the two encodings, even with CuteDCP using half the bit-rate of Wraptor (The included Wraptor DCP plug-in with Adobe Creative Cloud is locked down to the highest bitrate, no changes can be made). The ability to enable\disable the XYZ conversion and adjust the encoding bitrate separates CuteDCP from the built-in Wraptor DCP "lite" option, which has virtually no control and is limited to 2K outputs. My favorite additional feature was the Title Helper (pictured below), which helps you quickly & accurately name your DCP according to Digital Cinema Naming Convention without having to even know what that that is (find out more about it here, if you are curious).
Unfortunately, being a plug-in may be CuteDCP's biggest limitations, as it is completely reliant on After Effects and Premiere Pro (with Adobe Media Encoder). With neither being a true color or finishing application, CuteDCP limits the input image color space to Rec709 (aka typical HD), so those who have color graded in the P3 color space (native to digital cinemas) will need to look elsewhere for DCP encoding solutions. However, if you are grading in P3, you aren't likely to be looking to save a few hundred dollars on DCP creation anyway, so this isn't much of a limitation in my opinion. One other issue with CuteDCP is it doesn't do any type of source image color space detection, so it is assuming your source file is correctly formatted to a Rec709 (Something to should discuss with your colorist). Other higher end encoders offer scopes and other input color space tools, but these are missing from CuteDCP due to its export plug-in nature. Lastly, CuteDCP currently does not use any form of GPU acceleration, although its said to be coming in a future version. With the conversion to JPEG2000 being a very computationally intensive conversion, I don't blame them for sticking with CPUs for reliability and consistency. I would love to see GPU acceleration added to some extent in the future, as long as it doesn't sacrifice quality for performance, but thats a very small complaint. Even with the limitations, I still feel this is an extremely affordable solution that will cover every need for 90% of filmmakers looking to create their own Digital Cinema Package (DCP) but want something more complete than the included Wraptor "lite"DCP.
Overall, I've been very pleased with CuteDCP in general and I absolutely recommend it to independent filmmakers, colorists, and editors looking to add DCPs to the long list of customizable output formats that can be exported from Adobe Media Encoder and After Effects. It brings a fairly customizable DCP encoding solution to a price point previously untouched by any of its competition. In specific, it offers many easy to use features like the Title Helper to help those less familiar with DCPs, while delivering a high quality DCP conversion (assuming the source image is correctly formatted). It limitations seem to be partially based in its design as a plug-in and its reliance on a host application, but for most, this won't be an issue for most except power users. Both plug-ins and more can be found at FanDev.com.
In my next blog article, I discuss how we can review our DCP without access to a theater or cinema projector.
Editors Note: This plug-in was provided to me for evaluation, testing and review purposes. That said, the above review is completely unbiased and uncensored, as I have no affiliation with FanDev. Anything expressed is solely based on my own testing and opinions formed during the process.
Film grain is something that is useful to every colorist, visual effects artist, and all filmmakers in general. Whether you like the look of film grain or not, it can be a very useful subliminal tool that can help reduce the visible banding, add texture after noise reduction, and generally take the digital "edge" off your footage, sometimes without even making grain visible.
In a time when many are shooting at very high resolutions, up to 6K, and digital cameras, even at 1080p, are so sharp and clean, adding film grain helps adds some "motion" to the frame that our brains have almost subliminally come to expect. On the technical side, it can help break up visual "banding" and help bring back some "life" after a heavy noise reduction pass (when necessary). Unfortunately, as Vimeo and YouTube compression mainly destroys all but the heaviest of grain, the best experience is on the big screen or watching BluRays, especially older films. You'd be amazed at the variety and uniqueness of each film stock AND each film, as the process of film development itself caused variations between each reel of developed film. Working with digital negatives, we only have to match different digital cameras formats, but color timers (the analog precursor to digital colorists) working with film had to match each DAYS work coming back from the film development lab, and ensure all the negative was being developed consistently and up to that timer's personal level of quality.
The other night I was trying to finish a project at UHD (16:9 4K) and when searching for high quality 4K film grain, I was sorely disappointed. Either the scans we so costly that they ate the projects entire budget or they looked like badly faked digital grain (some looked liked they were created with the noise effect in After Effects, honestly). In my frustration, I came upon an idea that would allow me to create my own "emulated" film grain AND give it some variety (hence the emulated aspect, as I manually attempted to add the "Kodak" and "Fuji" qualities I saw in true high-quality 1080p film scans) . As I'm experimenting with the development, I decided it would be a great time to get feedback WHILE giving back. In other words, These 4K ProRes film grain clips can be downloaded for free using the link below. I simply ask that you will leave some feedback so I can make them better in the future. They are available as 35mm, 16mm, and 8mm, all with a Kodak and Fuji variety, that can be downloaded below.
UPDATE February 2018: Based partially on the popularity and positive response from this experiment, I've collaborated with the amazing team at Rampant Design Tools on a new film grain collection called Rampant Film Grain & Noise Overlays. If you are are looking for a large library of high quality film grain and sensor noise patterns, I highly recommend you check it out.
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Please enjoy these grain clips and share them with others. You are free to use them on commercial projects, but please provide a credit to Jason Bowdach, C.S.I. Please do not sell them or attempt to pass them off as your own work (aka steal).
Tips for Use: In your chosen NLE or compositor, layer the film grain on top of your footage. Change the blend mode to overlay or soft light. The film grain is fairly subtle (especially 35mm), so you can stack, rotate, flip and otherwise manipulate them for a more intense and varied effect. You can also adjust opacity, contrast or sharpening of the grain to intensify \ reduce the effect. In testing, 8mm doesn't stack as well due to the large size of the grain. For a more realistic feel, apply the grain to log footage prior to the normalization to Rec709.
We've been hard at work on an incredible new short film, "Portent", and we're thrilled to share the teaser trailer. First, If you are not familiar with Director \ DP Phil Artnz, this post will hopefully give you an introduction. An incredible, up and coming director and director of photography, I met Phil online through a private Facebook group for filmmakers after being amazed with some of the work I was seeing from him. Consistently stunning and unique, I reached out to him and we started chatting. It wasn't long before we both realized we were on the same page creatively, and we started to discuss color grading a short film he was currently working on, titled "Portent". After some discussions about the emotional impact of the story, how to best visualize it, and a few tests, we settled on a very restrained look: using a 35mm Kodak print stock as a reference, which gives the super clean 6K image from the RED Dragon some texture and adds a bit of an analogue feel, without feeling vintage.
Please check out the teaser trailer and leave a comment. We're love feedback, and we can't wait to share more as we can.
In the world of color correction and grading, 3D LUTs are hot and in demand. Its no surprise, as 3D LUTs can be an effective tool to simplify the color grading process and provide sophisticated looks quickly and easily. However, there are a huge variety of high quality products available to serve a similar purpose, such as Filmconvert, Koji, Visioncolor, and others available freely on the web. If so, why consider investing in yet another color solution? Simple. When it truly stands out and find a permanent spot in your toolbox after one use.
LookLabs SpeedLooks Studio is a package of 3D LUTs (or look-up tables), based around six distinct looks, intended to assist with color grading. The six looks, named SL-3500 Clean, SL-3535 Big, SL-3530 Matrix, SL-3522 Noir,SL-3527 Blue and SL-3528 Gold provide quite a variety, and even have several variations within each look (such as Kodak and Fuji variants of my favorite SL-3500 Clean, differing intensities of SL-3527 Blue, and low and high contrast versions of SL-3535 Big). This makes the "six" looks closer to 50, and covers the gamut of popular styles you might consider applying to your footage.
With it's fourth generation of SpeedLooks, LookLabs continues to develop their unique approach to camera matching and color management. While other packages provide numerous versions of each LUT (one for every camera model and profile) , LookLabs re-thought the process and delivers an innovative solution that simplifies the previously painful process of matching cameras in way that is friendly to colorists, video editors, and even those completely new to color grading.
Looklabs includes "Camera Patches" for almost every digital camera available on the market today (GH4 and A7s soon to be released), which when applied, normalizes each image to a universal LOG gamma curve, which is remarkably similar to Arri's LogC. The camera patches do a good job of matching the footage shot on various camera, from my Blackmagic Cinema as my A-Camera, my GoPro Black used for slow motion and strange angle shots, and my Canon Rebel as a B-camera, so when I get to grading, the colors are already fairly evened out. Combined with the fact it "standardizes" all the footage into the colorist-friendly VS-LOG, I find the approach a very effective solution for both matching numerous cameras and preparing your footage for color grading using the other other aspect of the package, the six looks (ala 50 variations).
Before I start discussing the looks, I would like to mention that I feel color grading, in general, is a very personal and subjective process. One person may love a look, while another person may downright hate it, and that should be expected for any creative craft. A good example: Hyper low contrast seem to be all the rage in many music videos, films, and commercials, but I personally do not find it visually appealing. Just a thought.
Overall, I found the various looks in this package to be subtle, varied, and useful in a wide range of situations. SL-3500 Clean is likely to the most used, due to its ability to "breathing back life" into dull and muddy footage. It's punchy and saturated (depending on the variation), and provides an excellent starting point for further grading without being overbearing.
Of course, when you want that stylized color contrast of the Hollywood Blockbuster look, SL-3535 Big makes your images pop even more than Clean and adds a hint of the familiar cinematic teal\orange. As the teal\orange push can occasionally become a bit overbearing, LookLabs even included a "MINUS BLUE" variation, saving you a small bit of manual adjustment.
Looking to stylize a black & white film noir about an ace detective gone awry? SL-3522 Noir provides you an ample variety of super-stylized black & white looks, and even a film stock emulation for the classic Kodak Tri-X. Although a very easy look to get by simply reducing saturation, these LUTs offer some neat film-like looks that would be hard to recreate manually without some heavy tinkering.
If you are looking for a nice punchy blue look for your image, SL-3527 Blue gives you a several choices. Some are quite mild, while others, like the heavily stylized "Day for Nite", are intended to completely recolor your image for dramatic effect. This look was so useful, I even used it in my workflow as a professional colorist to strategically add blue to several scenes in a project I was color grading at the time. It's not that I couldn't add blue tones using a variety of other color grading techniques, but the fact that this look LUT combined with some manual color grading resulted in a unique image that felt more natural and less processed than using my other more manual techniques. It was a surprising result, which you can view in its entirety below. I was very pleased with the final look, and most importantly, so were my clients.
Final Thoughts: If you couldn't tell, I really like LookLabs Speedlooks. Color correction and grading can be done without any LUTs, powergrades, presets, or plug-ins, but having them certainly provides some great starting points or some quickly applied looks, if you don't want to go further than shot matching & balancing. Color correction packages are becoming increasingly common in post-production, and LUTs packages are a dime a dozen, but I found Speedlooks consistently stood above the crowd and I highly recommend them. Lastly, I found the sales and support team to be friendly, responsive, and very well informed on their products. They were able to handle all my questions about their products, no BS or marketing elevator speeches.
LookLabs offers Speedlooks in 2 different packages, Studio Log, which includes the camera patches, and Studio Linear, which is purely Rec709 LUTs without the conversion to LOG (no camera patches). While I personally always like working in log, its an additional level of control not always needed to create beautiful imagery and a decision that's up to you. Check out their website and see which is more appropriate for your workflow a budget, which starts at $99.
SpeedLooks in Use
Rival Brothers Coffee - Many shots used Speedlooks V3 SL-3527 Blue at various intensities to help establish a consistent blue look that the client liked.
Sometimes it takes a bit of good, old fashion inspiration from others practicing your craft to spark a bit of creativity when you are stuck at a wall. As a colorist, I find video breakdowns off all kinds absolutely fascinating, as it highlights not only the work but also how that individual works: What tools do they use, what are they doing first as opposed to last, what do they avoid doing and what do they do habitually. These little traits are interesting trends that you can sometimes pick up on by looking at an artist's breakdown.
Another benefit of visual breakdowns is that it helps those not so intimately involved in a craft to quickly understand what is possible, how a final product could look, and generally encourages them to participate in the creative process.
In a follow-up article to the original round-up, I've gathered more color breakdowns to satisfy your curiosity. Here are several breakdowns from colorist Chris Hall. He provides narration for the grading breakdowns, making them even more informative, and appropriately named "Anatomy of a Grade". Be sure to follow him on Vimeo, so you can keep up with the ongoing series. I've posted a link to each specific breakdown below the videos. Anatomy of a Grade - Episode 01 - Manzanar
Anatomy of a Grade - Episode 02 - Manzanar - Focus on Skin Tone
Anatomy of a Grade - Episode 03 - Underexposure Correction with RED RAW Footage
Anatomy of a Grade - Episode 04 - The Ring "Look"
Anatomy of a Grade - Episode 05 - Digital "Relighting"
Anatomy of a Grade - Episode 06 - Day For Night
Anatomy of a Grade - Episode 07 - Sunset Grad
Anatomy of a Grade - Episode 08 - "Digital Relighting / Repainting"
Anatomy of a Grade - Episode 09 - The "Bleachy Western Look"
Anatomy of a Grade - Episode 10 - Gettin' That Cyan Swing
Anatomy of a Grade - Episode 11 - Keepin' It Consistent
(Personal favorite! Check out the film for a very cool and stylized color grade - "The Scribbler")
Anatomy of a Grade - Episode 12 - Bringing Interest and Depth to an Overcast Day
I hope these color breakdowns have been educational and inspired you to pick up a style, technique, or tool you never previously knew used or knew about. Its this reason I find breakdowns and behind the scenes so useful, as they seem to become more useful as you learn more about your craft and can pick up small, subtle techniques used by others more talented in that area, whether it be color, editing, or learning non-film related skills in your everyday life.
EDIT: Updated to reflect new options for profiles \ gamma settings. Slimraw Reference added - 10/2015
I personally feel Magic Lantern is the best thing to come to Canon DSLRs since sliced bread, especially it's ability to shoot in 14-bit RAW at 1080p HD. It's truly incredible that an open-source software "hack" can bring life to an aging camera line that allows it to outclass even some newly released cinema cameras, both in image quality and flexibility in post production. They can not shoot 4K, but Magic Lantern RAW can produce some incredible imagery that truly prove that expensive gear does not define a cinematographer. Unfortunately, anyone who has worked with the format can also attest to it's long winded post conversion workflow. This article aims to help you through that process, so you can capture images like the below (Just look at the detail in the fire!).
In a previous article, I detailed how you can work with Magic Lantern RAW quickly and easily, decoding almost directly to the high quality edit-friendly Apple ProRes format. My purpose for that experiment was both to see if I could figure out a "simple & reliable" workflow to use for ML RAW (mlv file format) and to see if it would hold up during post production processing. This follow up article aims to refine that workflow for more control over your color correction, at the expensive of processing time and storage space.
Here are a few things you can expect when shooting Magic Lantern RAW, not matter your post workflow:
1. You will need a massive amount of hard drive storage on set. Each hour will eat up around ~350-400GBs, depending on the exact resolution & if sound is recorded. Make sure you have a few HDDs to offload and back-up footage.
2. You SHOULD have a DIT on set who does nothing but offload cards and check the MLV files, if the production has the budget or you can wrangle someone to handle this very important task. Its not very glorious, but if you need to reshoot something, it is FAR easier knowing that fact a few minutes later instead of while watching dailies.
3. Each 64GB card will only hold between 11-22 min of footage, so you will be switching cards quite a bit. Think of it like you are shooting film, and you have to plan more carefully. It may be a limitation and CAN kill time, but not if you plan around it. Bring a least 3 1000x (or faster) CF cards and\or have an organized and efficient cycle of downloading the CF cards to avoid too much downtime.
4. While the camera could have the occasional "crash", no need to panic, as cycling the camera on\off or pulling the battery will almost always fix it. Some models (5D Mark II, III) are far more stable than others (7D, 6D). This article is written from the perspective of working with the least stable model, and I've had only a few issues.
I had done plenty of testing in preparation while testing the previous workflow, so it wasn't new of territory this time around. After going on a trip to Alaska and shooting a short nature film, I designed a higher end "feature" workflow using CinemaDNG as the "online" format instead of ProRes444 to retain the most information captured by the camera. The "Quick & Easy" workflow worked flawlessly, but I knew I was throwing out a lot of control in color correction by simply converting to ProRes. As this was a creative passion project, I wanted every bit of visual information I could capture. Here is that CinemaDNG workflow, and it happens to work for both Mac and PC, although you use a different program for the initial conversion. It's fairly straightforward, with many steps the same as before.
1. Copy your .RAW or .MLV Files from your CompactFlash card to two hard disks while on-set, one for back-up purposes. I suggest you establish a "cycle" of checking, dumping, and formatting the CompactFlash cards if you do not have a DIT, to avoid any data "accidents".
2. Review files on-set with MLRawViewer (Latest Version as of writing is 1.3.3). This software is great, as we can use it to review shots on a laptop on-set if needed for focus. This will also confirm if any files are corrupt or damaged, as the on-camera raw playback is still finicky.
3. Once back at your main editing computer, it's time to decode the proprietary RAW \ MLV files to standard CinemaDNG images sequences. If you are on Windows, I recommend you use Raw2CDNG, which happens to be free and open source. If you are on Mac OS X, I recommend RawMagic Lite \ RawMagic, which will do the same conversion to CinemaDNG. If you are ready to "wash your hands of it" and be done about now, I suggest you take a look at Pomfort Cliphouse for a quick way to finish your RAW files without going into additional applications, but it is another software package you would need to purchase.
4. Awesome! Now that you have successfully converted your proprietary .RAW or .MLV files to standard CinemaDNG sequences, we can get started color correcting or editing. Most computers aren't fast enough to edit CinemaDNG sequences in real-time, so we'll be using an an "online\offline" workflow. It sounds fancy and complicated, but it simply means you edit with lower quality "proxy" files that you "relink" back to the high-quality CinemaDNG files during color correction \ online finishing. More information about creating proxies files in DaVinci Resolve can be found here, as that's not the exact focus of this article.
5. If you have successfully converted all of your footage to CinemaDNG without any errors, you can likely delete the MLV \ RAW files, if you find yourself needing storage space.
6. Next, we interpret our footage as "LOG" so we have the most color range to work with. If processing in Resolve, you won't need a LUT or ACR profile. If you would like to process in Adobe After Effects, Download and install VisionLOG or purchase BMDFilmVC (recommended for Adobe Camera Raw workflow). This ACR profile will convert our footage to have a "logarithmic" (aka "LOG") gamma curve, which allows the use the entire dynamic range captured and give you a lot more "head room" to color grade, despite now looking "flat" and "washed out".
If your brain is spinning, it's totally understandable, but it will make sense shortly. This conversion also makes your footage compatible with a large variety of plug-ins, LUTs, film stock emulations, and any color grading options that supports a LOG style input, similar to cineon (how film was digitally captured when scanned), Arri LogC, and Red Log Film. Of course, you can also grade the footage completely manually by hand, with the enormous flexibility allowed using RAW CinemaDNG sequences.
6a. If working in DaVinci Resolve, make sure to go to the camera RAW tab in settings, select CinemaDNG, and change "Rec709 "to "BMDFilm". This is how we tell Resolve to interpret the CinemaDNG files as "Log", similar to the BMDFilm gamma curve Blackmagic cameras shoot in. Also, in newer versions of Resolve (11.1 and later), there is an additional option called "pre-tone curve". For best results, disable "pre-tone curve" unless matching to older material.
7. Color grade until satisfied in Adobe After Effects of DaVinci Resolve. You can color using tools like the 3-way CC, Curves, LUTs, plug-ins such as FilmConvert, etc.
8. Export back to your editing platform of choice using XML or AAF OR export single final master file using ProRes, DNxHD, GoPro Cineform, or your choice of high quality master format. I highly recommend you master & archive your projects using a high quality intermediate codec, and not a highly compressed format such as H.264 or MPEG-4. Export both if you must, but keep a HQ version. Perosnally, I am using GoPro Cineform HD or ProRes444 to archive my projects, as they retain almost all of the quality of the original.
9. Kick back and enjoy your footage.
This workflow might require a lengthy RAW/MLV to CinemaDNG conversion, but we end up with beautiful, uncompressed CinemaDNG sequences (which can be further compressed WITHOUT losing data with a utility like SlimRaw). Next, we color grade our CinemaDNG files in DaVinci Resolve or Adobe After Effects (via Adobe Camera Raw) using whatever methods you are most comfortable with, whether 3-way CC, Curves, LUTs, plug-ins such as FilmConvert, Magic Bullet, other built in tools, etc. My point is you can color grade however you choose, in either application. DaVinci Resolve is my personal choice for professional color grading, but After Effects is plenty powerful, requires far less of a computer, and especially now with mask tracking, is quite capable of being used to color correct (Just ask Stu Maschwitz....).
Shooting RAW provides numerous benefits, such as an amazing amount of precision in color correction and visual effects (such as green screen keying), while also working in several applications, so you aren't locked down to a specific color grading platform. The negative side of working with RAW is the additional storage and processing power required, as most RAW formats typically require a very fast computer in all areas (CPU, GPU, and HDDs) to debayer & playback raw media in real-time.
I hope you found this overview of the Magic Lantern Raw to CinemaDNG workflow useful. Please leave any comment or question below.
Refer to the the specific application's websites\ forums for more information, shortcuts, and updates to the software.
Disclaimer: Although I feel this should be assumed, I am in no way affiliated with any of the software packages I mention in my articles. Anything I mention about a product, service, or individual is completely my own opinion.
There is something ironically humorous about doing something you love, yet actively avoiding crucial aspects of the process. It doesn't make any logical sense when you think about it critically, but somehow we convince ourselves that it's "okay" when we feel comfortable applying our own personal context, or excuses to the mix.
Over numerous projects, I've become aware that I have a certain preoccupation towards this type of behavior with starting edits on personal projects. It certainly had nothing to due with my lack of excitement to work on that project, nor lack of creative direction, as I always shoot with an edit and final product in mind. There's just something about starting on the first stages of the edit, after you've done your selects, that causes me to procrastinate like a college freshman on his first exam. However, once I break through that initial stage and start to make some progress, things completely turn around and I'm "plugged in", to quote "The Social Network". Now that I'd discovered where my creative "bottleneck" was, I needed to find a more consistent method of breaking through and getting to that next step of being glued to my keyboard, driven by pure adrenaline fueled creativity.
After working on several projects where I tested a few different strategies, here are a few tips I found really helped in breaking through my creative procrastination that I thought I would share:
1. Take regular breaks OUTSIDE your edit \ color suite. I work from home, so I add an afternoon walk with my puppy; but if that's not an option, simply going outside for a few minutes of fresh air and a change of scenery really helps.
2. Just START editing/coloring/mixing, and stop thinking about it. Try things you wouldn't normally try, and if they don't work, throw them out and start over. Continue pushing yourself & working on it! It will eventually hook you as you start to mold it into your own.
3. Consider the energy you waste by procrastinating, and use that energy elsewhere. Its incredible how much time I realized I was wasted pushing off tasks instead of simply doing them.
4. Have a friend play producer and set a several realistic deadline. Having a deadline will force you to be accountable to someone besides yourself, which tends to both encourage and push you to succeed. It's also great practice for real-life situations, where deadlines are crucial and omnipresent.
5. Figure out if your procrastination is simply a mask for your fear regarding the project or task? If so, try to identify & face your fear, ideally by simply trying with an open mind. Film making & most forms of storytelling, in general, are crafts largely learning by experimentation and pushed forward by those brave enough to try when at their weakest.
6. Resist the urge to look for perfection immediately, as you'll simply encourage your procrastination. Many artists are the harshest critics of their own work, and it takes times for things to settle into places sometimes. Not even David Fincher gets what he wants in the first shot, fx, or edit, so don't allow your perception of progress (or lack of it) to encourage your procrastination.
These are just a few tips and techniques I've found that help me break my creative procrastination cycle. If you have a useful tip to share, please leave it in the comments box below.