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NAB 2012: The Year of the Colour Grader

COW Library : NAB Expo : Dennis Kutchera : NAB 2012: The Year of the Colour Grader
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CreativeCOW presents NAB 2012: The Year of the Colour Grader -- NAB Expo Feature


Halifax Nova Scotia Canada

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NAB 2012 may be remembered as the year that advanced colour grading went mainstream. Join Dennis Kutchera as he samples the winds of change as news breaks for the upcoming product releases for NAB.



NAB 2012 may be remembered as the year that advanced colour grading went mainstream. Sure there are many exciting new cameras and other great tools, but I am an online finishing post-production gear-head at heart.

Dating back to the linear post days, colour grading was the domain of expensive rooms with rates that could (and still do) go north of $1,000 an hour. In the late 90s, Avid introduced advanced (for it's time) colour correction tools in Symphony. It still had a high price point for some, but for many, it brought them from the realm of proc amp and TBC level tweaks to the possibility of a very fast, efficient and accurate real-time colour correction workflow; not as advanced as a Davinci of the day, but fantastic for the first 80 to 95% of what many productions would ever need. Next, Apple bought out Silicon Color who had a capable colour grader called 'Final Touch' and released it in 2006 as part of the Final Cut Studio suite of applications. It was both powerful and at the same time, a bit of a kludge.

But the real shake-up came in 2010 when DaVinci, then recently purchased by Blackmagic Design, released DaVinci Resolve for Mac at a price point that everyone could afford. Somewhere on the journey, BMD decided to give away a "lite" version of Resolve for free that now contains features that Avid Symphony should have had years ago and still doesn't.


Avid Symphony
Flash! This breaking news, as I was writing this piece -- Avid just announced special pricing for Final Cut Pro AND Media Composer users to upgrade to Symphony (software) for $999. Now that Avid supports third party hardware, chances are you can run Symphony. Why would you want to? The colour correction is Media Composer times ten. While not in the class of DaVinci Resolve, it offers some very distinct advantages to an Avid workflow, such as a breakdown into finer picture control, separated into highs, mids and lows with adjustable ranges, RGB adjustment, RGB blending, secondary corrections and the biggest advantage -- colour correction of the source clip, meaning that every place in your sequence where a shot came from the same clip or tape, it will be corrected without having to copy and past the grade. You can also merge corrections between sequences. For episode TV work, this is huge. At $999, which includes Boris Continuum Complete 8 ($1595 value), you'd have to be broke or insane to go for just the Media Composer 6 upgrade. I will make a prediction -- this signals the end of Media Composer and I believe the next major Avid release will be unified into one product. All that distinguishes MC from Symphony today is the more advanced colour grading and Universal Mastering (Nitris DX hardware required for Universal Mastering). Run, don't walk to take advantage of this offer that is good until June 9. Read about it at avid.com.

In spite of my enthusiasm for Avid Symphony, I will point out that its tools are dated and insufficient for many workflows, so I am shopping for my next big thing in colour grading and finishing work. I will continue to use Symphony, but I have been looking at DaVinci Resolve as a colour grader. So far, my experience with the Lite version has been less than stellar with round tripping from Avid. Resolve is very fussy with Avid AAFs and the source media formats. At free or $1000, maybe I can't expect more; but I need more. I am hoping that Avid makes a kick-ass announcement that will let me stay in their ecosystem for colour grading here at Egg Studios. Attention Avid -- DS is not the answer in its present form.

My strongest contender right now is Assimilate Scratch, but I need some very compelling reasons to spend twenty-one times the price of DaVinci Resolve. It has to be bulletproof and fast. I have a private demo appointment to find out.

FilmLight
FilmLight will show Baselight for FCP 7 at NAB.
I've drooled over FilmLight's Baselight and it's Avid workflow since I first spotted it at IBC 2008, but the price was out of my ballpark. But now, it appears that they will be showing a plug-in for Avid and if it is priced at the $1000 mark like their just released plug-in for FCP 7, this will be something worth looking into. But it is going to have to fight with the AVX plug-in architecture, which I've been told is not very efficient, so will we see the needed real time performance?

And just last night, I caught wind of some big changes from Autodesk with Smoke. I looked at Smoke for Mac and was frankly underwhelmed with some key features it was missing. I loved the colour grader in it though, so if they can make a bulletproof workflow from Avid to Smoke, I might be in line at the Smoke shop. You can find out more at smokeischanging.com to register for the big NAB announcement Sunday night.

IRIDAS Color Grading Technology
IRIDAS SpeedGrade
The big surprise at NAB in the colour grading and post world may just come from Adobe. They recently bought Iridas SpeedGrade, a very capable colour correction package. They also hired Wes Plate of Automatic Duck fame, the guy who made round-tripping between apps a joy rather than torture. Right now, Adobe Premiere 5.5 will open a Final Cut Pro 7 sequence with all the layers and effects intact. Picture that same ability with Avid sequences, add in Iridas SpeedGrade and suddenly, you might have a post colour grading and finishing solution that will make everything else look like an A/B roll Betacam tape suite in comparison -- editor, colour grader and motion graphics via After Effects, all in one unified eco-system that might fulfill the elusive everything in and anything out seamless workflow. The Adobe booth will be one of my first stops at NAB.

To do accurate colour correction and grading requires more than a mouse. At minimum, you should have a Wacom tablet, but what you really want is a dedicated control surface. That is what has traditionally made colour graders expensive -- the dedicated control hardware. But now there are incredibly good and low cost control sufaces such as the Avid Artist Color at $1500 or the Tangent Wave. Both are great choices that support a lot of software.

And finally on the colour grading scene, NAB Post World has an all day series of classes on colour correction and grading with some top shelf colourists, including Alexis Van Hurkman, who has authored some excellent books on colour correction, one of which has become my personal reference volume.

With the tools so affordable, no post shop doing finishing work should be without a minimum of Avid Symphony. But to be really competitive, you're going to need to invest in one of the dedicated graders or a finishing package with the equivalent. However, cool tools are not the key to success. Now more than ever, talent is what will determine your success in the business of post. Colour grading is both an art and a science. Many people can do a credible job with the basics on a Symphony, but it is the top 20% who will really capture the market; those who can not only balance and match shots, but also make visual magic. Find yourself a great colourist and love him well!

This is going to be an exciting NAB for me. I'm going to be like a kid in a candy shop. This will be my first NAB in years. Although I've been attending IBC, you can't beat NAB and Las Vegas for the real sizzle and excitement. I'll be following up this article with what I find, post NAB. We'll see you on the show floor or at one of the many after-hours events.





Dennis Kutchera is a veteran broadcast editor who has used both Avid Media Composer and Apple Final Cut Pro since the early days of each. Dennis has also worked as a technology and branding consultant with international broadcasters. Dennis was a founding member of Creative COW who worked with Ronald and Kathlyn Lindeboom to expand the original forum line-up, adding a wide array of product forums that Dennis then hosted, including Avid and Autodesk.

Dennis lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada where he works as Online Artist and Chief Technology Officer for Egg Films Inc, Atlantic Canada's foremost commercial production house.


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Re: NAB 2012: The Year of the Colour Grader
by Michael Forrest
Great article Dennis. Nice meeting up with you at NAB. Best of luck in your quest for the best finishing system.
Re: NAB 2012: The Year of the Colour Grader
by Stephen Smith
Alright, now that NAB is almost over. What are your side by side impressions? Pros- and Cons of the programs?

Stephen Smith
Utah Video Productions

Check out my Motion Training DVD

Check out my Vimeo page
Re: NAB 2012: The Year of the Colour Grader
by Dennis Kutchera
I spent my entire NAB immersed in the world of colour grading. It was one intense NAB show for me from Sunday afternoon at the new Smoke launch with the Red Users party that evening, followed by Monday at Post World with the rest of the week on the show floor, with late nights at various industry events throughout. I did a redeye flight Thursday night, arriving home Friday at about 1:00 pm. I went to right bed and woke up Saturday at about 10 am! It's going to take me a few days to recover from NAB and catch up with the home office, but I'll be reporting my findings very soon. This is going to build into a series of articles because there is so much to digest.

Have I decided what my solution will be yet? I am closer, but I am going to have to run through an exhaustive comparison to see what works best for our current work and future needs. Should I consider a move away from Avid as our editing base to take advantage of new workflows? That could change everything. Adobe CS 6 has a tight workflow with Iridas Speedgrade now integrated into the package and the new Autodesk Smoke for Mac 2013 has a very comprehensive, affordable and easy to learn, familiar looking toolset. But is the Smoke Color Warper as good as a standalone grader like DaVinci Resolve? I won't know until I am able to play with it. Public Beta starts in June.

Right now, I will say that the available colour grading options exceeded my expectations. And there is a colour grading solution for every budget from free to fantasy prices. One thing that makes the expensive systems so pricy is the hardware. After seeing various control surfaces in action from the Avid Artist Color up to the new made from wood Baselight control surface, I can tell you that this is a must. The speed gain of using a control surface over a mouse and GUI is exponentially huge, even in Avid Symphony.

Not surprisingly, I found that pretty much every system I checked out was amazing at some things and mediocre at others. This is going to be a tough decision and price is not the biggest determining factor because the cost of ownership is more than just the ticket price. If you can work faster at a higher room rate and give your client better results sooner with a lower bill at the end, then paying the big bucks could make sense.

Stay tuned for more in the coming days.

Dennis Kutchera
EggStudios.ca
Re: NAB 2012: The Year of the Colour Grader
by shur harewood
I think the fact that the affordability, access and processing power has also made these tools more widely available to many people on the lower end of production spectrum, but only time will tell how effectively there'll be used to deliver quality finished productions.

Freelance HD and DSLR camera producer and trainer.
Enjoying the fruits and passion of living life to the full.

http://www.unitedbyphotography.com
Re: NAB 2012: The Year of the Colour Grader
by Barend Onneweer
Hi Dennis,

I look forward to following up on this after you've snooped around in Las Vegas.

If money was no issue, Baselight would be a top choice. But I'm not convinced the plug-in will be useful for serious grading under time-pressure. I haven't used it but I imagine having to select the clip and effect to tweak the parameters. Then select the next clip and the effect, and repeat. That would be the same as grading in FCP or Premiere right now. Except with maybe a better tool. The big advantage would be the portability of the preliminary grades done by the editor into a full Baselight setup. But if that's out of the budget, I don't see much use for the plug-in.

I have been working on Scratch for a couple of years now. I'm very happy with it, but if I was shopping around today, I'd give Resolve another close look - just because it's 'free' - or almost. That said, I tried Speedgrade a while ago and the interface wasn't for me. So even though I'll get Speedgrade with my CS6 I'm not about to ditch Scratch for it.

If Autodesk blends Lustre into Smoke - that might be the most complete NLE/grading/finishing combo, and one I'd seriously look into. But I don't see that happening, with Lustre part of Flame 2013. And I'd want to see a new MacPro or a port to Windows to get the needed power.

Anyway, it'll be fun to continue the discussion. Kind of wish I was there with you to unhinge bathroom doors and stroll the floor.

Barend

Raamw3rk - independent colourist and visual effects artist
Re: Article: NAB 2012: The Year of the Colour Grader
by Peter Sartwell
Thanks for this great roundup, Dennis. Color work is one of the reasons I'm going to NAB, so this is very helpful. I'm looking forward to seeing some elegant Avid workflow solutions also.


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