NAB 2012: The Year of the Colour Grader
COW Library : NAB Show : Dennis Kutchera : NAB 2012: The Year of the Colour Grader
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.
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.
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.
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.