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Color Correction for Digital Video

Barend Onneweer reviews Color Correction for Digital Video
A Creative COW "Real World" Book Review



Barend Onneweer reviews: Color Correction for Digital Video by Steve Hullfish and Jaime Fowler
Barend Onneweer
Barend Onneweer
Independent Producer, raamw3rk studios
Instructor, Art Academy, Rotterdam, Holland

©2003 Barend Onneweer and CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.

Article Focus:
Barend Onneweer reviews: Color Correction for Digital Video by Steve Hullfish and Jaime Fowler and published by CMP Books. Barend concludes with, '' ...this book will get you through the necessary color theory and technicalities and then straight through to the real works.''


Click here to purchase Color Correction for Digital VideoINTRODUCTION

If the many discussions here at Creative COW represent the developments in the real world, it seems that the job description for film and video editors have expanded drastically in the last years. The developments in non-linear editing and other digital technologies have created a situation in which editors are expected to perform a much wider range of tasks like audio sweetening, compositing, title graphics, animation and color correction.

Most editors I know are excited about the increased level of control over all the stages of production and postproduction, and of course many clients will like the idea of one-stop shopping – especially in economically troubled times.

We could argue whether this is a good thing. At least we shouldn’t underestimate the added value of bringing in an experienced specialist for audio mastering or color corrections. But the trend has been set and many editors these days are expected to do color treatment on the projects they are working on. And that’s where this book comes in: Color Correction for Digital Video – by Steve Hullfish and Jaime Fowler.


THEORY

The book starts out with some background information on the history of color correction for film and video. Not the most essential information if you just want to learn how to spice up the images on your desktop editing machine, but a very interesting read that should make all us feel happy about the modern tools that we have at our fingertips.

After this short exploration of telecine, datacine and other technologies, the authors venture into the essential bits of color theory and perception of color. Without getting too technical these two chapters explain how colors are perceived, color dynamics and color spaces. One of the specific qualities of this book is that these abstract theoretical aspects are always explained in direct relationship to the real world circumstances and tools that we deal with on a daily basis, like YUV versus RGB color spaces, and bit-depth.


SETTING UP

Once these essentials are covered, the book gets into the practical environment and setup that surrounds today’s digital colorist. A lot of attention is paid to setting up a video reference monitor using SMPTE color bars. To properly calibrate the video display, you need a professional video monitor with blue-only option. But the author also presents workable solutions for setting up a consumer-level TV set.

The chapter also explains that working in a neutral environment is just as important as a properly calibrated video monitor, since the human eye tends to adapt to the room lighting which may lead to a ‘colored’ perception of the images. It is acknowledged that not everyone will have complete control over their working environment, but some simple but valuable pointers are given to take into consideration.


ANALYSIS

Waveform monitors and vectorscopes have been the traditional tools for analysing analog video signals. Although the technology behind scopes would seem to be outdated since the introduction of digital and non-linear editing on desktop machinery, the opposite seems to be true. And more and more editing applications are featuring software scopes: Avid Xpress, Apple Final Cut Pro, Sonic Foundry Vegas Video (even improved in version 4) and those applications that don’t ship with a scope often have plug-ins available to fill this gap (Synthetic Apertures Echofire for Adobe After Effects). The authors explain the differences between scopes and software scopes, how to read them and how the readings can be used both as a creative tool and to judge whether the video output is ‘legal’.

But apart from these traditional tools, the digital revolution also brought us histograms and RGB info palettes. Histograms are even covered in their own chapter, which explains how to look for posterization, clipping and other possible problems with the color information in a video image.


THE TOOLS

Now this is where we can finally get creative on our images. This chapter explains the many tools that are featured in today’s editing and compositing apps, using examples from Avid Symphony and Xpress DV, Synthetic Aperture Color Finesse and others.

The very common Levels filter is the first of the tools that is explained. If you ever wondered what exactly gamma is, and the difference between the ‘incoming white point’ and the ‘outgoing white point’, this chapter will clear that all up for you. Next are the hue controls and RGB curves that are found in all the NLE’s and compositing apps today. The chapter ends with secondary color correction tools that allow you to affect only a specific part of the color range.

The chapter does an excellent job in not only describing what these tools do, but also how they do it, and why. Those obscure tools in the toolbox will start to make a lot more sense now. And that’s great, because this is where the book gets practical:


EXAMPLES

The book ends (well sort of), with 40 pages of basic and advanced color correction tutorials, which take the reader through the most common problems that may rise. Although most of these examples are carried out using Color Finesse in Final Cut Pro and on an Avid Symphony, the techniques and procedure are easily translated to other applications like Vegas Video, After Effects, Combustion and many others. The level of control might be a bit different, but the general approach will be the same.

The tutorials start with the most common situations like underexposed video and video with a color cast (improper white balance), and then there’s a couple more experimental tutorials, that show the more advanced ways to work with the colors to create special looks.





Conclusion
Color Correction for Digital Video is the only book that I know of that deals with these topics in so much detail. It is obviously aimed at professionals, and I believe it provides most well-rounded professionals with sufficient detail. But the authors are also aware of the independent spirits and struggling amateur filmmakers out there, and when possible the needs for the lower budgets are also catered.

If you are interested in digital colorgrading in a desktop environment, this book will get you through the necessary color theory and technicalities and then straight through to the real works. Like mentioned before, the merit of this book is that it always seeks the relationship of theory to practice.

I’ll give it 4 out of 5 cows.






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