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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.
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 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.
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.