Color that’s a joy to drive?

If you’ve never heard of Stu Maschwitz you’ve definitely heard of the products he helps design and sell, notably: Colorista and Magic Bullet Looks for Red Giant Software. Just before NAB 2015 he wrote a blog post about evaluating color correction software. Near the end he makes a comment that I’ve got a problem with:

How to Kick the Tires on a Color Corrector

If a color correction tool feels hard to use, it is. It’s not your fault for not learning how to use it. If a demo artist can’t make an image look great in less than a minute—in a way that matches how you expect to actually work, they are wasting their time and yours, and revealing something about their product and the culture that created it.

In the comments a good colleague of mine, Steve Hullfish, takes Stu to task on this notion that ‘if it looks hard it’s because the developers don’t give a damn about you’. Now—I completely respect Stu’s, ‘make it easy’ design philosophy but he seems to fail to recognize that even his products can be tough to use if you want to go beyond merely picking presets.

I LOVE Magic Bullet Looks but I’ve seen editors absolutely struggle over, “Is that effect I’m looking for a Subject, Matte, Lens, Camera or Post effect?” Looks takes a Cinematographer’s thought process and puts it in the hands of editors… who then struggle mastering it because it uses a paradigm they don’t understand.

I pride myself on being able to master (and teach) really complex software and I often get lost in the Colorista and Looks interfaces

Back when I launched my first Masterclass in DaVinci Resolve 8, I did a follow-up on color correcting in the Apple ecosystem with training on using Colorista. I found it such a powerful interface that I was always getting lost (a pro, getting lost :-) so I taught people to use that filter for one task at a time… otherwise you’ll never be able to come back 3 weeks later and deconstruct your grades. It’s an approach that’s become a mainstay for my NLE teachings.

Stu has some great thoughts on evaluating color software

And I encourage you to read his post on the subject. But I do think he goes a bit ‘off the rails’ at the end there… over-estimating the simplicity of the tools he helps design if you want to go beyond picking presets.

I’ll conclude by saying, I have plans to develop training on using his products… so let that knowledge inform your thoughts on my thoughts about his thoughts! But I’ve got to get my next Grade-Along out the door first…

Read: How to Kick the Tires on a Color Corrector at Prolost.com

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Did Color Get Demoted in FCP X Update 10.2?

Have you even been eating with your family at the holiday dinner table—and had the discussion turn to politics?

Most families tend to trend similar in their political orientation but you always have an outlier sibling, cousin or uncle. There’s always someone at the table ready to get offended even when you don’t think they should be.

Now, imagine eating at such a family gathering and you’ve got a comment to make that you know will tweak someone at the table. And as you’re ready to speak out loud, for a few hundred milliseconds you ask yourself:

Should I say it? Or not?

I had one of those ‘Should I? Shouldn’t I?’ moments this weekend writing about my NAB 2015 first impressions

It was about some thoughts I had regarding the FCP X 10.2 update and it didn’t take me long to decide, yes—I’m going to say it.

Why? Because I believe strongly in this opinion and I want it to be heard. Here’s the precise quote from my Sunday Newsletter article (reposted on this blog) that tweaked a few people:

Apple released Final Cut Pro X 10.2 and they reversed almost 10 years of color emphasis

The Color layer is now gone. You have to hunt for it as an effect or in a somewhat obscure pull-down menu.

I. Am. Sad.

It didn’t take long for the pushback to start. Mostly in emails. Often from professionals whom I respect and have had many dealings with. They all tended to say precisely the same thing as this comment from a reader here on the Tao:

Apple have not de-emphasized the importance of color grading – quite the contrary. As with previous releases, simply pressing Command-6 will bring you into the colorboard. After applying adjustments to the clip, the adjustment is listed in the inspector. This requires no more keystrokes than in previous releases, and there is no need to dig into the effects browser to apply the correction . . .

Also, the addition of multiple scope displays, the ability to save combinations of effects as presets and improved masking capability suggest that apple have placed a strong emphasis on color.

Everything the commenter said is true—except for the first line (it’s emphasis is mine). In this article I’m going to prove, to those willing to listen, that the FCP X 10.2 update has de-emphasized color in the FCP X workflow. And yes…

I. Am. Sad. (still)

First, let’s start with what I’m NOT saying

I am NOT saying the color correction feature set got worse in FCP X 10.2. In fact, a reading of my article shows that I sang the praises of the decision to make the Color Board an Effect layer that can be re-ordered. This is a huge upgrade. We can now build actual color pipelines, deciding when and where Effects happen in context of color manipulations. That’s terrific and removed a huge color pipeline liability.

But that’s a feature enhancement.

Along the same lines, I love the new scopes. On my outboard set of Scopebox scopes I have 10 scopes set up, because my eyes flick around depending what problem I’m solving and it’s way easier than the constant point-and-clicking to change scope views.

But that’s a feature enhancement.

FCP X 10.2 has quite a few very welcomed feature enhancements that specifically benefit anyone doing color grading. But just like I have a few concerns about what I saw with Resolve 12, I have concerns with FCP X 10.2.

I’m bothered that the redesigned User Interface removed the Color Board from direct view

It’s a concern about design philosophy, not a question if the tool itself got better (it did). To further explain, let’s let FCP X do the talking for us. Notice in this split screen, I’ve got the Inspector Before and After the 10.2. Update. Does the Color workflow gain or lose prominence in this UI redesign?

The FCP X Inspector before and after the 10.2 Update

On the left, the Inspector before the 10.2 update. On the right, after. Notice how ‘Color’ is missing?

Before the 10.2 update, a casual user would be forced to consider the color of the shot every time they went to resize, crop or add an effect. Color, as an important editorial decision, was integrated into the Inspector and it couldn’t be passively ignored. After the 10.2 update, the casual user is free to never ever think about color—or wonder: What is so important about this tool that it’s given such prominence?

The ‘color correction uninitiated’ are never given the cue that maybe they should do some research and figure out what they don’t know.

At NAB 2015, a perfect UI design contrast is what happened with Premiere Pro CC 2015

The Premiere Pro preview Adobe showed at NAB is a UI redesign that emphasizes Color—its redesign puts color where it belongs, as a key tool to enhance editorial decisions and storytelling.

First, let’s look where all prior versions of Premiere put the Color Correction tools:

Premiere Pro CC 2014 buried the Color Correction tools

In versions prior to CC 2015, notice how Premiere buries the color correction tools in the Effect palette?

In prior versions of Premiere, the User Interface relegated color correction to a filter no more important than Noise & Grain. It’s an add-on, not a key storytelling tool. What did Adobe change in the Premiere Pro CC 2015 preview? (click on the image for a full-size view)

The Premiere Pro CC 2015 Color Workspace

Notice the Workspace bar that gives visual weight to Color on par with Audio and Editing?
(click on image for full size, opens in new window)

Adobe made Color a central workspace in a running toolbar at the top of the interface. Of course, this interface may change for the final release—but I love their thought process here! A new or casual user is forced to actively ignore the Color workspace. More likely, they’ll at least explore the tools and maybe run a Google search to figure out why it’s given such prominence.

As a ‘color correction evangelist’, I couldn’t be happier!

Let’s switch back to FCP X 10.2 and see where the renamed Color Board is buried

The Final Cut X 10.2 Effects List

Similar to prior versions of Premiere Pro, the renamed Color Board is buried in a list of many ‘color effects’.

Yup. It’s buried in a long running list of other effects. The only sense you have that the Color Correction filter is different than the others is its ‘rainbow’ look. Otherwise, it’s one filter buried within many filters.

But wait, the Color Board has a dedicated keyboard shortcut and a pull-down menu—it’s just as fast as before

I know. And I knew that before I wrote my NAB 2015 recap article. But as someone who’s been teaching color correction for almost a decade—keyboard shortcuts are only learned by a small percentage of end users… and then they only learn those shortcuts they use daily. I’m not worried about those users who already know the shortcut.

I’m worried about all those users who will now assume color isn’t that important to storytelling since Apple decided to bury the interface.

Besides – FCP X screams to be driven by a mouse, not keyboard shortcuts. Although – I do have to comment that FCP X has more commands ready to be assigned to keyboard shortcuts than almost any app I’ve ever seen. It’s a keyboard shortcut powerhouse, should you choose to avail yourself. But…

Only those editors already attuned to color as a storytelling tool are likely to go hunting for the shortcut

And I do remember a pull-down menu that added the Color Board located in the Inspector. But as I was pulling screenshots for this article, I went on a click-fest trying to find that Color Board pull-down somewhere, anywhere—and I can’t find it for the life of me (if you know where to find it, please let me know in the Comments).

So, if this UI redesign doesn’t feel like a de-emphasis of Color then I don’t know what other design decisions you would make if you actually set about to intentionally de-emphasize Color. (And no! I don’t think that was Apple’s active intention.)

Frankly, the only people I’m really talking to here are the folks in Cupertino (and the people who influence them)

I hope to see them soon at FMC’s FCPX Creative Summit in June! Sure, I’m sure the Mother Ship would probably prefer I do this privately—but I’m writing about trends I saw at NAB 2015 and while the trend for most apps is a more forward-facing color workflow, this counter-trend with FCP X 10.2 couldn’t go unremarked upon.

This criticism comes from a place of love for the craft of color correction

The Tao of Color was founded to help end the scourge of terrible, uncrafted images on television and Indie films. I wasn’t happy when Apple Color was discontinued but I loved how FCP X kept the Color Board in every editors view. In earlier versions of FCP X you were at least forced to consider what you were missing by not touching the Color Board.

FCP X 10.2 makes it easier to forget about color. It makes it easier to not consider the dramatic impact that thoughtful color correction can have on your finished timeline. The new user can edit in FCP X for months and never stumble upon the Color Board.

Despite the slew of color correction feature enhancements, it’s this broader thought that I took away from the latest FCP X 10.2 update.

Luckily, as Apple has proven time and again, no User Interface is ever locked down

I encourage them to find a way to keep Color in the frontal lobe of the editor while maintaining it’s new flexibility in the Effects layer stack. I won’t advocate how they do it. I just encourage them to find a way.

– pat

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CineGrain: A Film Grain ‘Plug-In’ In Your Pocket

A Video Review and Tutorial

What is Cinegrain?

Product Website: www.CineGrain.com

If you want to add film grain or mimik certain types of film looks (Super 8mm, Silent Film, film flashes, lens flares) then the Cinegrain package of film footage may be right up your alley. It’s not a plug-in – but actual scanned film. Since it’s not a plug-in it’s very easy on the CPU. But – it is a little heavy on your wallet… which is why I dig in so deep and show several different ways of customizing the footage for your projects.

The Cinegrain package includes 1080p and 2k ProRes video clips ranging in length from a few frames (film splices) up to 45 seconds (film grain). Packages range from 50 clips to 400 clips clearly organized by category:

  • Film Grain: 35mm, 35mm Dirt Fixed, 16mm, 8mm
  • Dirt Scratches: Heavy dirt, light dirt, heavy scratches, light scratches
  • Heads & Tails: Leader, Tails, Countdowns, Title Cards
  • Optical Filters: Straw, Sunset, Grads, etc
  • Looks: Wookstock, Silent Film, Roswell, Full Gate with Keycode, etc
  • Flash Frames: Flash Frames, Light Leaks, Strobes, etc
  • Specialty Lens Flares: Telephoto, Wide Lens, Vintage, Rotating Lens, etc

A Plug-In In Your Pocket?

Yup. These are ProRes movies on a hard drive… a small hard drive that fits in your pocket.

And in the Tutorial section of this review I’ll be showing you how you can use this footage (in Final Cut 10 and DaVinci Resolve) to gain as much flexibility with this footage as most plug-ins… and with much quicker render times.

That’s why I call CineGrain, ‘A Plug-in In Your Pocket'; you can carry around with you, use it when you need and enjoy all the advantages of most film grain Plug-ins without the usual worrying if the plug-in is installed. Just hook up the drive, import your clips, and you’re good to go.

Using & Evaluating Cinegrain

I’ve recorded an extensive Video Review and Tutorial on Cinegrain. I’ll show you what they’re selling and then take you through how to use it in Final Cut 10 (using Overlay Modes and manipulating the Color Board to customize the ‘Look’ of the grain)… and then I’ll do the same thing in DaVinci Resolve (using the footage both with Composite Modes and as an External Key). At the end of the video I’ll let you know if I think this product is a good buy for the money.

Since this is a rather long Review / Tutorial, I’ve included a Chapter List (scroll down) in case you want to skip ahead to a specific section of this video.

If you enjoy this tutorial be sure to Sign Up for my free weekly color grading email newsletter, The Tao Colorist. I feature these types of tutorials plus tons of other color grading, industry and career news from all over the ‘Net. I curate the ‘best of the best’ and deliver it to your ‘virtual doorstep’ in time for your Sunday Morning Coffee.

Full Disclosure

The product I’m reviewing was sent to me – at no cost – by Cinegrain for the purposes of this review. Other than my original request for review I’ve had so subsequent contact with them and received no other renumeration or special considerations for creating this review. All opinions and mistakes are mine and mine alone.

Enjoy!

The Video Review

Update: At 5:17 I state that the Dirt-Fixed 35mm footage is only available in the Professional package. This is incorrect. Many Dirt-Fixed clips are available in several of their packages.

Update 2: I’ve updated the video, watermarking the CineGrain footage. I expect to do a more graceful job of it in the future – but for now, understand that the big ol’ cinegrain.com text and gray box behind it does NOT appear on the footage when you buy it!

Possibly Related Posts (automatically generated):

Table of Contents

Play along by downloading these elements:

  • Sign Up to Receive free Cinegrain Footage:
    htpp://cinegrain.com

Start: Cinegrain: What Is It?

3:41 Types of Footage Provided by Cinegrain

5:17 The Different Packages Cinegrain Is Selling (Note: the Dirt Fixed versions of their 35mm grain is available in several packages besides the Professional Package)

6:22 Full Disclosure: Cinegrain sent me their footage at my request for this review

7:14 Download the Footage I’m using and follow along!

7:56 Cinegrain System Requirements

8:27 Begin: Using Cinegrain in FCPx

9:43 Prepping the Alexa Footage with Pomfort’s ‘Alexa Look2Video’ FCPx Plug-in

10:52 Examing FCPx’s Built-In ‘8mm’ Effect

11:55 Plug-Ins vs Cinegrain

12:47 Cinegrain: How to Use It in FCPx

13:53 How to Customize ‘The Look’ of Cinegrain

16:39 FCPx Example #2 – 16mm_500T

18:46 Tinting Cinegrain using the FCPx Color Board

19:28 FCPx Example #3 – Heavy Dirt & Scratch

20:29 More on Manipulating Contrast & Color

21:08 Using Transforms on ‘Heavy Dirt & Scratch’

21:58 FCPx Example #4 – Cinegrain’s ‘Looks’

23:25 FCPx Wrap Up

24:04 Using Cinegrain in DaVinci Resolve

24:18 Resolve: The Initial Grade

25:58 Begin Method 1: Using Resolve’s Timeline

26:20 Adding Cinegrain to a Video Track

27:08 Customizing the Cinegrain Footage

28:36 Example #2: Woodstock Look

29:22 Begin Method 2: Using Cinegrain As An External Key

29:42 Setting up External Keys

30:53 Adding an External Key in the Node Tree

31:15 Doing an Overlay inside a Layer Node

35:26 Example #3: 35mm Grain as an External Key

35:58 Manipulating the External Key

37:06 Adjusting the ‘Under Image’

37:50 Cinegrain In Resolve Wrap Up

38:04 How much is Cinegrain?

38:58 Sidebar: System Requirements

39:31 Cinegrain Licensing: The Not-So-Fine Print

40:43 Why Budget-Based Licensing Doesn’t Work for Me

41:30 The Missing License

42:24 Final Recommendation

43:07 Goodbye & Visit the TaoOfColor.com

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Has Apple’s Color Been Merged Into Final Cut Pro X?

“The Tao of Color Grading” was named and born from a simple question: Why do professional colorists work the way they do and how can we pass that knowledge forward?

The Tao of Color mission is NOT to explain every button, knob, and lever…

The ‘Tao Of Color’ mission is to explain ONLY the buttons, knobs, and levers we *actually use* – and explain how and why we use them the way we do.

Apple’s latest release, Final Cut Pro X presents something of a challenge for us – since no one has actually used the software (beyond a small hand-picked group)… so how does this website evaluate the color grading abilities of FCPx X v1.0 immediately after its release?

I’ve decided to frame this initial review this way: Has FCPx absorbed the color correction tools of Apple Color (which seems to have been End Of Life’d) and are they faster and more powerful than those of FCP 7?

For the uninitiated, Apple Color’s advantage over color correcting inside FCP (or almost any other NLE) can be stated thusly: Color allows you to work faster, with better results, often at higher quality. It’s a simple value proposition (and is also true for DaVinci Resolve (by the way, training for Resolve 8 is forthcoming)).

For the purposes of this Overview, I’ll limit my considerations to:

Does the FCPx native color correction workflow allow us to work faster with better results when compared the FCP 7 color correction workflow (I’ll leave quality considerations for after I’ve had more time on the app)? And while answering that question, we’ll take a quick tour of the new features and do some one-to-one comparisons.

Where do we start? Easy – we start with the fundamentals: The color processing model.

The Big (Color) Picture

In the world of video color grading – there are two widely used color processing models: ‘YUV’ (technically in digital workflows it’s usually defined (sometimes incorrectly) as Y’Cb’Cr’  – but YUV is close enough for this conversation) and RGB.

Final Cut Pro versions 1 – 7 were based on YUV. FCPx is based on RGB. What does this mean to the colorist, in practical terms?

‘YUV’ Color Processing (Before FCPx)

In YUV, brightness adjustments dramatically effect Saturation – but Saturation and Hue adjustments have essentially zero effect on Brightness (except on extreme adjustments). Why does it work this way? It’s based on math. In an upcoming video series I’ll be demonstrating this in detail.

For now remember this: Until June 21, 2011 (the day FCPx launched) my advice to anyone color grading with the Final Cut native filter set was to start with your brightness / contrast adjustments, then work your color / hue adjustments, then bounce between all of them to fine tune. It’s a fast, efficient workflow choice that minimized us chasing our tails.

RGB Color Processing (After FCPx)

Final Cut Pro X changes this advice. In RGB color models, it doesn’t really matter which controls you start with since Brightness / Contrast / Hue / Saturation all interplay with each other. It’s more of a juggling act. While I still prefer to start with Brightness / Contrast adjustments there’s no mathematical reason to impose my preference upon new colorists. I have a strong personal opinion about it… but it’s just an opinion.

Incidentally, Colorists who prefer how Red Giant’s Colorista II responds to their inputs will feel very at home in the FCPx color model (assuming they also like the new Color Board), since Colorista does its math in RGB (as does Apple Color and DaVinci Resolve).

In many ways, the YUV color model is appropriate for mouse-driven interfaces where only one input can be adjusted at a time. In FCPx’s RGB color model (where tweaking one parameter forces continual re-tweaks of other parameters) – having an iPad at your side with something like Nattress’ $25 Chromagic iPad app (when it works with FCPx) should be a big help to mouse-driven FCPx colorists.

Initial Tao’ish Impressions

When it comes to interfaces, Tao Colorists give a lot of weight to color-neutral, dark interfaces. Why? Because Tao Colorists are annoyingly principled about non-controlled light sources. For a decade, FCP’s bright, light interface was an annoyance.

FCPx scores high on first impressions: The interface is dark, muted and with the filmstrips turned off, not overly colorful.

 

Welcome to the new Final Cut Pro X

Welcome to the new Final Cut Pro X (click to enlarge)

(Note: while writing this blog post and collecting screen shots – I noticed that as I selected between different panels on the interface, their background brightness changes to indicate it’s the active panel. This behavior seems to be messing with my contrast perception of the picture – making me think I made a contrast tweak when I didn’t. It’s very bizarre and I’m not sure if it’s really happening or I’m just tired from the lack of sleep following all the FCPx action  (put another way – it’s like sitting in a train when the train across from you starts to move but you’re not sure if it’s you or the other train that’s moving – that’s what it feels like. K-Razy, yes?).)

Analyze for Color Balance

Importing the footage from the Tao Of Color Masterclass series, I had FCPx analyze for color balance.

 

Highlighting the Import Options

FCPx took about 45 minutes to import, analyze, and transcode 18 minutes of h.264 HDSLR 1080p footage.

Results were pedestrian (apparently, I’m not the only who doesn’t care for the Autobalance results). With this flat, balanced HDSLR h.264 footage Auto Analyze had no trouble expanding out contrast… and that’s where it stopped. On this project, saturation adjustments aren’t made (and they are needed):

 

Wipe between Camera Original and Auto Balanced shot

Which side of this wipe is Auto Balanced? Which is the camera original? (click for full size)

What’s interesting is that the autobalance doesn’t seem to take into account the facial recognition. Given that skin tones fall into such a narrow range, there’s a huge opportunity for a facial recognition algorithm to feed color data to the Analyze for Color Balance function to make for some potentially outstanding initial grades. Hopefully Apple will consider implementing this in future updates (not to mention the folks working on DaVinci Resolve).

Frankly, I’m not particularly surprised at the results… analyzing and color balancing images is a high-function skill that computers are still mastering. My problem with the Analyze function is it’s toggled nature: On or Off.

The Balanced Indicator

Auto Balanced is either On or Off - and its settings are inaccessible.

Either you use the data, or you throw it away. There’s no way to go in there and tweak the settings… or to see what exactly the Analyze function did. Nor can I decide re-order the Analyze function in the filter stack – which I might want to do if it’s crushing blacks a bit too much and I want to dig out some of that detail.

The Analyze function is a little too All-or-Nothing for my tastes.

But – it doesn’t hurt anything either. It’s totally non-destructive. I’ll be advising clients and students to turn on this function when ingesting, since it’s easy enough to turn off while color grading.

Scopes

FCPx has video scopes (yay!). But there’s no way to turn off their colors (boo!).

 

The colorful RGB Parade Scopes (click for full size)

Of course, it’s purely a personal preference – but when grading I don’t want interface elements influencing my color perception… colored Parade scopes just aren’t necessary once you get used to them. Here’s to hoping the Pro Apps team agrees and allows for monochrome scopes.

I couldn’t find a 2-up display to show both a Waveform and a Vectorscope. Hopefully that’ll be enabled in future updates.

Otherwise, the scopes draw well and are easy on the eyes. And they have many options:

Waveform Options

The Color Board

This is the heart of FCPx’s color grading toolset. Apple calls it the ‘Color Board’ – which initially confuses colorists who have control surfaces like the Wave or Artist Color. Unfortunately, no – FCPx 1.0 does not support external color grading surfaces.

The Color Board has three tabs: Hue, Saturation, 'Exposure'

At first glance, the Board looks very slick. The controls are big (unlike the FCP’s 3-Way Color Corrector in which the target controls were very small). The color wheel is gone, replaced by a linear strip that echoes the powerful Hue controls in Apple Color and the forthcoming release of DaVinci Resolve 8.

I believe it’s this interface (and it’s similarity to the Hue Curves) that had many pros believing (hoping, praying) that Color is being merged into FCPx.

Unfortunately, the Color Board shares none of powerful controls of Apple Color’s Hue Curves but contains several of its shortcomings. My take-away: The relationship of the Color Board interface in FCPx and the Hue Curves in Color are strictly superficial.

But I don’t want to leave it there…

I want to dig a bit deeper…

Let’s look at the Color Board from two different User Sets:

The Young Gun

The FCPx user who’s just being introduced to color correction will find the Color Board self explanatory. In five minutes they’ll have it down cold. When they want more of some thing (say, Saturation in the highlights), they drag the control points up. When they want less of some thing (say, a Red color cast in the shadows), they drag the control points down.

Terrific. Easy. No need to head to the user manual.

Couldn’t be simpler.

But this website (and this blog) is about training professionals to use their tools to much greater effect than adjusting Saturation and correcting color casts.

Essentially, Apple has broken down a complex tool into it’s minimum viable configuration (something at which Apple designers excel).

The result: Unknowingly… beginner ‘Young Gun’ FCPx users are being locked into a mental model of color grading that is an island all its own.

Re-stated: Apple killed the color wheel paradigm in FCPx – and these Young Guns may never understand how the color wheel works or why pulling out those Red overtones are introducing Greens (which it does in the Color Board – and as it should… color science being – science). And when they step out into almost every other NLE or Color Grading app in existence – they’ll be starting from scratch since there’s no common reference point between the Color Board and anything else on the market (before you flame me on this comment, I address this in the next section).

There’s another problem with the ‘linear color wheel’ – lines have end points, but hues spin in a circle. When you want to get to a hue on the other side of an endpoint, in FCPx you’ve got to drag all the way across the line to the other end, watching your colors spin madly.

In the grand scheme of life, this may seem nit-picky.

But the color wheels in grading apps aren’t an abstract concept. They’re based in color science… in math. As you learn to use a color wheel you’re being unwittingly introduced into concepts that apply to almost every color grading workflow out there.

The Color Board throws that all away for a simple, easy interface aimed at (literally) the first-time user. Frankly, it’s designed for the David Pogue’s of the world – users who never stray far from presets and have no interest in turning the niche of color grading into a marketable skill much less into a valuable talent (which is the whole point of the ‘Tao of Color’ and the perspective of this blog).

Criticize FCP 7’s 3-Way Color Corrector (3WCC)… but a beginner could take the muscle memory they learned while making hundreds and hundreds of adjustments in the 3WCC over many years, and immediately apply them to Apple Color, DaVinci Resolve, or Avid Media Composer. The same will never be said for FCPx’s Color Board.

The Experienced Hand

For those of us who have been using the color grading tools of FCP, Color, Resolve, Avid, After Effects, Color Finesse for any amount of time – we can take the (up to) 10 years of muscle memory we’ve developed while grading on a color wheel… and throw it away.

I’m not saying we won’t adjust to it.

I am saying we will have to rethink every single tweak we make. It took me 3 minutes to do a basic black balance on my first shot. I was laughing at my ineptness… until it wasn’t funny anymore.

For the editors out there saying… hey bud, that’s true for us pre-FCPx editors as well… remember this:

The Color Wheel isn’t some stodgy old notion of how to manipulate colors – again – it’s based on math, the additive color model, and the way opposing colors work and how light mixes together. It’s not some artisan design choice… or some digital version of an analog workflow – it’s a visual representation of underlying physics. And it’s one of many ways color scientists have developed to help people like us see and manipulate color of light that vary in brightness, vividness, and hue.

The simple, powerful color wheel (from FCP 7's 'Color Corrector' filter)

If you’re going to throw away a visual model of the physics of mixing with light, you might want to do it in a way that improves upon it and makes our jobs easier… rather than shrink the craft to its single most common denominator.

The Color Board Interface

We’ll also be doing a lot more clicking in FCPx (although you’ll save a bunch of clicks by mapping most of the Color Board commands to the keyboard).

 

Mappable Commands (using the "Color" sort filter) - click to enlarge

Below I’ve placed the FCP 3-Way Color Corrector next to FCPx’s three Color Board tabs:

Upper right - FCP 7's main color correction filter. Remainder are FCPx's Color Board tabs. (click to enlarge)

Notice that the Color Board has added Shadow / Mid /  High controls. And those added controls are present on EACH of the Hue, Saturation, and Exposure controls. This is a powerful upgrade. Exactly what I’d expect in a ‘next-gen’ product.

But notice also that FCP 7’s 3-Way Color Correction filter contains 80% of the power of the Color Board – and does it within a single window. The Color Board requires 3 tabs to give us those Shadow / Mid / High controls. More powerful? Yes. But I can look at the 3-Way and know exactly what’s going on in that instance of the filter with a simple glance. The Color Board requires me to cycle through 3 tabs to make the same determination.

So – we get more power, at the cost of speed. The exact opposite of what happens when you’re working in an app like Color or Resolve – where complexity is offset by exponential factors of speed and power (granted, they do require an external input device (a colorist control surface) to realize those full benefits).

Here’s a positive note on the linear Color Board: Several other filters have been rolled into the Color Board – the global hue controls of the 1-Way Color corrector and the various ‘Hi / Lo’ Saturation filters are now just a tab away, rather than separate individual filters. By my count at least 4 of FCP 7’s color correction filters have been rolled into the Color Board.

Odds and Ends

  • Stacking multiple grading filters is easy and works as expected. But it’s not possible to reorder them, which would be very useful.
  • The masking tool works well – but if there’s tracking that can be applied, I haven’t figured it out yet.
  • The eyedropper for making selections works well but is very very basic and a little confusing at first. FCP’s 3-Way HSL selectors are much more powerful… at the cost of complexity. In FCPx I can’t figure out how to narrow the selection to only Brightness or only Saturation or only Hue data (or some combination of those three) – which makes pulling clean accurate selections in FCP 7 much easier than in FCPx.
  • I was also surprised that hovering over number readouts and scrolling the middle-wheel or dragging across the numbers don’t do anything. This would have been a great way to make more precise adjustments.
  • Adding multiple correction filters is MUCH faster than in FCP 7.
  • The biggest single omission is the RGB Balance filter. For years this filter has been the bazooka in my pocket, allowing quick easy control, specifically targeting color casts in precise regions. In FCPx, it’s gone. And there’s no equivalent replacement.
  • Also gone – Broadcast Safe. But I never recommended using it anyway – so I don’t count that as much of a loss. Others will disagree. UPDATE – The Broadcast Safe filter IS in FCPx.  To find it: Open the Effects Tab -> Select ‘Basics’ -> It’s next to Black & White. Note: It has FAR less controls than the FCP 7 variant and one instance will only limit Luminance or only limit Saturation… but not both. (Hat Tip: Jonathan Eric Tyrrell)

Initial Reactions, FCPx v1.0

Selfishly it’s not my initial reaction that I’m interested in. It’s YOUR initial reaction I’m interested in.

If you know how to use the RGB parade to do a basic balance on your shots… I’d love for you to test it out and let me know what you think by posting in the Comments section below! Did it flummox you as much as it flummoxed me? Please share your experiences.

My initial reaction here on the Tao…

Apple Color is NOT rolled into FCPx, as I’ve read many people speculate the past few weeks. In fact, nothing can be further from the truth.

And while FCPx color grading is potentially more powerful than FCP 7, the decision to abandon the color wheel and split Hue, Saturation, and Exposure controls into 4 panels is likely to result in slower grading.

At first blush, FCPx’s updated color grading tools are much simpler than FCP 7s. But they’re not more powerful. Filters are missing, HSL selections are dumbed down, the mental model is designed for the newly initiated – not the installed user base.

These flaws subtract from the new integrated interface. And even my enthusiasm for the integrated HSL selection tool is tempered by its simplicity. I can’t state I prefer FCPx over FCP 7 – or the other way around. It’s a coin flip.

That said:

Yes, a professional-looking color grade can be obtained with the Color Board. I have no doubt about it. And FCPx will train many skilled artisans to use its toolset and use it well and for good effect… And I will develop training for those people who want to approach the craft of color grading using the toolset Apple has developed for FCPx.

But the muscle memory being developed is one that’s only useful within the FCPx walled garden. In Apple’s desire to create a truly unique tool they threw away an industry paradigm (the color wheel) without replacing it with something more powerful. It may be simpler to initially use but it won’t build the foundation you’d hope it would if you want to eventually grow out of it.

Today, Day 1 A.X. (after FCPx): My professional opinion as a Colorist (who spent 2 years grading on Avid Symphony followed by 4 years grading in FCP on the 3WCC and another 5 years in Apple Color and, this year, DaVinci Resolve):

Disappointment mingled with a strong dose of Missed Opportunity.

Color correction in FCPx is simpler for the David Pogues of the world to grasp, initially – but it comes with some serious drawbacks for anyone who wants to take color grading to the ‘next level’. Or who wants to build a skill set that can help them grow into dedicated color grading apps.

Besides the fact that FCPx’s color grading filters are always only a keystroke away: Command-6 – the strongest feature in FCPx are the Shadow / Mid / Highlight controls but the UI is spread out forcing lots of tabbing.

Where does this leave me?

Well, on Friday I’m diving into FCPx to start conforming the 14 minute short film used in Tao of Color’s Masterclass training program. And then I’m going to re-grade the entire film in FCPx. At the end of that process – I’ll report back if my opinion on these initial thoughts change… and then start developing an FCPx training add-on to the Tao’s Color Grading MasterClass series.

Final Take-away (of my Initial Reaction)

I give Apple high marks for taking a chance. On that score they get an A+

FCP absolutely needed an overhaul. Heck – the entire NLE industry needs to rethink their interfaces and workflows.

But when it comes to the craft of Color Grading – FCPx 1.0 is not doing anyone any favors. The tools have been given the gift of finesse (with all the Shadow / Mid / Highlight control points) while simplifying them so much it’s probably not worth the cost.

Add the fact that a very powerful filter is missing (RGB Balance) – and I’m not impressed. (UPDATE: I’m also completely side-stepping and totally discounting the fact that there’s no actual way to output through a Decklink, Kona, or Matrox solution… don’t get me started…)

I reserve the right to change my mind after getting some real experience on it (and certainly after Apple releases a few updates). But my enthusiasm and initial high hopes that perhaps, maybe, please Apple Color has been migrated into FCPx – those wishful thoughts are throughly, completely dispelled…

Your Next Step

Import a shot into FCPx, use the RGB scopes to color balance using FCP’s Color Board, and report your thoughts back to this blog using the comments below. I’m really interested to see if people agree with me. Or not.

Happy Grading!

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