Imagine you’re at your favorite restaurant
You sit at a now-familiar table. Your waitress greets you by name and, without asking, brings you your favorite drink. She has the menu in her hand but doesn’t hand it to you, “The usual?”
You almost agree—but reconsider.
You decide to look at the menu and you notice it’s changed. The entrees are all familiar but they’re cooked differently. Clearly the menu has been updated.
You order a few new items and suddenly… Familiar food tastes completely different.
Welcome to my NAB 2015 experience—where the familiar NAB suddenly tasted different
In today’s Newsletter I’ll be covering three topics:
- My initial, unformed thoughts about the more widely used bits of post-production software
- Congrats to a favorite sponsor of this website winning NAB’s Best of Show
- And an in-depth discussion of the absolute highlight of any NAB I’ve attended, ever!
I’ll be covering both software and hardware features and releases that (mostly) aren’t here today but will be soon. I’m especially jazzed about the hardware I saw this week… technology that has been promised to us but has been either impossible to actually see or underwhelming in previous years.
I feel like this was the first NAB in my career where I saw the future of our technology before it’s actually arrived—and I walked away excited (but, with one technology, a tad concerned).
But let’s prologue with some fun statistics
- Total steps walked from Friday morning through Thursday night: 89,855 (my weekly average is: 30k – 40k steps)
- Parties attended: 5
- Parties missed (that I know of): 4
- Best meal: At the Team Mixing Light dinner, the Tao Treasurer and I ate the Peking Duck Tasting Menu at the first Michelin rated Chinese restaurant in the United States: ‘Wing Lei’.The meal was fantastic until the final entree, which was average and a bit dry.For the first time I also tasted Mochi Ice Cream, which I shared with our guest speaker for the next day’s training, Andrea Chlebak—the colorist of ‘Chappie’ and ‘Elysium’ out of Vancouver’s SkyLab. It has a strange texture, indeed.
Getting to business, what are my initial impressions of this week’s software updates? Let’s start with DaVinci Resolve 12
My very first reaction… Wow, lot’s of eye candy interface changes—I hope Resolve 12 is more than just pretty icons and fonts.
Then I thought: Holy crud, I need to completely re-record our 14-hour Davinci Resolve Deep Insights training. A mere ‘What’s New’ update is fine for existing users. But all those new editor-types they’re attracting? A ‘What’s New’ title won’t cut it.
Five minutes later, after messing around on the interface, what did I think?
I like the eye candy. I like the interface changes. They are improvements and they’re not all extraneous.
When evaluating new versions of DaVinci Resolve I always ask myself:
- Did they remove mouse clicks (streamlining the interface)
- Did they give me new tools enabling new creative possibilities?
My first impression: Yes on both counts (with one big concern).
Here are a few of my DaVinci Resolve 12 first impressions
- As usual, Blackmagic Marketing emphasized everything BUT color correction (if you look at the banner outside the South Hall, color correction falls under ‘And More’). I’ve learned to stop stressing about it—it’s what they do. Besides, colorist and DaVinci Resolve Product Specialist Alexis Van Hurkman confirms that fully half the new Resolve 12 features fall within the Color tab. And the software seems it.
- A 2-year feature request of mine was finally implemented! We now have endpoints on curves! And thanks to all of our Mixing Light members who tweeted me about this long-time complaint of mine finally being addressed :-)This means Avid Symphony colorists can now manipulate curves the way they expect… and those of us exploring the LAB colorspace can make ‘cleaner’ AB contrast adjustments. Thanks Team DaVinci Resolve!
- Favorite new command: Node tree cleanup. FINALLY! Plus, we can now nest multiple nodes… and then color correct on top of the nest. For example, if you take a few nodes for the initial base grade, you can now nest those down to one node, then grade on top of that for your Shot Matching Pass. Very cool. But if you’re not careful you may find yourself clicking way more often than you used to.
- 2nd favorite new command: “Append Node to Selected Clips”. This will save MANY mouse clicks.
Some other little nifty items that jumped out:
- In Multicam sequences, you can ‘step in’ to the single track multicam and grade each camera separately in the Color Tab. For those kinds of jobs, it’s a thoughtful feature.
- Alpha channel outputs can be fed directly into Video. Very useful if you want to clean up your key signal using your normal grading tools or pull up a clip assigned as a Matte and use it as a video source.
- ‘Convert window to bezier shape’: Select a normal pre-defined Circle Power Window and morph it into a bezier to re-shape it asymmetrically. Nice.
- The new 3D keyer and 3D tracker look like terrific enhancements. Especially the 3D tracker.
- The functional but non-grading Specialty Nodes (like the Keyer, Splitter, Combiner) now look different than grading nodes—which should help newbies not mistake them for color correction nodes (a problem I frequently help them correct).
Of course, I’ve got a few Resolve 12 features I’m concerned about
- The redesigned Frame Mode in the tracker: Is it simplified or has it been dumbed down? I couldn’t tell on the show floor. I love the power user functionality of the current Frame mode. I’m nervous they made the tracker less useful on shots where tracking fails and needs human interaction.
- The redesigned Curves interface: I get that the old Curves interface almost always required jumping into Gigantor Mode (yes, that’s the actual name of the current super-big curves display). But the Photoshop style overlapping RGB curves now requires button pushing to move between R,G,B channels. It’s impossible to directly select a curve when adding that first control point.For that reason, I don’t like that interface on Photoshop. Since I’m always looking for updates to remove mouse clicks… this interface revision has definitely added a whole bunch of new mouse clicks—and I’m not happy about that.
I don’t like the Big Picture color correction changes in the new release of Final Cut Pro X
Let me explain…
For years, I’ve said that Apple brought color grading as a stand-alone craft to the forefront of our industry when they bundled Apple Color with Final Cut Pro legacy. Suddenly, color correction wasn’t a teeny plug-in buried in your NLE.
Color correction gained wide-spread recognition as it’s own craft with dedicated software. It started to become something even micro-productions could do.
I then gave Apple HUGE kudos for continuing that tradition in Final Cut Pro X. No, I still don’t care for the Color Board (though I’ve finally learned how to make precise, accurate moves on it and am much more ‘at peace’ with the interface). But at least the word ‘Color’ was right there in every editor’s face and impossible to miss.
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.
Color correction is such a great story-telling tool, it’s unfortunate Apple decided to de-emphasize it. And I encourage them to think about how to bring it more user-facing since I do understand why they changed the interface.
UPDATE: I’ve gotten some pushback on these comments. I’ve written a follow-up article that digs deeper into this criticsm.
This gets me to what I liked (and didn’t like) about this week’s FCPX update
- Apple stopped showing powerful respect for the craft of color grading by hiding the toolset and burying the Color Board with dozens of other ‘Effects’. I’d like to see either a default, bypassed Color Board in the Effects stack or a more obvious button for adding the Color Board… simply because
it’s a rare shot that doesn’t require some sort of tweakI’m a colorist and I think it’s too important to bury within the User Interface.
- On the other hand… the Color Board has become 1000% times more useful because it can now be re-ordered within the Effect stack. This is a huge functional improvement that I’ve been dying to see! (now they need to let us rename those layers) I’ll be talking a lot more about this in Mixing Light for those of you FCPx devotees looking to develop a repeatable color correction workflow in FCPx.
- Color Finale (by Color Grading Central’s Denver Riddle) is a powerful add-on for anyone looking for a set of traditional 3-Way color wheels or Curves. But FCPx’s newly designed color workflow makes Finale’s re-orderable layer stack not quite as compelling as it was before. Still, it looks like a nice plug-in and we’ll be taking a closer look at it in Mixing Light (as well as Red Giant’s Colorista 3).
- A quick shout-out to FCPWorks for their FCPX mini-conference in the Renaissance Hotel, directly next to the South Hall. Apple’s blanket ‘no trade shows’ mantra has hurt FCPx.In the past six months FCPx has become a viable collaborative post-production tool with all the features it needed two years ago to be a true FCP 7 replacement. Kudos for FCPWorks for filling this obvious trade show gap at NAB.
Where Apple fell, Adobe picked up in Premiere Pro
Premiere Pro has long been ‘color challenged’. Over at Mixing Light, my partner Robbie Carman even did an Insight on how to adjust the default settings of Premiere’s 3-Way Color Corrector filter so it doesn’t… suck.
This week’s Preview of Premiere Pro CC 2015 shows a dramatic reversal of that app’s disappointing tradition.
While FCP X 10.2 buried its color toolset, Premiere Pro CC 2015 put color front and center! A new ‘Color’ workflow button at the top of the interface echoes the DaVinci Resolve tabs. Pressing on that button reveals a Color-oriented inspector that contains:
- A new 3-Way color wheel interface
- Easy to add LUTs
- A nice Hue vs Saturation tool that’s as pretty as it is functional
- Color manipulations are automatically added as a filter in the filter stack as a Lumetri Effect… meaning under the hood they’re using the SpeedGrade color science and render engine. And when you open your work in SpeedGrade those corrections are ready for additional manipulation by the colorist.
I also need to shout loudly about Adobe Candy—but not for the reason you think
Mostly, I’m very proud of my Mixing Light partner Robbie Carman. He was on Adobe’s main stage demoing Candy. It’s not a small thing, to be entrusted by a company like Adobe to make a tool like Candy relevant to post-production professionals.
Robbie helped explain how Adobe intends for Candy to be a collaborative tool. For more, be sure to check out this public Insight he recorded this week about Candy on MixingLight.com.
And what about Adobe SpeedGrade, you ask?
As I posted in last week’s newsletter—the big SpeedGrade news was all about Premiere Pro. If SpeedGrade was dead, I suppose Adobe would have announced it. But at this point it’s feeling a lot like Apple Color did in its final year. And yet, the two 3-hour SpeedGrade sessions at Post | Production World were close to capacity.
As interest in Premiere Pro grows, so does interest in SpeedGrade. Let’s hope that Adobe decides it’s an app worth investing in… this colorist definitely thinks so—but my reasons for not using it professionally will have to be saved for another day. This email is already long enough.
Moving away from software, let’s look at hardware
Who better to start with than Tao Colorist sponsor, Flanders Scientific? If they had shipped a 4K reference monitor, I would have been floored. They didn’t.
Instead, Flanders Scientific simply won the 2015 NAB ‘Best of Show’ award!
Congratulations to Bram, Johan and the rest of the FSI Team! They won for their new DM250 OLED, which is a field monitoring dream. If you visit this model comparison page and select the AM250, CM250 and DM250… you can clearly see they’re offering a range of OLED models to keep you from paying for features you don’t need. And offering truly unique options for on-set monitoring.
And with the AM250 you can now get an OLED this year for nearly the same price as the comparable LCD a year ago. Impressive!
Let’s move on to the final (and most exciting) section of this special Tao Colorist Newsletter…
Introducing the 1st Annual NAB ‘Monitor Crawl’
I want you to think of the Monitor Crawl like a Bar Crawl. You gather a few of your best friends, hit the road and keep drinking until you can’t drink no more. Except instead of hitting the road we hit the Central Hall. And instead of drinking we looked at reference displays.
Now—I’ve done this before, bouncing around looking at reference monitors. But always on my own. It’s almost always boring as heck and you’re never quite sure what to think about what you’re seeing.
But bring a few very experienced professional colorist friends along?
This Monitor Crawl was not just my highlight of NAB 2015. But any NAB. EVER.
How did we not do this before? I have no idea. But it was spectacular and will be repeated.
I mean, put a group of Colorists in a dark room looking at displays and the comments start flying! You’re forced to really evaluate what you’re looking at, form quick opinions and then have those opinions examined in real-time as you’re all looking at the same display with the same footage.
Our First Annual Monitor Crawl included the following colorists:
- Alexis Van Hurkman: Author and colorist (Minneapolis)
- Joe Owens: Prolific forum helper, technical book editor for Alexis and himself a first-class colorist—in all senses of first-class (Edmonton, Canada)
- Myself: Colorist and Tao Newsletter publisher (Orlando)
- Michael Sandness: I saved the best for last. Michael is a prolific colorist with a really sharp mind. He works out of Splice in Minneapolis and Michael was the key to this Monitor Crawl.He had done all the scout work early in the week. He knew where every dark room, housing every interesting must-see display was ‘hidden’. Michael led us from booth to booth. We all examined and commented until we were bored and then he had us bee-lining to the next must-see booth.
Remember how I said this was the year I saw our future?
This 2-hour Monitor Crawl is what I’m talking about… (and the following opinions are mine alone, the rest of the crew can speak for themselves)
The Monitor Crawl was filled with ‘Gear I’ve never seen before, but will see again’
It featured two things: High Dynamic Range displays and… wait for it… Rec. 2020, of all things. Let’s start with the HDR displays.
I’ve seen Dolby’s initial forays into HDR displays in prior years. They were interesting but never really impressive to me. I always shrugged and moved on.
This year, the HDR displays were full-on crazy. For us, it started at the Canon booth
Canon showed a 4K LED 30-inch High Dynamic Range prototype. It has a peak brightness of 2,000 nits… perceptually, it seemed 2x-3x brighter than today’s properly calibrated displays. And it (literally) felt like it.
Example: In the looping movie there’s an interior tracking shot of a man walking across a darkened bar. The sunlight shining in the windows glowed so realistically for a few moments it looked, well, real (in fact, several of us commented that the extreme dynamic range did almost as good a job catching the ‘real’ in ‘real life’ images as any 3D system ever has—and goes to show how important contrast is to perceived detail and depth).
But here’s the kicker…
When the scene suddenly cut to a full-on exterior with a midday sun… my eyes hurt at the sudden transition—they had to adjust just as they would in real life if I stepped out of that darkened bar at noon in the desert.
The Canon HDR was both astonishing and concerning
I can’t imagine color grading for days on end a film shot in the desert at high noon (as I did precisely, on an award-winning feature-length Indie just last year).
I have no doubt that HDR will be a serious health concern for professional colorists
Display manufacturers must address this issue. Eyes can’t be replaced—but, not jokingly, colorists can be.
If we want to ensure long, healthy careers these 2000+ nit displays must be designed to keep an accidental bump on a contrast ring from burning us out… literally. Or from the damage of sustained exposure to these super-high brightness levels.
That said… the Canon prototype was the most impactful of the HDR displays I saw during the Monitor Crawl.
The Sony BVM OLED and HDR displays were both impressive
Yes. I think it’s insane to buy a BVM at their $20K+ prices… but damn if you don’t get image for your money. In fact, their BVM OLED is so good, the HDR monitor looked just like it—only packing more punch.
The Dolby booth was super-interesting—but for a different reason
They had a darkened grading suite set-up which featured a Dolby Vision HDR display sitting directly next to a Dolby High Definition Rec 709 display. A colorist from Deluxe was driving an attached Baselight.
As he was grading the footage playing through the Baselight, both displays updated simultaneously.
Of course, that set us upon a flurry of questions—which were answered very nicely, though they were surprised by the sudden onslaught of 4 gentleman asking some very pointed colorist-type questions. Here is what we discovered:
- When color correcting to the Dolby HDR display (rated at 4,000 nits but I don’t think any of the images got nearly that bright… not in comparison to what we saw at Canon), they simultaneously color grade to a Rec 709 display set beside the HDR display.
- The ‘downconverted’ Rec 709 image is managed by a ‘Dolby Vision box’ attached to the Baselight (they said the box also talks to DaVinci Resolve). The image path goes from Baselight, out to the HDR display, in to the Dolby Vision box and then to the Rec 709 display.
- A ‘Dolby Vision’ grading layer in Baselight (or Resolve) gives the colorist control over the ‘Dolby Vision box’ and how the HDR down-convert is managed. There’s basic Lift / Gamma / Gain controls plus a few others for flattening the HDR image into the narrower tonal range of a non-HDR display.
- The ‘Dolby Vision’ grading layer then gets encoded as metadata with the final rendered output. When delivering the final master, the master is an HDR movie with metadata for normal range HD down covert. Any licensed Dolby Vision display can read the metadata and perform a real-time downconvert that the colorist specified via that Dolby Vision grading layer.
- This means if you buy a Dolby Vision encoded movie for your normal range HD display today. In five years when you buy your HDR display… that same movie will now play back in full HDR glory.
Cool stuff, right?
Of course, it took a few of us asking the same questions over and over until we all finally ‘grokked it’ and left the poor Deluxe colorist alone. Unfortunately, the room was too dark for any of us to read name tags, so I can’t give him proper thanks.
But it was this type of tag-teaming, and a quick huddle afterwards to confirm what we all thought we heard, that made this group Monitor Crawl so exciting.
Wrapping up this Newsletter, here’s where I saw something I didn’t think I’d see for several more years
I saw Rec. 2020. For REAL. With my own eyes.
Now, to be clear, the Canon folks say their HDR prototype was showing Rec 2020. But with no before / after images, I don’t think anyone on the Crawl thought that claim didn’t have three asterisks accompanying it.
But at the Christie booth, they demo’ed their RGB Laser projector on a gigantic screen. Their booth was open air but no overheads were turned on. Still, it was in the middle of the show floor, so hardly a proper Black Box, yet the image was very bright (at half its potential brightness).
And the demo? It compared Rec 2020 to Rec 709 and DCI-P3 by freezing an image and cutting between the three color gamuts.
This was the first time in my life I actually saw the Rec. 2020 color gamut
If ever I’m bleeding Geek, right now is it and I’m happy to share!
In my recent podcast with FSI’s Bram Desmet, he mentioned that only laser projectors can hit those super-saturated R, G, B primaries specified in the Rec. 2020 gamut. And you could see the difference. Especially the reds. You don’t realize how orange’y our HD reds are until you see them cut into the Rec 2020 color space. Rich. Vibrant. Real reds. Real greens.
Plus… lasers! Now, I’m just waiting for my hover board.
On a side-note, I asked the Christie rep about the FDA certifications required for laser projector installations. He said they’ve worked out the specification… and as long as no one can look directly into the projector from closer than 13 feet, laser projector installations are considered safe to the public.
There it is. My report on the year I saw The Future at NAB
I could (but won’t) go on. However, I do need to send a Special Thanks…
Thank you to my wife, the Tao Treasurer—you’re amazing! Not only would the hugely successful (and sold out) Colorist Mixer not have happened without her (we had 225 people this year) but she was a total trooper.
As we went to parties and networking events, she was patient as I spent time networking (instead of focusing on her). She even had a good time during the Monitor Crawl, offering her thoughts on what she saw. Thank you, Pam—you’re my Rock.
Feel free to leave your comments below.