In many ways, this is a lot like Apple’s purchase of a small company called Silicon Color, announced in October of 2007. Like Silicon Color’s Final Touch, which became Apple Color, SpeedGrade is a powerful, but oddly clunky, standalone application that does nothing but GPU-accelerated color correction. As was the case with Final Touch, SpeedGrade is not among the most popular systems for professional film DI, but its featureset is comparable to those that are, such as Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve and Autodesk Lustre.
Apple never sold Color (once a $25,000 purchase) on its own, instead choosing to bundle it with Final Cut Studio. Similarly, Adobe seems to view IRIDAS’s color correction technology as a value-add to its existing suite of video products. From the blog of Adobe’s Todd Kopriva:
Not only have we listened to your requests for better, faster, and more powerful color grading and finishing tools—but we’ve also looked ahead to the future needs of professional video, including HDR (high dynamic range) and raw video workflows.
Adobe, being a publicly-traded company, doesn’t talk openly about its product plans, but one could imagine possible futures for SpeedGrade under Adobe’s wing by looking at other technologies Adobe has acquired over the years. Audition, for example, was added to the video suites right away, but took many years to be truly integrated. Others, such as Curious gFx Pro, seemed to disappear entirely.
SpeedGrade’s fate at Adobe is interesting to me both as a user and a designer of color correction tools. While Magic Bullet Looks is popular because it’s powerful, unique, and fun, Colorista—especially Colorista II—has become popular for a very different reason—it fills a void. It provides professional color correction in your favorite NLE and in After Effects, apps that mysteriously lack solid, user-friendly, telecine-style color control.
When third-party software fills a notable gap in a product line, it is naturally at risk of being rendered obsolete. What happens to Colorista when the makers of its host applications finally start taking color seriously? I’ll answer that in a bit. But first, let’s get back to the two hats that I wear: “user” and “developer.”
That was sort of a trick set-up. The truth is, I only wear one hat. I’m a user. I want what’s best and easiest. The difference between me and most users is simply that when I can’t find what’s best and easiest, I become obsessed with designing it—and I have a direct line to a wonderful team of people who can help me make it. But I’m always happy to have my creations rendered obsolete by advances in technology. Magic Bullet was originally a tool for converting interlaced video to 24p. But when a team of Panasonic engineers showed me a prototype of what would become the DVX100 and asked me what features I considered “must-haves,” I said 24p before they even finished talking.
As a user, I’d be delighted to have Adobe build in class-leading utility color correction to After Effects and Premiere. As a developer, I’ll be thrilled at the challenge of continuing to build great things that you want to use, even as the shortcomings we once shored up seem to disappear. Colorista has always “competed with free,” and I enjoy that spirit of healthy competition. It’s fun for me and great for us users.
So with that complex depiction of my two-hats-that-are-really-one out of the way, here is my advice for Adobe on how to handle their new acquisition.
Exporting a Premiere Pro timeline into SpeedGrade is a good and natural start. My guess is that Adobe agrees, based on their recent “partnering” with Automatic Duck.
The biggest effort here will be some kind of translation from IRIDAS’s “unique” user experience into a human-usable interface. Seriously. You can’t know how weird this software is until you try it. It makes Color 1.0 look like Delicious Library—although it had been getting better.
But moving a project to a dedicated color app is simply not the way of the future for most users. Apple has the right idea by killing Color and making color correction a native property of every clip in a FCP X timeline—even if those new color controls are—how should I say this—a Colorista opportunity.
This is important, so I’ll say it another way: Apple screwed up by making the FCP X “Color Board” less industry-standard (I mean sure, dream up a better way—but it has to actually be better), but their decision to make color controls part of the settings inherent to any clip in the timeline is spot-on.
It’s often desirable to move from a dedicated editing environment to a dedicated finishing app, but (again, for most projects) not to a dedicated color-with-no-other-finishing-capabilities app. So:
Encapsulate the SpeedGrade color correction controls into clip properties that make sense in Premiere. This should not be an “effect” any more that we should have to apply an effect to change an audio clip’s volume or stereo panning. In other words, do what Apple did in FCP X.
Build a workflow that allows users to begin color work in Premiere with these controls, and then fine-tune it in SpeedGrade. Very much like what Magic Bullet users are doing now with Premiere Pro and After Effects.
Make all of the color controls that we like in SpeedGrade work in After Effects as well. Here it’s OK to do this via effects. Give AE an NLE-style timeline and a more realtime disposition where possible. Enable AE to import both Premiere Pro projects with color settings and also SpeedGrade sessions with more advanced color adjustments.
Premiere becomes a place where color is ubiquitous and useful.
SpeedGrade becomes the place where color alone is done quickly and well.
After Effects becomes the place where color is only a part of the complete finishing power.
In short, it’s a three-step process:
- Ship it.
- Integrate it.
- Render it obsolete.
If you do that Adobe, you’ll have created the true home movie making studio for which I’ve always said you already have the ingredients.
In the meantime, I’ll be there to fill the gaps and the non-gaps alike, with filmmaking tools designed out of the day to day needs of a filmmaking nerd.
Speaking of which, Red Giant posted an update to Magic Bullet Suite today (v11.1) that includes bug fixes, Sony Vegas Pro compatibility (!), and Red Giant Link, an updater designed to make sure you don’t miss important updates hidden at the bottom of long-winded blog posts.