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Slugline. Simple, elegant screenwriting.

Red Giant Color Suite, with Magic Bullet Looks 2.5 and Colorista II

  • Sony Alpha a7S Compact Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera
    Sony Alpha a7S Compact Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera
  • Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
    Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
  • TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
    TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
  • The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    by Stu Maschwitz

Entries in Color (105)


Sony a7S Days 1 & 2

I’ve had the Sony a7S for two days now. I’m doing everything wrong, and loving it.

If your life is boring, just order a new camera. The day it arrives, I guarantee you’ll have tons of other, non-camera-related stuff going on. My Sony a7S arrived into a blender of familial and professional activity. The only option I saw was to go full DV Rebel and bring the little beast with me wherever I went, in the hopes of stealing a shot or two.

Right away, I was doing everything wrong. I assumed my U3 card I’d bought for my short stint with the GH4 would work in the Sony, but the a7S specifically requires a SDXC card to record the highest data rate format, XAVC-S (50 Mbps). I had purchased the 32GB of this model, which is SDHC. The 64GH version is SDXC. Obviously.

Stuck recording only 24Mbps AVCHD, I proceeded to search my kit for my vari-ND filters, which I seem to have misplaced. Wow. Should I be telling you all this?

Luckily, both my Metabones Mark IV and FotodioX Vizelex ND Throttle EF to NEX/alpha adapters had arrived. The Metabones is expensive at $399, but necessary to control electronic EF lenses (and exceptionally well-made, down to the plastic carying case). The Vizelex adds the convenience of 10 stops of variable ND, but can’t communicate with, or even power, a lens. But if you have manual EF-mount glass, the Vizelex is easily worth the $99.95.

None More ND

Because, of course, the elephant in the blown-out room is that the a7S only goes down to ISO 3200 when shooting S-Log2, which is the Picture Profile where this camera’s unique abilities truly shine. Good for about three extra stops of highlight handling and aching to be graded, S-Log2, even at 8-bit, is half of this camera’s claim to my heart.

The other half is, of course, the full-frame sensor. You get a terrifyingly good look at it every time you change lenses. At only 12 megapixels for stills, its photosites are like giant buckets collecting excesses of light from even the darkest corners.

So why must S-Log2 bottom out at ISO 3200? Pre-production models actually went down to 1600. Why the change? Word is that it was to max out the dynamic range, and I certainly hope that’s the case—but this gotcha will make you think twice about trying to shoot S-Log2 in bright daylight.

Unless you’re doing everything wrong, like me. I slapped 2 ND8s on the front of my Schidt Optiks FF58 (which took every adapter ring I own), which, in turn, I mounted to the Vizelex. This allowed me to expose properly in daylight, at the modest expense of introducing an unpredictable green-to-purple tint to the image.

Not that you’d ever know while shooting. Capturing S-Log2 without any kind of viewing LUT falls somewhere between crazy and stupid. The best possible reason to attach an EVF or outboard monitor to this camera would be to enable a viewing LUT. Without this, it’s hard to see any color at all in the image. It’s also far too easy to grossly underexpose skin, because shadows that should really be nearly black under a proper S-curve LUT appear as bright, detailed gray. Brightening 8-bit S-Log2 in post is possible, but this ISO 3200 footage is indeed noisy, and while the noise is not unpleasant to the eye, it becomes so when you push to too hard.

The a7S cannot shoot 4K internally, which has many folks excited about the not-yet-available Atomos Shogun 4K monitor/recorder. Even if you never recorded 4K with it, its LUT capabilities would be of enormous value when shooting S-log 2.

I was so fascinated with the challenges of using this camera in bright light that I neglected to test its seemingly unrivaled low-light performance. See: Doing everything wrong.

The Pictures

The video above is a mess. I shot it mostly with food and drink in the other hand. It cut it quick, and I tried not to be too precious about color (although I couldn’t resist tracking a few masks), working entirely in Premiere Pro. I graded under a modified Kodak 2383 LUT in Magic Bullet Looks 2.5, using the new LUT Tool, as well as some top-secret stuff I’m working on(!). The combination of 8-bit, S-Log2, and AVCHD compression should result in scrambled eggs.

Instead, to me, it’s just magic.

Here’s a shot from the sunny bar where I surreptitiously shot the cocktail-making:

Here it is with the LUT and some color:

Boost the virtual exposure and detail appears in the shadows (aglow from the low-contrast, flare-crazy Schidt lens):

Drop the exposure and you can see clouds in the blue sky outside.

After years of suffering with the razor’s edge exposure window of the 5D, this is simply glorious.

Random Observations

I could write all day and never cover even the most basic information about this camera, so instead, here are some context-free tidbits:

  • There are optional video frame guides, including one for 2.35:1 framing. I immediately assigned one of the function buttons to toggle this on and off.
  • Red Giant’s Denoiser II works wonders on the S-Log2 footage. The default settings are perfect—just make sure you’re working in a 16bpc project in After Effects.
  • The a7S comes with two batteries, and the wall-wart charger has three indicator lights showing the charge level. That was something that bugged me about the GH4—its charger simply lights up yes or no, giving no hint at how far along you are.
  • Also included is a simple, plastic “cable protector” to keep delicate HDMI cables from getting yanked out or bent.

What’s Not to Like?

It’s painfully ironic that the low-light king of cameras has a noise problem when shooting video in broad daylight. Shooting S-Log2 without a viewing LUT is challenging, but shooting in other picture profiles reduces dynamic range enough that a big part of this camera’s appeal disappears. The alpha body is solidly-built, but it’s so maniacally small that it’s difficult to grip, especially with a big lens attached.

The small, awkward package makes for unstable hand-holding, which immeditaly reveals the camera’s pronounced rolling shutter. But in actual shooting (instead of crazy camera waving), it’s not a big deal as your first impression causes you to fear. In this video, I applied the excellent Rolling Shutter Repair effect included with Premiere Pro and After Effects to a handful of shots. It’s not a panacea, but it works shockingly well, and renders fast.

But C’mon

This camera rocks. It’s already aced my litmus test that the GH4 failed—it makes me excited to go out and shoot. I’m eager to see what happens when I start doing just a few things right.

The Sony a7S is shipping now from both Amazon and B&H. You’ll need an SDXC card. The Atomos Shogun is available for pre-order.


Mask Tracking and Color Grading in CC 2014

The After Effects mask tracker combines with the new effects masking features in After Effects and Premiere Pro CC 2014 to enable powerful color grading on a single clip. This simplifies layering color corrections with Red Giant Colorista II and turns your NLE into an incredibly powerful color grading station.

This is super cool, and will absolutely influence the future of Red Giant’s development. For most filmmakers I know, color correction needs to be an integrated part of creative editorial—without sacrificing any power.

Watch to the end of the tutorial for some great news about a longstanding bug with Premiere and Magic Bullet Looks!


Magic Bullet Looks 2.5

Magic Bullet Looks 2.5 is a free update from Looks 2.0, with some big changes and some meaningful small ones.

20% (or 200%) Faster

We rebuilt Looks to run on the Universe GPU engine, which means it now previews and renders “over 20% faster.” But depending on your system, it can be a lot more than that.

LUT Tool

Use one of the pre-built LUTs, or import your own.

S-Curve Tool

Often the purpose of a LUT is to add contrast back to flat or log footage. But working with a LUT is a bit of a black box. What if you’d like to control that contrast curve—customize it a little bit? The S-Curve Tool gives you a graphical handle to intuitively modify the curve to taste. It ships with presets for S-Log, Log C, BMCC Log, and Cinestyle. The defaults are, of course, designed for Prolost Flat.

Strength Slider


More to Come

Rebuilding the guts of Magic Bullet Looks to use the new Universe engine means big things for the future. We’re already hard at work on the next great update!

Magic Bullet Looks is a part of Red Giant’s Color Suite.


Coloring M is for Marmalade

Warning! This is a horror short. It’s all scary and stuff. Once again, you are my mom, skip this one.

My buddy Gus Kreiger wrote and directed this short called M is For Marmalade, his entry into the ABC’s of Death 2 search for the 26th director competition. He sent me a rough cut and I liked it so much that I asked if I could do the color grading.

Before we go any further, please take a moment to watch and throw a Facebook Like at the short. The competition is still on, and Likes help Gus win, which would mean his work appearing in the feature film!

Do it.

OK, thanks. Now, about that color grading!

Gus sent me a ProRes render of his locked cut, along with this email:

First chunk – through the BEEP! at 0:39 – should have a slightly washed out Minority Report/Alfred imploring Bruce in the stairwell of Dark Knight Rises look. After that, with the switch to the kitchen at 0:41, it should jump to a brighter/more vibrant look: we’re in a “different” place.

The vibrancy should then get less and less with each shot so that by the time we’re back to the “bad” place – the drag at 1:17 – the Minority Report look has crept back in. A Blake Snyder “synthesis” moment, if you will, but the “vibrant” shouldn’t go away entirely, as I like that the shots are “pretty” when I’m, like, sawing her arm off.

Final scene at the table (2:39) through end should be very good-looking indeed. Eerily so. Idyllic.

I loved these notes. “Minority Report/Alfred imploring Bruce in the stairwell of Dark Knight Rises look” is a concise description that immediately filled my head with images. I didn’t even look at those films before diving in—I felt that basing my work on my memory of what those scenes look like was the better way to go.

I colored the short using Magic Bullet Looks and Colorista II in Adobe After Effects CC. I used Magnum - The Edit Detector to automatically divide the clip at the cut points. I then placed markers on my hero frames—sometimes more than one per shot—and ran the Make Thumbnail Comp from the DV Rebel Tools. This created a comp for me with thumbnail representations of each shot, automatically fit into a single HD view. As I showed in the tutorial, my workflow is to keep my main color correction Comp View locked on the left, and the thumbnail Comp View locked on the right.

Click to enlarge

Gus’s desire to tell his story through the contrasting cold and warm “worlds” that eventually collide, worked perfectly with my usual workflow of spanning “look” adjustment layers over several clips in a sequence, and then dialing in each shot for consistency underneath that look.

The look layers, shown here in orange, hold single instances of Magic Bullet Looks. Here’s the setup for the warm, happy look:

Here’s the Look for the cool section:

Note that each is quite similar in setup. Both have Diffusion to reduce contrast, a Colorista 3-Way Tool to set tone, and a Ranged HSL Tool to restrict and define the palette. The scenes occupy a similar, complimentary slice of the Hue/Saturation scope, each weighted to opposite sides of the wam/cool divide.

For the “synthesis” scenes, where warm meets cool, I decided to express this collision using a cool overall tone that would fight with warmer, glowing highlights trying, and largely failing, to bleed through. So I added a second Diffusion Tool, operating to some extent only on highlights (Highlights Only set to 10%), and then pulled the midtones way down into the Colorista 3-Way Tool. To me, this created the feeling that a warm, sunny day was happening just outside the windows, trying to get in, but was being clobbered by the cold, scary stuff happening in the room.

The short was very well shot by Jeff Moriarty (on a Canon 5D Mark III), so I didn’t expend too much effort on shot-to-shot consistency. But one of the things that got me excited to take this on was that Gus and Jeff rarely repeated a setup, so there were many gorgeous, independent snippets to bring together into one consistent story. So I made some shot-by-shot tweaks, mostly to keep objects consistent in color.

The skin tone of actor Amelia Gotham was very important to me in those opening, cool shots. There was one shot where the light flaring the lens was washing her out enough that I used the Colorista II Keyer to bring her back, just a bit.

In other shots, I used the Colorista II Power Masks to selectively darken areas of the frame. Here I darkened the area outside the doorway:

I got most of this done in about half a day, and I shared the thumbnail view with Gus as well as a rendered output. He came back with a few minor notes.

After Gus approved my next pass, I turned on Denoiser II (also part of the Red Giant Color Suite) for the entire timeline and rendered out the final ProRes movie, which I then Dropboxed to Gus. Denoiser II was essential in cleaning up the compression and other noise that Canon DSLR footage is famous for, and it allowed me to push my color choices much farther than I otherwise would have.

I sharpened the final comp and reintroduced a tiny bit of noise, and rendered the final ProRes with 32-bit color processing in After Effects.

Here’s a gallery of before and after frames (larger here):

Thank Gus, for letting me help with this short, and allowing me to share the process here.

Happy Halloween!