Adobe Premiere Pro has been aggressively pursuing the creative editorial market at all levels, from feature films to YouTube. It’s now where I do all my cutting, and even finishing. Yes, that’s right, my age-old advice to finish in After Effects instead of an NLE is well and truly obsolete. Premiere renders with great quality, and any tools I felt were missing from the pipeline I’ve created myself.
Part of Premiere’s ascendancy has included folding in the color features of SpeedGrade, exactly as I advised back in 2011. The result, the Lumetri color panel, is a perfectly serviceable color corrector. Of course I prefer Magic Bullet Colorista, but that’s not what I want to talk about here. There are actually quite a few things that Premiere could do to be amazing at color that have nothing to do with Lumetri.
ICC Display Color Management
I bet most Premiere editors are using their computer monitor as their primary display for the Program panel. Sure, ideally you’d be using additional video hardware and a calibrated broadcast monitor, but color matters to everyone, not just those editing for broadcast.
My consumer-grade iMac has a wide-gamut display, so colors in Premiere look way too saturated. After Effects has solved this handily, and colors there very closely match my calibrated OLED display.
Put simply, it’s not good for color grading when your colors look wrong. Premiere should implement display color management, make sure it’s compatible with After Effects, and offer some well-tested color settings for output to YouTube and other increasingly-important non-broadcast platforms.
After Effects has long had this great feature where you can press Shift + F5 to take a snapshot of the comp preview, and then tap F5 to recall it. Better still, F6–8 work the same, for a total of four separate snapshots. The old-school colorist term for this is a “stillstore,” and it’s so essential to good color work that we built it in to Magic Bullet Looks 4.
You need a stillstore or reference image feature for matching shots, for consulting reference, for end-of-day sanity checks, and even just for the good, old-fashioned before-and-after trick. I’d be thrilled if Premiere did this just like After Effects does, but there’s even an opportunity to do it better, with the addition of a split-screen mode, which you'll see about a dozen times per hour in a Resolve color session.
I love showing off the powerful combination of Colorista IV and Premiere’s built-in effects masks. I wish After Effects had the same visually prominent interface to apply masks to effects. But Premiere’s masks have some limitations.
While you can apply multiple masks to an effect, you have no control over how they interact. I’d love to be able to cut a hole in one mask with another, and parent one mask to another’s motion.
Premiere’s Masks can be feathered, but it would be useful to be able to vary the feather across the mask. After Effects has this feature, but the implementation is terrible. Premiere has an opportunity here to do something better — and maybe After Effects could adopt the results too.
Faster Mask Tracking
Speaking of masks, it’s great that masks can be tracked in Premiere. With Colorista IV’s keyer and Premiere’s mask tracking, you really needn’t feel like you’re missing out on much capability if you grade in Premiere instead of Resolve. But Premiere’s mask tracking is painfully slow compared to Resolve’s. Simple request: Make it faster.
In this demo neither track is great, but my solution would usually be to try the track again in reverse. I could do that quite a few times in Resolve before I'd finished the first track in Premiere.
Color Mode for the Timeline
Here’s a case where Resolve, a color app that has added more and more editorial capability, can lead the way to Premiere, which is working in the opposite direction. When you switch to the Color tab in Resolve, the timeline becomes a series of thumbnails. No durations, no layers, nothing to distract you from the essential task of color work. It’s easy to see how shots are matching up, what other shots might require similar color to the one you’re working on, and so much more. It’s an indispensable visual overview of your color work.
If Premiere intends to take color seriously, it should have a color mode for its timeline. And it could easily beat Resolve at this by color managing the thumbnails, which Resolve does not do.
More Thumbnails. Thumbnails All the Time.
Viewing your color work as thumbnails is so important that it remains one of the reasons I might still color in After Effects instead of Premiere. For the DV Rebel’s Guide, I created a series of color presets (which Dan Ebberts helped me automate with brilliant scripts) that, among other things, automate the creation of a thumbnail view of your timeline.
Still free after all these years.
One crucial thing that dedicated color apps like Resolve do is help you manage versions of the color on a shot. If you don’t think this matters, you’ve never graded with a client in the room. But it’s just as useful for solo practitioners.
Premiere could tackle this in a general-purpose way by allowing versions of any effect or set of effects on a clip. That way this could just be an awesome Premiere feature, not just for color work.
Color is More Than a Color Corrector
Notice, as promised, I didn’t mention Lumetri once. There’s much, much more to color work than manipulating a color correction tool. I’m happy that Lumetri exists, and happier still when folks get excited enough about color to move on to Magic Bullet Suite, but the suggestions I’ve made here will help anyone, with any workflow, whether you’re using Lumetri, Colorista, or anything else. One of Premiere’s big advantages is that third-party effects are first-class citizens, so it’s my favorite place to use many of the tools I design.
Premiere has become a great editing tool, and is on its way to becoming a great finishing tool — and I’ll continue to do all I can to support that vision with plug-ins and presets. But there are some things that a plug-in just can’t do. I’m ready for Premiere to get serious about color, and I think the filmmaking and editorial community is too.