The color correction of motion pictures is one of those places where art firmly intersects technology. Much like a painter’s palette, the tools involved are deceptively simple, but it is the artist behind the tool that determines whether a picture becomes a beautiful image or just a colorful mess.
Colorista v1.0 from Red Giant Software is a color correction plug-in designed to replace or augment the color correction tools that come with your NLE. The Colorista team has come up with an approach relying on a simple interface, with an extremely powerful back end.
The Colorista plug-in supports an impressive array of host applications for both PC- and Mac-based systems, as long as they start with the letter “A.” Adobe, Apple, and Avid are all supported, with After Effects and Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro and Motion, and Xpress Pro and Media Composer, respectively. While the plug-in will work with After Effects, we question the real usefulness of the plug-in without being able to refer to the supporting vector scopes and waveform monitors that the other applications have. If you are planning on doing a great deal of color correction in After Effects, consider how you’ll monitor the image accurately. We tested out the system with Final Cut Pro 5.1.2 on a 17″ MacBookPro.
The plug-in’s interface uses three color wheels similar to the professional tools used in high-end movie production, laid out in a triangle pattern. You generally start your correction on the left (Lift), move to the right (Gain), and end up on top (Gamma). It is here that you do the majority of the image manipulation in both brightness and color.
Lift controls the dark areas of the image, such as shadows. Adjusting these levels up and down on this slider will change the amount of detail you can see in those dark shadow areas. You can use this to make sure your blacks are really as black as they can be, or conversely you can lighten up the dark part of the image if you find that your blacks are too dark and have been “crushed.”
The Gain wheel is similar, except that it mostly affects the light areas of the image, such as highlights and the sky. This tool is commonly used to help fix an image that is too bright or “blown out.” Using this tool, you may be able to pull the whites down and find a little detail there, although the rule of thumb in video is “once it’s white, its gone.” You can also use this tool to increase the brightness levels in a scene. For example, if you shot a beach scene on a cloudy overcast day, you can use this tool to raise the scene’s highlight level, to help sell the shot as a bright sunny day instead.
Gamma is the last wheel that you adjust and it mainly controls the mid-levels of the image, This will allow you to set the contrast of the scene without affecting the scene’s shadows or highlights.
All wheels have what Colorista calls dot motion: pushing and pulling the dot in the color wheel’s center changes the degree of color in that luminance range without affecting colors in the other ranges. This allows you to adjust the image to make up for the incorrect color temperature, or to make artistic choices for your scene. Warming up a shot to make a mid-day shot look more like dawn, or tinting the whole image green and sickly to accentuate a dreary office setting are just some of the possibilities with this powerful tool.
Once you have the major settings correct, you can then move on to some of the other controls to adjust your image. Saturation will allow you to control the level of color in the scene from traditional black and white to psychedelic day-glow. While the exposure control is used in adjusting the overall brightness of the scene much like your camera’s iris, it’s even measured in “stops.”
Another useful feature is the mask creation tool, which allows you to apply the effect to certain regions of your frame. For instance, you can make a flower more red without affecting the green trees in the background, by selecting the region around the flower with a mask. There are two types of masks available, rectangle or ellipse, and you can control the size, position and feathering of each. The mask tool is also key-frameable, allowing it to move with your subject, although this does take some time to get right.
Finally, the white balance control allows you to use a color picker to select a part of your frame that is supposed to be white, and then automatically adjusts the appropriate color balance for the scene based on that information.
What sets Colorista apart from the standard color correction tools that come with your NLE’s is the sheer number crunching that Colorista does to keep your images as pristine as possible. Red Giant calls this DeepColorRT, and essentially it uses your computer’s graphics card to do the heavy lifting.
How heavy exactly? A whopping 32-bit per channel heavy. Colorista takes your normal 8-bit video and super-samples it into a 32-bit space. It then performs all the calculations there as you correct your image, before bringing it back down into 8-bit video again for output.. This allows for an incredible amount of precision and quality that’s unheard of at this price point, normally being reserved for high-end tools running to six figures.
All this calculation-intensive programming requires a pretty powerful system to run on, with 2 gigs of system RAM recommended, and a fast graphics card with at least 256MB of RAM, if you want to work with HD images.
While the underlying engine is impressive, this is a 1.0 release that is a little rough around the edges. Along with the hefty computer requirements, and clever hacks to get around certain issues with each host program, the main oversight here seems to be a lack of secondary color correction options. For example, if you wanted to change the color of your subject’s t-shirt, there’s no way to select only a certain range of colors for correction, say all reds between this color and this color, and change them to purple. This makes it difficult at this point to use Colorista exclusively for all your color correction needs. However, secondary color correction is still possible (in fact, all you have to do is drop another instance of the Colorista filter on the video clip). It’s just a little cumbersome.
Overall, Colorista 1.0 is an extremely impressive initial release. The incredible precision and quality of image you get from this plug-in are exciting, and this is definitely a plug-in to keep your eye on as it develops further.
Mac OS X: Power Mac G4 or G5 & Mac Intel, Mac OS X 10.4 (or later), 1GB of RAM, 15MB of hard drive space
Windows: Windows XP Service Pack 1 (or later), Pentium IV 2.4GHz or higher (or equivalent), 1GB of RAM, 15MB of hard drive space
Graphics Card Requirement: ATI 9600 XT or greater, ATI X Series (X700 or greater), NVIDIA 6600 or greater, QuadroFX 1000 or greater
Windows: Adobe After Effects 6.5 or later, Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0 or later, Avid Xpress DV 1 & 1.5, Avid Xpress Pro 4.5, Avid Media Composer 2.5 or later, Avid Symphony 2 & 3
Mac: Adobe After Effects 6.5 or later, Apple Final Cut Pro 5.1.2 or later, Apple Motion 2.1, Avid Xpress Pro 5.5, Avid Media Composer 2.5 or later
- Plays friendly with many different NLEs
- 32-bit per channel
- GPU-acclerated rendering
- Secondary color correction has some limitations