Working with Apple Color

As I began the process (still ongoing) of delivering my new film, Quick Feet, Soft Hands I started weighing whether or not to try to do the final color grading in Apple’s Color. Certainly, in the spirit of self-reliance, it made sense to go this route. On the other hand, I have a lot of respect for the artistry that a colorist can bring to a project. When the quotes I was getting from some of the post-houses I was considering turned out to be far higher than what little I had remaining in my budget, I decided to spend some time learning Color. If I couldn’t get the job done myself, I figured I could always raise some money and plunk down the money for a grading session with a pro.

Color, though, is not nearly as intuitive app like Apple’s other studio applications. (Color began as Silicon Color’s FinalTouch application, and this is probably the reason it lacks the signature intuitiveness of Apple software.) On top of that, most people haven’t had color theory in the way that they’ve had experience editing picture. At least, I certainly hadn’t. So, for me, this was — at least initially — as complicated and intimidating as jumping into nonlinear editing after using a Steenbeck.

So, where to start?

What Equipment You Need to Start Working in Color:

Aside from working on computers that meet Apple specs, I found that you want to do work in Color on the largest monitor(s) that you have available. You may find that you even want to purchase a new monitor.

I began by working on a Dual 1.8 G5 with two 15″ 4:3 monitors set up at 1024×768 and I soon discovered that it was literally impossible to use only one of these monitors in Color’s single monitor mode. Even when using two monitors, reading the text in the menus was not easy. So, you need a big monitor — I’d even take one large monitor over two small ones (and I rarely say that). In the end, I did most of my work on a MacPro with two Apple 23″ monitors with an external Broadcast HD monitor, which I have access to at Virginia Tech. If I hadn’t had access to this computer my G5 at home would have worked, but it would have been slow on renders and playback. And upgrading my monitors would have been a must.

Can you work in Color without a broadcast monitor? Sorta. The color of computer monitors will not match that of output for television, so it’s obviously far better to know what you’re really looking at as you work. (Consider: Would you edit the sound to your project listening to it through your computer’s built-in speaker?) I think that for matching the color temperature of one shot to another you’re fine looking at a computer monitor. The problem is knowing whether or not the colors you’re seeing overall on that monitor are accurate. So, at the very least, if mainly working with computer monitors, I would want to make sure that I had access to a computer with a properly calibrated broadcast monitor for a few hours to tweak settings before final rendering.

Aside from computer and monitor issues, you need a three-button mouse. I don’t especially care for Apple’s so-called “mighty mouse”, but it can work. (I prefer Kensington’s Optical Elite.) If you’re going to go pro with this stuff, you’ll want to purchase a colorist’s control surface. But such things are expensive — $5000 and upwards. (If you’ve got that kind of money what are you doing working with Color?) Seriously, if you’re not doing this all day, a mouse should be fine.

Finally, you’re also going to need some hard drive space. A full output of Quick Feet, Soft Hands meant re-rendering a little less than 20GB of new footage. (We brought it into Color in its native DVCProHD, but took it out using Apple’s ProRes 422 HQ codec.) Loading up your computer with RAM is a good idea too, but then you probably already knew that.

Digging In

I learned fairly quickly that Color is not the sort of application that the novice can just jump into. The interface doesn’t feel like an Apple application — even navigating through “Open…” and “Save…” menus looks different. So I looked for help in the way of instructional DVDs. My next few posts on SRF will evaluate the pros and cons of each disc I watched.

After those posts I’ll share the overall workflow we used to get Quick Feet, Soft Hands color graded and onto HDCAM for delivery to ITVS. Who knows? By the time I finish these posts the movie might even be delivered.

6 Responses to “Working with Apple Color”

  1. tom Says:

    awesome – can’t wait to follow along on this one as I’m in a similar boat and curious about Color. Unfortunately, I cannot run the program on my dual G4, but look forward to hearing your thoughts.

  2. David Lowery Says:

    I’m looking forward to this too — I haven’t played around with Color yet (in fact I don’t even HAVE it yet) but I’m considering it for my new film, too.

  3. Dan Kremer Says:

    Hi Paul, Just out of curiosity, what are Virginia rates for post-house color work? I would imagine higher than Philly because of the rarity of such institutions in where you are situated?

    I knew only a little bit about Color before reading this post. The new Macs here come equipped with them, although I am kind of a technophobe when it comes to new software. I’ve seen others work on it, though. I am very curious to see your level of success with it. I just had 8000 ft. of footage transferred in Jersey a few weeks ago. I would be curious to see Color’s handling and rendering of black and white neg footage (even though I obviously know the program is called Color). ;-) I know that DaVinci systems are chrome-based and add pigments when they are totally absent, unless modified.

    Good luck with the film!

  4. Lukas Says:

    Dear SRF

    I found your post doing some search for a bug thst is in Color and would like to point out some things that you might find usefull. I am a colorist workibg in Europe and I am now fighting with Color on a small budget feature.
    I personally do not like this program but I do work on professional solutions like daVinci or Speedgrade as a daily basis so here might be my problem.

    The thing with Color’s interface is that it really is a pro color grading tool wannabe.
    For people working with Discreet Lustre, Speedgrade or even Scratch from Assimilate it is a very quick transition to Color. The interface is very much “pro”.
    I know this is totally unfamiliar for someone new but you will find it extremely logical after some time.
    In my oppinion the biggest pro on the side of color is it’s seamless integration with FCP. It is just… that is the only “pro” I can see.
    It is extremely unstable (some of this is due to Final Touch heritage – this was a terrible programme) , has terrible masks (you can’t really make them soft there is always an outline), lack of more output formats, long saving (eight core + 8 GB Ram) etc. Besides the masks I can live with all those small bugs.

    Only one thing scared me in your project. DVCPROHD? Terrible choice. Heavily compressed and lacking blacks. Online it and output it in Blackmagic 8bit Unc or AJA Kona 8bit Unc.

  5. Paul Says:

    Tom and David –

    Let’s talk at SXSW about your projects. I might be able to help you troubleshoot.

    Dan –

    The post-houses I was looking at were in DC and Philly. To the best of my knowledge, there are no post houses in Roanoke that have stuff much more sophisticated than what I have. And if I was going to pay for it, I figured I wanted to be working with a pro on a DaVinci 2K or similar.

    As for “Color” doing B+W… good question. Haven’t seen it working on that kind of stuff…

  6. Paul Says:

    Lukas –

    Thanks for you unique perspective! As you’ll see from my later posts, I really did pick up Color. I feel very comfortable with most of the app now.

    I didn’t find it that buggy. I was running 1.0.2 and it might have crashed twice on me during all of my work. (Easily 40+ hours.) Have you been able to isolate the cause of the bug?

    As for DVCProHD… that was the acquisition (i.e., camera) format. I suppose it is a question of what you’re used to. Having done so much work in DV, DVCProHD’s 4:2:2 colorspace felt like a dream. And capturing uncompressed via Blackmagic wasn’t an option (financially or otherwise). If I had done this at a post-house, yes, what you propose would have been the ticket. But, as I said, this was a low budget, DIY compromise.