If I seem to be going 3D LUT crazy lately it is for a very good reason – right now I am learning to use Resolve 11 and in the process am noticing the similarities and differences between color grading movies and enhancing the color of photographs. In line with photographers continuing to move into shooting movies, Resolve 11 has become more stills photographer-friendly than previous versions.
Meanwhile Photoshop CC 2014 has become friendlier to moviemakers. Photoshop can now be used to edit and grade still and moving images – though you may want to hold off on running whole feature films through it! For that, stick with SpeedGrade. I sometimes use Photoshop CC 2014's motion editing features though for previewing short bits of footage or quick-and-dirty color grading short clips, something I first started doing in Photoshop CS6. Colouring outside the lines can be a good thing sometimes.
Photoshop's latest version can export Look Up Tables – a great way of extracting a look from a still or sample footage. Grade in Photoshop then export the LUT through the Export/Color Lookup Tables… command in the File menu. This command will export LUTs as 3DL, CUBE and CSP files that can be applied to footage – moving or still – in a number of non-linear editing systems and color grading packages as well as Photoshop itself.
SpeedLooks in two different packages
And to different effect too. Although I have often shot stills for use in movies, and extracted screen grabs from movie footage for use in development documents, I have tended to go for very different looks in the past. Subtler for moving images and more complex in stills. The convergence of moviemaking and stills photography and the increasing availability of LUT packages mean the look of my still and moving footage is also converging.
Camera patches for an even starting point
The SpeedLooks Adobe CC Complete set comes with with a collection of Camera Patches for cameras including the Arri Alexa, GoPro, Sony pro camcorders, Blackmagic, Canon Cinema EOS, RED, Canon and Nikon DSLRs. The current SpeedLooks LUT sets were released before the arrival of the GH4 and Sony's A7S but I am sure that SpeedLooks version 4 will include camera patches for both as well.
Many movie productions large and small mix cameras nowadays – GoPros for drone shots, RED or Blackmagic for A-roll, HDSLRs for b-roll for example – and evening up color before commencing grading is made easier by bringing footage from these diverse types of cameras up to the same baseline via camera patches.
That is further enhanced by one of my favourite new features in Resolve 11 – Color Match. Neither Camera Patches nor Color Match are the be-all and end-all when bringing different cameras into line colorwise but they are a big help.
LUTs are part of the equation…
Likewise 3D LUTs are an incredibly useful part of the grading process. Apply the right camera patch, then the likeliest LUT from the subset most appropriate to the look you are after then add more controls to get the look and feel you need.
SpeedLooks for Editors and Adobe CC Complete give you plenty to play with. Adobe CC Complete is an extension of the smaller LookLabs LUT set that comes with SpeedGrade. SpeedLooks for Editors is made specifically for use with Rec. 709 footage in NLEs like Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro X (with the addition of the LUT Utility plug-in).
Having access to both packages, I applied them in ways that seemed right for the feelings I wanted to express with my footage. I am still inching my way forward with grading so tend to color outside the lines more than a seasoned pro would, I suspect.
Crossing and uncrossing the line
LookLabs does a fine job in setting up those lines. Adobe Complete includes six specific LUT sets – SL-3500 Clean, SL-3535 Big, SL-3530 Matrix, SL-3522 Noir,SL-3527 Blue and SL-3528 Gold. SL-3500 Clean is the set you are likely to use the most.
The SL-3500 Clean LUTs emulate Fuji and Kodak film stocks and do a great job of cleaning up footage shot in the sort of muddy grey light I have been working under for some months now. SL-3500 Clean HDR is an excellent choice for quickly scrubbing up dailies for viewing. You may even base your movie's final look on it or its SL-3500 Clean siblings.
LUTs from the SL-3500 Clean set are also a good starting point if trying to achieve the precise, saturated look seen in UK Channel 4 TV series Utopia. Gone Girl director David Fincher is slated to direct the US remake of Utopia and will probably take a very different direction to its color grading. On gloomy days here though Utopia's unique grading comes back to haunt me just like the series itself.
The LUT rundown continues
The smaller SL-3535 Big set simulates the Hollywood blockbuster look of directors like JJ Abrams, Michael Bay or Ridley Scott, perfect for your next action flick or sci-fi epic. The three SL-3530 Matrix LUTs are close to my heart – I often walk through parts of the city and Pyrmont where The Matrix was shot and remember visiting an art school colleague at Animal Logic where many of the effects were created including my friend's green-tinged designs for the monitors on the resistance ship.
SL-3522 Noir is intriguing, a seven-part set that emulates 35mm monochrome film including SL-3522 Noir Tri-X which simulates the tonal range of one of my favourite choices during the analog era, Kodak Tri-X. In fact it reminds me most of Kodak Tri-X 120 with an ISO of 320, the film I generally used in Texas Leicas such as Mamiya's and Fujifilm's 6×4.5cm through to 6x9cm rangefinder cameras.
SL-3527 Blue is one of the two SpeedLook LUT sets that had me thinking about a comment in Side by Side, the documentary produced by Keanu Reeves who also acted as interviewer. I am paraphrasing as it has been a while since I watched it, but one interviewee wondered why moviemakers were so set on digitally emulating film looks – why not accept digital for what it is?
The answer might be that digital is still young in relation to analog film and we have yet to explore all our purely digital options. If so, then SL-3528 Gold is a step in that direction with its six amber variations that are subtler than simply shoving a warming filter in front of the lens. Gold's skin-friendly hues are quite a contrast to Blue's dystopian chill.
All of LookLabs' SpeedLooks in both collections have a richness and a subtlety that goes beyond straight emulations of analog era classics. You can use them as is or start your grading off with them and their camera patch companions then push them as far as you like with other manipulations.
My examples here may be a little more extreme than I would normally use but they give you some idea of what can be done. For more subtlety, and more skin tones, I suggest viewing the sample movies at the LookLabs website.
(cover photo credit: from Karin Gottschalk)