When LookLabs released version 4 of its two SpeedLooks 3D Look Up Tables (LUTs) sets for editors and colorists, I wrote a news item and overview. Since then I have begun putting LUTs from SpeedLooks into action on a series of short movies currently in pre-production and they look terrific.
Some project background
My best friend is a longtime author of children’s activity books with a history of worldwide bestsellers and guest appearances on late night television. When traditional book publishing changed radically with the appearance of digital ebook and on-demand print publishing several years ago, she got back the rights to all her many books in and out of print then began re-releasing them.
Now she is about to dedicate herself to writing full-time again. Authors in all genres, from novelists to non-fiction writers, need to fully participate in contemporary marketing methods and video is just one of those marketing channels. I am working with her on producing and directing a series of short films for the purpose.
Another use for movies in digital publishing is as content for embedding in interactive ebooks. My friend is a former advertising creative director and is aware of the need for consistent look and feel. So I have been trying out LUTs from LookLabs’ new SpeedLooks 4 Studio Log set with some typical author profile footage. Her books have colorful covers and illustrations so I am looking for the most appropriate color
The LookLabs approach
LookLabs’s approach to creating LUTs is an interesting, even empowering, one. Their LUTs take simulating the color and tonalities of analog movie films as their starting point then add creative expression via emotion-driven looks and variations.
The latest iteration of SpeedLooks in its Studio Log variation contains 53 different LUTs divided into 10 sets including Clean, Bleach, Cross, Iron, Noir, Blue, Gold, Matrix and Big. There is also Neutral Start which can be considered a one-item set in its own right.
Studio Log also contains 21 camera profiles designed for the most popular video cameras in use today, including professional production cameras from Arri, Blackmagic Design, Canon, Panasonic and Sony through DSLR and DSLM hybrid cameras from Canon, GoPro, Nikon, Panasonic and Sony. The most recent camera profile – also referred to as a camera patch – is the Universal profile for both the Panasonic Lumix GH4 and the Sony A7S.
The raison d’être for the application of LUTs to your footage, a camera patch aka profile and then a looks LUT, is that many productions nowadays use more than one camera types that can have wide variations in their rendering of tone and color. Camera profiles help get your mixed camera footage to the same starting point. Further grading should then look similar regardless of which camera it was shot on.
How I put SpeedLooks 4 Studio Log to the test
The frame grabs illustrating this article are my first round of tests so that my client and I can start narrowing down the looks we want. We will be shooting with just the one camera, my Panasonic GH4, but it will be under a variety of natural and enhanced lighting conditions indoors and outdoors. Once we have chosen a subset of looks from these examples, I will shoot more footage under that range of lighting for further refinements in my approach.
The footage here was made under available light only, window and artificial light, in a local café. I used a dialled-down Cinelike D picture style, which I prefer for footage that will be graded though I should put the Natural picture style to the test soon too.
I look forward to the day when Panasonic adds V-log and the V-Gamut to the GH4’s firmware. That day cannot come soon enough in my humble opinion.
As LookLabs recommends, I added the Universal LUT to my footage first. Then I tried out the Neutral Start in addition to the Universal camera profile. This got my footage looking fairly neutral, which appears to be the intent hence the LUT’s name.
The next LUT set that I tried was the Clean set. The LookLabs people mention that LUTs from the Clean set are often used to clean up dailies footage so they look bright but not over-styled. The Clean LUTs are subdivided into those emulating Fujifilm stocks and those emulating Kodak films. There are also three straight LUTs in the set that look filmic but do not lean towards the look of either film manufacturer’s products. In this case I chose Clean Straight HDR.
I continued to work my way through each set subsequently, choosing the LUT in each that looked most effective for this scene. Once my client and I are in the ballpark with the looks we want, I will test the Neutral picture style against Cinelike D to see if I am heading in the right direction then will test a subset of LUTs under the full range of lighting.
For me this process is akin to how I used to test analog film stocks before working on big projects. In those days I could not rely on my magazine clients to manipulate the tone and color of my transparencies so I need to pick the best combination of film, filters, lighting, gels and film processing to get what I felt was best for the subject matter.
Once I got all those parameters working well together, I felt confident in getting on with the shoot. For me, digital works in a reasonably similar way whether I am shooting for stills or a movie.
(cover photo credit: snap from Karin Gottschalk)