How to Prepare Footage for Color Grading Session?
If this is your first-time color grading project, the process may appear overwhelming. So many files, edits, transitions etc…What is the best way of doing it? Previously, color grading session was something that only the “Hollywood elite” could afford in their films. Truthfully, the process used to be very expensive and required special equipment and studios to finalize the films. Nowadays things have changed a little, and luckily we shoot digitally and have software we can rely on to simplify our lives. When you edit outside of color grading bay, meaning Adobe Premiere, Final Cut, Avid Media Composer, or many others, you always need to think about how to deal with exporting and finalizing your files to make a final project and deliver it to the client. There are several ways of doing color grading sessions depending on your project!
Let’s take a look at the first example. We have a movie that was filmed on Red Digital 8k, and have a lot of VFX shots in it. What is the solution? Immediately we can think of Michael Bay Transformers. Heavy edit, tons of VFX, and other CGI….For that kind of project, the best solution is to handle the entire pipeline in the VFX house, and have a colorist on site to work with the rest of the team. Terabytes of data and constant changes will impact the budget drastically if such a project is handled outside of the studio. Typically, everything is done on the spot. Workflow usually goes like this:
As the movie is being filmed, DIT aka on-set colorist or media management person, will handle raw files and transcode them into proxy with the LUT that the colorist and movie director already discussed prior to shooting. Remember, the look is being developed un pre-production and not post-production! Typically proxies are going to be either 1080p or 4k Prores or DnxHR or DnxHD. Those are intermediate files that are designed to be used as an editing medium as well as final delivery! The editor will handle the editing the movie while the rest of the team is working on the CGI and VFX. Once that is completed, the film moves to the color grading suit. An editor will re-link his proxies to raw files, and the movie is good to go for color. This is an extremely simplified version of a high-budget workflow.
What about films that don’t have half of billion dollar budget? There is a solution for that as well!
Again! If the project is being edited outside color grading software like listed above, an editor once the final edit is approved is going to need to re-link raw files with the proxies and set the final output resolution of the film project. From this point, there are 2 avenues you can take that equality in final quality.
Solution 1. Once raw files are re-linked with proxies, the editor will make an XML or AAF, or similar intermediate aka (Editing Decision List) It’s a universal format file that will contain all the data about the editing, transitions and etc. Once that is completed, Colorist will receive tons and tons of hard drives with the raw files and that editing decision list files. The colorist then needs to make sure that he will be able to open and re-link all the raw shots on his end and basically re-assemble the entire project in the color grading suit. Unfortunately, even though it has been used for over 30 years, it’s a ridiculous process and always will end up with some kind of errors or mismatch that will be a pain in the butt to fix and deal with. Apparently, 30 years is not enough for all software companies to come up with better solutions for this, but it is what is it. Fortunately, this is the old dinosaur process more and more filmmakers use alternatives in a much easier way!
Solution 2, is the best and the easiest way of all! This is the solution that I personally been using for almost 10 years now, and I absolutely love it. It’s easy, fast, and extremely straightforward. Same scenario! You finished your edit let’s say in Adobe Premiere and now it’s time to color! Re-link all your proxies with original raw files, set the final resolution of your project, and simply configure all your raw to be in its log form. For red it’s gonna be log3g10, for Arri it’s gonna be Arri Log c, for Blackmagic it’s gonna be Blackmagic film etc…Once your entire project is in “log” form, you can now simply render out your film in 12-bit Prores or DnxHR and just pass it to the colorist. You don’t have to worry about anything from that point. The colorist will receive your film, slice it and color it, and will send you back exactly the same render but colored. All you have to do, just slap it on top of your existing timeline and render it out! Simple!
You may wonder, why the colorist will not render the final export on his end. Good question! In many cases, after color grading, giving the editor flexibility to finalize the render is a better decision. In many cases, the editor will have sounds, score, etc for the film and have greater control over some minor tweaks that doing back and forward in color grading just won’t be as practical!