Color Correction

Color correction (or grading) is the process of making adjustments to the color and contrast of the shots in your program in order to:

In most post-production workflows, color correction is one of the last steps taken to finish a program’s visuals. Ideally, your edit should be locked before you move on to this stage, especially if you’re sending your sequence to Color. Although you can use Color to reconform a project based on changes made to the sequence that was originally sent, it’s considerably more efficient if you are able to complete and lock the edit so that this isn’t necessary.

You have three choices in color correcting your project. For more information, see:

Make Sure You Have the Right Setup for Color Correction

If you plan to do your own color correction, it’s important to make sure that you have the right room and equipment for the job. Remember that you will be the last word in how the picture looks, and the audience is going to see exactly what you render. When deciding how to equip your room, keep the following essentials in mind.

  • A color-critical monitor: Because every adjustment you make is based on your impressions of the image on your broadcast monitor, it’s important that, at the very least, you have a monitor with the following capabilities: an accurate color gamut, appropriately deep blacks and a wide contrast range (so black doesn’t look like gray), user-selectable color temperature (typically 6500 K or 9300 K, depending on your region), adherence to Rec. 601 and Rec. 709 standards as necessary, and controls that are appropriate for regular calibration to keep your monitor standards-compliant.
  • A compatible graphics card and video interface: Color uses the graphics processing unit (GPU) of your graphics card to do its processing, so you need to make sure that your graphics card meets the Color requirements. For monitoring in either Final Cut Pro or Color, you also need a video capture card or broadcast video interface that’s compatible with Color and that can output a signal that’s appropriate for critical monitoring. Appropriate interfaces include Y′PBPR, SDI, HD-SDI, and HDMI.
  • Hardware scopes for quality control: The video scopes that Final Cut Pro and Color provide are excellent for creative decision-making and basic quality control. However, if you regularly submit video masters for terrestrial and satellite broadcast or cable distribution, it’s also important to analyze the actual signal coming out of your video interface and being recorded to tape, as there can be excursions in the output signal that aren’t apparent from an analysis of the internally processed signal within your computer. If intensive quality control is part of your business, a hardware scope can also provide other types of signal analysis that are beneficial.
  • A room that is properly set up for monitoring: Lastly, it’s important that the room you use for color correcting be properly set up for unbiased viewing of the image on your monitor. The wrong room can make it difficult to judge an image even if it’s displayed on a great monitor. No direct light should spill on the front of your monitor. Ambient room lighting should be subdued and indirect and should match the color temperature of your monitor. The viewing area behind your monitor should be a neutral gray and should be illuminated to be no more than 10 to 20 percent of the brightness of the monitor displaying pure white.

Color Correcting a Program in Final Cut Pro

Final Cut Pro offers a considerable tool set for color correction. Although the Final Cut Pro color correction tools are not as feature-rich as those in Color, the Color Corrector 3-way filter, in conjunction with the many other filters and compositing tools found in Final Cut Pro, allows you to do a complete color correction job. The Final Cut Pro color correction features include primary and secondary color correction, as well as many other operations such as masked corrections. In addition, there are many third-party filters available to extend the Final Cut Pro color correction tool set.

Color, on the other hand, is a dedicated environment for this sort of work, featuring many more tools and options for doing comprehensive grading. If you’re trying to decide whether to color correct a sequence in Final Cut Pro or send it to Color, consider the following questions.

Are you finished editing?

Because color correction in Final Cut Pro involves applying filters to clips in the Timeline, your color corrections travel with the clips to which they’re applied. This means that clips retain their color correction if the project is reedited, without any additional effort on your part. If your project is still being edited, but you have a handful of scenes that need some basic color correction so that you can better evaluate how the editorial flow of the show is working (without the distractions that uncorrected shots may pose), doing these corrections in Final Cut Pro is an excellent solution.

Is your program effects-intensive?

Sending sequences to Color frequently involves a fair amount of project preparation to ensure a seamless roundtrip. If your program contains a lot of effects—for example, many filters, superimpositions, composites, generators, embedded Motion clips, and so on—it might make sense for you to do the color correction right in Final Cut Pro rather than spend the time to prepare everything for Color.

Does it make sense to split the difference?

If you have a program that combines traditional editing with isolated sections of effects-intensive work, it may make sense to separate the effects-intensive sections, which would need extensive preparation before being sent to Color. For example, you can send the majority of conventionally edited clips in tracks V1 and V2 to Color, while moving the effects-intensive sections to another sequence for color correction within Final Cut Pro. After you finish in Color, you can marry the two sets of clips back together in a single sequence. This provides you with the best of both worlds and can be the fastest way to work.

Tips for Color Correcting in Final Cut Pro

In general, color correcting in Final Cut Pro doesn’t require a lot of preparation. Still, there are a few steps you can take to make things easier.

  • Move all video clips that aren’t being superimposed as part of an effect or compositing operation down to track V1. This action eliminates unused media from your program and makes it easier, organizationally, to work in the Timeline.

  • Use the Clip Keyframes control to display the filters bar and motion bar in the Timeline to make it easier to keep track of which clips have filters applied to them, and which ones don’t, as you work your way through the program.

  • Put all of the filters that you use most often into the Favorites bin and open the bin in its own tab. This saves time and eliminates the need to constantly search for the color correction filters you use most often.

  • Don’t forget that there’s a dedicated Color Correction window layout that opens a series of video scopes to help you evaluate your clips as you make your adjustments.

After you finish color correcting your program in Final Cut Pro, you follow the usual steps to render and output your program. For more information about color correction in Final Cut Pro, see the Final Cut Pro documentation.

Sending a Project to Color

If you want to do sophisticated color correction and you’re properly equipped with a compatible system, a color-critical monitor, and the appropriate viewing environment necessary for doing this specialized task, you’ll want to integrate Color into your post-production workflow. Color gives you precise control over the look of your project by providing flexible tools and an efficient workspace in which to manipulate the contrast, color, and geometry of each shot in your program.

The Final Cut Pro–to–Color roundtrip works in a very specific way.

  1. Stage 1: Preparing Your Sequence

    Final Cut Pro–to–Color roundtrips work best when you spend time preparing your sequence first. In particular, there are certain effects for which Color has only limited compatibility, and reorganizing your sequence up front may save you frustration later.

  2. Stage 2: Sending Your Sequence to Color

    The Send To Color command in Final Cut Pro uses XML to convert your edited Final Cut Pro sequence to a Color project. You can send only entire sequences to Color, not individual clips.

  3. Stage 3: Grading and Rendering Your Program

    After you send your sequence to Color, you can use its dedicated tool set, in conjunction with a control surface, a color-critical monitor, and an appropriately equipped system, to grade your program. After you finish, you use the Color Render Queue to render a new, color-corrected set of media files. Color renders one new file for each shot that appears in the Timeline.

  4. Stage 4: Sending Your Project Back to Final Cut Pro with a New Set of Media

    The Send To Final Cut Pro command in Color uses XML to convert your Color project to a new Final Cut Pro sequence in the original project file, with “(from Color)” appended to its name. This sequence is automatically linked to the new media that Color rendered. At this point, any effects that didn’t show up in Color reappear in Final Cut Pro, and you can put the finishing touches on the sequence (such as making final adjustments to the titles and credits and replacing the original program audio with the finished audio mix) before outputting it.

Although there’s much more dedicated workflow information in the Color documentation, here are some important highlights that you should keep in mind.

Preparing Your Sequence to Send to Color

Whether you’re working on your own project or preparing a client’s project in advance of a Color grading session, you should take some time to prepare the Final Cut Pro sequence you’ll be sending in order to ensure the best results and the smoothest workflow. Here are some recommendations to keep in mind.

  • All clips that aren’t being composited or superimposed should be moved to track V1.

  • Color Corrector 3‑way filters are automatically converted to Primary In room adjustments. However, if more than one has been applied to a clip, only the last Color Corrector 3‑way filter appearing in the Filters tab is converted; all others are ignored. Also, Color Corrector 3‑way filters with Limit Effects turned on are ignored. Because Final Cut Pro is a Y′CBCR processing application and Color is an RGB processing application, Color Corrector 3‑way conversions are only approximations and will not precisely match the original corrections made in Final Cut Pro.

  • All unnecessary video filters should be removed. Video filters don’t appear in Color, but they’ll reappear when your project is sent back to Final Cut Pro, so make sure to keep the filters that are important and eliminate the filters that will be redundant after you’ve graded the program in Color.

  • Dividing long projects into shorter reels may provide better performance if your program uses a high-bandwidth format like uncompressed HD, REDCODE, or DPX image sequences.

  • You should export self-contained QuickTime files for effects clips that you want to color correct in context. Color doesn’t support media like generators or embedded Motion clips. If you want to color correct these kinds of effects, you need to export self-contained QuickTime files and then reedit these into your sequence to replace the original effects.

  • All freeze frames should be moved to track V1. Color supports only freeze frames that appear in track V1.

  • If you’re transporting your project to another facility, you should use the Media Manager to remove media not used in your sequence and consolidate all your files in one place.

  • If you’re rendering 2K or 4K DPX or Cineon media in Color and outputting it for film printing, you should restrict your sequence to using cross dissolve transitions only. Cross dissolves are the only transitions that Color renders in digital intermediate workflows.

Rendering Your Project and Sending It Back to Final Cut Pro

As described in Finishing Using Compressed Versus Uncompressed Media, it’s typical to choose a high-quality mastering codec with which to render your color-corrected media, to ensure the highest quality for your program. Prior to rendering, you should also choose where this media is rendered (using the Project Render Directory button in the Project Settings tab of the Setup room of Color).

Sending your program back to Final Cut Pro is straightforward, but you need to keep track of the new color-corrected media that Color rendered. When you ultimately archive your project and media, it’s critical to also archive the rendered Color media in addition to the source media that your project uses.

Making Color Correction Changes After Your Project Is Back in Final Cut Pro

If you need to make revisions to the color corrections of a sequence that you’ve already sent from Color to Final Cut Pro, don’t send the sequence named “from Color” back to Color. The correct method is to quit Final Cut Pro, reopen the originating Color project, make your changes, and then do one of the following:

  • If you didn’t change the grade number used by any of the shots in Color: Simply rerender the clips you changed, save the Color project, and then reopen the Final Cut Pro project that has the sequence that was originally sent “from Color.” The rerendered media overwrites the previous media and is immediately reconnected when you reopen the Final Cut Pro project.
  • If you did change the grade number of any of the shots in Color: You need to send the project back to Final Cut Pro and use the new “from Color” sequence to finish your program.

Following this process makes it easier to manage your media and keep track of your revisions, and also prevents any of your clips from being rendered twice unnecessarily.

Delivering a Program to Another Facility for Grading

You can deliver your edited program to another facility for grading using third-party hardware and software. This can be advantageous because working at a facility with high-quality monitoring equipment in a specialized viewing environment lets you evaluate your program’s images with remarkable accuracy. Working at a dedicated facility and using the facility’s equipment frees you from having to spend the time and money to create this environment on your own. Finally, many facilities boast color correction systems that use costly dedicated hardware to provide high-end processing capabilities in real time at maximum resolution.

Typically, delivering a program to another facility for color correction works one of two ways.

Translating Your Project Using XML

Some facilities’ color correction systems have the option, using third-party utilities, of taking an exported Final Cut Pro XML file and translating it into the facility’s own project file format. This is ideal, because it allows for relinking to the source material and retains edit information that lets the colorist get started quickly. Check with your facility in advance to find out what kind of media is required to accommodate the facility’s workflow. One of the drawbacks of this approach is that some effects may be difficult or impossible to translate, necessitating additional project preparation in excess of what Color requires.

Delivering a Tape Master for Tape-to-Tape Color Correction

Another frequently used approach is to deliver a tape master of your edited program and, if available, an EDL. The master tape is ingested in its entirety, and the EDL (if available) is used to “notch” the program, creating cut points and transitions to match those in the original program. The colorist can start working quickly, applying settings to individual sections of the program as if he or she were working with the original sequence.

If an EDL is not available, many color correction systems allow for automated cut detection, placing edit points wherever a cut is found in the edited program. Otherwise, it’s up to the colorist to either place cut points manually or use keyframes to change grades whenever one shot ends and another begins. Check ahead to find out how the facility you’ll be working with wants your materials prepared.