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  • Writer's pictureCraig Van Horne

Color Grading :: SpeedLooks Irritates Me… In a good way

I’ve said for years that everything needs some level of color correction to fix mistakes or slight imperfections recorded in camera or to take something from looking okay and mediocre to looking fantastic. Well for me there was a pretty limited tool kit that I could draw on for some time, while I knew how to use the Nucoda Film Master I didn’t always have access to one nor the sweet tools that are part of a dedicated grading application like that.

So I used the tools available to me, like the built in color correction effects in Adobe Premiere and After Effects, along with some really nice plugins like Magic Bullet Looks and Colorista and while they are great tools and did the trick I always missed the more refined tools that were available in a dedicated color grading application. Adobe SpeedGrade used to cost tens of thousands of dollars, so when Adobe bought SpeedGrade and included it in their Creative Suite I was pretty stoked. The guys who created LookLabs which makes SpeedLooks, have been SpeedGrade end users for more than six years though I hadn’t spent much time personally with it; once I started playing around with Adobe SpeedGrade more, and then introduced SpeedLooks into my workflow I got hooked.

SpeedLooks Is Like Color Grading Crank

Once you start using the crack cocaine of easy(ish) color grading, SpeedLooks; it’s tough to go back to the Baby Aspirin that is most color grading plugins and definitely near impossible to do color work on an NLE timeline. And this is what irritates me now with using SpeedLooks, its so easy to get really nice looking shots, to get skin tones in the zone, and to make footage look brilliant that I am reticent to not use it. I take pride in the content we create and because running interview footage or anything else through Adobe SpeedGrade using SpeedLooks is a relatively simple process (when one knows what they are doing) that I can’t, not, do it. The results are too good to allow our content to go out the door without the TLC treatment of SpeedLooks.

Now I’m not talking about really serious feature film work here, with loads of secondaries and really subtle tweaks, though using SpeedLooks in combination with all kinds of other grading techniques would be totally within the scope of the seriousness with which the color science behind SpeedLooks has been developed. I’m talking about how easily using SpeedLooks, for which the name implies, quickly takes footage from being pretty good, to being really good; or even from being quite horrible to being acceptable. It allows us to very quickly make corporate, commercial and web based deliverables look outstanding, I’ve used it for everything from GoPro footage to Sony XDCAM EX, P2 and even used it on animated still photos and motion graphics we’ve created.

And it doesn’t matter what camera is being used, as Shane Hurlbut talks about, and I happen to be in complete agreement with him on this, that camera’s are like emulsions, each with their own idiosyncrasies, characteristics, strengths and weaknesses, so really it’s the right camera for the job and for the budget; so long as it does the creative justice. SpeedLooks is really a two stage process, the first is applying a camera patch for specific camera’s, or the general rec.709 patch for any camera that shoots in the HD color space, and then applying the desired look and adjusting (or grading) the shot underneath those transforms. Of course if something was shot in Log then you don’t need to apply the camera patch, so it’s one step to get one of the SpeedLooks going.

In contrast to the plethora of “looks” software on the market today that provides loads of different television, feature film, music video look effects and more. SpeedLooks, looks, are not really the same thing because it’s not just pasting some tinting and some diffusion, maybe a vignette and some other stuff on top of the footage; it’s actually doing some transformations to move the footage into a more broad and subtle color palette where the nuances are more elegant. At least that is what my eye tells me when footage is processed with SpeedLooks, it doesn’t just make footage look like something, it makes it look rich and really beautiful, like it was meant to be.

Speedlooks are a series of artistc LUTs that transform incoming video signals into a high dynamic range color space. In Adobe Speedgrade the SpeedLooks LUTs are saved as 66 vector cubes. And I think that is part of the reason SpeedLooks produces such nice results, it’s actually using a LUT which interpolates where a color in rec.709 is and puts it where it should be in an expanded 3D color space. Which is really a different application of a LUT for a different purpose than the original purpose behind a Lookup Table, which was to allow the colorist to see what the end result would look like when doing a digital intermediate once it was output to film again.

SpeedLooks essentially is doing the same thing, expanding the color space to see what it might have looked like on film, something that has been done for ages now. Except that instead of a LUT to make up for the deficiencies of a projector or monitor so the colorist ‘sees’ more than the device is capable of, so it translates back to film properly and for viewing log footage on devices lacking in dynamic range as compared to film; SpeedLooks builds into the LUTs various looks that give it that filmic quality expressly so it stays like that, not just for viewing but for mastering where the LUT isn’t turned off before mastering files back out into log for a film out, the SpeedLooks LUT is integrate in creating the final look in that digital master.

If you aren’t originating on film and aren’t outputting to film then there is no digital intermediate. So to me, SpeedLooks LUTs are part of a modern digital pipeline, used to further the creative rather than simply a way to monitor what the film out would look like before the LUT being turned off for mastering back to a log file; that is not to say that SpeedLooks couldn’t be used in a pipeline where film is a deliverable, but I know that I will never see that in my work or again in my lifetime; for a great many of us…. film is dead. As part of a Digital Cinema output that conforms to DCI specifications? absolutely.

Note: The denoise pass is a bit hard to see the difference. It is subtle and quite noticable on the original. Vimeo’s compression has added some noise back into the image.

I’m sure there will be some who find aspects of my assertions arguable; and they would likely have some valid points, color science is complex, color grading and finishing is broadly encompassing of a lot of things to do with producing moving picture content, and everyone will have a different take on the philosophies behind it. This post is really a pretty basic discourse on the subject, to cover all the what if’s, the history and such would take a very long time so take this for what it is… an overview. And at the end of the day what matters is that your creative is pleasing to your eye, your clients eye and is of an acceptable level of production value. For our processes, SpeedLooks brings that added production value to our images and we love, and our clients love how they look… and that is really all that matters.

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