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Apple Color: An Overview

By Aaron Reznick

This past year, Apple rolled out its second version of Final Cut Studio. It wasn't a surprise that Apple improved on an already great editing suite, but I have to say that by including software-based 2k color correcting, they've really outdone themselves. Apple Color started off as Final Touch, which was a color grading program sold as three different versions: SD, HD, and 2K - for $995, $4995, and $24,995 respectively. Its 2k version was widely used, including several color corrected promos for X-Men 3: The Last Stand. In late 2006, Apple purchased Final touch from Silicon Color, Inc. and in a few short months, Apple was able to engineer an already buggy program to seamlessly integrate with Final Cut Pro and on top of that, included it as part of a bundle that sells for only $1,299.

Color's Interface. The video above is a film I shot for Hi Rez Productions, my production company.
Color's Interface. The video above is a film I shot for Hi Rez Productions, my production company.

When you first open Color, the first thing any casual Final Cut user will notice is how different the graphical user interface (GUI) looks than any other program previously released in Final Cut Studio. To me, the interface reminded me a lot of a Da Vinci color corrector, using a neutral grey background, which takes a lot less toll on your eyes after hours of color grading. If used under Apple's recommended system requirements, Color runs flawlessly- even when grading video containing a lot of data such as 10 bit Uncompressed HD. Color runs ideally with at least a dual processor Mac Pro, 4 GB of ram (HD projects), and an ATI 1900XT graphics card with two HD displays. However, you can run Color with as little as one monitor and a Dual Processor PowerMac G5 with a 128mb graphics card. The new 17 inch Powerbook can ingest ProRes 422 footage and grade it in Color with no problems at all.

The workflow in color is very simple. After sending a project from Final Cut to Color, it will display all the work you have done in your timeline in FCP and neatly compiles them into a list and its own timeline, shot by shot. To get the most out of Color, it is best to use a 3-button mouse like the one that comes with the Mac Pro. The user grades in order from left to right between eight tabs (technically called "rooms"):

Setup This is done automatically when a project is sent from Final Cut. You can use the controls to set your broadcast-safe settings as well as you project settings and user preferences.

Primary in - This is for correcting the major changes to your shot. There are three color wheels for each color channel as well as three color curves and a luminance curve. This room should be used for changing the overall look of your image.

Secondaries This room is the one you will probably have the most fun with. A secondary room can be applied as a circular, rectangle, or custom shape, or may be applied to the entire image, allowing you to have 8 layers of color grading both inside and outside of your vignette, effectively giving you 16 different possibilities of color grading within a single frame. One of the more useful tools in the secondaries room is implementing a tracker to lock vignettes to people or a specific object in your image.

In this Shot, I am using the tracker tool to tone down the highlight on the edge of the newspaper.
In this Shot, I am using the tracker tool to tone down the highlight on the edge of the newspaper.

Color FX Several preset Color FX filters are included with color that can be finely tuned to achieve the look you are going after. The Color FX room is essentially a large bin loaded with several process tree presets. After using the effects included with Color, you will be able to get a good idea how tree structure works and how you can implement your own effects.

In this frame I am applying a black & white effect in the Color FX room.
In this frame I am applying a black & white effect in the Color FX room.

Geometry/Pan & Scan You are able to adjust the composition of a shot in this room. If you want to create a Pan & Scan version of a 16:9 format film for output to DVD, this is the workspace you want to be in. You can change aspect ratio, implement zooms, and change the scale of your image or rotation. Pan & Scan can also be achieved by automatic tracking or by keyframing.

Primary Out When you've made all the changes in your other rooms, this workspace is best used for blunt corrections, like overall darkening or brightening up your image.

Still Store Still store captures stills that the user can use as reference images. Reference stills are best used compare your footage with the grade you are envisioning so you can fix irregularities in your image.

Render Que - This is for setting up and monitoring your final grade for output. When you have finished rendering you are ready to send the sequence back to Final Cut Pro. Once this is done, a new sequence will appear in Final Cut labeled "from color". This is the same sequence as your original, except now your rendered material from color is applied to your captured files.

Because Final Touch was originally designed for grading 2K Cineon files, Color is capable of grading several different DI formats. Only individual shots (no composites) and basic transitions are displayed. One of the big improvements over other color correcting tools is the fact that Color allows you to keyframe grades and effects. I graded a 1 minute short piece that was shot on the Canon XL H1 going through and Aja I/O HD to an 8 core Mac Pro with 1 GB of RAM via firewire 800. Using the Apple ProRes HQ codec, I applied several layers of grading and tracked one object and it took about six and half minutes!

Apple has presented the entire world with a true industry standard color-correcting tool that normally would have been prohibitively expensive for any independent producer or filmmaker to utilize. When it's all said and done, Color grading is less technical than it is an art form. At first glance, working in color can seem a bit intimidating to someone new to color grading, but after a few solid hours you tend to get a lot more comfortable and you're able to have a lot of fun with it. So what are you waiting for?

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