Most editors know how to correct the color and brightness in their videos to have them match the reality of the shoot, or what they wish was the reality of the shoot. The next level is using color and brightness adjustments to create a certain look or feel, or to enhance the footage in different ways. If your focus is solely matching reality, and you're working with decently shot footage or better, you're likely in good hands with the various color and brightness adjustments available in your NLE. If you're looking to create a distinctive look or feel, or are working with problem footage, you should consider a tool like Red Giant's Magic Bullet Colorista II ($299), which provides a highly configurable toolset that goes beyond any effects native to your NLE.
What you don't get with Colorista II is a library of looks, so if you're searching for a quick and easy way to make your video look like a Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello beach movie from the '50s, buy another tool, perhaps Magic Bullet Looks. Also, don't buy into marketing hype such as "Colorista's easy-to-use interface is equally good for quick adjustments on a deadline"-this is a complex, heavy-duty tool that will take at least a couple of hours of study to understand basic operation, and many more to achieve full competence. Fortunately, there are several very helpful tutorials by Stu Maschwitz, creative director of the Magic Bullet line, that will help you get started.
In my work with Colorista II, installation and operation went as expected. I installed the Windows plug-in on my HP Z800 workstation and could then access it from the effects folders in Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects. Red Giant also sells a Mac version that will run on the latest versions of the Adobe suite, and a version for Final Cut Pro. Check the Red Giant website for version compatibility.
In Premiere Pro's effects pane (Figure 1, below), you can see that Colorista II has four major sections, Primary, Secondary, Master, and Options, which will serve as kind of a rough outline for this review. Briefly, Primary controls let you adjust the entire image with shadow, midtone, and highlight color correction, plus color-specific hue/saturation/lightness controls, while secondary controls let you concentrate on an area or color group via masks and/or color keying. Master controls let you fine-tune the overall image with Master Curves and other tools, while the Options section contains controls for flipping the image, showing the skin overlay (more on that later) and controlling whether you render in software or using the GPU. Note that GPU hardware rendering is via OpenGL, not CS5's 64-bit Mercury Engine. You can also layer multiple applications of Colorista II on the same clip, increasing your creative options dramatically.
Figure 1. Colorista II's four major sections: Primary, Secondary, Master, and Options
Let's jump in with a look at the Primary controls.
Colorista II's Primary controls are shown in Figure 2 (below), with familiar color wheels for Shadow, Midtone, and Highlight values, an Auto Balance color chip, and eyedropper and other controls. The three-way color wheels, which operate in the hue, saturation, and lightness (HSL) space, are generally familiar, with the dot in the middle of each wheel (Hue point) representing both hue and saturation, with the color chip in the inner ring (Hue Shift) controlling just hue, and separate saturation controls in a curved band on the left and luminance (essentially brightness) in a curved band on the top, right, and bottom. I've pasted in a figure from the online manual on the upper right that details these functions. The little calculator-like icon beneath the Primary 3-Way text on the upper left opens RGB numerical controls that you can use to fine-tune your adjustments.
Figure 2. Colorista II's Primary controls
Beneath the three-way color wheel is a primary saturation control for all colors in the frame, and individual color wheels for adjusting the saturation (left wheel) and brightness (right wheel) of the individual hues. To adjust the saturation of blue colors in the frame, you would grab the blue dot in the left wheel and move it inwards to reduce saturation, or outwards to increase. You'd do the same on the right to impact the luminance of the blue color values.
Adjustments are all presented in real time, which may cause some delays on slower computers-even on my 12-core HP Z800, there was often a 2- or 3-second delay in response time, and often these controls felt stuck for a few moments.
Still, the level of control over individual colors was clearly worth waiting for. As you can see in Figure 3 (below), I was able to change the color of the pottery maker's shirt and jeans without affecting skin tone. I can see this kind of functionality quickly becoming invaluable when color matching the input from different cameras, where color hues always seem to be a bit different.
Figure 3. The Primary HSL controls (saturation on the left, brightness on the right), let me adjust individual hues in the frame with minimal effect on others.
In Figure 4 (below), I'm using the HSL controls in conjunction with the Show Skin Overlay option, which is the checkbox on the lower left in the Effect Controls Pane. The grid pattern on my face shows that those colors match the desired skin tones, which is confirmed by the flesh tones line at 11:00 in Premiere Pro's vectorscope. My face looks a bit yellowish to me, but you can't argue with math.
Figure 4. The Primary HSL values let me match my colors to my desired skin tones.
While the functionality was exceptional, I found myself wishing for a splitscreen before/after viewing option like that available on Premiere Pro's Three-Way Color Corrector filter, and a Tonal Range view that would let me see which components of the image fall into the Shadow, Midtone, and Highlight categories. I kind of know what's what, but sometimes it's nice to be able to differentiate the highlights from the midtones.
Secondary color correction involves choosing regions or colors in the frame and customizing their appearance. For example, in Figure 3, you can see the red cooler behind the potter. That's the most distinctive color in the frame, but not the subject of the frame, so I'd like to desaturate the color so it won't steal attention from the potter. You accomplish this in the Colorista Keyer, shown in Figure 5 (below).
Figure 5. Using the Colorista Keyer to select the colors in the cooler on the lower left
All controls are on the right. You start by clicking the cursor-box control on top, and drawing a box around the colors that you want to select, zooming in with the scroll wheel on your mouse as necessary. Then you click the plus (+) sign and drag it over other areas on the object until it's completely selected. Of course, in most instances, the selected colors will also appear in other regions of the frame, which means that any adjustment that you make to the cooler will also impact those regions.
The black Matte box on the lower right shows the regions that match the selected colors, which includes the cooler and other regions, mostly concentrated in the middle of the frame. To reduce or eliminate these, you click the minus (-) sign and draw over any regions in the Matte image on the lower right.
You can also adjust hue, saturation, and lightness controls directly in the color cube on the upper right, as well as luminance and softness in or around the vectorscope on the bottom. It's an iterative, balancing process, but after a few moments you should reach the optimum values, plus, if you can't get it perfect, you have another tool at your disposal. Specifically, you can apply the Key and Power Mask together by selecting that control as shown on the bottom left of Figure 6. and then drag either a rectangle or an ellipse to exclude the areas that share the same colors as the cooler.
That's what you see in Figure 6 (below), where the ellipse covers most of the non-cooler white areas that you can see in the Matte box on the bottom right in Figure 5. For the record, though you can adjust and apply the mask in Premiere Pro, you can't see the cute yellow outline that makes it all so clear in Figure 6, which is why I switched to After Effects for this effect.
Figure 6. Using the Key and Power Mask together to fine-tune the secondary key
From there, you adjust the secondary controls to reduce the color as desired, whether the three-way color wheel, HSL corrector, saturation, or exposure. That's how I converted the cooler into a nondescript, darkish red color.
You can also use the secondary controls to adjust Pop values, essentially a secret sauce that includes both sharpening and contrast adjustments. Boost the pop slider to the right, and the selected area gets sharper and clearer; drag it to the left, and wrinkles and other fine detail disappear. I didn't spend a lot of time with it, but anyone shooting a lot of interviews should give it a try.
Master controls include the 3-Way and HSL controls found in the Primary controls, and also RGB Curves controls. While you can't click and manipulate the curves directly as you can with Premiere Pro's Curves function, there are separate controls for contrast, shadows, midtones, and highlights for RGB values overall, as well as Red, Green, and Blue values, which I found more intuitive. You can see those on the left in Figure 7 (below). Ozer Colorista ITS Fig7.jpg; caption:
Figure 7. Using Master Curves to produce an overall look and the Power Mask to darken the edges around the potter
The Master controls also include another power mask that you can use to adjust either the area inside the mask or outside the mask (by clicking the Invert Mask checkbox)-that's the new blue ellipse in Figure 7. There, by selecting Invert Master Mask, I desaturated and darkened everything outside of her and her pottery wheel, focusing all attention on the potter and her work. It's a bit of a funky look for someone working outside on a sunny day, but you can see how this function would help make a flat-lit indoor scene much more mysterious and interesting.
That's a quick run through of the basics, fueled by a few days of working with the product and watching the Stu Maschwitz tutorials multiple times. In addition to learning how to use the product, I learned a bunch about customizing color for effect. I still wish the product came with a library of "looks," but after watching the tutorials and experimenting with the controls to create various grades, I feel much more capable of creating my own custom looks going forward. Overall, if you're interested in advancing from color correction to color grading, Colorista II is a great place to start.
Jan Ozer (jan at doceo.com) is a frequent contributor to industry magazines and websites on digital video-related topics. He is chief instructor at StreamingLearningCenter.com.