Color Management The ‘Right’ Way?

January 20, 2021

In this episode, we discuss if project-wide or more custom approaches to color management are the 'right' way to do things.

Day 20: 24 Insights in 24 Days New Year Marathon

From The MailBag Episode 86

ACES Or Proprietary? Project Wide Or Node Based? What’s The Better Color Management Approach?

Color management has been a hot topic on Mixing Light for the past few years and recently we’ve been talking about it a lot – including Joey’s excellent custom ACES series, and recently in our first Mailbag Live!

While Mailbags are usually reserved for member questions, internally we’ve been talking a lot about color management strategies due to the fact that Patrick was grading a new narrative feature, Dan is 100% working color managed in Baselight, and Joey and I were trying to bend color management for reality TV shows we work on.

While there is a lot of nuance to these discussions, the discussion always starts with – project-wide color management or custom/node/layer-based color management.

Rather than keeping these discussions to ourselves, in this Mailbag episode we discuss if there is a ‘right’ approach to color management.

Why Color Manage A Project In The First Place?

There is a certain school of thought that color management brings with it unnecessary complexity and as you’ll hear in the Mailbag, that can sometimes be the case e.g. a project of normalized (non-log) Rec 709 stock footage clips.  In those situations, there probably isn’t much benefit from a color-managed pipeline, but chances are, these days, you’re not working on a project like that.

Projects can often have a multitude of cameras all with their own flavor of log or raw. In addition, deliverable requirements are getting more complex with SDR & HDR for the web, theatrical, and TV.

Put simply, a color-managed pipeline handles much of the complex mathematical transforms to take clips into a working space and then back out to a monitoring or delivery space. This allows one, for example, to grade a project destined for SDR TV and quite easily adjust a couple of color management settings, and perform a trim pass and deliver that project for HDR OTT delivery.

These days, every major grading system including DaVinci Resolve, Baselight, Nucoda, Scratch, etc., all have proprietary color management systems/pipelines or they can also utilize the industry-created color management system – ACES. These systems allow one to handle complex transforms easily – they just require a bit of thinking and planning.

The result?

Flexibility & accuracy.  It’s not a mistake that color-managed pipelines are embraced by the world’s top facilities, colorists, and color scientists.

Like most things, there are different ways to build a color-managed pipeline but most often it comes down to two choices – ACES or proprietary and then project-wide or a node/layer pipeline.

Pros & Cons

In this Mailbag, we also discuss the Pros and Cons of using ACES vs. a proprietary system like Resolve Color Management (RCM). While the overall goals of these systems are the same, implementation varies, and especially with the current version of ACES there is a bit of a ‘look’ imparted due to the RRT (Reference Rendering Transform) – which is not a bad thing, but potentially not right for every project.

Next, we move on to discussing the pros/cons of project-wide vs node/layer-based approaches.  While we all agree that a node/layer approach allows for more flexibility this approach is not without its own set of issues.

Furthermore, Resolve 17’s massive revamp of Resolve Color Management has us Resolve users (sorry Dan!) rethinking our color management approaches which we discuss in detail as well.

Do You Want Team Mixing Light To Answer A Question?

Remember, if you have questions that you’d like to get an opinion on please use the contact form.

Your questions can be aesthetic, technical or even client related. We’d love to hear from you, and your question might make future episodes of From The MailBag.

Also, if you have any questions or something to add to the conversation please use the comments below.

Enjoy the MailBag!


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