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!


Member Content

Sorry... the rest of this content is for members only. You'll need to login or Join Now to continue (we hope you do!).

Need more information about our memberships? Click to learn more.

Membership options
Member Login

Are you using our app? For the best experience, please login using the app's launch screen


Homepage Forums Color Management The ‘Right’ Way?

  • Marc Wielage

    I’ve stayed away from Color-Managed Projects for awhile because I felt it slowed me down and I didn’t like the feel and response of the controls, compared to a normal Rec709 display-referenced session. I have to say, though, Blackmagic has put a lot of time and thought in the new “RCM2,” and they’ve clearly studied the problem very closely. I may take a leap of faith and embrace a new way of working once we make the big switch to 17 in a few weeks (or maybe a couple of months, whatever it turns out to be). There are clearly some real advantages to it in 17.

  • Maurice Morales

    Clarifying question as I understand it: If working in a Project-wide Color Managed workflow with Log footage (Like Log-C) changed the use of LUTS (Creative and Technical LUTS) because of transforms like IDT’s and changing (and whatever else I may be missing)?

    Thanks again for your time.

  • Pat Inhofer

    100%. Generally speaking, in a color-managed workflow you’ll let the software use mathematical transforms to help normalize the image. In theory, you’re telling the software the camera recording color space and gamma + the display color space and gamma. The software will apply the proper math to show you what the camera lens was seeing, normalizing to the viewing display.

    In this scenario, LUTs are relegated more for creative Look management. Camera-specific LUTs aren’t applied since the camera IDT serves that purpose. Of course, you’ll want your creative LUT to be designed for your working color space (such as DaVinci Wide Gamut).

    The exception is when you don’t have a transform for the camera color space / gamma – you’ll then need to bypass color management and use your ‘traditional’ tools to handle this process, including LUTs. Does that make sense?

  • Pat Inhofer

    Marc – I’m with you. I’ve always avoided truly color-managed projects in the past. R17 and RCM2 has completely changed my feelings on this. At least for a while, I’m going to work fully color managed – as much as I can. After a few more jobs I’ll re-evaluate the experience. But I think it’s worth exploring this workflow for a much broader range of projects.

  • Shawn Convey

    New Colorist / Editor here – So Joey had me mostly convinced about his Custom Aces but after hearing this AND watching the post at Lowepost (With Walter Volpatto where Walter uses a fixed node tree in what to my n00b understanding is attempting to solve a lot of the problems that Joey is attempting to solve HOWEVER Walter “seems” to be using a project based color management approach. While I know there is no one correct way to skin this cat I am looking/wanting to start this journey out on a positive foot and”do things correct” and Joey you seemed even a bit unsure about your own workflow at this point with DR17’s new DWG. Any further thoughts on a solid approach for a Director/Filmmaker (new Colorist) who does not want to paint themselves into a corner AND would like the ability to hand off the color project(s) to a more seasoned professional to finish once delivery is imminent?

    Pat – You sorta eluded to the fact that you use FilmConvert in a way that I am not understanding… You said you use it to ‘get it into a color space, but you turn off all the other options’ this confuses me and I would 1) love to understand this process better and 2) would love more info (future mailbag or an insight) on how pro’s like yourself are using things like FilmConvert and Dehancer etc.

  • Robbie Carman

    @tao-ml-dfcebbaf79842c2e6fca7b77741de3a6:disqus That video with Walter is actually a few years old (I know Lowepost just released it). It was original a webinar that Walter did. And if memory serves that was PRIOR to having the ACES Transform OFX which makes the custom ACES workflow possible.

    With that said, and as you point out its largely a preferential issues with some tech concerns. In a project wide approach if you don’t have an IDT well your stuck using a generic one (709). There is also really no way to get ‘in front’ of the IDT. In a custom approach you have options for both things – CSTs to adjust the image pre IDT, and the visualization of camera space vs ACES working space.

    So if you’re worried about painting yourself into a corner I think with custom there is less chance of that because of the two sides of the tree.

    I don’t think Joey’s doubting the workflow I think its more so DWG provides another option sans RRT that is attractive.

    In regards to FilmConvert – they profile cameras/sensors so in a way simply choosing that profile is a pseudo IDT to normalize the image. What @pat is referring to turning off are the stock controls and other filmic tonal qualities for a particular stock – or at least minimizing them.

  • Joey D’Anna

    I don’t want to speak for Walter – but I believe in that workflow he is likely working under a very carefully engineered show LUT for the film on the timeline level. This is actually closer to my custom ACES way of doing it then it is to project-wide color management. It’s doing the entire grade in a wide space (in my case ACEScct, in Walter’s case likely the camera working space, for example LogC) and working under an output transform for a specific target display.

    Since this podcast recorded, I’ve actually released another insight where I go into some more detail on using the new tools in my custom ACES workflow, and i test it with DWG with some good results:

    Custom ACES Part 4: Updating For Resolve 17

  • Maurice Morales

    Hey Patrick,
    Thank you for taking the time to answer my question. Your answer definitely sheds more light on the situation and makes sense.

    I do prefer the software to do the transform given the proper camera transform supports the specific camera.

    My follow up question would be how to use creative LUTS and Show LUTS in a color managed workflow? I like to use creative LUTS to spark creativity and try different curves. If I’m using IDT transforms, how would I incorporate creative LUTS in this workflow? And how can I know if a creative LUT is designed to work in DaVinci WG and the like?

  • Ed R

    Patrick, in the discussion you say that in RCM2 there’s “a tweak you can do with the global tool” to manage black levels. I’m not sure what tool that is… the global wheel in the HDR palette?

Log in to reply.

1,000+ Tutorials to Explore

Get full access to our entire library of over 1,100+ color tutorials for an entire week!

Start Your Test Drive!