Magic Bullet Looks 3 – An Overview

December 10, 2015

Watch an overview of how a professional colorist uses Magic Bullet Looks 3 to jump-start the 'look creation' process.

Day 10: 25 Insights in 25 Days Holiday Marathon

Magic Bullet Looks 3 – An Overview

Creating Looks in FCPX

We are approaching the end of the FCPX Desert Island Challenge and I’m wrapping up my look at plug-ins that can help us create ‘Looks’. And the granddaddy of them all is Red Giant’s Magic Bullet Looks 3. It’s billed as ‘powerful looks and color correction for filmmakers’.

What is color correction for filmmakers?

As opposed to say, color correction for editors or color correction for colorists?

Essentially – it’s color correction in a point-and-click playground. Looks 3 has a ton of Looks presets, that all instantly update to the current frame you’re sitting on—so you can quickly scan dozens of Looks and hone in on a few that are interesting to you. From there, you apply the preset and then start tweaking.

Magic Bullet Looks 3: The Toolchain
Magic Bullet Looks has a custom UI that uses a ‘Toolchain’ metaphor for categorizing and ordering its extensive set of color correction filters. The ‘Post’ category is highlighted above.

It’s at the tweaking stage that the ‘for filmmakers’ moniker is painfully evident. As shown in the screenshot above, the filters applied to our images have two levels of ordering designed to make sense to filmmakers who think in terms of the camera, lights and lens. The first level of ordering is called ‘The Toolchain’ and is split between Subject / Matte / Lens / Camera / Post. Color correction filters are applied at specific points in the Toolchain.

In other words, we apply filters in the order light transmits it into our cameras

For each level of the Toolchain there are color correction filters hand-picked that in some way make sense to the filmmaker not used to traditional color correction workflows. In the ‘Subject’ set of adjustments, there are filters such as Fill Light and Spot Fill. In the ‘Lens’ adjustments are the Anamorphic Flare, Swing-Tilt and Lens Vignette filters.

Makes sense, right? There’s a certain logic to Magic Bullet Looks that makes it unique among color correction tools.

But the logic also gets stretched thin

Should the Color Space tools for converting from Log to Video be at the Subject level, where it is now? Or at the Camera or Post level, where they are NOT accessible? Meanwhile LUTs can be applied at the Subject, Camera and Post levels.

To my thinking, the choice of colorspace is a Camera-level choice. That’s where those filters belong, logically.

Chromatic Aberration is another filter at the Subject level that seems strangely out of place. Wouldn’t that more correctly be a Lens distortion?

My guess: The logic gets stretched thin because we frequently want certain color correction operations performed at specific places in our ‘chain’—and Looks is willing to break its own ‘mental model’ to make that happen (although, I still think color space conversions should also be placed at the Camera level, which not only makes more sense but gives us more control).

New in Magic Bullet 3: Emphasis on Log grading tools

The Log Presets in Magic Bullet Looks 3
There are several categories of Log Presets (listed on the left), new in Magic Bullet Looks 3

As you can see in the screen shot, there are whole sets of Looks designed for Log workflows. It’s an interesting addition to Looks and reflects the in-roads that the Log-recorded workflow has made in the indie filmmaking community. The problem? As a professional colorist and coach, I’m not ‘down’ with the concept of doing my initial contrast / saturation expansion at the same moment I’m doing my Looks creation.

As I’ve emphasized every time I teach color correction anywhere… you’ll get much better results by breaking down your workflow and leaving Looks creation after you’ve done your base color correction and after you’ve matched your shots together.

Also new in Bullets 3 is the integration of Colorista 3 (which we’ve previously looked at in two Insights in this Desert Island series) plus Magic Bullet Mojo and Magic Bullet Cosmo—which previously only existed as stand-alone filters.

The 'Log Headstart' preset that ships with Magic Bullet Looks 3
The ‘Log Grading Power Suite’ preset is selected. Notice the filters pre-populating the Toolchain, which can be modified to customize the preset for each shot.

Notable in Magic Bullets 3 are the Toolchain Headstarts. Above is the Log Grading Power Suite – which has a set of core filters you’d want if you were grading a Log-recorded image. There are several of these types of Suites and Headstarts to save you the time of hunting down and apply each filter you’d want to work with. I’d like to see these types of presets combined into a single menu with all their settings in the neutral positions. I find that too many of these Headstarts already have a Look applied – so that the ‘S Log2 Grading’ isn’t just for getting me out of SLog2 but it also puts me into a Look, forcing me to turn off filters to understand what they’re doing to my image.

Magic Bullet Looks is now available in DaVinci Resolve

This Insight may be part of the FCPX Desert Island Challenge, but a recent update to Looks has it now working in DaVinci Resolve as an OpenFX plug-in. Looks works the same in Resolve as it does in FCPX, so if you’re interested in Magic Bullet Looks for Resolve this Insight is also for you!

In the Video Insight below, I’ll show you my favorite way of working with Magic Bullet Looks 3

I’ve been using Looks since v1 of its release. It’s always been innovative. But I don’t use it the way you’d think. For reasons I’ll explain below, I use it at a very specific point in my workflow, in a very specific manner. And there’s one big gotcha, that isn’t the fault of Magic Bullet—but is annoying anyway.

Coming Next: Wrapping up the FCPX Desert Island Challenge

I’ve been working on this FCPX series for a year. It’s time to recap everything we’ve learned plus I’ll share what one single plug-in I’d buy if I could only pick one plug-in to supplement the core color correction filter set in FCPX. To be clear, I’ll continue looking at plug-ins in FCPX—but there are far more solutions than I have the time to evaluate and this seems like a good time to end the race and share with you my conclusions.




Homepage Forums Magic Bullet Looks 3 – An Overview

  • To build upon the Insight, I’d like to mention a few handy tips for MB Looks:

    1/ About the filters having some default place in ‘stages of captured light’ (in the text of the insight, the example of the Color Space filter that should be in the Camera stage instead of Subject): you can totally override this default behavior, and assign the filter wherever you want by moving the filter (click and drag) while pressing the Option key (I know Patrick will love this tip).

    2/ At 13:20 about the presets not set to zero by default: apply the Look, and reset to zero what you want to be your initial state. Then, in the lower-left corner of the UI, give a name to the Preset and hit enter, this will save this new preset in the custom presets (at the bottom of the presets list). You can further add some subfolders (cool, warm, log, etc) and move the custom presets from a folder to another (click and drag). Now you can start fresh from a preset ready-to-use in your custom list.

    3/ If you’re using MB Looks to unflatten your footage with a Color Space filter, and want to keep this filter when trying some of the presets, since version 3 of MBLooks you can ‘pin’ a filter (just right-click on it and choose pin). Now when you apply a new preset, the tool chain is replaced except the filters you will have pinned. This is especially handy for a filter that is aimed to unflatten the footage, you won’t have to recreate it each time another Look is applied.

    4/ Lastly, there are easy-to-remember keyboard shortcuts to quickly turn on and off panels in the UI: L for Looks, S for Scopes, T for Tools, and C for Controls.

  • Patrick Inhofer

    Good tips.

    I didn’t mention it in this Insight but I don’t really like the metaphor of MB Looks of Subject -> Matte Box -> Lens -> Camera -> Post. It’s a mental model only valid if you work on-set. If you’re a post-pro who rarely gets on-set, these distinctions are not natural or fluid. Plus, the filters themselves often don’t match the category—muddling the whole idea.

    I’m curious Christophe, it seems to me that MB3 has fewer preset Looks than it did in 1 or 2. And the Log emphasis, I don’t find it appealing. Thoughts?

  • Ive been curious about this in Resolve, ONLY for specific features that I like in colorista as a long time user if it in NLEs, like the “hue shift wheel”. For some reason, I find that more intuitive than the vs curves, despite it being the same concept.

    Pat, do you ever consider using the aspects you like (hue shift wheel, pop, etc) and combining them w typical resolve tools, or do you always recreate the grade in Resolve for precise control? As a long time user of Colorista prior to using Resolve, i think I have some nostalgia for those tools and need to force myself back to resolve.

  • I agree about the metaphor being meaningless for pro-post guys that rarely go on-set. But I see it as a way amongst others to sort filters in a ‘logic’ that will maybe help the user to find things quickly. Not perfect for sure, but not worst than something else either.

    I’ve jumped on MBLooks since V2, so I can’t tell about V1. But V2 had about 140 presets while V3 is a little more than 200 presets. Could you have owned some Guru Presets in the past that you have not reinstalled after a system cleanup, so you have the illusion that V2 had more presets? Just guessing.

    Re- Log emphasis. You don’t find it appealing because a/ you’re a pro colorist and b/ you totally master the grading workflow you’re teaching. And in this workflow, as said in the insight, you don’t advocate to grade in one pass unflatten -> primary -> secondary -> look, but rather in ‘passes’. Quite logical. But one must not forget what the product is targeted for: ‘powerful looks and color correction for filmmakers’. For an independent filmmaker for example, Looks is a great way to treat dailies and offers more control for a quick edit than, let’s say, a LUT. Grades are tweaked as the edit goes, whether as a base to show the colorist later, or as a prep work for when the time will be at finishing (in the one-man-team scenario). In that sense I understand they’ve put some filters to deal with Log and Color Space so their tool chains are able to treat just-offloaded shots in one go.

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