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Shaken: Color Database Syncing

David Newman at Cineform presented a workflow that I’ve been wanting to try for a while: shared First Light corrections. This also happens to be the primary reason we decided on Cineform for this particular project over ProRes for editing. First Light is a way to change the look and color of video without rendering. Any changes show up in any app that calls the Cineform QT file.

Our primary goal is to allow the Jonathan (editor), Matt (DP), Kendal (director) and I (colorist, post-sup) to share pre-vis corrections on the footage. I can tweak, he can tweak and it’s all updated on our systems (Kendal’s in Chicago, Matt’s in Missouri and I’m in Montana and I’m not sure where Jonathan is).

Our secondary goal (well, mine really) is to prevent “Stockholm Syndrome” where everyone stares long enough at an uncorrected or horrible looking picture and end up liking it. Plus, I’ll be able to balance out the Red footage like I would in RedCine-X but everything this time is one format and I can correct the DSLR stuff to look relatively the same.

I spent a good four hours trying to make this work with no go. I was pulling my beard out at this point because I’ve seen it work, I know it works, but it wasn’t working (I don’t have any hair up top to pull out right now). So I emailed David at Cineform and didn’t hear anything. Then my buddy Salah read my note of frustration on Twitter and called me up. As we were talking, David emailed me back. So here’s the culmination of my two conversations…in my wife’s cooking blog way:

Ingredients:

Cineform Neo

Cineform NeoPlayer

Dropbox

1 Neo on Colorist’s Computer (First Light is included with NeoHD)

1 Neo on DP’s Computer

1 NeoPlayer on Editor’s Computer (the free CF codec so stuff will play back without black screen)

1 NeoPlayer on Director’s Computer (or NeoHD if he wants to make changes too)

1 Installation of Dropbox across all necessary machines

Cineform Footage

Preparation: 

1. Install Dropbox on all machines and create a project folder to sync to. This is where your FL (First Light) project files and all the database information on your color changes are going to be stored. In this case, my sync folder is “ShakenColorDB.”

2. Install Neo if you haven’t already done so.

3. Convert all footage to Cineform if you haven’t already done so with the included ReMaster application.

4. Open up your Cineform Preferences Pane. Here we’re going to change the standard location for the database to the location for the shared Dropbox folder. This is an important step to be familiar with as I’ll explain in a note later.


5. Copy the contents of the orginally installed LUTs folder to the Dropbox folder. Dont’ move them! You might want to save local DBs later. (I just copy the whole folder over as you see in the the photo for Step 1) This makes sure everyone has the same LUTs and color stuff you do.

6. Have each user who wants to see these changes repeat step 3 on their machines.

Cooking up the Color:

Now we can actually get to work. But first, let me take a minute to explain what’s going on as far as I understand it (or need to understand it at this point.) First Light by default looks at the location set in Step 4 above for any color changes to the associated Cineform files. More specifically it looks at a specific database with the name “db” as seen in the photo below. This allows for versions of changes by giving you an option to save to different databases or branching as David calls it.

Now, branching only works if you have First Light on your machine. Example, if I were to create a new graded version an save it as “shakenV2” or something, our editor wouldn’t see it. Why? His system defaults to the “db” database and you can’t change it to “shakenV2” or any other version without First Light installed. If I wanted him to see those changes without installing First Light, I’d have to save those changes under the “db” database and then it will update his system appropriately.

In the meantime, while he’s happily editing away on decent looking footage, the DP can open up First Light on his machine, open up the project I saved in the Dropbox folder and see any changes I’ve made (photo under step 1 above). He can then go to work on changes of his own. And if we don’t want the changes to show up outside our systems, he can branch the changes to a new DB, and let me know “Hey man, see my version ‘DP Version 1.'”

Since we set the share location in Step 4, that new DB will show up on my system and I can select from the menu. If we want our editor to work from a new look, we simply save our changes as the “db” and away he goes editing with the new look applied.

The Colorist’s Nuances

As the colorist this presents a couple of nuances. The first is the fact I’m working on multiple Cineform projects with First Light adjustments saved on my local machine databases. This requires me to change the location of LUTs folder in the Preferences Pane. Otherwise, I throw open a different project and there are no changes there or I start changing color and the information is saved in the wrong DB location. Best practice I’m going to do is change my DB location back to my local folder. This can also create a nice environment for multi-client color-sharing work.

I briefly toyed with the idea of leaving these adjustments when i pull the clips into Resolve for final grading. But I threw that out the window namely because I want to work with the Red native files and secondarily the fact that First Light doesn’t have proper offset controls and lacks contrast point adjustments or any curve adjustments which are where I start with nearly every grade.

Conclusion

I see a high value in this type of workflow. First of all, it allows us to work faster. I can grade right alongside the edit. This speeds up the work and saves time which also saves money. Second, it keeps us all on the same page. And finally, it makes life easier: no multi-format issues, cuts down on miscommunication between color, production and editorial and being away from the DP, I can get a good idea of what they’re going for right up front.

So I’m going to ship all the footage out with install files for all the applications included (making life easier for them is what that is) and we’ll see if all this works as I’ve tested it out here to work.

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©2019 by Jay Friesen.

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