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Color Grading Central €? Setup Your Own Grading Suite

That means building out a color suite is a significant investment that really only fulfills a single function. You need to determine if such an investment will pay off for your project/workflow before you even get started. Of course, tools are only as useful as the person using them. Any filmmaker considering such an investment should already have sufficient coloring talent to justify it. Or have a plan to gain the requisite skills.

Color Grading Central – Setup Your Own Grading Suite

Once you have your space selected (or constructed), your next task is to control all ambient outdoor light. Light control is the first, fundamental step to creating a color grading suite. After all, colors are just bits of visible light, so any stray light that enters the suite introduces stray colors that will interfere with the image on screen.

As Moore's Law continues to make technology more accessible to the masses, it is time to start exploring what it takes to build your own grading suite at home or in your office. Before reading the rest of this post, I recommend that you check out How To Get The Most Out Of CS6, DaVinci, & Your Mac Pro, as this article continues to build on what I've outlined. So let's get started shall we?

First off, I think it is important to acknowledge that this grading suite does not replace a high end professional suite. Having spent time in those suites, nothing replaces the opportunity to work with an experienced and talented colorist - they are worth every penny. And while I would LOVE to be able to work side by side with a colorist to finish every project, the reality is that the budget just doesn't exist for every single project. More and more these days, I find the need to be grading the footage myself, so that I can be sure that the end results are not screwed up by someone in the production office who thinks they know what they are doing. They may grade an image using default presets and call it good enough. My solution will get you 80% of the way there, for about 20% of the cost (minus the years of grading experience).

- Control The Light. This is the first and most important thing that you need to take care of when setting up your suite. If you have stray light hitting your screens, or the wrong color temperature light lighting the room, it will hamper your ability to properly grade and view your content. To help control the light in my room, I placed the darkest window tinting I could buy from Home Depot on the windows (which are behind me in the picture above). I then hung a black curtain over the window, and on top of that I hung black blackout curtains. When I close the curtains in this room it is pitch black even in the late afternoon when the sun shines directly in the windows. Step one complete. :)

- Make Everything Neutral In Color. The worst thing you can do in your grading suite is to have colored walls. Our optical system is amazing adaptive- it has been designed so that when we walk from the outside 5600k color temperature light into the 3200k light of most interiors we never notice the color shift- everything retains its proper color. This ability is not so great when it comes time to grade footage in a colored room. If your walls are yellow, for example, your eyes will adjust to the abundance of yellow, and you'll be adding in extra yellow to your graded image to compensate. So unless you want people to look jaundice in appearance, it is best to go completely neutral.

- Use The Correct Light & Light Levels. It is just as important to control the kind of light you bring in to your suite as it is to keep unwanted light out. NEVER under any circumstance have mixed color temperature light while grading. Any fixture that you bring in to the room should conform to the D65 standard. Or, in other words, it should be 6500k in color temperature. And they should have an CRI of 90 or higher. Sylvania offers a line of florescent bulbs perfect for general room ambience. Any ambient light that you place in the room, should not produce glare on the screen, or wash it out, as that defeats the whole purpose of a grading suite. :) The light levels of the client area should be 2 - 10 ft-L as recommended by SMPTE.

If you are using a Plasma or LCD for your client/viewing monitor, it needs to have the appropriate amount of back light. I recommend buying the Ideal-Lume lights from CinemaQuest. They are easy to install behind the screen, and when you buy the optional power strip, you can have the back lights turn on and off with the TV. (This is VERY convenient, as you don't have to fuss with turning the lights on and off separately). To conform to the SMPTE standards for a grading suite, the monitor should be calibrated to 35 ft-L of light output. At this level, the surround light should put out 3.5 ft-L. (10%, or less, of the light output). Another way to approach this is to make sure that the light level is not greater than 10-25% of the brightness of the monitor displaying pure white. (You can use a light meter, like the Sekonic 758 to help you dial in these values).

No matter how good or affordable the technology is, it is only as good as the people running it. And unfortunately there is no way to shortcut the process of gaining experience - that just takes time. However, I have come across several helpful tools that have really helped me increase my skills in color grading. So while I wouldn't dare to call myself a colorist, I do have a lot more skill and experience now to tackle the projects that can't afford a legitimate colorist. If you want to increase your skill set, I HIGHLY recommend checking out the resources below.

Hopefully this has given you good footing to jump off from as you set out to create your own grading suite. This setup should allow you to get the most out of whatever camera system's footage you end up grading. :)

Sounds like I'm running, essentially, the same machine as Mr. Walters, an '08 MacPro but, with a few differences...I have 2 of the older plastic 23" cinema displays sitting side by side. Not using them for grading... just my setup, mainly for editing in FCP and Photoshop stuff. My grading monitor is a Flanders Scientific LM 2140W being fed from the MacPro via an AJA LHi video card (SDI and HDMI in and out). Main video card for the MacPro is an NVidia GeForce 8800 GT. The Flanders is 8bit but, as the manufacturer states, it has some circuitry that does some special mojo that emulates 10bit, for what it's worth. (Couldn't afford the 10bit one they make for $5K.) Anyways, here's the Q's...

- A projector may or may not be a good solution. It all depends on the room, and the quality of the projector. Consumer projectors have the same problem that consumer TV's have- color fidelity. I haven't been impressed by most of the consumer projectors out there, and I am in a smaller room, so I went with a 50" Plasma. As the correct viewing distance is 6.25' away for my setup, it fits the room nicely. That may not work well for your setup ...

In regards to the 3D card- it all depends on your setup, and I/O needs. The Intensity is basic, but with my other graphics cards, it gets the job done well. It may not suite everyones needs, but it is affordable. :)

A word of causion to everyone going the Diy road. You have to examine your pipeline, converters and splitters can seriously alter your signal. Put a ramp into your grading suite and se if it comes out correctly on your gradingmonitor. I just threw out a hdlink that not only crushed my shadows but also introduced magenta in in the shadows.The cheapest grading monitor sollution that would get you 90% of the way is to buy a second hand highend panasonic consumer plasma like the vt30 and have it calibrated by a professional with a quality probe.The spyder is crap. Of the cheap ones the colormunki photo is the best.

People say It all the time but believe me there is no cheating when it comes to serious colorgrading( I know the article isn't about this just want to say that so people don't fool themselves). Since you don't see a proper picture there will always be that element of luck when you succed and bevilderness when stuff doesen't look like you remember it.

A word of warning about the intensity pro if you're planning on upgrading to the dreamcolor. The HDMI output of the Intensity is YUV and not RGB. The dreamcolor requires an RGB input for the dreamcolor engine (ie calibration) to work. You need to use a box like the HD Link Pro (display port version) and ideally go display port from there into the dreamcolor. You also need a deck link card to go SDI out from the computer into your HD Link Pro. To any considering adding a dreamcolor factor in a minimum of $1000 plus the cost of the monitor.

Hi Ryan, thanks for the great article.I now have built my own color grading suite!Now I have two questions:Which monitor would you recommend?I also would like to show my clients the Preview Monitor on a TV Screen. But I use an iMac for color grading with davinci resolve. Is there any way to display the preview window on a second monitor? So i would share my second monitor via apple tv.Thanks for your help,Andi

Both Alexis Van Hurkman's "Color Correction Handbook" and ECinemaSystems' white paper on setting up a FCP Color suite recommend D65. Search the color grading forums on Creative Cow -- many people cite D65 as the standard.

Color Grading Central is a company created by Denver Riddle, who is currently involved in the production of films. LUTs and other video color grading plugins of this company are inspired by some of the best Hollywood movies.

I apply these Color Grading Central LUTs as an enhancement to my own travel videos and they do a marvelous job. A nice addition are bonuses for color grading, because LUTs are not covering that to the fullest. Whatever else you might need to become a knowledgeable person in the color-grading art can be found in the Academy, the ultimate source of career advancement. 350c69d7ab


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