Filmlight has been working on extending their core grading and color management from post to on-set, and the company is really innovating and expanding its reach in an incredibly impressive way. Filmlight has a long history in understanding real world workflows outside just the grading suite. Its Truelight color management system has been adopted by companies around the world.
Working backwards in terms of normal film workflow – this starts with a new file format BLG-EXR, extends to a Nuke Baselight plugin for Nuke/FCP/AVID and ends with a very advanced onset realtime grading preview and adjustment hardware unit called FLIP.
Martin Tlaskal, Scientific and Engineering Tech Oscar winner (2010), outlined the path of Filmlight for us, starting with the BLG-EXR or a .blg.exr file format.
This is effectively a file that sits conceptually between a normal SAVE AS and a LUT.
Unlike a normal setup, it is designed to be transported and used in a variety of situations. Unlike a LUT it contains secondaries and windowing information. It can almost be thought of as a Super-LUT.
The format of the image stack .blg.exr is an OpenEXR – with metadata. The OpenEXR can have up to 4 actual ungraded versions of the images in the file, and one final graded version of the image. (The additional source images can be used in a variety of ways including just visually identifying the image sequence). Users can compare the input to the output of the grading stack, looking exactly like what the target should look like after the operation. This OpenEXR file or image stack can be loaded in post or in an on set box (FLIP below) and used it to visualize what the shot will look like in post. A user can also visualize what each of any of the stack elements will look like separately.
The file format holds not only setup meta data but actual frames showing the source and target results. As this is based on an OpenEXR format it reads natively into say NUKE and is floating point (16bit half float). Even further, the practical hands-on experience of the Filmlight team means that they have engineered the icon at normal desktop level to show a split screen before and after, providing an instant visual reference for anyone else using the file. If someone needs to use the ‘super-LUT’ but they are not in a Filmlight workflow then they can just open the source and destination sample frames and see for themselves what has been done. Too often color science excludes people and introduces rather than removes complexity from a pipeline, Flimlight is to be applauded for really thinking this through and providing a system that is both extremely technical and user friendly to normal film makers and artists. It is one of the simplest and simultaneously robust ways to communicate complex looks and metadata.
Nuke / FCP7 / AVID Plugin
There is now a Baselight node in Nuke and other applications like AVID and FCP-7.
Baselight “Editions”, as they are known, provide the same core toolset as the full Baselight systems, with the same graphical user interface but as a software-only package which can be incorporated into an existing VFX workstation.
The plugin allows for users to have complex grading inside multiple other applications. The blg.exr can be opened in Nuke for example and then a user can immediately see the complex grade, including secondaries and windowing. As the grade is presented as a grading stack, any part of the grade can be examined, modified or reviewed. You can also modify or build any grades from scratch completely independently. These can then be exported as a .blg.exr file, and it will contain the before and after sample files. In the case of AVID media composer (which does not work natively with OpenEXR files), the files can be round tripped via the use of AAF. The FCP plugin works only with FCP-7 and not FCP-X and perhaps it is unlikely to move to FCP-X unless Apple show further commitment to the high end NLE market.
Every variable in Filmlight is keyframeable, the plugin includes glows, tracking windowing and as many layers of color correction as one likes, and at only $995, this seems like a great way to provide high end color grading in context of a project or a shot. Certainly the Nuke functionality makes great sense for high end work when coupled wit the FLIP box below.
The “Editions” are only Mac initially with Windows – where relevant – coming soon.
The FCP version is now shipping with
- Multiple primary and secondary grade layers within a single instance of Baselight for Final Cut Pro
- Full Baselight grading tools including Film Grade, Video Grade, Curve Grade, Hue Shift and Six Vector
- Built-in HSL, RGB, Luminance and 3D keyers
- Effects filters including Gaussian Blur, Median, Soften which can be applied to the image or the matte
- Unlimited, animatable bezier shapes
- Built-in Truelight Colour Management system
- All controls can be keyframed
- All grading and other data can be fully exchanged with other Baselight systems via XML export/import
- Supports the Artist Color grading control surface
- NB: there is also a 14 day free trial option
FLIP is an on set box that can take .blg.exr files and allow realtime previewing of shots on set. This box sits much as a LUT box would, between the digital camera and the director’s video village. While it gathers some metadata it is not intended to affect the master recording or be used other than as a creative non-destructive tool. It does not record clips – it passes them through with complex and multi-layered secondary grades applied in real time.
James Milne, FilmLight software engineer and developer since 2006: “We have built an embedded version of our Baselight grading processing engine, GPU and CPU software to run live grades on set on a digital cinema camera, so we can visualize what a Baselight grade will look like live on set.”
FilmLight showed this new product at NAB. The FLIP is a new, real time image processing product that lets the creative production team design looks in pre-production and apply and refine them on the set. Employing a powerful Baselight GPU renderer with Truelight Colour Management, FLIP can create and store an unlimited number of pre-set looks and spatial filters which can then be applied and refined in real time on set. Directors and cinematographers will be able to set exactly the ‘look’ they want before shooting begins, refine it on set and save the grade so that it can be applied to dailies and other downstream processes.
It is “more than just 3D LUT box, because it can have secondaries, spacial image processing operations, keys, windows – all sorts of stuff applied live and nondestructively,” explained Milne.
The Flip works currently works with 2x 3Gigabit HD-SDI inputs and dual HD-SDI outputs. When we saw the unit it was running 2K and HD being fed with Alexa LogC but it is expected to also soon be able to handle RAW formats, Arri-raw, T-link, 4K inputs etc with the same downscaling as the Baselight primary desk. These inputs will increase before release most likely as the team plan in the future, to be able to take key inputs and/or expanded further with internal keyers. FLIP already supports ACS-workflow.
As the metadata is coming down from the camera, the unit is recording any clip IDs or metadata. So it is not a ‘dumb’ pass through. If the grading stack is modified on set, it can of course be then passed back to post-production via a .blg.exr file
FLIP incorporates a media browser which links the looks captured on set with the corresponding raw media files recorded on a Baselight Transfer or DIT workstation. Simply touching thumbnails on the FLIP screen will select the files one wants to play back and FLIP will stream them live on-set to a display with the looks applied in realtime. The output of FLIP can also be recorded directly to a portable drive as DNxHD MXF files, reflecting the original raw camera monitoring output with all your looks embedded non-destructively as metadata within the files.
The expected price is US $30,000 with the unit going into beta and shipping in a couple of months.