Compare and Contrast: LUT Software That Makes the Grade - Creative Planet Network

Compare and Contrast: LUT Software That Makes the Grade

Color lookup tables, known as LUTs, have long been used to convert one color space to another, but they are increasingly being used for creative purposes, including film stock emulation.
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Newer cameras offer the ability to record in log gamma profiles. Those manufactured by Sony, ARRI and Canon have become popular, and with them, so have a new class of color correction filters used by editors. Color lookup tables, known as LUTs, have long been used to convert one color space to another, but they are increasingly being used for creative purposes, including film stock emulation. A number of companies offer inexpensive plug-ins to import and apply common 3D color LUTs within most NLEs, grading software and compositing applications.

While many developers include their own film look LUTs, it is also easy to create your own lookup tables that are compatible with these plug-ins. A commonly used LUT format is .cube, which can easily be generated by a knowledgeable editor using Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve, ARRI’s AMIRA Color Tool or Rubber Monkey Software’s FilmConvert, to name a few.

Most LUTs are created with a particular color space in mind, which means you actually need two LUTs. The first, known as a camera profile patch, adjusts for a specific model of camera and that manufacturer’s log values. The second LUT provides the desired “look.” Depending on the company, you may have a single filter that combines the look with the camera patch, or you may have to apply two separate filters. LUTs are a starting point, so you will still have to color correct (grade) the shots to get the right look. Often in a chain of filters you will want the LUT as the last effect so you can do all of your grading ahead of that filter. This way you aren’t trying to recover highlights or shadow detail that might have been compressed by the LUT values.

Color Grading Central’s LUT Utility

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Color Grading Central Osiris film emulation LUTs.

LUT Utility has become a “go to” tool for Apple Final Cut Pro X editors who want to use LUTs. It installs with 11 basic LUTs, including a number of camera log to Rec. 709 patches, as well as several film looks for Fuji, Kodak, Two Strip and Three Strip emulation. LUT Utility installs as an Apple Motion template and also appears as a System Preferences pane. You may use this pane to install additional LUTs, or you may install them by placing the LUT file into the correct Motion template folder. Any application that generates a 3D LUT in the .cube format can be used to create a LUT that will be compatible with LUT Utility. When you apply a LUT Utility filter to a clip or adjustment layer inside FCP X, the filter’s inspector pane gives you access to all recognized LUTs through a pull-down menu. The only control is a slider to adjust the amount of the LUT that is applied.

Color Grading Central has a partnership with VisionColor to bundle the Osiris film emulation filters separately or together with LUT Utility. The Osiris set includes nine film emulations that cover a number of stocks and stylized looks. They are provided in the .cube format. Although both the Color Grading Central and Osiris filters are offered for FCP X, it’s worth noting that the LUTs themselves are compatible with Avid Media Composer, Adobe Creative Cloud, Autodesk Smoke and DaVinci Resolve. One thing to be careful of in FCP X is that Apple includes its own log processing for various cameras, such as the ARRI Alexa, and often applies it automatically. When you apply a LUT to log footage in FCP X, make sure you are not double-processing the image. Either use a LUT designed for Rec. 709 imagery or set the FCP X log processing for the clip to “none” when using a LUT designed for log color space.

In addition to Osiris, VisionColor and Color Grading Central developed the ImpulZ LUT series. ImpulZ comes in three versions, Basic, Pro and Ultimate, to allow users to pick the camera profiles and features they need. It covers a mixture of stock brands and types, including negative print and still film stocks. The Ultimate collection includes about 1,950 different LUT files. In addition to camera profiles, these LUTs also cover four gamma profiles, including film contrast, film print, VisionSpace and Cineon Log (Ultimate only). The VisionSpace profile is the company’s own flatter curve that is conducive to further grading. (“Just enough contrast to get you started in the right direction without blowing out highlights or shadows and the same nonlinear saturation as our film contrast profiles.”)

Koji Color

Another LUT package just released for Final Cut Pro X—but compatible with other applications—is Koji Color. The product is the result of a partnership between noted color timer Dale Grahn (Predator, Saving Private Ryan, Dracula) and plug-in developer CrumplePop. (The team is also responsible for the Dale Grahn Color iPad app.) Unlike many other film emulation packages that attempt to apply a very stylized look, Koji Color is designed to provide an accurate emulation of a number of popular print stocks.

As implied by the name (Koji appears to be a mash-up of “Kodak” and “Fuji”), three key stocks from each brand are covered, including Kodak 2383, 2393 and 2302 (B&W), and Fuji 3514, 3521 and 3523. Each print stock has specific contrast and color characteristics, which these LUTs seek to duplicate. In FCP X, you select and apply the version of the filter based on camera type. From the inspector, then select the film stock. There are sliders to tweak saturation and exposure (overall, high, mid, shadow), helping you dial in the look more precisely.

Koji Color comes in three product packages. The basic Koji DSLR is a set of filters that you would apply to standard HD cameras running in the video and not log mode. The output format is Rec. 709 video. If you shoot with a lot of log profile cameras, then you’ll want Koji Log, which includes Koji DSLR. The Koji Log package includes the same LUTs as Koji DSLR, but with filters that have built-in camera patches for each of the various camera models that shoot log. Again, the output format is Rec. 709.

The most expensive bundle is Koji Studio, which includes the other two packages. The main difference is that Studio supports output in the DCI-P3 color space. This functionality is intended for digital intermediate color correction, which goes beyond the needs of most video editors.

SpeedLooks

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SpeedLooks LUTs can be added to Premiere Pro CC clips by using the Lumetri color correction filter.

LookLabs is the development side of Canadian post facility Jump Studios. As an outgrowth of their work for clients and shows, the team developed a set of film looks, which they branded under the name SpeedLooks. If you use Adobe Creative Cloud, then you know that SpeedLooks comes bundled for use in Adobe Premiere Pro CC and SpeedGrade CC. Like the other film emulation LUTs, SpeedLooks are based on certain film stocks, but LookLabs decided to make their offerings more stylized. There are specific bundles covering different approaches to color, including Clean, Blue and Gold, among others.

SpeedLooks LUTs come in both .cube and Adobe’s .look formats, so you are not limited to using these only with Adobe products. LookLabs took a slightly different approach to cameras by designing their looks based on the starting point of their own virtual log space. This way they can adjust for the differences in the log spaces of the various cameras. A camera patch converts the camera’s log or Rec. 709 profile into LookLabs’ own log profile. When using SpeedLooks, you should first apply a camera profile patch as one filter and then the desired look filter as another.

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Some SpeedLooks come bundled with SpeedGrade CC. From left to right, Gold Western, Retro and Blue Moon presets.

If you use Premiere Pro CC, all you need to do is apply the Lumetri color correction effect. A standard OS dialog opens to let you navigate to the right LUT file. Need to change LUTs? Simply click the setup icon in the effect control window and select a different file. If you use SpeedGrade CC, then you apply the camera patch at the lowest level and the film look LUT at the highest level, with primary and secondary grading layers in between. LookLabs also offers a version of SpeedLooks for editors. This lower-cost package supplies the same film look LUTs, but intended for cameras that are already in the Rec. 709 color space. All of these filters can be used in a number of applications, as well as in FCP X through Color Grading Central’s LUT Utility.

Like all of these companies, LookLabs has taken the time to research how to design LUTs that match the response of film. One area they take pride in is the faithful reproduction of skin tones. The point is to skew the color in wide ranges without producing unnatural skin tones. Another strength is in highlight and shadow detail. LUTs are created by applying curve values to the image that compress the highlight and shadow portion of the signal. By altering the RGB values of the curve points, you get color in addition to contrast changes. With SpeedLooks, as highlights are pushed to the top and shadows to the bottom, there is still a level of detail that’s retained. Images aren’t harshly clipped or crushed, which leaves you with a more filmic response that rolls off in either direction.

FilmConvert

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FilmConvert includes film stock emulation, color correction and film grain.

FilmConvert (an arm of Rubber Monkey Software) is now in the 2.0 version of its popular film emulation application and plug-ins. You may purchase FilmConvert as a standalone tool or as filters for popular NLEs. Unlike the others that use a common LUT format, like .cube, FilmConvert does all of its action internally. The plug-ins not only provide film emulation, but are also full-fledged three-way color correction filters. In fact, you could use a FilmConvert filter as the sole grading tool for all of your work. FilmConvert filters are available for Adobe, Avid and Final Cut, and in the OFX format for Resolve, Sony Creative Software Vegas and Assimilate Scratch. The Resolve version doesn’t include the three-way color correction function.

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The Film Settings tab of FilmConvert

You may keep your setting generic or select specific camera models. If you don’t have the appropriate camera profile installed, the filter will prompt you to download it from the web site. FilmConvert offers a wide range of stock types for emulation. These include more brands, but also still photo stocks, such as Polaroid. The FilmConvert emulations are based on color negative film (or slide transparencies) and not release print stocks, like those of Koji Color.

In addition to grading and emulating certain stocks, FilmConvert lets you apply grain in a variety of sizes. From the control pane, dial in the amount of the film color, curve and grain, which are separate from the adjustments made with the three-way color correction tool. New in this updated version is the ability to generate a 3D LUT from your custom look. In doing so, you can create a .cube file ready for application elsewhere. This file will carry the color information, though not the grain. The standalone version is a more comprehensive grading environment, complete with XML round-trips and accelerated rendering.

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