Join Robbie Carman for an in-depth discussion in this video The basics of suite setup, part of Color 1.5 Essential Training.
The more you get in to grading shows, the more you'll depend on your suite, or the room that you work in. Now I don't mean that it's literally going to give you a pep talk, but the suite you grade your shows in, can, if not setup properly, hurt the decisions you make in grading shows. The first step in creating a suite that is suited for color grading is to control ambient lighting and have proper lighting in the suite. The ideal Color Suite is a windowless room, but that's pretty hard to do in a lot of cases. If your suite has windows, and really who doesn't like windows for a bit of sunlight every once in a while, then the best thing to do is to control ambient light with shades or ideally, use blackout curtains.
Good lighting is also essential on the Color Suite and I understand that there are compromises, but trust me, don't skimp on your lighting. Lighting your suite directly influences how you will view your footage on your video monitor and computer monitors. The goal? Neutrality. And what I mean is that the lighting you choose in your suite should be color and intensity neutral. So instead of using standard household lighting, choose D65 or daylight balanced lighting. You can find this kind of lighting by doing a quick search on Google and finding the specialty lighting retailer. Just keep in mind that in most cases D65 lighting comes as fluorescent bulbs and that fluorescent wattages are much lower than their incandescent counterparts.
Try a wattage of around six to twelve watts. If your suite is multipurpose and you don't think that you'll need true D65 lighting, choose cool type regular bulbs rather than warm ones. Also, with lighting in a Color Suite, you don't want to have lighting that is direct, meaning a desk lamp or overhead. Instead, you want lighting that is not direct and diffuse, and in the case of near your desk, be used as a back light. You are creative and I get that, but resist the urge to paint the walls in your suite some funky orange. The walls in your suite should be a neutral gray or at least a desaturated color.
Otherwise, you risk eye fatigue from saturated wall colors, and worse yet, if the surrounding walls in your viewing area are really saturated or bright, they can influence the decisions you make creating your footage. No matter how hard you try though, something in your environment can influence your viewing. That's why you should have a confidence spot. Think of a confidence spot as a visual restart button. The confidence spot, which should be in your field of view, is used to reset or reinforce your vision, so you can see true black, white and gray. And a confidence spot is simply, well, a spot that has swatches of true black, white, and gray.
You can even use common camera setup cards for the confidence spot. No other part of Color Suite design is as highly discussed as monitor selection. The thing to remember is that the video monitor is a V tool. Okay. Your eyes are really the most important, but I digress. But the next most important tool to a colorist is the video monitor to evaluate and make critical decisions about the footage. So get the best monitor you can and try not to compromise. The qualities you are looking for in a monitor are monitor that's multi-format, meaning it can do standard-def, high-def, and various encoding standards like NTSC and PAL.
In addition, you want to select the monitor that's accurate for color and contrast and is adjustable. Features like Blue Only and the ability to adjust for color space are essential. These types of monitors are often referred to as reference monitors. You will see a lot of competing opinions about various display technologies, but choose one that you are most comfortable with and when possible, test the monitor in your environment, and there are lots of companies making great monitors. Check out companies like Sony, Panasonic, FSI and others. All these companies make what are referred to as Grade 1 monitors, or a reference monitor.
While consumer sets are getting better and better, the fact is most people don't watch TV on a $20,000 calibrated monitor. So it's a good idea to have what I called the sanity monitor and other is called the client monitor in your suite. This monitor mimics real world viewing and it should be used to double-check yourself on your color-critical monitor, and it can be used as a client viewing monitor as typically the reference monitor will be placed on your desk or in a narrow viewing area. But the sanity/client monitor will be placed in a location ideal for the client to view.
To be able to connect your Mac to a high quality video monitor or to output devices like DEX, you need to have some sort of video I/O on your system. For video output, Color requires you have a dedicated PCI based video I/O card in your system, for manufacturers like AJA and Black Magic. These cards offer a ton of connectivity, and in a lot of cases support up and down conversion. The one thing to point out is that color does not support FireWire based I/O devices like the AJA I/O. You must use a PCI based I/O card in your system.
Okay, the last essential part of any Color Suite setup is good storage. As a general rule of thumb, choose high speed, high capacity storage. Redundancy is also a good choice. You can achieve fast and redundant storage pretty easily with an eSATA, SAS or Fibre Channel array, and a PCI based RAID 5 card. Whatever you do, don't rely on FireWire or USB based storage. Finally, the last part of great a Color Suite is the control surface. While optional, a color control surface will give you tactile control over color.
New to Color 1.5 are select control surfaces that support USB. But most control surfaces like the JL Cooper Eclipse CX, which is the one I use, connect your machine via Ethernet. The cool thing about most control surfaces is that they ship with a dedicated configuration application to change what buttons and controls do what in Color. While there's quite a bit more to suite setup, like choosing a nice desk, fancy chairs for your clients and the all important decision about what kind of bottled water you'll offer your clients, this maybe should help you out with some other critical decisions in setting up your Color Suite.
- Round-tripping with Final Cut Pro and Color
- Ingesting RED footage for color grading
- Understanding the Color interface and navigating Color's Finder dialogs
- Performing primary corrections in the Primary In room
- Applying secondary corrections using HSL keys, vignettes, and curves
- Using the Color FX room
- Keyframing corrections in a clip
- Preparing for rendering and output from Color back to Final Cut Pro