Hello Color Grading World!

April 15, 2021
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The first image data processing software I ever wrote was a command line tool that could read color values ​​from an X-Rite Color Checker and calculate the average of the scanned color area. I am the only person who has ever used this software. Command line tools are pretty horrible in terms of user experience. I wrote this tool back then for a very specific reason. I was shooting a lot of short films and television commercials at the time. I never worked with a large budget for these projects and had no access to professional tools and workflows that would have allowed me to make my footage look really good. What I mean by "really good" is of course subjective. I've always loved the look of movies. Very different movies with very different looks. And yet at the time I had the feeling that many of these looks could be reduced to a common denominator. In the search for this common denominator, I met a lot of people from the film industry and learned a lot about the complex ways in which an image is produced from the camera to the screen. I realized that there is no one single secret that magically creates cinematic material from conventional images. Great films are the result of a lot of work done by many passionate and talented people. Nevertheless, I learned a lot about some of the technical foundations upon which most of the pictures that I found beautiful were created.

Based on everything I learned from a lot of really smart people I founded my first software company. I wanted to wrap everything I had learned into tools and products that allowed everyone else to achieve the same great results. My command line software for the ever more precise evaluation of color information was a tool that I used to create some of the world's most popular 3D LUTs for film emulation. You might have heard of VisionColor LUTs. If you haven't - they have become something of an industry standard today. As the first commercially created LUT libraries these color filters, which are incredibly simple to use, have enabled numerous filmmakers, photographers, colorists and artists to increase the color quality of their material without much technical know-how. VisionColor offers exactly that - a pool of firmly defined presets that create an extremely precise, static snapshot of a very specific look. The high precision, but above all the incredible simplicity of LUTs, also has a downside. LUTs are static. LUTs are not software. LUTs are difficult to customize. After working on various VisionColor products for a few years, I started looking for a solution to this static LUT problem.

VisionColor and Color.io

In the summer of 2019 I received an email from a colleague. He said I should take a look at a project that friends of his from the technical university in Cologne, Germany were working on. We knew each other through my work at VisionColor and he knew that I had been working on new software solutions for color grading for several years. This project he was telling me about sounded like something I would be interested in, so I made an appointment with the developers.

"We built something that can display and edit color in 3D. It's pretty cool. Do you want to check it out?" - Pirmin Straub, co-developer of Photon

The engineers behind Photon - Pirmin Straub (left) and Manuel Hüttel (right). Photo Credit: Kai Altwickler

When I met the developers Manuel Hüttel and Pirmin Straub at the Cologne University for the first time and they showed me a prototype of their software, I was quickly enthusiastic. "You really did it. You must be crazy," I told them. What they showed me was essentially a 3D LUT on steroids. A fully three dimensional interface for color grading. A user interface driven piece of software that showed color as it really is. Without seeing it before me, I couldn't have imagined how much easier this truthful representation alone would make many aspects of color grading. The idea of shaping a single color model was so fundamentally different to the usual sequential operations we do in almost all post processing. I liked this fresh approach so much that I didn't think about it for more than a day or two before I told Manu and Pirmin that I was on board to help them turn their prototype into a fully featured software and create the platform to distribute it.

Over the course of the past few years we turned that prototype into our first product - Photon. Today, the idea of ​​three-dimensional color correction, which originated from the renowned Berlin colorist Moritz Peters, has grown into one of the most innovative programs in our industry. Photon is used all over the world by cameramen, photographers, colorists and filmmakers to give their material its own look in an extremely tangible and intuitive way. We think of Photon as the perfect companion to LUTs. We don't think that Photon makes LUTs obsolete. LUTs are probably the greatest platform independent color transfer medium ever created. Photon is the software that I wish existed when I started creating my own LUTs many years ago. I've been fortunate enough to see VisionColor take off and see my products being used in ways that I truly couldn't have imagined. And we're all super excited to see what you are going to create with Photon.

On this blog we will talk about the development process, the technical challenges we faced and the things we have learned while developing our various color grading applications as well as our platform and business. We will also cover use cases and publish interviews with artists and industry professionals. Stay tuned! 

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