If you have ever seen a video by Joshua Smith of CinematicBride, you are familiar with the beautiful colorization in each clip he produces. The colors, saturation, and other visual elements just pop off the screen. Josh has a remarkable talent and it is evident in his work.
When I received my copy of Dream in Color, his first training DVD, I was excited to see what I could learn from it to enhance the colorization in my own productions. When the DVD first begins, a very creative background screen welcomes you with an almost hypnotic menu displaying colored smoke trails. After breaking from my hypnotic trance, I realized I wasn’t going to learn anything by simply staring at the pretty colors and the mesmerizing entry screen, so I hit the play button on the Basic Color option.
In the Basic Color tutorial, Josh mentions right away that "all the video filters used are pretty much standard in all NLE systems out there." This was encouraging, as I am an EDIUS user and I knew the tutorial (like all of Josh’s work) was created on the Mac, mostly in Final Cut Pro (FCP).
After going through the Basic Color tutorial, I am happy to say that the techniques he discussed were easy to implement in EDIUS, so I would assume they can be easily copied in other NLEs.
The filters used in this section were a simple gamma correction, color balance, and contrast/brightness. Under Josh’s control, these simple filters worked wonders on the demo clips. In the Advanced Color tutorial, Josh mentions again that "all these video filters have the basic building blocks in all NLE systems out there." Again, I figured that was great, and I would be able to easily implement the techniques in my work.
Once the tutorial started getting into the demonstration of the techniques, I noticed Josh was using filters like G Super Levels. I was wondering why an NLE would start a filter name with G. After doing some research I learned that many of the filters Josh was using were plug-ins created by Graeme Nattress specifically for FCP. Essentially, he was working with a combination of multiple filters with additional settings available for really advanced tweaking.
When I saw the functionality of some of these plug-ins, I realized it was possible in my NLE, but the work involved to pull off the look would be very cumbersome and time-consuming—much more demanding than Josh’s tutorial would suggest.
This was disappointing. As I watched the tutorials I started to formulate some ideas of how to implement different elements of what Josh does into my workflow. It would have been nice to have Josh demonstrate the advanced techniques using only the filters included with FCP. That way, viewers would find it easier to replicate the techniques in their own work by finding analogous filters in their own NLE if they weren’t FCP users.
But with the emphasis on the Nattress filters, even FCP users would have to make some additional investment ($100 for the Big Box package of the Nattress filter set) to be able to incorporate Josh’s techniques into their own productions.
Josh moves along assuming the viewer understands all that is happening with his color-correcting techniques. Some foundational explanations of exactly what is occurring along the way from a technical point of view may have also been beneficial to many.
There is a chapter called Creative Motion that is basically a short, sit-down interview with Josh where he encourages you to get out there and do your best and be creative by listening to music. This is certainly something Josh is known for—drawing on music for visual inspiration, and creating inspiring work as a result—his Video 07 seminar on this topic helped make his reputation in the industry.
But as a component of Dream in Color, this segment felt more like a pep talk because additional content was needed. It didn’t really match the colorization concept of the DVD.
A fourth chapter showcases many of Josh’s demo clips to use for inspiration and ideas. It’s great work that’s a pleasure to watch, but it would have been a nice touch if Josh had done some voice-over narration explaining how the techniques he demonstrated were implemented in those clips. It would give you some insight into how his brain is working and thinking.
Some other things I would have liked to see added to Dream in Color would be to have a waveform/vectorscope visible in the display somewhere, so as changes are made, you could see the effect on the scopes. I am curious as to how much of his tweaking makes the video image "illegal" according to broadcast standard specs (this is a big issue with any color grading work).
Another item which would have been nice to include (and there is room on the DVD to do so) in a ROM portion of the disc would be the clips he worked with as SD .mov files so viewers could open the clips on their own and follow along to see if they could duplicate what he is doing exactly as he is doing it.
I know a user could use any clip of his or her own when attempting to follow the steps in the tutorial, but subtle differences in clips will yield different results with his techniques because lighting in his clip may be different from the user’s clips.
Enabling users to follow along while working with the same clips would have made this tutorial much more hands-on.
Overall, while watching this DVD, I did learn some basic techniques that I was able to implement well in EDIUS (and these techniques should work easily in any NLE), but I found that the advanced concepts really required the Nattress FCP plug-in to apply in a time-efficient way.
If you are an FCP user and don’t have the Nattress Big Box of Tricks (formerly known as Nattress Set 1 and 2) it would be a good $100 investment if you want to closely follow these techniques and attempt to reproduce the effects in an efficient way.
If you are not an FCP user, you may need to do some very creative thinking to get these techniques to work in your NLE, and you may very well find that making these color adjustments (cool as they are) adds too much time to your workflow to be worthwhile.
Overall, Dream in Color is a good training DVD, but it stops a little short of the greatness you might expect from a videographer as talented and innovative as Joshua Smith.
[For the live "Dream in Color" experience, check out Josh’s upcoming "Rule Breakers" workshop, scheduled for Oct. 6–7 at his studio in Monroe, La. Click here for details.—Ed.]
Philip Hinkle (philip at frogmanproductions.com) runs Frogman Productions, an international-award winning videography studio in Wisconsin.