Adobe SpeedGrade Tutorial

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One of the big announcements that caught my interest at NAB was Adobe CS6’s inclusion of the high-end color grading software SpeedGrade within the suite.   This is a similar move to what Final Cut Studio did several years ago when they included "Color" within their suite for free – and I have always been a huge fan of that software and the added creative control if gave me over the final look of the video I produce.   SpeedGrade  gives us the ability to do high end color grading within the Adobe CS6 ecosystem without outsourcing that process to a third party plugin – and that’s a very welcome move.

To get started with SpeedGrade on some of your own clips, you can send footage directly from Premier Pro, import via EDL, or import individual clips from your hard drive.  For the purposes of this tutorial, we are using a clip shot on the 5D.

When you open up the main viewers you will see a Histogram, waveform, preview window, etc.  All of these windows can be moved around to make the window comfortable for you.  You will find also that the different color corrections and color effects are applied via layers – so it will be familiar to users of Photoshop and After Effects.  Here, we start our grade with a primary layer that includes an Offset, Gamme, and Gain slide to adjust the main levels within your image.  However, also included in the primary layer are a number of other sliders that help you with saturation, contrast, color temperature, hue, etc.  Once your primary is set, it would be easy to add another primary layer to start creating an overall look for your clip, but you also have the option of using a number of presets that come stock with SpeedGrade.   As with any color grading software you ideally want to do your work within a two monitor setup.   

On our clip we added the "Cinematic 1" LUT – which we though helped pop the colors in the woman’s red hat.  In order to further this effect, we can add a secondary to isolate the red colors of the hat and tassel to help it pop more.   Once we have the color of the hat isolated using the sliders, we can increase the intensity of just the red.  However, we have found it useful to go back to your secondary layer and then reduce the opacity on it until you get something that is a bit more natural looking.

In order to get rid of any portions of the clip that were affected by the increase in red saturation that we did not want to be, we can apply a mask to our secondary layer so that only that which falls within the bounding box of the mask (or outside of it – depending on what the user defines) retains the attributes of the secondary layer.  In this particular clip, the camera is on a slider, so we are able to using motion tracking, which is built into SpeedGrade, to move the mask with the image.

Finally, for this clip we wanted to add a vignette.  To do this we added an entirely new image layer on top of our original clip (this should not be confused with the layers we have applied within a particular look).  Here we created an ovular vignette mask, which we were able to manipulate using the Widget tool – which lets us adult the size, shape, rotation, and feathering of the mask.  We pulled down the offset for this entire layer, and then defined that the effect would only occur outside the vignette mask that we created.

And with that – we have done a simple color grade in Adobe CS6 SpeedGrade.  While we only used a few layers in the above example, you are not limited to any number of primary or secondary layers within the application.  We also only worked with a single clip in the above tutorial, but for when you are grading entire sequences, there is the ability to have two playheads so you can preview your grade consistency between clips.  There are also a variety of out put options too, from within the application, and the ability to conform back to RAW clips when working with cameras like the RED EPIC and ARRI Alexa.  One note to C300 users:  SpeedGrade is missing is the ability to work with MXF files at this time, so you cannot grade C300 files natively.   However, this application is new to the suite, so I am sure we will see such enhancements down the road.

All in all, this is a powerful new Adobe application with all of the standard tools for high end color grading and a welcome addition to the suite.