Color Grading With Magic Bullet Looks in Premiere CS6


I have a business associate; we’ll call him Mister X to protect his identity. Mister X is a talented graphic designer and photographer and is just getting into the world of digital cinema/video. Mister X has a Canon 5D Mark II he shoots with that has served him well in the world of stills and would like to use his trusted Canon camera to get acquainted with capturing moving images. When talking, the one thing we always get hung up on is what color profile to shoot with. There seems to be some misconception out there that there is a magic color profile, or scene setting that will magically make all your footage look like a Hollywood blockbuster. My answer is always the same… shoot with the Technicolor CineStyle profile, and grade in Adobe Premiere (I recommend CS6).

Starting my digital cinema career with the Panasonic HXV200, there was always talk about “Panny Mojo” and how the particular look the Panasonic cameras produced was so “cinematic.” Rather than dialing a “look” into the camera and being limited in post, wouldn’t you want to take maximum control over your images the way you do when you shoot RAW pictures with the 5D? Of course you do. No RAW picture you snap would EVER go through your workflow without being tweaked in some way, and your video clips should be no different. You want to capture your clips to preserve the most detail in the shadows and highlights, so you can manipulate them as needed in post.

Many people just starting in the world of digital cinema, including Mister X, it seems do not want to devote the time to grading their work. For them, the flat grey-ish footage the CineStyle profile provides couldn’t be a worse nightmare. With Magic Lantern unlocking the RAW capabilities of many Canon DSLR’s, and RAW capable cameras like the Blackmagic Cinema Camera becoming more affordable, the time to get comfortable with the idea of grading is now. Once you get started, you’ll be wanting a RAW capable cinema camera in no time.

I didn’t write this article to be a tutorial, but rather to show what is possible with a large sensor DSLR and minimal time at the edit suite. For the shoot I used a Canon T3i with Magic Lantern 2.3 loaded (no RAW), and an old Nikon 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5 AIS lens with a Fotodiox adapter. Footage was cut in Premiere Pro CS6 on a Toshiba Qosmio X875 Laptop (Intel i7-3630QM 2.4GHz) with 3GB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 670M card for CUDA accelerated performance. For those seeking a high quality laptop for mobile editing, please check out the Qosmio line. Straight out of the box, these have to be some of the most affordable, yet capable editing laptops on the market. Those looking to utilize the Mercury enabled playback engine in CS6 will be happy to know the GeForce GTX670M is fully compatible after it is unlocked. Studio 1 Productions has a GREAT tutorial on how to unlock these cards here: Unlocking Non-Certified Nvidia Cards.

Footage was brought straight into Premiere without any transcoding. For those coming from CS4/CS5, you’ll be pleased to know that CS6 handles the native DSLR files flawlessly, with many effects able to be played back in realtime (full resolution) with no rendering required. For those getting into color grading, I would suggest looking into Magic Bullet Looks by Red Giant. At $399 for the full version, it isn’t cheap, but it is extremely effective and powerful right out of the box. The plug-in comes standard with many various “looks” built in, that you can tweak based on your needs. No one “look” was exactly what I was looking for, but I found the “Buffalo” pre-set to be close to what I was after; a slightly desaturated look with cool highlights and shadows.

I selected a clip to start with and applied the “Buffalo” setting. Right away, I noticed the blacks were crushed a little too much for my liking and the image was too contrasty. Going into the curves setting, I was able to bring the blacks back up in the shadows, and tone down the highlights. Midtones were brought up to get the skin tones properly exposed. I then adjusted the contrast to further preserve the details in the shadows. The CineStyle profile does a great job of increasing the perceived dynamic range in a scene, so I hate crushing the blacks too much for fear of the dreaded “video look.” I think the softer look of the older Nikon glass lends itself nicely to the desaturated grade. Last step was to adjust the hue in the midtones to get the skintones looking right. I then took the look and applied it to each clip on my timeline. Some clips looked better than others, but all needed tweaked again in some way.

I went back in to each clip and further adjusted the curves, contrast, saturation (in that order) to get each clip looking consistent. Clips were then re-framed (when needed) to fit within the 2.35:1 aspect ratio I chose for exporting. Final export was a 1920 x 817 H.264 file (maximum render quality at maximum depth) at 23.976 fps with CBR encoding at a target of 12Mbps for upload to YouTube.

Can’t justify the cost of Magic Bullet Looks? Don’t worry, you’ll be surprised what you can achieve with just the three-way color corrector in Premiere CS6. Those who haven’t shot with the CineStyle profile are really missing out. Combined with the now un-locked RAW recording Magic Lantern has brought to the table for DSLR shooters, effective color grading might just be the thing that takes your footage to the next level.

Final graded version below:

Final with before and after comparison:


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