Baselight and ColorFinale: Two approaches to colour for editors

Wednesday, 02 September 2015

Today FilmLight announced that they will soon offer free plugins for editors to see and render Baselight colour grades in their NLE made on other full-price Baselight systems:

The forthcoming version 4.4m1 release of Baselight Editions will make it free to view – or to render – grades passed between departments, or even to non-Baselight facilities. The new version will be released following IBC2015.

“Our aim is to make it even easier to pass around and refine the creative intent using BLGs,” said Steve Chapman, director at FilmLight. “If you want to see the latest colour grade in, say NUKE or Avid, you can do so by applying a BLG to a shot with the free version of Baselight Editions. It even allows you to render out the grade in your deliverables. If you want to modify the grade from these applications with the power of the Baselight core toolset, then you can buy – for $995 – the Baselight Editions packages.”

At the moment their software only Baselight Editions system works in Media Composer and NUKE. Their Final Cut Pro 7 version isn’t in active development.

Steve Chapman’s term of phrase in the press release is interesting: “If you want to see the latest colour grade in, say NUKE or Avid…” He didn’t say ‘If you want to see the latest colour grade in NUKE or Avid…’ the ‘say’ implies that the ‘view and render’ versions will be available for other applications.

For now it seems that FilmLight don’t think that Apple and Adobe’s markets don’t overlap with theirs. However, people and businesses with expensive Baselight installations would benefit if the grades they create could be viewed and rendered in Premiere and Final Cut. The separation that exists between editorial and high-quality colour is maintained: let people stick to what they are good at.

This would be FilmLight making the most of their ‘sunk cost’ - leveraging their investment in the UI and metaphors of their industry standard Baselight grading family. 

Color Finale: Minimal viable colour

ColorGrading Central has a different approach to colour in Final Cut Pro X: Color Finale. Despite having years of grading experience working on high-end productions using expensive systems, he went for the ‘minimal viable product’ route.

When creating a new product or service, there is the option to release a version as soon as possible instead of waiting until everything is perfect. This is the way Randy Ubillos approached Final Cut Pro 1.0 (eventually), iMovie ‘08 and Final Cut Pro X. 

  • Choose a minimal set of features that show who you are aiming the product at
  • Implement those features in such a way that communicates your philosophy: how you want to support your well-defined audience
  • Leave out all but the most vital features
  • Make sure your first version is good enough to capture enough interest and justify continual development
  • Update and improve quickly and often, and be clear about future developments

This method worked very well for Final Cut Pro X and is working very well for Color Finale. Color Finale version 1, like Final Cut Pro X, was good enough to use on high-end work, and it is quickly getting better.

How minimal is Color Finale? It doesn’t yet support Undo and Redo for actions in its palette - all you can do is reset the control to its default. This disadvantage is worth dealing with in return for getting to use Color Finale for the months that would have taken for Color Grading Central and Apple being able to deliver standard undo and redo commands.

From the FAQ:

What about masks and tracking?

They are a part of our development roadmap.  We plan to introduce features like these in a forthcoming 'Pro' version. The benefit of being an early adopter is you will get these new feature as a free update.

Already it is possible to make colour grades track features in shots in conjunction with SliceX from CoreMelt - as demonstrated by Sam Mestman in a recent episode of Ripple Training’s MacBreak Studio video training series.

Note that minimal doesn’t mean amateur: experienced colourists are already grading TV shows and feature films using Color Finale.

For more on Color Finale, read Oliver Peters’ detailed review.

Industry standard vs. new approach

Both approaches work well for Final Cut Pro X editors. Those that want to leave the grading work to experts will rely on round-tripping with other systems such as DaVinci Resolve and BaseLight. Others will benefit from tools that are better integrated into the application they use all the time. This is how sound is handled in post.

The question is whether FilmLight is interested in capturing the editing market - for both professionals and those who edit for other reasons. Can Color Finale become more advanced more quickly than Baselight becomes more suited to a wider audience?

In practice if the financial models of their audiences are different enough, Color Grading Central and FilmLight aren’t in competition. One doesn’t have to lose in order for the other to win. Which reminds me of the different approaches of Apple and Avid when it comes to developing their NLEs.