The importance of color fidelity in collaborative post-production finishing

By: Tashi Trieu

Only a few years ago, remote collaboration in the professional color grading world was exclusive to the domain of large facilities. A colorist in Los Angeles would work in a grading theater while their client, a cinematographer in New York, would join at a sister facility in a similar theater. Both theaters would be calibrated to the same standards and specifications by skilled engineers. The video signal would travel over private enterprise networks at rates far exceeding those available to small businesses and home users. Clients would still need to commute to a facility and work within scheduling limitations.

The democratization of media streaming technologies has opened new avenues for creative content producers to partner with artists working from home, near or far, without compromising on interactivity. The galvanizing potential of remote color grading is something that appeals to needs even beyond the context of a pandemic.  In Los Angeles, where we measure the distance between two points in the number of freeways we’ll navigate and the hours of podcasts and audiobooks we’ll consume, time is our most valuable commodity.

Remote collaboration accelerates productivity

Remote grading allows me and my clients to make efficient use of our time and invest more of our energy into the creative product—particularly in the fast-paced world of advertising where a producer or director may need to bounce between approvals on color, editorial, visual effects, and sound several times throughout a single day, while juggling other aspects of their campaign. Rather than spending half of their day commuting, or restricting themselves to an all-in-one facility, they can effortlessly hop into a session with me, review the latest changes, make any last-minute tweaks, and provide approvals all in a matter of minutes.

Of course, there are many ways to collaborate remotely, but all are not made equal. Many creatives in the independent space are making collaborative decisions over platforms like Zoom and Google Meet. While affordable, those products are, first and foremost, video conferencing platforms. They aren’t designed with critical visuals in mind.

Color fidelity enables confidence

A core priority at Evercast has been connecting professional content creators, ranging from small owner-operators to large facilities and studios. In the world of post-production finishing, color accuracy and precision are everything. A filmmaker cannot make confident, informed decisions if there is ambiguity in their display method.

The Evercast web-app, running in Google Chrome, is an excellent and easy way to connect with users in a multitude of collaborative workflows. The new desktop application for macOS and Windows takes color fidelity a step further. By writing a native application from the ground up, we can ensure complete control in the imaging pipeline and guarantee that our customers are being delivered a completely color accurate image with the professional precision they’re accustomed to.

We’ve leveraged additional VP9 coding profiles to expand our support from 8-bit 4:2:0 all the way to 10-bit 4:4:4—an absolute necessity for color-critical work in both standard dynamic range (SDR) and high dynamic range (HDR) content creation.

A unified viewing experience

Of course, delivering high fidelity imagery to users is only the beginning. Their display and their viewing conditions play a critical role in their perception of imagery. We recognize that not all customers have the means to professionally calibrate their displays. Luckily, we’ve found that many popular products, like the MacBook Pro have incredibly reliable and accurate displays right out of the box.

It’s crucial to disable automatic display corrections like True Tone and Night Shift and to view color critical imagery in a neutral environment. Your perceptual experience will vary depending on the lighting of your room, so it is important to control your environment by eliminating sunlight and mixed lighting to make it as consistent as possible between color grading sessions.

New horizons

I am very enthusiastic about the new MacBook Pro’s Liquid Retina XDR display. In addition to some phenomenal HDR performance, this display—like the Apple Pro Display XDR—offers an unprecedented degree of professional color management. You can now generate custom color profiles right inside macOS to configure the display for a specified color space, white point, and transfer function with a designated peak luminance. Previously, MacBook Pro users needed to rely on approximated peak luminance by adjusting the display brightness manually. With these new professional custom color profiles, you can now dial in exactly what luminance standard your colorist recommends—for example, 100nits for Rec.709 SDR grading, which has long been a standard for dim-surround broadcast grading rooms.

These new laptops and displays offer an attractive option for reliable and consistent display and are suitable for critical review of commercials, social media content, and all manner of web content.

For the ultra high-end professional customers producing features and episodic work, this equipment is a great starting point for early creative feedback. A busy cinematographer or director may participate in color accurate collaborative workflows using their laptop and still have a high degree of confidence in the image they are authoring.

While consumer displays are approaching parity with professional displays, the improvements we’ve made in color fidelity will further benefit eventual support for external broadcast monitors and digital cinema projectors. Within an Evercast color-managed ecosystem, a colorist could grade on a digital cinema projector in Los Angeles, while the cinematographer watches on a matched projector in New York, at the same time a director watches on a reference monitor near their shoot in Atlanta, while the producer watches from their laptop while scouting locations abroad, all with the creative collaboration tools they’ve come to rely on from Evercast.

Whether you work in the feature film, television, or advertising markets in Hollywood, or you use Evercast to collaborate on web design, concept art, video game development, or architectural and industrial design, you benefit from seeing the world in accurate and precise color.

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