A few years ago I worked at a post house in Auckland called Images and Sound. While I was there I had the good fortune to work with colourist Paul Lear and observe the recently new (at the time) FilmLight Baselight grading suite. This was a time when we were still mastering to tape and most of the colour correction at Images was done tape-to-tape in the DaVinci 2K suite, but high-end fully digital grading was becoming more achievable and affordable with the likes of Baselight.
It was an amazing system and made me constantly jealous. My Avid Media Composer suite at the time had only limited colour correction abilities (and, frustratingly, that hasn’t changed even now in Media Composer 7.0). So imagine my excitement when FilmLight announced, seven years later at NAB 2012, that they were making Baselight available as a plugin for Media Composer! Then imagine my frustration when I realised it was only available on the Mac – my edit suites are all on Windows.
Now, about a year later, I’m finally getting to use Baselight for Avid in Windows. The product is still in beta, but it’s solid and delightfully powerful.
Things have changed dramatically in the last few years when it comes to grading tools. It started quite a few years ago with the introduction of Apple Color in the Final Cut Studio suite. It was the first fully featured grading tool to be easily available to small businesses and individual editors. And that was where things stayed for a few years until Blackmagic acquired DaVinci and made their Resolve product available either for free in a limited configuration or only $995 for a full version.
So now, in 2013, I have at my disposal Avid Symphony, DaVinci Resolve, Adobe After Effects (with Magic Bullet Looks and Colorista) and now Baselight for Avid. My options are varied and adaptable.
Given that I already have a full copy of DaVinci Resolve, why would I even need Baselight for Avid? It’s pretty simple really – simplicity and flexibility.
For the bulk of my work I find the colour correction tools within Avid Symphony to be sufficient. They lack finesse in some ways, but they achieve decent results and, most importantly, they are fast! Using the relational grading features I’m able to speed through my work at a pace that fits our high turnaround production (I’m onlining and grading five 23-minute episodes every week – I have two days max to grade everything).
The problem with my reliance on Symphony is that there are times when it’s not the tool I need. Where a scene needs a little more than I can easily achieve in Symphony I’m faced with a problem – either I have to start stacking effects to get what I want (not ideal given the lack of floating-point processing between multiple effects) or I have to take the scene out of Symphony to Resolve or After Effects.
Taking the scene out of Symphony creates it’s own problems – while the workflow from Avid to Resolves and back is good, it’s also destructive. Once I take a scene out I can’t really touch it again and it’s new media that needs to be rendered and managed. It works but it’s not ideal.
Enter Baselight for Avid – it’s a very powerful grading tool I can use directly within Symphony. It accesses the media directly and is rendered with Avid’s standard rendering engine meaning that renders are managed as normal. Now if a scene requires a little something extra I can easily add the Baselight effect, either to the clips directly or to filler on an empty track, and use Baselight’s powerful tools to get exactly what I want.
One of the things I’ve always liked most about grading directly within Avid, either Media Composer or Symphony, is the Color Correction mode – working on exactly the same timeline I can easily move from shot to shot apply a grade. It’s fast and efficient and very simple. Other NLEs have traditionally made this workflow more difficult by requiring that you apply an effect to each clip and then edit each one separately.
Unfortunately that Color Correction mode is limited to Avid’s internal tools – using Baselight within Avid sees us reverting to an effect-by-effect workflow where we have to step into and out of the Baselight interface for each effect separately. FilmLight are aware of this issue and have gone some way to addressing it by implementing a macro that is effectively Exit Effect Editor -> Jump To Next Clip -> Enter Effect Editor which works fairly well to streamline to the process.
However once you consider how you might grade a given scene it also become apparent that you can probably take a more wholesale approach. Avid’s ability to apply effects to filler is a real bonus here, allowing you to drop a single Baselight effect over an entire scene so you can set a general look. You can then cut filler where necessary to isolate any shots that need further adjustments.
The ability to save Avid effects into a bin is also helpful in that it allows you to quickly build a bin of looks that can easily be reapplied to other scenes from the same setup or location, for example. Currently there is no way to save thumbnails with those effects, but with careful naming it’s not too hard to build up a pretty usable library quickly.
Baselight for Avid can also save grades using FilmLight’s BLG format. This allows simple interchange with a full Baselight suite, or even FilmLight’s FLIP on-set looks device if you happen to have one of them around… Additionally all the grade data on your timeline can be exported within an AAF to a full Baselight suite for a final grade if necessary.
The plugin is a realtime effect on the Avid timeline and leverage GPU processing for playback and rendering. On my Z800 I can perform quite complex grades and still see realtime playback on DNxHD material.
A minor frustration, if you happen to have Avid’s Artist Color panel (I do), is that Avid doesn’t really like sharing it. So you can use it in the Baselight plugin, but you basically have to remove it from Avid first.
And this is where I’m still a little stuck… The life of a modern editor these days seems to be filled with learning new tools, so this is just another to add to that list. It’s clear from simply looking at the Baselight user interface that it’s powerful and complex. Like so many tools we use it’s full of depth. It doesn’t take long to get the basics (although Baselight’s terms for different ways to grade the image are a little alien at first) but there is obviously a lot more to learn.
FilmLight have a handful of videos that pretty effectively outline the basics of the tool and give you a clear basis from which to work. You should definitely watch them before you start randomly attacking your timeline, but after that you’re going to be a little on your own. There is training available for Baselight, but the product doesn’t have the mass appeal and adoption that Apple Color used to and that DaVinci Resolve does now so resources aren’t (yet?) as plentiful online.
If you’re doing finishing using the colour correction tools Avid Symphony or Media Composer already then Baselight for Avid seems almost like a no-brainer. It’s relatively inexpensive and brings an amazing amount of power directly into the Avid software. While it might not be immediately practical to entirely replace your Avid grading workflow with Baselight it is definitely an excellent way to augment your existing work and bring a new level of finesse to your work.
While FilmLight obviously have some difficulties fully integrating their product through Avid’s AVX plugin framework, they have done a great job so far. Hopefully they can manage to work with Avid over the new few versions to make it even better, but even if that doesn’t happen the level of integration offered currently is obviously much more than an external application.
You can get a trial version of Baselight forAvid for the Mac at FilmLight’s website. The Windows version will be out soon at the same place.