RAW Camera Files in Final Grading
With more and more cameras recording RAW formats every day, the question “Are you coloring your RAW files in final grading?” is being asked much more often. When I say RAW, I am not necessarily just referring to actual RAW files, but more importantly, the original files that the camera recorded, i.e., not a transcode. Unfortunately, this question is not that simple to answer. Often, there are many smoke and mirrors given by post facilities in regards to their internal workflows, so I thought I would break down some of the challenges these facilities are facing and why this is not as simple an answer as you would hope to receive when asking this question! Once you are finished with your offline edit, the traditional next steps involved are:
- Conform back to the camera raw files
- Color correct
- Online Edit (finalize effects, add titles)
The steps involved in-between each of those steps vary drastically depending on who you are working with. The various software used for each of those steps also drastically changes facility to facility. Last but not least, the amount of rendering in-between each of those steps will also change facility to facility.
Why is there so much variation between facilities regarding these 3 steps? Part of it is technical know-how. However, part of it is also a philosophical choice.
We are stuck in a position right now on a technical level where you have two choices:
Color your RAW files and don’t see your final product during the grading session
Color rendered DPX or EXR files, but watch your final product.
There is certainly a high-bred approach that is the best bet right now, which I will elaborate on later. However, more often then not, companies are choosing one of those two options.
For right now, let’s get to the bottom of “why can’t we have our cake and eat it too?”
While you are doing your offline edit you are going to have certain effects added in. Let’s say, for example, within your final timeline you have the following effects:
- Blowup / reposition on your frame
- Speed Ramp
- Boris or Saphire plugin effect
- Custom transition in-between two shots
Once you are finished with this edit you need to reconnect back to the camera original files. Companies that make final color correction software will often promote that you can color correct directly on the camera raw files. Which, in fact, you can. However, these programs will not always be able to translate those effects you made in your offline edit. Major steps are being made towards being able to translate them, but Resolve, Baselight, etc., have not gotten there yet.
These final color correction tools have been adding in more and more tools every day for re-creating certain effects. The key word there is ‘re-create’ and even if you can manually re-create some of the effects, not all of them are possible to manually re-do in the color application.
So what are post houses doing?
Option A: We have to color the camera original files and ONLY the camera original files! Facilities that want to roll this way will reconnect back to the camera original files directly in Resolve, Baselight, or what ever software you will actually color in.
Things like speed adjustments, repositions and scales all track into the final grading software with no problem. Therefore, these adjustments are being made directly onto the negative. But more complex effects are not going to be there. You will apply your color without seeing these and have to wait to see the completed shot once you render out of the color bay and get back to your Online Bay.
Option B: I need to see the final result during the color session!
Most facilities when presented with this request will often conform in a program like Smoke, or maybe even Avid. After they conform, they will render out DPX files that are then taken to color grading. This means everything is baked into a DPX sequence. Good news is you will see your final shot in the grading session. Bad news is if you shot a RAW format like RED, you now have a baked-in ISO, Color Temp, etc.
So what is the right move?
I personally feel there is an approach that best answers this dilemma.
Option C: The High-bred Approach:
Conform in your final grading software and let the application bring in all of the effects it can. Therefore, you try to maximize just how many shots are able to come in native without needing to go through a render from another application. (IMO, the less renders the better!)
There are probably going to be things that don’t translate, though. For these, go through another application like Smoke, Flame, etc.. Bring the shot in, ensure the effect is re-created properly, and then render that out to as high a format as you can. EXR maybe. Or DPX. These then get brought back into the grading application.
Now you have a combination of EXR or DPX and camera original files. However, anywhere you have shots that are DPX or EXR in your grading software, ensure you keep the camera RAW original file on a track below, so you can color the baked in shot with the effect present. But if you need to get back to the camera original file, you have it there to apply the color as a second option.
Director of Workflow