Motion Post Production and Retouching Tools

By Theano Nikitas

Industrial Color’s New York, Los Angeles and Miami locations offer motion services that include color grading, post production, CGI, retouching, compositing and VFX. They have recently collaborated on motion projects for Forever 21, Barneys New York and Swedish House Mafia.

Motion has been the natural progression for many photographers who are looking to grow their business, and the demand has never been higher. When speaking with Steve Kalalian, CEO of capture and production company Industrial Color Productions, it was refreshing to hear him say, “It’s a wonderful time in the world of creative production….There’s so much content that’s needed.” 

The outlets for motion imaging are many, extending beyond traditional commercials and movies to include the Web, mobile and even print. Kalalian explains, “You can put your iPhone on a cereal box and it will play a video via the QR code or via ad recognition.” 

But it’s not just demand that has opened up the field of video and production. The cost of entry has decreased while the capabilities of production tools have increased. “Equipment that used to be half a million dollars is now $2,500 to $150,000 [or even less], like DaVinci Resolve, Maya, Flame—all these applications are getting more powerful and faster.” Take a look at Industrial Color’s CGI production of music group Swedish House Mafia to better understand what he’s talking about. “We’re doing things with liquid that used to take days—work that’s amazingly realistic that we’re able to do pretty quickly, and it looks better.”

Additionally, these tools are much more accessible today to a wider range of people. Kalalian says, “There’s a whole community of students who are learning these applications in school.”

As president of an imaging and production company for 23 years, Kalalian offered excellent insight into the essentials of success. The three pillars, explains Kalalian, are artistic expression, technical accuracy and production capacity.

For artistic expression and technical accuracy, he cites tasks such as color grading and compositing. For the former, investing in quality tools is a must. “If you don’t have a $5,000 to $20,000 color-accurate monitoring system or very precise instruments to measure color output, you are already starting off in a dangerous system.”

Compositing (e.g., green screen work) entails both artistic expression and technical accuracy. While a compositing job’s mask edges “might look good at low resolution [on the Web],” for example, “if it’s going to be scrutinized in other media” like broadcast or a video billboard in Times Square, Kalalian explains, “that’s when all the flaws start popping out.” 

Production capacity is, of course, critical. “If you don’t have the right tools,” Kalalian says, a specific task “could take you a week. But with the correct tools, it could take an hour.” Rendering, as we all know, can slow down a production, so Industrial Color has a large render farm, to quickly handle long clips and allow time for feedback and changes in order to meet tight deadlines. 

Of course, not everyone—whether you’re a solo practitioner or work with a team—can afford to have a setup like Industrial Color. It’s important to know when it’s time to hand off some of your work to a larger production facility. Kalalian suggests that you “stay small scale or invest in the right equipment and build a team or connect with a facility.” 

Additionally, the ability to understand when you’re in a “dis”-comfort zone, is particularly important. One might assume this only applies to those working individually or with small teams, but Kalalian says, “We face it ourselves. We don’t want to take on something so far out of our wheel house that we might jeopardize the project. . . .Those are the same questions we ask ourselves.” While it may appear that there are many hurdles to overcome, outsourcing work that you feel is beyond your current capabilities is a wise move. But Kalalian is encouraging. “It’s a great time to enter into this field, and I would always encourage people to do so,” he says.

Keeping in mind the lower cost of entry and the more sophisticated capabilities of tools like software applications mentioned earlier, we put together a quick roundup of products that will help you work more efficiently and effectively throughout the post-production process, with an emphasis on both practical and creative video retouching.

Adobe Premiere Pro CC
Love it or hate it, Adobe’s move to Creative Cloud is a reality, so if you want the latest features, functions and performance enhancements of programs such as Premiere Pro and After Effects, you’ll need to move to the subscription-based model. Both programs offer a variety of updates that won’t be available for previous licensed versions including the addition of what Adobe calls the “brains of SpeedGrade” to Premiere Pro CC: Lumetri Deep Color Engine. Now that it’s integrated into Premiere, users can easily access SpeedGrade Looks and LUTs (look-up tables) without leaving the program. Looks are easily applied from the browser; just drag and drop a look onto an adjustment layer, and you’re good to go. 

There are plenty of other enhancements to Premiere Pro CC, including feature and performance improvements, so be sure to check them out on the Adobe site before you make the leap to a CC membership.

Price: $49.99/month based on annual membership, 
$74.99/month for month-to-month
Educational, team and enterprise pricing also available at

Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve
Now in version 10, with the update slated for release this fall, DaVinci Resolve is a pro-level color correction application that is equipped with a vast array of sophisticated features, including real-time multi-track timeline grading and playback, and automatic grade-for-color balancing clips, for example. The latest version, which was announced at NAB 2013, features multiple improvements, ranging from the ability to display multiple grade versions, unlimited OpenFX Plug-ins per clip, an enhanced lightbox view with color-control palettes and keyframe timeline, as well as a host of new live-video input features. With the new features and functionality, DaVinci Resolve is an even more impressive tool than ever before.

A Lite version is available for free if you want to test the waters before shelling out $995. Except for some stereoscopic 3D and noise reduction features, the Lite and full versions are incredibly similar. A comparison chart is available on the product page of the website, but you won’t find too many differences. The chart also highlights all the new features in version 10, so be sure to take a look. 

Price: Lite Free, Full version $995

Digital Anarchy Beauty Box Video 
Makeup artists and lighting can do a lot for your subjects’ looks, but skin imperfections, blemishes, hotspots and other anomalies—which are especially noticeable with HD and 4K video—can mar an otherwise beautiful scene and require tedious retouching that makes the same task in Photoshop seem like a breeze. Not so with the Beauty Box Video plug-in. Face-recognition technology automatically creates a layer mask to ensure that adjustments will apply only to skin and not other elements of the scene. Masks can be tweaked if/when needed, and corrections—from skin smoothing and color correction to shine removal and amount of details—will be applied to the remainder of the clip (assuming consistent lighting throughout). Masks can be created manually, a process that’s necessary when, for example, you want to make adjustments to non-facial skin (hands, neck, etc.).

Version 3.0 was released in June for Adobe After Effects, Premiere Pro and Apple Final Cut Pro 7/X, with versions for Assimilate Scratch, NUKE, Sony Vegas and for the first time, AVID, by the time you read this. The new version offers an improved auto-masking algorithm as well as more than 35 preset styles, some of which are based on looks found in fashion magazines, to further enhance this already smooth and speedy workflow. If you’re new to skin retouching in video or Beauty Box Video, Digital Anarchy’s site offers tips and tutorials to help you along.

Price: $199 (AE, PP, FCP 7/X) $249 
(Assimilate Scratch, NUKE, Sony Vegas, AVID)

Red Giant Software Magic Bullet Suite
Rather than purchasing a new, standalone software for various tasks, using a set of plug-ins for your nonlinear editing software may be a preferable option. Red Giant Software’s Magic Bullet Suite, now in version 11.4.3 , bundles nine different plug-ins (which are also available individually). 

The suite includes Colorista II for color correction, Denoiser II for noise reduction, Frames, which allows you to create a 24p look from interlaced footage and Looks 2, which, as the name implies, provides tools to create various looks for your film—either original or from presets. These looks can be shared with colleagues who also use Looks 2 (for still images there’s a separate product called PhotoLooks 2). Mojo’s simpler interface uses sliders to change the feel of your video, with warm-cool options and the ability to desaturate or super-saturate colors as well as adjust skin tones; meanwhile, Cosmo is specifically designed for glamour shots and making your subjects look younger. Grinder and Instant HD are more practical plug-ins for converting formats of DSLR videos, while the latter converts SD to HD. 

Check the website for host application compatibility, including the broadest matches with Adobe premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro 7. While you may not need or want all nine plug-ins, buying the suite may be more economical—considering the final investment for all the apps individually is $1,491, the $800 price of the suite is quite a bargain.

Price: $800

Wacom Intuos5 Touch
Graphics tablets are generally associated with working on still images, but add the Wacom Intuos5 Touch (or, if you have the extra cash, a Wacom Cintiq) and you’ll gain both ease and speed of workflow. The Intuos5 is touch sensitive, and, with the proliferation of multi-touch devices, most videographers and editors will feel right at home with this tablet. Sleek in design, the Intuos5 Touch features eight Express Keys, a Touch Ring Control and a touch-sensitive surface. 

The most difficult aspect of using the Intuos5 Touch is deciding how to customize it. There are so many options for programming Express Keys and the Touch Ring—and, yes, even touch gestures can be assigned specific tasks—that you’ll keep busy for some time simply exploring the different permutations and configurations. You can even create application-specific custom settings to suit different workflows.

Compatible with Adobe Premiere Pro, After Effects and Apple Final Cut Pro, you’ll be moving through clips at a faster-than-expected pace and with more precision than ever before. The Mac- and PC-compatible Intuos5 Touch is available in small, medium and large sizes, and comes with a Grip Pen, pen stand, ten replacement nibs, a pen nib removal tool, a 6.5-foot USB cable, quick start guide, installation CD and a license key for free software.

Price: $229 (small) $349 (medium) $469 (large)



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