Technicolor created a Log Curve CineStyle LUT for the Canon 5D MkIII, to ensure cinematic quality from this camera. The company’s latest venture in software driven solutions for the semi-pro cinematographer is CineStyle Color Assist and associated CineStyle Looks. A bit strange is Technicolor’s choice of integration offerings: Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro 7. Premiere Pro CS5.5/CS6 is strange because CineStyle Color Assist is up against Adobe’s own colour management powerhouse SpeedGrade, while FCP 7 is end-of-life. Let’s hope Technicolor soon releases a plug-in for Final Cut Pro X and maybe Avid Media Composer, because the tool itself is quite powerful and much better than what these two have to offer.
In both supported applications, CineStyle Color Assist is activated from within the host app by sending it to Color Assist, then processing the colour adjustments and applying the Looks you want, and saving the colour grading to an XML file the host can read. Included with the application are 25 Looks. You can buy more from within the app, if you wish. You can also create your own.
CineStyle Color Assist can be used on its own and from the above you could deduct the colour grading is non-destructible. If you remove the XML files from the folder where they are saved by default, the colour grading is gone too and you end up with your original footage. This is much like GoPro Cineform Studio Pro’s mode of working. It means you can apply as many gradings as you want, even more than Color Assist’s nine compositions allowed per colour grading file (.XSCL).
If you’re not sending a clip to CineStyle Color Assist from within a host, you can work with the app’s own bin, and colour grade clips loaded from the Finder. Color Assist supports the most common video formats and codecs (.mov, .avi, .flv, .mp4 and ProRes except 4444, H.264, DV, WMV). The app’s format support is good but it also shows it’s not targeting professionals, as it lacks DNxHD and other formats that are increasingly becoming popular.
Nevertheless, the application has all the processing power you’ll need. You can compare two clips one next to the other, Colour grading instruments include the Waveform, Vectorscope and Histogram, there’s a History panel, and a well-organised colour grading window. That window holds the tabs for Looks and colour correction/grading using nicely designed colour wheels and curves. There is an overall colour correction tab, one for key areas, and a curve tab. The colour correction tab can be opened in ‘simple’ mode and in an advanced mode. The latter gives you more control over how your colour grading affects the clip.
Manipulating the colour wheels is surprisingly slow — and that’s a good thing. Often you’ll go too fast when grabbing a wheel results in huge changes. However, it would be nice to see a modifier key added so you can speed up the process nevertheless.
Looks are created by combining several colour grading settings together, and then saving these as a new Look. You can also just apply Looks and start your colour grading from there, instead of starting from scratch.
The secondary colour grading — called Key selector in CineStyle Color Assist — works with colour masks such as the ones we’re seeing in Final Cut Pro X. This allows for coarse selections only. However, Color Assist has an extra trick up its sleeve, which is that you can actually add up to 35,000 colour keys to your selection. As you can pick colours that are added to your initial selection as long as the “plus” icon is activated, the selection capabilities are good enough for most uses.
If you really need more power, then Adobe’s SpeedGrade and Black Magic Design Da Vinci Resolve may be more in tune with what you need. My guess is that if you need that kind of power, you’re no longer part of the target group of Color Assist anyway.
In the Key Selection tab, you’ll get a nice 3D colour cube type of representation of which colours you’ve added to your selection, which is a nice interface touch that makes selecting the right parts more visual, and more accurate.
The colour correction tab where you colour grade your clip overall, has an advanced mode that lets you apply colour grading to the whole of the clip in two different ways for each of the three areas (shadow, midtone, highlight).
The metadata monitor not only shows you which gradings you’ve added to your colour grading XSCL file so far, but also allows for easy switching between different sets and removing gradings altogether.
Without host app, CineStyle Color Assist doesn’t change your clips at all. I first thought the XSCL file would be a XML file, so that with a bit of tampering you could apply yhe colour grading even in Final Cut Pro X after all, but that didn’t prove to be the case. The XSCL file is a binary — that’s totally different with GoPro Cineform Studio Pro’s M.O.
All in all, Color Assist is a good colour grading tool. It’s just a pity it doesn’t work with more host apps. And by the way, if you own Adobe’s Production Suite and see the Technicolor plug-in listed in After Effects, don’t get overjoyed. It won’t work.