Technicolor Color Assist 1.5 colour grading (review upgraded)

Technicolor created an S-Log Curve CineStyle LUT for the Canon 5D MkIII, to ensure cinematic quality from this camera. Another Technicolor venture aimed at the semi-pro cinematographer is Color Assist and associated Looks. Color Assist 1.5 integrates with Adobe Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro 7, Adobe After Effects and Final Cut Pro X. I tested Color Assist with the latter and found the tool to be quite powerful and simpler to use than, for example, Da Vinci Resolve.

in Final Cut Pro X, Color Assist lives as a plug-in. The workflow is that you drag the plug-in to your timeline clip — as usual — and click the Color Assist “Send To” pop-up. The Color Assist application will then launch with your clip loaded, ready to colour grade.

Included with the application are 25 Looks. You can buy more from within the app, if you wish. You can also create your own.

screenshot of Color Assist interface

Color Assist can be used on its own and from the above you can 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 can start all over again. It means you can experiment with colour grading. Even if you know exactly what you’re doing, you can still create nine Color Compositions per colour grading file (.XSCL). These can be re-ordered, but more importantly it allows you to apply different colour gradings to the same clip and switch between them in Final Cut Pro X.

Back in Final Cut Pro X, you can cycle through different Color Compositions by using keyframes and the “Mix” slider, which can apply the Color Composition from 0% to 100%. As you can add as many Color Assist plug-ins to the same clip as your system and installed memory will allow, you can create all kinds of creative effects that are difficult or plain impossible to achieve with other colour grading solutions for Final Cut Pro X.

If you’re not sending a clip to 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.

You can compare two clips one next to the other, Colour grading instruments include the Waveform, Vectorscope and Histogram, there’s Pixel Meter and 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.

Screenshot of Color Assist Color Correction

Manipulating the colour wheels is surprisingly slow — and that’s a good thing. For example, the 3-way colour wheels in Red Giant’s excellent Magic Bullet Looks’ Colorista change too fast if you’re not careful, which actually slows down your workflow instead of speeding it up. However, if you do need to change the colour wheels quickly you can use the key-mouse (or trackpad) combinations mentioned in the user guide and get the same change speed as in Magic Bullet’s Colorista.

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 Color Assist — works with colour masks. This allows for colour area selections. 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 in one Color Composition (that’s one workflow that you can save as a Look). As you can pick colours that are added to your initial selection as long as the “plus” icon is activated, the selection capabilities are quite powerful.

Screenshot of Color Assist Key Color

If you really need more power, such as tracking and a myriad other ways to change colour, hue, saturation and many different colour Lookup Tables, then 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.

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.

Screenshot of Color Assist Curves

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.

Screenshot of Color Assist Looks

All in all, Color Assist is a good, solid colour grading tool.