Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Digital Film Tools - PhotoCopy Filter

Color Grading can be a time consuming and difficult process. Photocopy, a filter from Digital Film Tools for Final Cut Pro, After Effects, and Avid, goes some way towards simplifying the task by providing a large collection of film and photography "looks" that you can apply to your clips.

Photocopy comes with an installer that detects your installed software and will let you choose where to install it. I used it in Final Cut Pro, though it will also work with other applications, including image editing software like Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom and Apple Aperture. Some of the effects - for example the Painting presets - work better for still images, though they can all be applied within Final Cut.

Once installed, you enter the serial number and it connects through your internet connection to authorize your computer. If you want to install on another computer, you can de-authorize the first machine, and then authorize the second.

The PhotoCopy filter is applied to a clip in the same way that any video filter is applied, but once attached to a clip, there are two ways to set it up: You can load a Preset, or you can use the Match function to have the filter match the color and texture of a frame from a source clip you provide.

Click "Load" (top) to choose a Preset, or use the Match
section to have PhotoCopy match the appearance
of a Source Clip

To choose a Preset, click the Load button and a browser window appears. You can then choose presets from one of four categories; Movies, Paintings, Photographs and Processes. The Movies category has just over 90 different example movies, both old and new, color and black and white. The filter attempts to match the brightness, color, tone, detail, and grain of these movies. For some movies, multiple looks have been saved.

When a preset is chosen, the preview image is updated in the browser. You can quickly navigate through the presets and see what will happen with the preview, though you'll probably want to apply the filter and see the effect for the whole clip as you narrow in on your choice.

The movies that have been sampled include: Apocalypse Now, Blade Runner, Frankenstein, Gone with the Wind, King Kong and The Lord of the Ring.

The other three categories; Paintings, Photographs and Processes may be less useful for video clips. The Painting set is as diverse and extensive as the Movies section, but while the Paintings set have some of the richest textures, I found them mostly unsatisfactory when applied to video. Unlike the grain effects in the Movies, which change over time, the Painting texture is stationary, so when the video plays it's almost like the video is playing behind a veil. You can see an example in the sample clip below.

I did like some of the Photographs and Processes, and they worked much better with video.

Don't forget that you can use the Mix slider to adjust the amount of the effect after it's been chosen.

If you don't like any of the Presets, you can use the Match function to have PhotoCopy analyze a frame from a source clip you provide. Simply drag the frame you want to match to the Source field in the filter, and then click the Match button, and PhotoCopy analyzes the source and applies changes to the video clip to match.

While it definitely moves the clip towards the coloring of the Source, it doesn't necessarily create a perfect match. Because of this, I'm not sure you can use it to color match two very different clips, but you can definitely use it to apply a similar effect to a clip.

I tested PhotoCopy on a two-year old MacBook Pro, and clips had to be rendered after applying the filter. Rendering took quite some time; minutes for fifteen seconds of video. While it's generally a rule to apply video grading at the end of the edit rather than at the beginning, with this filter it's virtually a requirement.

I also had a problem with some clips from a Canon 7D causing the filter to crash. Re-exporting them as ProRes, and then applying the filter to the ProRes clips did solve the problem, and if you're doing grading most people recommend switching to ProRes anyway. I contacted Technical Support at Digital Film Tools who promptly got back to me about the problem, and though they hadn't encountered it themselves, offered to try the clip themselves to see if they could reproduce the problem; an offer I didn't take them up on due to other hardware issues I was trying to isolate at the time!

If you're not comfortable with Apple Color, but want to add more atmosphere to your video, PhotoCopy is a pretty compelling way to do it. With the collection of over 90 different picture styles just to start with, you'll probably find something that works for your material; the difficulty may be in picking which one.

As long as you resist the temptation to apply ten different styles to one sequence, and remember that in color grading less-is-more, PhotoCopy makes for a good coloring assistant.

Digital Film Tools: PhotoCopy

Sample clips with different Presets from PhotoCopy applied
FTC Disclosure
Digital Film Tools provided me with a copy of PhotoCopy to review. No other material connection exists between myself and Digital Film Tools.

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