Tag Archives: ACES

Indie film Hoax calls on ACES

By Debra Kaufman

Shot in the remote mountains of southwestern Colorado, Hoax follows a brilliant primate specialist and ruthless TV producer as they investigate the site of a camping trip gone terribly wrong. They soon find themselves fighting to survive — and coming to grips with the fact that Big Foot may not be a legend after all. The movie, which will complete post production in mid-June, is the brainchild of Matt Allen, who wrote and directed it. His friend, freelance editor and colorist Peder Morgenthaler wore many hats, starting with multiple readings of the script. “As Matt was pulling the production together, he asked if I’d like to edit and color grade,” says Morgenthaler. “I ended up post supervising too.”

Peder Morgenthaler

The Academy Color Encoding System (ACES) was already on Morgenthaler’s radar. He’d followed its early development and began experimenting with it as soon as he could. As a result, he immediately thought ACES would be ideal for the Hoax, which would be shot with Red Helium and Monstro cameras. “We wanted to work with the Red RAW data instead of baking in a look,” he says. “The challenge would be how to maintain the full dynamic range present in the camera originals all the way through every step of post production — from dailies to visual effects — so that when the footage came to the color grade none of the information would have been flattened out or lost.”

He also was aware that High Dynamic Range was being discussed as a new display format. “In my research about ACES it became clear that it was a really good way to be able to make an HDR master down the road,” says Morgenthaler. “That would be a big advantage for an indie film. We don’t have access to image scientists or an advanced image processing pipeline. ACES offers us opportunities we wouldn’t otherwise have because of our limited resources.”

Because the production was going to take place in a remote area, with no opportunity for a DIT station, Allen and Morgenthaler made the decision that ACES would only be implemented in post. “We weren’t doing all the on-set color grading and look previewing that you would do in a full ACES pipeline,” notes Morgenthaler. Cinematographer Scott Park shot at 6K and 8K resolution, framing for a 2.39:1 widescreen aspect ratio while shooting 1.78:1 to give enough room for reframing in post. “In addition, we shot segments on ENG and Flir infrared and night vision cameras, so we had several codecs and color spaces in the workflow,” Morgenthaler says. “We also had 120 VFX shots — mostly invisible ones — planned, so we needed a color pipeline that could handle that component as well.”

In post, Morgenthaler used Adobe Premiere Pro for editing, Adobe After Effects with the OpenColorIO plug-in for visual effects and Blackmagic Resolve for dailies, color grading and finishing. “All this software can work in an ACES environment,” he says. “Our goals were to enable a responsive and efficient editorial workflow; maintain image quality, resolution and dynamic range; simplify color management between VFX artists and the colorist; and generate deliverables for multiple display standards with minimal additional grading.”

For dailies, assistant editor Ricardo Cozzolino worked in Resolve, syncing dual-system sound to picture and performing a quick color balance using the Red RAW controls, then exporting the shots as Rec. 709 HD ProRes 422 proxies. “During the edit, I’d apply temp color correction, compositing and stabilization in the Premiere timeline for preview purposes, knowing I would likely have to rebuild those effects in Resolve during the finishing process,” Morgenthaler says. “There were no ACES operations required during editorial; we just worked with the color corrected dailies in Rec. 709 space.”

One unexpected challenge was getting the After Effects compositors up to speed working in ACES scene linear space. “It wasn’t familiar to them,” he says. “They’re used to working in Rec. 709, and since After Effects doesn’t support an ACES pipeline natively you have to use a third-party plug in like OpenColorIO, which has been developed for a number of platforms including AE to enable the ACES color transformations.” The plug-in allows the user to disable AE’s internal color management functions and replace them with the proper ACES color transforms.

Using Resolve, the editorial team exported each plate at 4K as an ACES 16-bit OpenEXR image sequence in linear space. The visual effect artists then executed their shots in After Effects, using the OpenColorIO (OCIO) plugin. In the end, the ACES process worked for VFX exactly like he hoped it would. “All the dynamic range is there,” Morgenthaler says. “I just conformed the completed VFX shots into my color timeline and it worked perfectly, seamlessly replacing the original footage. The shots look wonderful, and they grade exactly like the camera-original R3D files.”

In color grading, Morgenthaler conformed back to the original 6K and 8K Red files inside Resolve, targeting a DCI Scope 4K finish. “After the master grade is completed, we’ll create additional versions targeting various display technologies simply by switching the ACES Output Transform,” he explains. “We can easily create versions for digital cinema, HDR and streaming, which is one of the huge benefits of the ACES process.”

Having the right storage is important to the ACES workflow, since 16-bit OpenEXR at 4K is around 45MB per frame, or just over 1,000MBps at 24 fps to play back in realtime, says Morgenthaler. “Not all storage can do that.” Morgenthaler, who consults with Seagate on their storage systems for post, relied on a Seagate RealStor shared storage system with 144TB of fibre channel storage. “The file sharing is based off of Tiger Technology’s Tigerstore, which enables simultaneous access for all users on the network at full quality and resolution,” he says “That greatly increased the efficiency of our workflow. It meant instant collaboration between team members, with no syncing of separate drives required to maintain collaboration.” In total, the production generated 44 hours of footage and ended up with 19.5TB of total data, not including visual effects.

“We may be on the front edge of using ACES in indie films, but it’ll be more important for indie filmmakers going forward,” he predicts. “There are real benefits to doing so. It’s a powerful tool for maintaining dynamic range and quality, and the pre-built color management pipeline simplifies complex VFX processes. It also increases the film’s desirability to distributors by enabling generation of additional versions such as HDR.

“I don’t know that we could have achieved what we did on this film without ACES,” concludes Morgenthaler. “Large films have access to color scientists and secret sauce, and ACES gives you that in a turnkey package, which is really powerful for a small film.”


Debra Kaufman has covered media and entertainment for 30 years for publications including Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, American Cinematographer, International Cinematographer, Wired and others. She currently also writes for USC’s Entertainment Technology Center’s daily newsletter, ETCentric.

ChromaColor: A small post house embraces ACES

By Sarah Priestnall

Over the last few years, the ACES standard has been used on a variety of successful and big-budget films. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 is a prime example. But it’s not just for film studios, big post facilities and blockbuster movies. It’s also being used all over the world by small post houses.

Portland, Oregon-based ChromaColor is one of those smaller houses. Jordan Snider, a supervising colorist, opened ChromaColor in 2015, bringing with him years of experience working with stills and motion photography in Hollywood. Despite being a young company, ChromaColor draws upon the years of experience from Snider, as well as from CEO Alex Panton, a 25-year-plus industry veteran with a vast network of contacts worldwide. He recently relocated to Portland from England, where he ran 4K London, an agency for Digital Imaging Technicians (DITs).

ChromaColor offers end-to-end support of film and TV projects, managing the recording, archiving, color grading and mastering of moving pictures as an integrated service. Panton and Snider to offer high-end services to more limited-budget productions. “Without compromising essential quality, we have emulated, but streamlined, the expensive studio model, making a simple workflow available to the much wider independent film market,” explains Panton, adding “we recently opened a facility in Echo Park in Los Angeles, providing a portal to our Portland facility.”

Jordan Snider at work.

Snider has parlayed his expertise and experience in still photography into the world of moving images. “I fell in love with the craft of photography through my involvement in action sports as a semi-pro BMX rider,” he explains. “At the beginning of the digital photographic revolution I took an apprenticeship with a prominent and traditional analog photographer. Learning to assist and run the darkroom taught me the fundamentals of color science. From there I found my way onto sets in camera and lighting departments. I fell into working in a DaVinci Resolve suite and never looked back. I always regarded color as the perfect intersection of my work in stills and motion. When I was younger I wanted to be the DP, but I found myself doing well helping other artists craft their images. It’s been a good fit!”

Using ACES
For those who might not be familiar with ACES, here is The Academy’s official definition: ACES (Academy Color Encoding System) is a standard for managing color throughout the life cycle of a motion picture or television production. From image capture through editing, VFX, mastering, public presentation, archiving and future remastering.

Incorporating ACES on ChromaColor’s projects seemed like a natural choice, and it didn’t mean any drastic changes to the workflow that Snider had already set up and tested on many commercials. “ACES is brilliant because it’s a total rethink of how to treat the data in the visual pipeline, all without reinventing the wheel” he explains.

With ACES, balancing different cameras is easy. “As a colorist, I have more control over the manipulation of the color information,” explains Snider. “This helps me maximize the time I can spend on creating the best possible composition for my clients. On the back end, it makes mastering and exporting to multiple formats and/or color spaces much more streamlined, and with HDR on the horizon everyone will be mastering to both Rec. 709 and HDR 10. For our clients, it saves time and money in addition to future-proofing their assets, making it much easier to create an HDR version or even a version for some future display that doesn’t exist yet. What’s not to like?”

ChromaColor recently used ACES to great effect on a documentary about the Symbiosis Eclipse Festival (see our main image), an Oregon-based music and arts festival that coincided with August’s solar eclipse. At first South African-based production company NV Studios was just looking for a local Portland-based DIT with a RAID and hired ChromaColor for those tasks, but Snider quickly realized that the multitude of cameras being used (from Red Helium to Sony A7 and many more) and the sheer amount of footage being shot meant that ACES would be a great benefit. By designing a smart ACES-based workflow, ChromaColor was able to provide an on-location digital lab to fit the limited budget. And, of course, it was far easier for the editor back in Johannesburg to successfully cut between all the different formats and for the digital intermediate finishing to go smoothly.

Like others before him, Snider also appreciates the openness and availability of ACES. “The best part about ACES is that it doesn’t matter if you are a student or a senior colorist in Hollywood, it’s available for everyone and integrated into the software packages we use every day. In our case it was Resolve, but it’s found in other software, such as FilmLight Baselight. It’s really a gift for independent motion pictures that can take advantage of the contributions of Hollywood’s leading color scientists on this open platform.”

Other ChromaColor clients include Nike, Adidas, Google, AirBnB, Harry & David, Beats By Dre and AT&T.


Sarah Priestnall has worked in entertainment technology and post for more than 25 years, working for both manufacturers and post production facilities. While at Cinesite, she was a member of the team who pioneered the use of DI technology on the groundbreaking O Brother Where Art Thou. She most recently served as VP market development at Codex. 

D-Cinema Summit: standardization of immersive sound formats

By Mel Lambert

“Our goal is to develop an interoperative audio-creation workflow and a single DCP that can be used to render to whatever playback format – Dolby Atmos, Barco/Auro 3D, DTS:X/MDA – has been installed in the exhibition space,” stated Brian Vessa, chairman of SMPTE Technology Committee 25CSS, which is considering a common standardized method for delivering immersive audio to cinemas. Vessa, who also serves as executive director of Digital Audio Mastering at Sony Pictures Entertainment, was speaking at this past weekend’s joint SMPTE/NAB Technology Summit on Cinema during a session focused on immersive sound formats, Continue reading