By Debra Kaufman
Senior colorist Andreas Brueckl has graded a wide range of projects, from feature films to over 1,000 commercials, in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. He began his career at Bavaria Film/Cinepost in Germany, then freelanced across Europe and the Middle East before landing at 1000Volt in Istanbul, where he was lead colorist for almost four years. In 2014, he moved to Pinewood Studios Malaysia and is now currently senior colorist at FutureWorks in Mumbai, India.
With his cinematic grading approach, Brueckl was an early adopter of the ACES workflow. Since then he has published tutorials about ACES workflows and color grading. He spoke to postPerspective about adopting the ACES workflow and why he’s encouraging cinematographers and VFX houses to use it
Tell me about how those first trials worked out?
In 2013, when I was working at 1000Volt in Istanbul, I played around with ACES color spaces, but I was so busy — working on as many as six TV commercials a day — that I didn’t really have the time to devote to learning something new. That changed when I started at Pinewood Studios in Malaysia in 2014. The Malaysian government really wanted to build up the film industry and attract international clients. They teamed up with Imagica from Japan to create a post department. I had this beautiful brand new 100-seat 4K grading theater and a new FilmLight Baselight. I graded my first feature there in the typical telecine way with a P3 timeline, and then I started from scratch with the same movie and graded it in ACES, learning along the way. After a week or so of working on it, my grade clearly looked way better in ACES.
How was the learning process?
I was used to starting from a log image, which is the way most of us DI colorists graded for many years — and was irritated that my image was suddenly so contrasty and saturated. Thankfully, Andy Minuth and Daniele Siragusano from FilmLight helped me to understand that a scene-referred color space isnʼt as limited as a display-referred color space. In other words, I wasn’t losing information or limiting myself, and I could always dial it back to a more log-looking image if needed. Knowing this, I could achieve a “film-style” grading more readily. After a year of using ACES, and as Pinewood Malaysia started getting more and more Singaporean and Chinese clients, I made ACES tutorials with Chinese subtitles to help educate those clients.
Now that you’re working at FutureWorks, are you still using ACES?
In 2017, I signed on at FutureWorks in Mumbai where we work on a wide range of content, including blockbuster movies, smaller movies, TV commercials and, more recently, lots of streaming TV from Amazon Prime and Netflix. We’ve really committed to ACES there. Hope Aur Hum and Bazaar are just two examples of how well ACES has worked. Besides always grading in ACES, we switched our entire VFX pipeline to ACES in combination with Baselight grade files. In-house, all of that was easy — and welcomed by our clients. I have cinematographers coming in asking if we’re grading in ACES. Some of them already know the benefits of ACES quite well, and others just heard it is a new and very “filmic” approach of grading. So the DPs that haven’t tried ACES yet are keen to know everything about this new grading style.
How has switching to an ACES pipeline for visual effects worked out?
It was and still is a bit more work to convince VFX vendors to switch to ACES. They’re not concerned about ACES per se, but about the size of the OpenEXR files which, at uncompressed 4K, can go up to 50MB per frame. For that reason, they sometimes want to stick to the 10-bit DPX they’ve used for the past 10 years.
I found that communication is key to get the VFX facility to embrace the ACES workflow. To make it easier, we meet the compositing supervisors of all the VFX vendors and walk them through the process in Nuke and how to use the Baselight plugin. It makes it super easy.
If there is no demand for uncompressed files, there’s nothing wrong with using an OpenEXR Zip 1 or Piz compression, which is actually smaller than DPX renders. This year, I’m working on some of the biggest feature films and Netflix and Amazon shows in the Indian market. I’m making it clear from the beginning to all the vendors that we work in ACES and we go for an ACES VFX workflow. We’ve found that once we contact all the VFX houses and walk them through the process, they have no problem implementing the ACES workflows.
What do you personally like about ACES?
First of all, ACES is not a plugin that only works on one platform — it is an entire system that connects all platforms. I explain to the DPs that I can mix my LMTs (Look Modification Transforms) to shape the look and play with the density in chosen areas. Essentially, I have the chance to mix my own digital film stock. ACES gives me a base look much faster than I could get from a log telecine timeline workflow, where I would have had to build up a time-consuming grade from a Log image.
As HDR grades become more popular, ACES is absolutely mandatory in my opinion. One big advantage of using ACES is the ability to get additional details in the highlights. Finally, ACES is the perfect workflow for deliveries to multiple platforms. With just a few adjustments, I can make deliverables in P3, Rec.709, HDR and so on without quality loss.
Main Image: Bazaar
Debra Kaufman has been writing about the intersection of technology and media/entertainment for nearly 30 years. She currently writes the daily newsletter for USC’ Entertainment Technology Center (www.etcentric.org).