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ACES Explained: The Academy’s First Step to Standardized Color Management

Ray Feeney (right), Curtis Clark (center) and Andy Maltz (left) discuss ACES at CineGear Expo 2015.

Workflows: no two are alike. This was the description given by Ray Feeney, Project Committee Co-Chair of ACES – Academy Color Encoding System – when defining the state of color management in the production business.

“It’s a snowflake workflow; everything is different on every single show.”

ACES is the latest innovation established by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to create a standard all productions can turn to for a recognized color management system. Launched in April, 2015, the Academy presented a special ACES panel at CineGear Expo to educate cinematographers, DITs, post production professionals and producers on the fine points of the initiative, as well as encourage more professionals to adapt the system in their productions.

Moderated by Mark Weingartner, VFX director of photography, chair of the ICG National Training Committee and member of the ASC Technology Committee, Weingartner began the event by presenting a diagram that loosely defined the problem. Until this stage; a color gamut has not been defined. The Academy is setting large parameters allowing for technical advancements, so adjustments can be made as capabilities expand.

“You have to remember that when we look at a diagram, it is a two dimensional representation of three dimensional volume,” said Weingartner. “We can put a smaller amount into a larger gamet, but not the other way around.”

Joining Weingartner on the panel where a number of professionals who have all adapted ACES into their regular production workflow. They included Theo van de Sande, ASC, Bobby Maruvada, digital imaging technician and colorist, and John Darno, digital intermediate colorist for FotoKem. To further outline ACES, Feeney was joined by Curtis Clark, ASC, and Chairman of the ASC Technology Committee. They explained ACES has been released as Version 1.0 – the first stage of a production ready system, aimed at preserving creative intent from on set monitoring and work management through dailies, editorial, VFX, DI and archiving. The Academy intends to revise ACES as new developments effect on set workflow in order to consistently provide an effective guideline.

Clark encouraged the audience to equate the color problem to film.

“Once upon a time, there was film. It had an entire workflow and workflow standards. Film had a unified color space. Creative intent is at the heart of the matter. But it also allows for efficiency,” said Clark. “ACES is not workflow. It is the color management.”

Using an example of film stock, he suggested that a DP might have chosen a bunch of emulsions but the raw stock remained the same when working on a specific project. Digital is like taking a bunch of stock and mixed them all together. ACES has worked with camera manufacturers to develop mechanisms spread across a wide range of cameras; including lipstick cameras used for tight spaces or crash scenes.

ACES has also worked with labs to make the lab process as transparent as possible. Through enhanced training, the process will ultimately help productions save money because they will be able to avoid revisions and regarding.

Van de Sande, who referred to ACES as “the Rosetta Stone for the color space” brought clips from his recent television movie “Deliverance Creek” to illustrate how ACES affected his product. He described avoiding creating mood through image. Working closely with FotoKem, they finalized the color quality without affecting the mood. “It was like color correcting on steroids” explained van de Sande, who was asked to extend the production over two episodes rather than a pilot as originally slated.

Van de Sande outlined his process for the audience. On set he worked with the color temperature with a finely calibrated monitor. He worked with a DIT who “knows color” who assisted in color correcting the same images throughout the project. “We didn’t want to waste time and be stuck on damage control.”

“Everyone will know where the work needs to be,” said van de Sande. “All the info comes across and this allows the information to go directly into the DI bay. This also allows for clear communication with VFX – we had no need to fix the color after VFX were applied.”

Maruvada emphasized the benefit of having the DI bay brought directly on set, where he can take the signal directly from the DP. There is no guess work with the final colors. He used his work on the motion picture “Chappie” as an example where a look session wasn’t needed. Working directly with show and scene LUTs, he grabbed the LUTs, did matting and shape work that was incorporated into the edit. The raw data, embedded with the meta data from on set work, was sent to VFX. When the shots came back they were imported directly into the DI with nothing further needed.

“The workflow wasn’t informed or affected by ACES, but created b ACES,” said Maruvada.

Since ACES 1.0 was released, 23 companies have signed on to become ACES Product Partners. All the product partners are working to incorporate ACES into their hardware or software packages. The list to date includes:
ARRI, Assimilate, Autodesk, Canon, Codex, Colorfront, Deluxe, Digital Vision, Dolby Laboratories, FilmLight, FotoKem, The Foundry, FUJIFILM North America, Light Illusion, MTI Film, Panasonic, Pomfort, Quantel, RED Digital Cinema, CGO, Shotgun Software, Sony Electronics and Technicolor.

To learn more about ACES, please visit: