MANUFACTURERS: Picture Instruments & Color Grading Central
PRODUCTS: Look Converter ($25) & LUT Utility ($29)
WEBSITES: www.picture-instruments.com & www.colorgradingcentral.com
A 3D Look Up Table (LUT), strictly spoken, is a color management tool originally meant to bridge the differences between a digital workstation’s color representation and movie film emulsions. Today, a 3D LUT is a full-scale color-grading component. The only problem is that not that many video editors support 3D LUTs, and there aren’t that many 3D LUT management applications either. Look Converter therefore is a godsend for anyone who wants to create 3D LUTs, while LUT Utility is needed for using LUTs in Final Cut Pro X “natively.”
German developer Picture Instruments (www.picture-instruments.com) recently released Look Converter to convert presets and looks into 3D LUTs. Look Converter is a standalone app that uses a simple workflow to convert image or video adjustments into a 3D LUT. It exports to the two formats that are currently mainstream: .cube and .3dl.
Look Converter’s 3D LUTs can be used with Photoshop CS6 and later, Premiere Pro, After Effects and, with a little help from Denver Riddle’s (www.colorgradingcentral.com) LUT Utility, Final Cut Pro X and Motion 5. I tested and will further discuss both Look Converter and LUT Utility as used with Final Cut Pro X and Motion.
Look Converter generates a JPEG, which it calls a “Neutral Filter.” The Neutral Filter is an image of color patches that Look Converter uses to build its 3D LUT. You will have to use the Neutral Filter as an intermediary file.
The reason why you will want to use 3D LUTs is because you can now use this “look” or preset across all applications that support 3D LUTs. And that is the case with the newer versions of After Effects and Premiere Pro, as well as Da Vinci Resolve, Magic Bullet Looks and FCP X and Motion 5 with the LUT Utility plug-in. You can use photos and footage to create your LUTs, as long as you can load the Neutral Filter JPEG into the program where you want to grab your settings from.
Look Converter is as simple as it gets, yet it does offer you the two 3D LUT formats commonly used. It also uses a 17×17×17 cube size to generate the 3D LUTs, as the maximum size would be too large to be efficient. The maximum sized 256x256x256 3D LUTs are mainly used as calibration tools. For example, when converting digital to film.
What happens when you have created your 3D LUTs and want to work with them in Final Cut Pro X or Motion 5? Unless you have Red Giant Magic Bullet Looks, not much — and if you do, you can only work with them within Magic Bullet Looks. The latest versions of Adobe’s applications all natively support 3D LUTs, as do Da Vinci Resolve and Avid Media Composer. Final Cut Pro X requires a plug-in. The best way to use a 3D LUT is to use Color Grading Central’s LUT Utility. This is a very simple plug-in for FCP X and Motion 5. LUT Utility comes with a whole bunch of 3D LUTs already available, so you can start working with it immediately. For example, if you have Arri Alexa LogC footage that needs to be converted to Rec709, LUT Utility has a 3D LUT out-of-the-box.
However, the real power of LUT Utility comes from the “Load external LUT” option. Inside FCP X, that option is a dead duck, but in Motion and your System Preferences, it exposes the power of this plug-in. As 3D LUTs are really just special text files, they live somewhere on your file system. In the case of LUT Utility, they live in a folder inside your Library. But you needn’t open that folder to give LUT Utility access to all the grading looks you generate yourself with, for example, Look Converter.
You can grab those 3D LUT files and drag them to the LUT Utility panel inside your System Preferences panel, or use LUT Utility in Motion, where you can load custom LUTs with the drop-down option of the plug-in itself. The System Preferences panel also allows you to load LUTs for permanent usage and to remove them when you don’t want them.
LUT Utility has the edge over Magic Bullet in terms of cost, simplicity and speed. Applying a 3D LUT with LUT Utility is a one-click operation and if you have multiple clips that need the same treatment, it's much faster to load LUT Utility and select a LUT than it is to load a plug-in, open its interface and then apply the pre-set you want.
Erik Vlietinck can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org;
Skype: erikvlie; and