Within the world of film production, the manipulation of footage – specifically colour – is absolutely critical to creating a unique visual style. So many modern films are defined by their 'look', and this is achieved through the pursuit of a certain aesthetic, be it low-fi grit and grain or glossy hyper-realism. This essential process is grading, and without it every film would look pretty similar.
Considered something of a dark art, grading encompasses dozens of crucial steps along with several pieces of post production hardware and software. Amongst all of these, a Look Up Table, or LUT, is one of the most powerful, and can have a substantial impact on the finished article.
The formula is effectively taking an image and changing how it looks.
What is a LUT?
LUTs can be confusing beasts, but it helps to think of them as a formula, even though many are self-contained pieces of equipment called 'LUT boxes'. Data goes in, is acted upon by the mathematical specifics of the equation and then different data comes out the other side. In the case of LUTs, this data is pixels, so the formula is effectively taking an image and changing how it looks.
The effects of a LUT are almost limitless, it all depends how you want it to affect your image. Some people use them creatively to replicate a particular film stock, while many also use them for practical jobs like calibrating monitors or getting an accurate display on-set. Let's take a closer look at these last two.
One of the most common uses of a LUT is for monitor calibration, and this simple step can be the difference between good and bad footage. Essentially the formula will ensure that your display is correctly representing an industry standard colour space (such as Rec. 709), and that the grade you spend so many hours on will look exactly the same when viewed on all other screens.
Display LUTs are very similar to their calibration cousins, but instead of making sure that a colour space is properly represented, its job is to translate between two different spaces. The function is the same though – providing a way to objectively see the footage without having to worry about being misled by a screen. Display LUTs are typically used on set to show how log footage (which is very flat) might look when it eventually reaches consumers. Without this, it would be incredible difficult to objectively judge what footage is being captured on set.
Of course there are also creative uses of LUTs during grading that can produce some spectacular visual effects, and we'll touch on those in a follow-up article.
For more information on LUTs and how to use them, get in touch with DVT today.
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