/ Product Reviews / Nattress Levels and Curves for FCP7, FCPX and After Effects

Nattress Levels and Curves for FCP7, FCPX and After Effects

Screen Shot 2012-09-15 at 10.22.07 AM
John DeMaio on September 21, 2012 - 7:40 am in Product Reviews

One thing that has seriously been lacking from Final Cut Pro 7 is the ability to have control over curves for simple grading. Even though the writing is on the wall for FCP7, I still have PLENTY of projects that will require me working in 7 for the next year or so…at least. So let’s take a look at the Nattress Levels and Curves from Noise Industries.

What does it do?

Final Cut Pro 7 has a pretty good 3 way color correcting filter. I find it very useful in most situations. There are some controls that I feel are missing. There’s the option of sending your project to Apple Color for proper correction and grading, but who has the time to prepare for it? You have to “bake” in your effects (like motion effects, especially) and round-tripping is not that awesome at all. In fact, for most of my intense projects that require heavy grading, I usually use Magic Bullet Looks. However, the render times would never allow me to do this properly for most of my clients. You know, the clients that need their project done yesterday, but give you all of the materials that you need a week after it’s due…Yes, I have a lot of those. Anyway, what can you do for simple correcting and grading, without crazy render times? Try the Nattress Levels and Curves plugin.

How does it work?

Nattress Levels and Curves works from within FCP, so there’s no need to prepare a sequence or move to an external editor. The plugin provides a familiar looking curve overlay that does exactly what you would expect. This is perfect for fine-tuning your image. Here’s an example of some footage from our show Travel Thru History:

As you can see above, the image looks pretty good right out of the camera. It’s a little under-exposed but something that we can fix. We decided to shoot this show on DSLRs, but not with a flat profile. We used the Canon “Neutral” profile to minimize risk of over-exposure. Flat profiles are great for retaining complete control over the image, however there is a tendancy to mess up exposure when shooting with a flat profile on a DSLR – especially on a production that has a very small crew and a limited amount of time to shoot in a given location. This also eliminates the need for heavy grading in post. (Although, I didn’t stick to that on this project – each show gets a full day of color correcting/grading.)

Regardless, the above image looks pretty good to the eye, but there is still much that can be done. So I’m going to add the Nattress Levels and Curves filter to the image, and apply the “S-Curve” preset from the preset drop-down list.

You can already see some improvement in the image, however according to the waveform monitor, we are a little hot in the sky. To adjust this we can select one of five points on the curve; Black, Toe, Mid, Knee and White. For this example, we will need to adjust the Knee and the White area to fix our over-exposed sky.

Levels and Curves controls

A couple of clicks and we have a much better image.

The image is now properly exposed after adjusting the Knee and White levels

Curves RGB

The above image is much better looking than where we started, but there are still some things that we can fine-tune. To do this I’m going to add the Curves RGB plugin. This gives me control over the Red, Blue and Green channels of the image.

Curves RGB filter added to the clip

The Curves RGB plugin works in conjunction with the Curves plugin by allowing you to fine tune each individual color channel. Our goal is to try to expand each channel in the parade to maximize the colors of each section. You don’t want any part of the channel bunched together – either toward the bottom or toward the top. So we use the curves to fix this. At first glance, I can see that the red channel looks like it can be adjusted in the Mid and Toe area.

RGB parade before any correction is applied

With a little tweaking, I was able to bring up the Red values in the building, add a bit more green to the water and make the sky a little less green and more blue. This helps to differentiate the sky from the water, giving it a better over-all look. At least to my eyes.

A few tweaks to bring out the red in the building and separate the blue sky from the green water

This is now my starting point to begin grading. Looking at the display above, I have a pretty good exposure overall and the colors are more balanced than in the original image. You can really tell the difference in the clouds…the above image has much whiter clouds than before the Curves RGB plugin is applied. Also, the different tones in the water come alive. This really just helps make the image stand out a little better than it did originally – and it only took a few minutes.

Before and After

Working with RAW and log images

Nattress Levels and Curves is also a great way to work with RAW images. You can use this plugin as a one-light pass for dailies or just something to keep the clients happy when editing or viewing RAW material. It’s better to edit RAW video with a curve applied so that the image looks more appealing…clients don’t always understand why RAW footage appears so “washed out” so we often have to do a simple fix to make it look better. Levels and Curves will do this quickly and easily.

Drop down to apply Log curves to the footage

Just pick the setting that best fits your footage from the drop-down menu. Once it looks correct, copy and paste the attributes to your other footage. Now you’re ready to edit with a much happier client.

Bottom Line

Natress Levels and Curves also works quite will with Final Cut Pro X and After Effects CS5, CS5.5 and CS6. I would like to see Adobe Premiere added to that list, so hopefully we will have that in the future. At $49, though, it’s an affordable solution and easy way to get the best look out of your footage in a pinch!

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