An Experience with Final Cut Pro, After Effects and Gamma Issues

I’ve put off writing this entry for about three weeks because it was such an awful experience for me. I just finished a documentary and for the SEO sake of it I will refer to it as Hockey Doc. Overall it was a great experience. I finished the edit, locked picture and sent it off to Technicolor to get colored. It comes back, looks great and I plug in the newly colored version into my sequence. While editing the project I created these left or right third graphics that gave biographic information on each of the players, coaches and the others interviewed. So I took the raw file (before color correction mind you) from Final Cut Pro, exported the 7-10 second clip, imported it into After Effects, animated the clip in and out (see the example below) and then spit it back into my Final Cut Pro project.

It all seemed to work really well. That wasn’t the case though.

I got my colored version back, spit the new color corrected versions back into my After Effects compositions and then exported again. I rendered for DVD output using compressor. I burned a master DVD of the project in DVD Studio Pro. It should have just worked, right? Well it didn’t. The color of the After Effects clips would change slightly, becoming a little darker. The graphics also did not slide smoothly across the screen either way. Now normally I would spend a lot more time trying to fix the problem, but I had a deadline. This was on a Tuesday and it needed to be back in Valencia, California on a Thursday morning at the latest. I ended up staying awake until 4 AM trying to figure the issues. Here are a few steps I tried.

(Notice how jittery the text moves AND how odd the subject looks while the graphic is up. It’s a different motion than when he is up on screen before)

With the help of Steve Freebairn over at FreeHill Productions I figured out that applying easy ease in and easy ease out keyframes along with some motion blur on the slides would take the jittery look away. I was dealing with all pro res files and exported them from After Effects and into Final Cut Pro. They looked great this time. So I then tried the export again. It still looked odd. The color still changed if I used a reference movie or used compressor. It looked fine if I just did “Export as Self Contained Movie.” The motion problem wasn’t there if I did that either.

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(Notice the color changes just before that graphic pops out over the right side)

I started to do some Google searches and came over a few articles at Creative Cow saying I need to have exported those raw versions from Final Cut Pro as Animation files instead of Pro Res. It turns out that you don’t notice some of these problems when you are in FCP and or Quicktime because there is an automatic gamma correction. So I did. And guess what, after 4 hours of re rendering my graphics, it looked great. I previewed everything in FCP. The colors appeared to change on my sequence so I exported them as a reference movie. They didn’t change at all! Awesome. The color is now the same. But wait, FCP rendered the Animation files now and they looked shaky again.

I figured if I used those same Pro Res renders again that I could just export the show as a self contained movie, maybe I could then use compressor to get it in DVD Studio Pro.

Not true.

If I took it into DVD SP through a compressor, it somehow detected the gamma change again. Ugh.

I figured out the only way to have my footage and effects work together was to do a self contained movie file and take that right into DVD Studio Pro. It isn’t the way I like to work, but it worked. The DVD Compression looked fine on my QC and after all this I made it to FedEx at 6:03 pm. They unlocked the door for me and overnighted my package to Valencia. I barely made deadline.

Please, I would love any other suggestions as I have searched and found this wasn’t just an issue with my production. What has been the best workflow for you to avoid these gamma issues?

I tested this out so many times on 1 minute segments. I output them all to the desktop. Here is a screenshot of most of my tests.
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