Two Great Strides in the Democratisation of Colour Grading

Regular readers of this blog know, that I have been dreaming about a low-cost grading control surface for years. At some point I even considered attempting to build one myself, but this project never got more serious than an extensive set of notes. There were a few remotely interesting ideas around, including the Oxygen TecPro panel, the use of Kingston trackball or some midi hacks with various controllers, but these were either makeshift or still too expensive, not suited for the ultimate goal that was to make every editor have it in their suite. Today the announcement of Tangent Ripple and support for it in the upcoming update of Adobe Premiere Pro and Color Finale for FCPX hopefully closes this chapter.

I like to delude myself that I did play a small part in both creation of Ripple and its Premiere support. I exchanged some of my ideas with Chris Rose from Tangent, whom I met by chance at IBC a few years ago, and I advocated loudly to both SpeedGrade and Premiere teams about the importance of supporting Ripple from day one in Adobe’s flagship NLE. I was stoked to see Ripple early designs and prototypes, and I literally could not believe the price when I heard it. I thought $500 would be the lowest anyone can get down to.

I had a chance to play with Ripple during IBC 2015, but also for past week or so at home. I love it. I absolutely love it. Yes, it’s not as sturdy as Elements. Not as functional, not as impressive as any of the larger panels. But it serves its purpose without any glitches, is very handy, I can use it with my desktop, I can use it with my laptop, and it makes grading even more fun. And faster. It helps me get into the flow, try various creative and crazy ideas, to play, and to work efficiently.

Tangent Ripple is the brand new inexpensive grading control surface that every editor should have on their desk.

Tangent Ripple is the brand new inexpensive grading control surface that every editor should have on their desk.

It takes a moment to settle in. After you unpack Ripple, make sure to roll the three red balls in your hands for a while to cover them with a bit of grease that is always present on your skin. This will ensure that they are operating smoothly. Adjust the USB cable, plug it in, download and install Tangent Hub application, and setup your grading software to work with a Tangent surface. At this moment Ripple masquerades as Tangent Elements Tk, but I’ve heard that the new version of the Hub should recognise Ripple as a separate surface. Once you do that, you’re good to go.

The panel is a pleasure to work with. There are only two issues that I found. One illusory, one real. The first one, I immediately wanted a set of knobs alongside. In Premiere it’s possible program the dials and trackballs to work with various sliders, but Resolve and SpeedGrade do not use Tangent Mapper, the controls are set in stone. Once I started using the panel, going back to the mouse feels slow. Reeeeaaaally slow. I can simulate key presses with X-Keys or Logitech G18, or just use keyboard shortcuts. But there is nothing that helps me with sliders, and Tangent Element Kb is a tad too expensive for an impulse buy. Oh, the first world problems :).

On the other hand, the real drag is that when switching trackball banks in RedCineX or in Premiere, there is no way to find out which one is currently active other than remembering or guessing. I mentioned that to Tangent team already, so maybe something will come out if it in the future.

Other than that – there is no doubt. This is what I’ve been waiting for. Probably this is also what you have been waiting for, even if you didn’t know it. So go out and get one. The production has just started, and you can play with it on NAB, if you’re there.

What’s next?

Finally we have arrived at the point, where most of the components for grading are affordable and the tools of experts are available to virtually anyone. Resolve is free, two major NLEs support the control surface, Tangent Ripple is as inexpensive as it gets – what more can one want? And it took only 4 years or so…

Of course, what remains relatively expensive is the proper monitoring. If we look at what happened with prepress since the late 1990s, this is unlikely to change. Even the cheapest Eizo monitors dedicated to graphic design today are two to three times as expensive as their general purpose counterparts, and quality calibration probes also cost money. Add to this all the issues with external monitoring of video, different frame rates, interlacing, colour spaces, and perhaps external scopes, and you get the idea. I think this part is not going to become more affordable anytime soon – perhaps the calibrating software might still go down in price, but that’s about it. What will happen, and what is already happening is the equivalent of people outputting to print work made on a general purpose monitors – grading on a display that is not calibrated or even not suited for video preview, or on your average TV. To the dismay of professional colourists, this is also what the democratisation actually means, and how 90% of content is going to be produced.

This is the expansion to the lower end of the spectrum, where more people can try their strengths at a new skill. The upside? We shall hear much less about “grading” using LUTs. People might actually appreciate the craft a bit more, and grading is going to become the standard service that most clients will be requesting. The downside? If you’re a colourist, expect more competition and despair about the average quality of work. But if you love colour, expect more and more great ideas to appear, as the law of great numbers goes into effect.

Next step? Photoshop, Lightroom and Affinity to support Tangent Ripple – because Phase One is already experimenting with it – and each graphic designer and photographer having it on their desks. And then we’re done.

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