Just Grade It – Professional Color, Made Simple

Post-production is changing, and it’s changing fast. Clients now expect you to provide professional color grading services for the same fee, while the camera department feeds you increasingly varied flavors of log. Most filmmakers (and their clients) just need projects to look crisp, clean, realistic and consistent. New online color-grading service, Just Grade It, aims to disrupt the status quo, by offering all of that, at an unprecedented price.

As a professional colorist, Just Grade It owner, Ollie Kenchington, has worked on all kinds of content, from TVCs, to short films, music videos and more. About 18 months ago, it struck him that his services were only really serving the top 5% of users, and that a considerably larger segment of filmmakers were essentially being ignored.

If you couldn’t afford a professional colorist, you were told to either learn to grade yourself (no small feat, but one he has attempted to address through his courses for MZed.com) or fed the lie that a LUT will solve all your problems. With prices starting at just £69 ($89) per minute of delivered footage, Just Grade It is an online portal that opens up professional color services to everyone.

What’s the catch?! Okay, so clearly something has got to give, and in this case, there are two big differences between what Just Grade It offers, and what you’d get with a full color-grading session at a post house. Firstly, Just Grade It won’t take camera original files and an XML from you.

Conforms are prone to XML errors, sometimes requiring the colourist to literally go frame by frame looking for translation issues. By scene-cutting a single, flattened file, Just Grade It can be much more efficient, and guarantee there are no discrepancies between what you cut, and what they grade.

Secondly, Just Grade It does not apply a stylized or creative look to users’ films. As soon as any artistic license is employed by the colorist, the whole process becomes open to interpretation. This is, of course, a hugely exciting part of color-grading, but you can’t creatively develop a look for a project without constant communication with the director.

References need to be used and lengthy, almost philosophical, conversations need to take place, ideally face to face. Time is money, and so removing subjectivity from Just Grade It’s workflow means a large amount of time can be saved, which is passed on in cost savings.

Credit: Rafael Pires

So Just Grade It is essentially a technical grade service only, meaning black will be black, white will be white and skin will be natural. They will never arbitrarily lift blacks, tint highlights, apply grain, or introduce any other subjective looks to users videos.

Although this will inevitably put off certain users, Ollie is confident there is still a very large market for this type of service, in particular documentary, travel, corporate, weddings and any other areas where a ‘look’ doesn’t necessarily serve the story.

Credit: Dave Diebel

If you have a particularly interesting creative LUT you’ve been dying to try out, applying it uniformly across the sequence you get back from Just Grade It will maintain all the technically difficult work, like camera matching and shot continuity, they’ve done underneath. It actually gives you the freedom to try out several different creative effects quickly, without having to worry about all the foundational work below.

This even extends to noise reduction, as Just Grade It also includes an ‘image optimization’ pass, where excessively noisy shots have Neat Video (a fairly costly but unrivaled noise reduction plugin) applied to them. Because the whole process, from upload to delivery, is handled in high-quality mastering codecs, like ProRes 422 HQ, making creative changes like this is more than possible, should the customer choose to do so.

The seamless upload/download and notification process via Just Grade It’s website makes the whole experience almost feel automated, but at no point are machine learning or auto-balance tools employed. Ollie calls this, “color, curated”, in the same way a genre playlist on Apple Music is curated by music specialists. In fact, Just Grade It makes a point of only using Blackmagic Design Certified professionals to grade customers work, which is reassuring.

The service has only just come out of beta, with over 70 new members having registered on the site since it launched a month ago. If you would like to try it out for yourself, you can upload a single 10-second trial shot (not sequence) through the website to see how it works.

Whether it is for you or not, it’s certainly refreshing to see a company disrupting one of the few parts of the industry that has managed to remain inaccessible to mere mortals. Check out the site now, and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

[source: Just Grade It]

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