SpeedGrade – A Little Bit of History

The origin of SpeedGrade can be traced back to a playback application called FrameCycler, which was first release by IRIDAS in 2001. FrameCycler provided uncompressed playback of frame sequences and was widely adopted in the visual effects community where artists needed an easy way to check their work.

In a recent interview on Animotion (great site, by the way), Lin Kayser, the founder of IRIDAS tells the story. As Lin points out in that interview FrameCycler employed the pixel shader technology in GPUs to provide LUT support in FrameCycler. Pixel shader technology is widely used in gaming to provide really fast screen refresh rates, but is not commonly used professional color applications.

Lin was always thinking ahead of the curve (I worked with him at the time and I can personally attest to this!) so he was soon scheming about expanding FrameCycler’s innovative LUT support to provide color adjustment tools. The result was the first version of SpeedGrade, released in 2003 and used in part of the postproduction work on Catwoman. Can’t remember the film? Oh well, at least SpeedGrade is still around…

SpeedGrade is Born
SpeedGrade was innovative because it provided non-destructive color grading. And because it applied all the corrections in the GPU it was really fast, too, without requiring huge amounts of CPU power. The tools were still pretty rudimentary, but early adopters saw the potential and came on board, such as colorist Price Pethel, then with Lowry Digital, who were doing ground-breaking film restoration work, or a cinematographer in Montreal called Jerome Sabourin.

The Color Pipeline
Because it was GPU-based, SpeedGrade looks could be saved as simple XML-files – and easily exchanged. In 2005 a still-frame version was released, called SpeedGrade OnSet. This allowed cinematographers to develop looks in pre-production which could then be applied to dailies during production and passed on the the colorist for finishing. This was significant because with the transition from film to digital, look design was all over the map. Unless a cinematographer happened to have time to visit the colorist during final grading, it was not easy to communicate the creative look. Back when we used film, the film stock, exposure, and lighting gave everyone a pretty good idea what the cinematographer’s intentions had been.

Real-Time RAW
GPU-based color grading had other advantages: in 2008 SpeedGrade introduced the first real-time RAW de-Bayering. It was now possible to play back and grade native RAW files, the “digital negative,” as some people call it. RAW files are generally about a third the size of regular post-production formats, and they provide the colorist with the widest possible latitude for working with their images.

Stereoscopic Playback
This brief history of SpeedGrade would not be complete without a mention of stereo 3D. FrameCycler introduced stereo playback quite early on for venue customers and science applications, so the technology was rock-solid when it was added to SpeedGrade. SpeedGrade was used in postproduction work on U2 3D, the concert movie produced by 3Ality to showcase the emerging stereo 3D movie-making capabilities.

Joining Adobe Creative Suite
In 2011 at IBC, Adobe announced that it was acquiring the IRIDAS technologies. Adobe SpeedGrade CS6 was released with the rest of Creative Suite 6, and as part of the new Creative Cloud subscription model, in 2012 at NAB. SpeedGrade was always intended to be part of an integrated workflow, as opposed to a stand-alone color correction system, so we think it’s a great fit.

And we’re not done yet! Stay tuned for the continuing history of SpeedGrade…

Meanwhile:
Check out the interview with Lin Kayer and SpeedGrade prodcut manager Patrick Palmer. By the way: the interview footage was graded in SpeedGrade. Just sayin’…
Check out Colin Smith’s popular walk-through of SpeedGrade CS6.
Download the free SpeedGrade CS6 30-day trial.
For help, or any technical questions, visit the SpeedGrade user forums.

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