October 3, 2016

Meet ACES, the Tech that Convinced Woody Allen and His DP to Go Digital

ACES, the technology that helped convince Vittorio Storaro to go digital, is available for every indie filmmaker through DaVinci Resolve.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) is most famous for hosting the Oscars, but the organization also attempts to preserve the history of the motion picture industry—and sort out its technological future. ACES, which you might have heard of recently in the press surrounding Cafe Society, is a technology that's been around for a few years; until recently, it’s been mainly geared towards colorists. However, the Academy is doing a big push to expand ACES' use, from pre-production through release—and if using it helped convince Woody Allen and Vittorio Storaro to go digital, every filmmaker should know about it.

With ACES being used on massive productions like Guardians of the Galaxy II, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that it's just as useful for the indie filmmaker.

Aside from having a cool name, ACES is quite complex—we won’t go into detail about all of it. To break it down, ACES is a system designed to deal with a very, very common problem we all run into as filmmakers: how your movie looked on set/in the edit room/in the color suite isn’t how it looks in the theater/on your TV.

This is tremendously frustrating as a filmmaker. On set, while you want to tell clients to trust the real scene more than the monitor, they are going to watch the monitor and evaluate your work, so if the skin tone there is too orange—even if you know you can fix it in post—they are going to comment on it. Or, worse, if the monitor makes the client's product look wrong, you can end up lighting it to make it look right on the monitor, only for it to look wrong in post. Similarly, the footage can look great in the edit suite, but terrible when you output it to the world. (Or great in Resolve, but terrible in After Effects, and worse in Premiere... and so on.)

ACES is designed to be future-proof, preserving color data in captured footage even if it’s beyond the capabilities of current display technology.

These issues made Storaro reluctant to shoot digitally, but thanks to ACES, he did so with Cafe Society. How does ACES solve these problems? More acronyms! The two most important are IDT and ODT, and, eventually, they will be as familiar to filmmakers as NTSC or ISO.

IDT is the Input Device Transform. This is a profile that is designed for every single capture device that transforms imagery from whatever camera you have shot into the same ACES space. Doing this involves an incredible amount of calibration and testing on the part of the group at AMPAS in charge of maintaining ACES, since manufacturers are continually refining their camera technology.

A quick look at the IDTs in Resolve shows a very long list:

IDT list from Resolve.Credit: Resolve

If IDT is for input, it makes sense that ODT is Output Display Transform. ODT the footage from the ACES space and properly calibrates it for each individual display technology. 

With ACES being used on massive productions like Guardians of the Galaxy II, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that it's just as useful for the independent filmmaker. Luckily for us, ACES is implemented in DaVinci Resolve, where it’s available as an optional color science in competition with Resolve's native DaVinci YRGB color science. This means you can go out—right now!—and start using ACES on your next production. (Of course, like all new workflows, we highly recommend you test a few times first.)

ACES, though officially released at NAB 2015, was developed by the Academy for more than five years before that, and is currently being used on productions big and small to manage color workflow from capture through delivery. ACES is designed to be future-proof, preserving color data in your captured footage even if it’s beyond the capabilities of current display technology. ACES is already ready for Rec. 2100, the technical specifications for HDR broadcast, and will continue to expand as the industry does.

To learn about ACES in more detail, visit the website or Twitter.       

Your Comment

7 Comments

So, sort of like DNG for video color.

October 3, 2016 at 10:05AM

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I think this article makes ACES sound like magic and a very simple to use "tech" that will solve all of out color spaces probl3ems but using ACES requires some thought and planning it's not just plug and play like this article suggests.

For example: ACES in resolve does no play well at all with Arri footage....

October 3, 2016 at 1:55PM

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Jose Santos
Student/Director
227

Okay article but too broad or I'm too stupid to understand. Don't we need monitors capable of displaying this ACES profile then for this to work? I need someone to create a tutorial. Casey Faris? I need you now. I've got to find a way. I need you now. Before I lose my mind...

October 3, 2016 at 3:40PM

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Ryan Sauve
@sauvedp
163

The idea behind ACES is that the ODT will handle the transform to the monitor of choice depending whether you will go to a DCP package, web, broadcast etc...

October 3, 2016 at 3:53PM

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What Nathan said. You have to choose the output display transform (ODT) from the monitor you're using. To try and make it simple, if you're using an alexa and seeing it on a flatscreen tv your IDT is the alexa and your ODT is rec.709 which is the standard color profile for tv's. If you're releasing your movie in the cinemas your IDT is the same (alexa) and your ODT has to be DCP (digital cinema package). You just have to change your ODT to each delivery method you'll use since all the math will be done by that. You make the grade between those 2 processes.
Yes, we do have LUTs that can kinda do that now (check impulZ luts by visioncolor, they do separate the process into a negative and print stage to resemble the color negative process in the film days) but the real power of ACES is that you can color balance different cameras more easily since the IDT part has been thoroughly calculated by the Academy (with support from the camera manufacturers) and is much more accurate than some LUTs we may use now (and will keep improving with research). Hope this helped a little bit. It's been almost a year since I did research on ACES so some things might not be explained as well as I hoped...

October 6, 2016 at 12:37AM

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FabioACSantos
Director
95

Thank you so much for the information.
But, I think I am confused with LUT and ACES.

October 4, 2016 at 5:10AM

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Sameir Ali
Director of Photography
836

Frankly, I thought "Café Society" looked terrible on cinema screen. It was way oversaturated, and the fact that it was digitally shot was terribly obvious - especially considering that the film's narrative took place during the so-called Golden Era of Hollywood.

October 4, 2016 at 5:45AM

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