Why work in ACES? The short answer is, why not?
And the idiot’s answer is beautifully written in “An Idiot’s Guide to ACES” by toadstorm .
Unlike the single-camera coverage from days of old, directors are pointing a variety of digital cameras onto a single scene, and audiences are watching those images on an even greater variety of displays.From the official ACES Central Primer Document. Please read it! Download it here if you’re a lazy bum.
*Segway: Found this article on color spaces super informative!
A ‘Studio’ Analogy
A pictorial analogy I can think of is, imagine you’re a world-class photographer, and you have a choice between working in a tiny studio or a big studio. Now, assuming either studio is free to use, which would you choose? Perhaps small, depending size of the work you need to do.. And then if you’re working on a larger project, you might opt for a bigger working space — Makes sense.
However, whilst it’s possible to keep changing your working environment depending on the deliverable required, it’s infinitely easier to just have one big space that can accommodate everything regardless of the output. Especially when it’s free to use!
Now, take that a step further, and lets say we make it a standard that all world-class photographers work in the SAME big studio, with the same lights, and same equipment. Everything. This means that assuming the same working environment, multiple artists can work separately on the same project with consistent and predictable results. A standardized, large working studio space allows for all its artists to concentrate on the work, and not the environment they are working in.
Bringing this analogy back
to why work in ACES
The photographer is the artist, and the studio of choice is our working color space. This color space could be Linear/sRGB, REC709, REC2020, DCI-P3, whatever you fancy. Just like the multitude of different types of studios.
Like a big-ass, awesome studio, ACES presents itself as a standardized working environment where if everyone agrees to work in, we can all have a good time working in it together. Not to mention it’s a luxuriously huge working space that is arguably miles better to work in compared to all the others. Read about the actual benefits here.
Here’s a visual representation of the working environment of REC709 vs ACES.
Ignoring whether you understand the graph, I’m assuming we all understand how to compare the size of triangles. So looking at the different sizes of each triangle, and thinking of them as our “studio sizes”, you’ll see ACES presents a working space a vastly bigger than REC709. The size of this space, coupled with the ease of compatibility across industry-leading software, makes ACES the ideal way to work on high quality digital content moving forward.
Now we just need to find our way to that studio (ACES), and also how to deliver our work to all the different types of consumable devices, like cinema, youtube, print etc. This, is where Input Device Transformations, and Output Device Transformations come in to play, and are your tickets in and out of ACES.
Tidbits: IRL to Digital chart
The purpose of this graph is to explain the data limitations of our measly 8-bit displays, compared to the vast bounty of information the real world is nested with.
The real world (IRL, In Real Life)
Taking a look at this little chart we’ve prepared, you’ll see that “the real world” on the left, there is no limit on how bright or colorful it can get. For the sake of this overview, we’ll draw a box around the real world scene and call that our ‘image’.
Next, cameras have limitations on what they can record based on current compute power and file recording size limitations. The goal for most decent camera manufacturers is to capture as much data as possible, into a container as small as possible — Bang for buck. This is encoded either into RAW data kind of like ‘film negatives’. Which can be decoded later on in post-production, or in-camera to either a consumer display space like REC709, or conformed into LOG, a clever way of cramming as much data as possible into a tiny container.
These methods of cramming information into tiny containers employ math which only math-a-magicians understand. For us muggles, all we need to know is that in order to use these RAW/LOG files properly in production, we need to apply the right spell (formula). A.K.A. conversion LUTs or Input Device Transformations.
The final part of the equation, as you can see, will always be there — The Output Display Transformation (ODT). This is necessary because monitor displays can’t shine bright as real lights and the sun! But we’re getting there with all those fancy HDR displays!
Applying the right conversions allow us to unpack the captured image into a large working color space like ACEScg. Where we have room to push and pull the image as though we are ‘back in the real world’ (mostly). And later deliver our final image into whatever output we want. All we need is the right spell — Output Device Transform.
Closing and Oddball Adobe
Hopefully this was a valuable insight the question of “why work in ACES”. And the answer albeit not as straight forwards as “why not”, is still also kind of true. The real answer is if you can, why not. It’s actually easier when you get it. Unfortunately, the biggest hurdle to working in this space would be software integration. Most professional 3D/VFX/Color software already ships with ACES-ready workflow. See our ACES workflow for VFX production (ACEScg) for an idea of roundtripping work through Resolve, NukeX and Maya.
Adobe programs on the other hand, is an oddball that still seems to be favor the limited standard of Linear/sRGB. We’ve tried running it through an ACES workspace, but there’s too much manual prodding around the program to make it work — It just doesn’t work. Feels like a small studio that built a bigger studio around it, but left some of the old partitions and doors around; Very clunky to use.
So perhaps in the future Adobe would fix this issue. But for now, it’s easier to think of the ACES workflow in two parts — Areas of production that need the working space, and areas that don’t need the working space. And this sounds like a great topic for our next post!