Should 3D Artists Think Like Cinematographers? + 13 FREE LUTs
When should you start thinking about color in your 3D and motion design projects? It’s time to think like a Director of Photography.
While listening to an Entagma discussion, where Manuel Casasola Merkle and Moritz Schwing rant about render engines, the duo spends a little bit of time talking about LUTs in the post-process.
This led me down a tangent of questions, which ultimately led me to wonder if 3D artists should operate more like cinematographers. A Director of Photography (DP) will often devise a color scheme before production even begins. They’ll talk with the director about the emotional connection they want the piece to convey, and then the DP, either on their own or with a DIT or colorist, will create a look.
The Cinematographer’s Workflow
When shooting digital, DPs will often use or create a look-up-table (LUT) to approximate the final look of the project. Most of the time, they capture footage in LOG and convert to a rec709 color space, using a LUT to give them a more final cinematic look to put in front of their clients/director.
During a shoot, the DP will have a reference monitor, in which they can toggle between the LOG footage being captured, to a rough preview of the footage with a LUT applied to the monitor. This allows them to see what the image will look like in post, so they can adjust lights and make informed decisions on set.
The 3D Color Workflow
When it comes to 3D artists, we often design in the sRGB color space. Think of sRGB as a very basic viewing container.
The standard workflow was render to a linear EXR file to hold onto all the color data, apply a 2.2 gamma, and then hope that your compositor can “sweeten” the look.
In today’s workflow, we don’t need to cross our fingers and hope to make it look cinematic in the comp. Not only are render engines far more capable, 3D artists themselves now have access to all the tools to create better-looking renders.
This led me to think that a more interesting approach to 3D projects would be to emulate the workflow of the DP or DIT on set.
3D artists should make more creative color decisions when adjusting materials and lights, rather than aiming for a flat image we can massage in the comp. If we are already working in a sRGB space, why not adjust the look or use a cinematic LUT in one of the many IPR windows? Nearly everyone supports this functionality.
Even Octane makes this easier with film response curves built in, which might be a reason some artists prefer its look.
Using LUTs in Cinema 4D
I’ve been experimenting with LUTs for some time and now, and I’ve found that applying them in my IPR, RV, or Live viewer can be incredibly helpful when designing the lighting or look of my work.
Something like a Kodak 2383 D65 LUT can subtly make your 3D renders feel more photographic. This LUT will roll saturation off a bit on your highlights and raise your shadows off of pure black, getting a richer more cinematic look. It’s also included with the 13 free LUTs that you can download below.
I have not jumped into OCIO (Open Color IO) yet, and I’m not sure I would ever need to dive that deep into color science. For now, I’m happy just experimenting and applying LUTs in the IPR, but I do dream of a day where we will have more access to color scopes and tools in these IPR windows.
13 Free LUTs
While we do have Gorilla Grade LUTs available for purchase, I wanted you to have the ability to test looks on your own. We teamed up with freelance professional colorist Jeremy Stuart to create these 13 free LUTs that you can use in any of your projects. Click the button below to have them sent to your inbox.
How to use LUTs in Arnold
Step One: Open the Arnold IPR window
Step Two: Turn on the Display Filter tab, then open the flyout menu
This color correction viewport will let you make adjustments on top of your render. Now you can use the color tools to make changes, but here we’re going to focus on LUTs.
Step Three: Check the Color lookup option, then navigate to your LUT files.
Step Four: You can now toggle through the various looks with the LUT drop-down menu. You can also adjust the intensity and color controls to your liking.
Arnold will allow you to render out a final image with a LUT applied.
How to use LUTs in Octane
Step One: Open the Octane settings, and click the CameraImager tab.
Step Two: Under the Order drop-down, select Response, Gamma, LUT.
Step Three: Click on the Custom LUT tab, upload your LUT to your project. (Repeat this step to switch between LUTs. It’s not as easy as using a dropdown menu.)
Step Four: Adjust LUT strength, Gamma and color settings to your liking.
How to use LUTs in Redshift
We’ve covered this one before in a previous tutorial. So feel free to watch that, or just follow the steps below.
Step One: In your Redshift RenderView, click the Settings wheel in the right corner.
Step Two: The Display Color Management settings default to sRGB with a Gamma at 1.00. Use the dropdown selection to change your Display Mode to LUT (.cube, .3dl). Change your Gamma settings from 1.00 to 2.20. This brings the Gamma up to sRGB before the LUT is applied.
Step Three: Change to LUT location to the folder that includes your .CUBE LUTs. Then change the LUT files to try different looks. (You can use the arrow keys to toggle through looks, which is nice.) You can also adjust the LUT strength to your liking.
LUTs from Greyscalegorilla
Hope you find this color approach helpful. If you enjoy using these free LUTs, be sure to look over at Gorilla Grade LUTs. The pack includes 100 LUTs compatible with these above mentioned third-party renderers, as well as Photoshop, Premiere Pro, After Effects, DaVinci Resolve, Nuke, Fusion, and more.
If you want to try the 13 free LUTs, here’s that signup link one more time.