What Is Linear Workflow and How Can It Help Your Renders Look Better?

November 1, 2010

I wanted to start a conversation about Linear Workflow. It’s a topic that leaves a lot of people (including me) confused and asking a lot of questions. Why now? Well, with Cinema 4D version 12, linear workflow is turned on by default. And, with After Effects having linear workflow for a few years now, this is the perfect time to learn about LW and set up a true linear workflow for your renders. I have spent the last month doing a bit of research about working linearly and have tried to boil down where my mind is on the topic in the video above. I still have a lot to learn, but I figure we can start talking about it and learning from each other.

Why Bother?
You may be thinking, “Why should you go though all this hassle? My images looked fine before, why change now”? While linear workflow is a bit confusing at first, it will pay off BIG TIME in the long run. Your images will look more natural and your composites will be even easier. Besides, this is how computer graphics should have been in the first place. Computer graphics is relatively new and everything you know till now is a hack to make things work with antiquated technology. Linear workflow finally brings realistic light addition and falloff to your renders. The worst thing you can do is go back to your non-linear ways and pretend that linear just doesn’t exist. It’s here to help you. Hug and embrace linear workflow. It’s here to help, not to hurt.

Why Is This Crap So Confusing?
Learning about linear workflow gets confusing for a few reasons.

1. There are a lot of variables that go into a true linear workflow. Just flipping a button in your settings won’t do it. A true LW means that your images, video, textures, hdri images, renders, composites and effects must all be make linear and calculated linear at every step of the process. And since motion design and VFX is all about combining all of these different mediums, there is a lot of chance for error and confusion.

2. Computer monitors are lying to you. This means we have to apply a gamma curve to your final image to display it correctly on these screwed up monitors. The problem is, these gamma corrected images are then used in composites and not corrected back to linear before calculations are applied to them. When those images are RE-gamma corrected, the result is images that are too dark or too bright.

3. Before and after comparisons don’t do much to help explain what is happening behind the scenes. Sometimes scenes are darker with linear turned on, sometimes scenes get brighter. There just isn’t an easy visual way to explain it.

Useless Comparison Image

4. All your old tricks don’t work. With Linear workflow, things behave WAY differently. All of your old lighting, compositing and reflection tricks don’t work. Your old tricks are now broken because linear workflow calculates everything much differently. This is a big one for people and it’s a huge reason people have been shutting off linear workflow. Dont! Trust me, you don’t want to hold on to your old tricks. They were based on bad math. Linear workflow is here to make things easier, but it’s at the expense of your old tricks. [This is, by the way, why there are two rigs in the HDRI Light Kit Pro for many of the lights. One for working in linear and one for working non linear.]

How Can I Learn More?
There really isn’t a whole lot of information out there about Linear Workflow. I have found a few reliable resources that have helped me understand what linear is all about. Check out the links below to learn more about linear workflow.

FX Guide Podcast with Master Zap
A Beginners Explanation of Gamma Correction and Linear Workflow in 3D PDF
A Beginners Explanation of Gamma Correction and Linear Workflow in 3D Video
A Great Collection of Linear Workflow Knowledge and Links by Stu Maschwitz

What Is Your Current Workflow?
Let’s make this a conversation. Drop your workflow in the comments below. I would love to hear what you have learned about linear so far and how it has helped (or hurt) your renders. Do you use it? Do you like it? Let’s start talking and learning about this so we can stop being scared and start to use LW to our advantage.

Tutorial Focus:  ,
Software:  ,

  • wow…comprehensive blog post..Nice job

  • Thanks big hairy ‘rillah!!!

  • I prefer squiggly workflow! πŸ™‚

    Great post, I’ll read it properly when I sober up! πŸ™‚

  • Sweetness, looking forward to this. Stu from Prolost wites about linear workflow quite a bit:


    Haven’t delved into it too much, but I’m totally interested in learning along with everyone else!

  • This is amazing. Thanks Nick for this post.

  • it really depends on how you want to work stuff and what you need to do. For sure Rendering and passes should be done linear. Basically (at least if it does work like I think) turning on linear workflow in software insure that every computation and inputs and color picker,… are in linear mode.
    And you should then save to a format which is linear at the end (as exr for instance)in the case you want to do some compositing on top of it.
    Then to recomposite all that in AE you should setup your environment to linear as well. But then comes the problem of using the correct tool and having them.
    For instance many people composite fire with screen mode instead of add because they do think screen looks better. most of the time its because they are not working in linear space. Fire is light, light gets added simple as that. But if you switch to linear and still use screen mode for this kind of operation then the result will still look wrong (that was just an example).
    For color grading for instance, if you like Magic Bullets, then it doesn’t work well in linear space, the formula (kind of this http://www.francois-tarlier.com/blog/index.php/2009/11/liftgammagain-vs-asc-cdl/) they used works better in non-linear space. I did talk about it with Stu, and he told me that only vfx artist needs to be in linear, but it is not a big deal for color grading. Which makes sense, because you are grading for outputting to a final format. So it means you would have to render your comp again to sRGB space then reimport it to AE, set it to non-linear and do your grading. Or don’t use this kind of tools and go with more classic one as curves and levels (which works great too, but different)

    Here are some tips I took on different website : http://www.francois-tarlier.com/blog/index.php/2010/02/understanding-gamma-and-linear-workflow/

    very sensitive topics πŸ™‚

    • Thanks for even clarifying that up, Francois. As I have mentioned in the previous post, it has really been a problem especially with color grading once you start working on linear space.

    • Thank you very much for the additional information!

    • Nooo. The only reason “screen” looks better is because it was a mutant freak transfer mode with the intent of compensating for the fact that “add” in a non-linear workflow was wrong in the first place!
      Fire is “add”. (but also, fire isn’t just light. It is oxidation of materials resulting in ionized gases in a plasma state. Plasma has density, or “alpha” if you will, so you need to do a combination of “over” (or “normal”) and “add”. Mostly add.)#
      Stop using screen! Never use it again!
      Using LUTs you will never have resort to doing any work in other colour spaces again (unless when using shitty plugins depending on working in an sRGB colorspace)(And plugin developers reeeaally need to stop doing hacks in their code to assume that the artist is working in sRGB) Oh, and did I mention NEVER USE SCREEN AGAIN ?

    • FranΓ§ois, thank you so much. You answered exactly to the question I was facing since weeks and weeks.
      I used to render EXRs and comp them in after effects sRGB Linearized Color Space. I also used to color correct directly in the same AE project. I have never been able to make to work properly some color grading effects or tools (such as LUTs). Always gamma errors, it was total garbage mess.
      Finally with your answer I understood I had to seperate the 2 things. First doing my comp in a sRGB Linearized working space, then render my project in sRGB. Second re-import my sRGB file and color grade it without linearize my project.
      I hope Im right this time. Thanks a lot !

  • Thank you so much for enlightening me on what the heck was actually linear in the workflow!

    My adventures in linear 3d land had me face the dreaded BANDING ARTIFACT. Here is how it went:

    Already in c4d, the background has some ugly banding in it, at least on my display, when rendered in 32 bits. There is less banding in 16 bits, and almost none in 8bits.

    Imported in After effects as a 32 bits PSD, in a linear workflow project it’s even worse and slightly darker.

    (I didn’t find the AE’s display curve setting anywhere, only project settings.)

    To get rid of it, a .3% noise is doing wonders with the darker part, but shows signs of dithering in the light.

    There is a good ending though. Exporting to quicktime reveals a very nice image (this is without the noise) with almost banding to speak of.

    That is, on my display. Which is very badly calibrated itself, at least hue-wise, since I’m slightly color blind.

    • try to render using the DPX file format 8 bits, or any other file format in 16 bits or 32 bits float, like HDR, psd, TIFF 16.
      and open them in after effect in a 16bit or 32bit project.
      it should remove the ugly banding.

  • Wow, nick, much respect to you for being able to make a 17 year old, non-english dude start to understand something as complicated as linear workflow… ty

  • thats a good starting point to this really confusing topic.
    i found a video from steve wright on the foundrys website, talking about the color management in nuke. in the first video he also explanes what the linear workspace is. http://www.thefoundry.co.uk/articles/2009/12/15/61/nuke-basic-workflows-colour-management/

  • Thanks again Nick ! Very useful πŸ™‚

  • Thank you so much! The Cake is a lie!

  • Hi nick, i follow you in this blog and in makecoolshit.com since the begining and i take your advices in count when im working, and i have a question for you , why you dont use vray?

    thanks for all the help and work that you put on your websites and tutorials πŸ˜‰

  • Great stuff Nick. I’ve been struggling with understanding this for a long time now, and you’re illustrations really helped. I know a lot of folks still don’t know what this is all about, so it’s good to get this info out there. Don’t fight the future!

  • great tut nick, its great being able to watch these on my iphone now with the vimeo update.

  • Makes a whole lot of sense with compositing, color correcting in general, and rendering outputs. I don’t have to deal with this very much, but I also don’t work on top-tier renderings or compositing. I wonder how far off we are on monitors/power outputs not giving that “powerlaw function”?

  • Hey, so how should I pull the gamma out from JPGs/TIFF or any gamma corrected source file? In photoshop? how?

    • With linear workflow turned on, Cinema does it for you. In Photoshop, apply the opposite gamma correction to remove the gamma.

    • So if C4d handles all the conversion of images during import, it seems pretty simple to work in linear. Just turn it on and you’re set right? I seem to be missing what the big fuss is.

      • A couple things trip people up. When working in linear, all of your old lighting and reflections techniques from before will behave differently. Many people get frustrated with this and turn things back to non linear. If it’s not bugging you, then your all good. Another “big fuss” is in the compositing stage. Rendering out as linear and compositing in linear means learning a whole new way to work and composite.

  • where do you add the gamma curve back in?

  • Very interesting Nick !

  • nice…but using max with vray saves you the hassle of going through the process you just discussed. Vray works linearly by default and can be shut off. But indeed it does all the calculations discussed herein…

    try vray out sometime – its not regarded as the best rendering engine for nothing…..

  • Just a quickie bit of extra info, but if you’re doing post with your linear renders in AE, remember to activate ‘linearise colour space’ in the AE comp settings. Also it helps to avoid banding if you render in 16 or 32-bit.

  • Hi there Nick!

    I really have some questions that are bothering me right now.

    1. In witch format should I save my work to use linear workflow?
    2. Are RAW images from my camera linear? I don’t think so – am I wrong?
    3. Is linear workflow depending only on 32bit colorspace that my monitor isn’t able display?

  • Yeah I think this was a good video, I understand where you where going with this…

    Hey Nick I was wondering,
    Can you do an in depth tutorial of
    “Depth of Field” – Camera Tool

    Like applying them to some text or anything…
    The Inception Totem didn’t realy quite help me allot in the section of Depth of Field

  • So have you set up the linear workflow inside after effects too now? As in this article

  • Thanks great discussion.

    here is my 2 cents…

    Cineon, DPX, EXR, R3D are all different kind of HDR images… which contain color info. way more/better then our eyes or monitor can handle. So its like huge amount of color info. wrapped into a small file, which without processing look ugly, but when you unwrapped this information it come out with its full glory. You don’t want to loose out any info which left behind your monitor or eyes capabilities, or do you? Its not just about correcting light or correctly display things on your monitor… its about displaying color quality and taking full advantages of all the available info in your photos or videos… why loose any thing. Remember those shiny, vibrant colors you have seen in those Hollywood biggies … well they never work without linear work-flow, because they need to represent the most vibrant Color possible on the big 70mm screen. Even if you just work for T.V do you think you can make most vibrant color Blueray or DVD without Linear work-flow… impossible!

  • Great tut! I was wondering if I can achieve this in Cinema r11.5? and how?

  • Even though DeGamma is mostly unnecessary in R12, the first section of the manual is worth reading:


    and download the pdf

  • Intresting,
    Yesterday I was talking with one of my teachers regarding redone camara’s and why they are so awesome.
    Now seeing this I understand it a bit better. When I create stuff in cinema or record I try to do it as linear “boring image color wise” as possible. Its not easy to pull it off tho since I recently started to understand the whole idea about linear workflow.
    I just need more time and knowledge about how to pull this stuff off.

    Intresting post Nick πŸ™‚

  • should we apply a filter to the material texture? a gamma correction setted to 1/gamma target to convert jpg texture to linear?
    Does C4D do it by default when LWF is setted to ON and input on sRGB? …I see that materials are regenerated when you check LWF ON…
    Thank you

  • Thanks for bringing this up. Since I’ve had a copy of the latest version of Blender (2.5 in this case), it came in (or later during development) with Linear Workflow aka “Color Management” in Blender. However, at first and up until now I’ve really been very anxious on using it on my projects, since it gave me the impression of “too dark” and “too bright” and furthermore, when working with Blender’s node editor, the color balance node just doesn’t seem to behave right. I’ve been very stubborn on not using it, and it turns out that with my previous renders, it either became too dark or too bright, and so I resulted to cheating it by adding a gamma node at the end. However, with things cleared up now (thanks to you), I guess I’ll just have to get comfortable with it and adjust my 3d workflow linearly because there’s really no point in sticking on the old method if I know linear workflow will solve most (if not all) of my color and monitor issues.

    Thanks again. πŸ™‚


  • Is there a preset in PS or AE for adding the correct amount of Gamma back into a linear file to make sure you have added the right amount Nick?

    Right now you are telling us to add the gamma curve at the end but is there a specific amount to add to any linear render or does it vary? If I understood your video properly then it should just be one set value of gamma to add in post right?

    • You have to add the correct amount of gamma depending on your monitor and operation system. Most are 2.2 now a days. Before snow leopard, it was 1.8 for Macs.

      • Hi, Gorilla!

        You should make a follow-up how to convert one’s old Cinema 4D projects (like R11.5) to the Linear Workflow (e.g. sRGB). You said that anybody should have it on by default and use it from the beginning of a project, though we might want to use older scenes in newer C4D versions. Main issue is tweaking everything until it looks reasonable again.

        thanks a lot!

  • Hi Nick,
    thanks for this discussion.

    I am very interested to see the benefits of a linear workflow with AE and C4D. We dont have C4D 12 – so I cant test it by myself. I hope there is more coming from GSC concerning linear Workflow.

  • Hi Nick,
    Thanks so much for all of the tutorials. I was wondering if you could ever do a tutorial on blowing up objects instead of just shattering them with another object.

  • This whole story raised one question:

    Does Cinema know your .jpeg is linear or not, lets say, hypothetically, in two years, where 25% of all images are linear, can Cinema “see” the difference between linear and not-linear?

    • I’m still learning, but I’m pretty sure the answer is, Kinda. Cinema should pick up on most images and gamma correct them. There are a few issues, though. Anyone else have a clearer answer?

    • It depends on your settings but basically yes, Cinema knows your jpeg is not linear. In project settings you can not only enable/disable linear workflow but also define ‘input colour profile’. This tells Cinema what to do with images and colour pickers.

      When set to sRGB: “The Application uses Linear Space for Calculations. All Color Fields are assumed to be in sRGB Space. 8- and 16-Bit Images will use embedded profiles or sRGB if not available. This is the Default Setting.”

      When set to Linear: “The Application uses Linear Space for Calculations. All Color Fields are assumed to be in Linear Space. 8- and 16-Bit Images will use embedded profiles or Linear Space if not available.”

      When set to Disabled: “The Application uses Linear Space for Calculations. All Color Fields and 8/16 Bit Images are assumed to be in Linear Space. Embedded Color Profiles will not be evaluated.”

      Is my understanding that the default setting, sRGB, displays colour pickers in sRGB space, uses embedded image profiles where it can and uses sRGB when no profile is present (which it probably a good guess).
      When importing an image as a texture you can define its colour profile in the material editor so you can make sure its behaving correctly.

      Its interesting to open the material editor and, with the colour pallet showing, try switching between the different ‘input colour profile’ settings in the project settings tab. Linear really washes out the picker, its gives a sense of what non linear is doing. I’m not sure what this option is for, most (all?) monitors are non linear so working with linear colour pickers would mean going by the numbers rather than it looking right on your screen.

      I spent some time looking at LWF a while ago, its one of those subjects that becomes more confusing the more you read about it! A few things I find useful to remember are that, regardless of your input images or output format Cinema will produce nicer results with LWF because it has such a beneficial effect on lighting. Keep in mind that if it looks right it is right, LWF may help you get a nicer result but its a means to an end, and that end may well be displayed on a non linear device.

      PS, how does After Effects display linear output from Cinema? Does it look right on screen or do you have to render it / apply a colour profile?

    • Linear is saved through different formats like exr, so c4d will change jpg’s gamma to linear even if you did put the gamma to whatever you want*.

      So as long as the format is for linear c4d wont mess with its gamma.

      that was just my logical thought.

      but is exr only for linear and nothing more?
      cause if it’s just one more format like .psd then i have no idea how c4d would know it.

      *what if you changed the gamma in purpose?

      BTW: What’s the compression of the exr? is it like targa?

  • Nick .. thanks a lot ..
    thanks to everyone else .. you guys make newbies like me , understand much better this issues !! .. regards from MX .

  • I think I understand. It is linear workflow makes the shadows bluer

  • Hey guys. Hey Gorilla. Does anyone know how to do what’s in this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9b-IKfnYC8&feature=related in C4D? I mean only the painting part? Thnx in advance.

    • looks like a particle flow system with the technic that it creates a map to where there is collision.

      sounds complicated, i never got into flow like the plugin realflow.

      that way when a “liquid” it could be whatever you want. i.e. when water touches an object it creates map so that you can color correct it to look wet. or you can just paint it a solid color.

    • Or just mabye reel paint in slowmotion shot on green screen…

  • In a previous tutioral you gave a tip to have light go further by adujusting the gamma of your render settings.
    Was setting the gamma to 2.2 to make light go further a work around of a non-linear workflow to compensate for the power curve of the monitors? Should people still set the gamma to 2.2 in their renders if they are using a linear workflow?

  • You asked how linear workflow changed my life. You know what – I have a girlfriend now.

  • So the way i understand this from you Nick is that with linear workflow i wont have the problem of light not traveling enough.. And if you increase the inensity you will get too many bright spots and then you will have to use the colormapping filter and play with gamma..

    And linear workflow will prevent this.. If yes i want R12. πŸ˜€

  • My mind is filled with amazing knowledge!! I need to unscramble all of it and make use of it! Thanks Nick!

  • Hello Nick,

    I can’t thank you enough to get this discussion rolling. There are many great links posted here, which I’ll have to read now ^^

    So please do more stuff about linear workflow! I’ve understood what to do in Cinema 4D, but I really would like to know how to work linear in After Effects. I’ll read the article on prolost.com for now, but it would be great if you could demonstrate the whole workflow step by step! Especially talking about light with exponential falloff and the usual faults like using screen instead of add (as mentioned above).

    Here are some links I’ve found while researching:


    I’ve also recorded a short german workshop about linear workflow within my making of “pheres” sessions:

    The other parts sessions will be published as soon as the film is premiered.
    So all the german speaking people, stay tuned ;D

  • I’ve discovered linear workflow before it was implemented in R12 and I was very happy about it! The main reason was that for the very first time all of my materials looked the same both in the preview window and after being rendered out. So for example when I wanted more red in the mix the result was really that – a rendered material with more red color in it.

    As you said, Nick, LWF in a way affects the appearance of brightness so all of my older scene files with “tweaked” materials now looked completely different. But that’s an easy fix. I tweaked the materials back to “normal”. πŸ™‚

    The things that bug me the most are:

    1. Which part of linear workflow is done 100% automatically and which one has to be done manually?

    2. Does every JPG or TIFF has the same Gamma applied to it? Should we even worry about that?

    3. 1.0/Gamma – (degamma), how and where is it used?

    4. Why, oh why did They ever apply a Gamma to every single image and video depending on the targeted display device? Why, since it is purely the problem of physical and electronical nature of the device? Wouldn’t it have been simpler for the device to apply the Gamma depending on its own Powerlaw function? I mean, just in my office an image that looks great on my screen looks too dark or burned out on another! It’s frustrating!

    It seems to me that even artists should nowadays know mathematics and physics… πŸ™‚

  • interesting theme Nick.
    how could linear workflow wasnt there earlier in cinema 4d?

    I want to thank you very much.
    This whole story took me to a higher level, I feel like fool that was working blind and I was just working on graphics without taking in that monitors/TVs and other displays differ.

  • Would be good to know more about linear workflow settings in after effects. Like someone mentioned earlier, magic bullet works better in gamma corrected space. I’m wondering what other effects might not work so well in linear. Today I tried using a 32 bit linear workflow to try it out. Used autolevels on a srgb image and it gave me some weird results – super yellows in the shadows. This wasn’t there when working with a non linearised workflow.

  • Great Nick. As I understand, Cinema worked and always used Linear Workflow (and gave us mathematically true results but we saw wrong images on the monitors) until this day and Maxon only added a button to its interface to compensate the gamma correction which was impossible in previous versions and this gamma applies to the all cameras in one click in project settings.

  • cool post here Sir Gorilla,
    some additionnal knowledge basis about file format.
    to avoid bending, you can use DPX file format (wich is a cineon variant) instead of tiff or else. because it is coded in 10bit instead of 8 . What is the 10-bit advantage?
    Working in 10 bits per pixel color space provides 1024 levels of color as opposed to 256 levels of color in 8 bits per pixel color space.
    and it is also less “expensive” in rendering time than a full 16bit render format.
    10 bit YUV and 10 bit RGB are industry standard. This is documented and recognized by the Society Of Motion Picture Television Engineers:

    more about cineon : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cineon

    • 10 bit/channel is nice as an output format, but it is much better to have Cinema render out to OpenEXR format which is 16 bit/channel floating point (or 32 if you want).
      It has a higher dynamic range and preserves the superbright values. So that’s basically HDRI. It also generates small files for the amount of data it carries, standard it uses a wavelet lossy compression which is very good.

      Also, be sure to work in 32bit mode in After Effects!

    • @tony : i agree if you have a big render farm behind you, so is TIFF 16 and TIFF 32 and loads of other file formats (PSD, etc…), but don’t forget the render time. 16 and 32 bit float are very long to render specially if you have only one machine for rendering. i believe DPX can be a good file format to aviod color bending specially if you use the linear workflow and still want to render in “8 bits”.
      PS : when using DPX out from cinema, dont forget to put your after project in 16 or 32 for taking the full experience of your 10bits footages

    • Julien, Cinema 4D renders in 32bit float no matter what you use for output format, so saving out to OpenEXR doesn’t increase render time in any way!

      So it’s free, and you gain image quality and have smaller files. DPX is a great delivery format, but for compositing pipelines OpenEXR is better, IMO.

    • I like to emphasize that OpenEXR does not clip highlights, HDR is a very powerful tool when you get used to it.

    • i tested it, you right tony.
      EXR is a very good file format. smaller file, 32bits. thanks for enlighting me. just a little difference in time rendering wich can be a small prob if you have load of pic to render.

      results of my test :
      i opened the WindowLightStudio.c4D project from the GSG HDRI light kit pro in cinema4D 11.5. add some basic ambient occlusion and all the rest is from the GSG preset. used an HDTV 1080 29,97 preset for the image size. all saved in local disk, not in distant storage.

      TIFF 8bit : file 6,3Mo took 41s to render and save.
      OpenEXR 32bit : file 2,6Mo took 44s to render and save.
      DPX 8bit : file 6,02Mo took 40s to render and save.
      DPX 8bit planar : file 6,2Mo took 41s to render and save.
      DPX 16bit : file 12Mo took 41s to render and save.
      HDR 32bit : file 3,5Mo took 43s to render and save.

      these 3s of difference between TIFF and EXR applied to a thousand pics rendered, gives a 50 min difference in favor of TIFF or DPX. but…

      after that i imported these pics in after effect CS4.
      !!!!!!!!!!!! holly mama!!!!!!!
      the DPX from cinema4D is not recognized at all, DPX 8bit / DPX 8bit planar / DPX 16bit, none of them are supported. it says an error telling that AE only support DPX 10bit but cinema 4D seems to render a reel 8bit DPX…

      Notice that working in a 16 or 32 environment in AE does change the render time in AE a lot.

      GO EXR !! πŸ˜‰

    • That’s cool Julien!

  • I always thought that linear workflow was only for VFX, but I think nowadays everything is mixed and we all need to have generalist knowledge.
    On the other hand, the tuts about LW scares me a little bit.

  • Hi Nick, I have one question and I’ll very appreciate if you answer me.
    Should we decrease the gamma value for 8 bit textures for example plugged in color channel, when linear workflow is on? Because sRGB profile already has information about gamma correction.

    • Shouldn’t be necessary. The color profile setting, which is set to sRGB standard, tells Cinema to assume that image based textures have a sRGB gamma curve and will have to be corrected automatically.

  • If you’re applying the gamma at the end for the final viewing, than how do you know how it looks when you’re working on it?

  • Hey, I just been running some test on current AE projects and I just gotta say: Damn, I still need to learn stuff!! The most notorious change is on all the vignettes, they blend more softly.

    Keep it coming, Nick!

  • This is probably pretty obvious(!) but I was having trouble getting my hdri images to work correctly in v12/LWF. Bottom line, everything needs to be set to linear.

    And there are lots of places where the linear settings hide, even in the hdri texture area. I’ll take Nick’s word that this is “better” but I’m not seeing a discernible positive difference?

  • but hey, i’d read in books that watever is made in non-mac monitor looks darker in Mac’s monitor, and vice-versa..

  • Heres my rendition of your linear work flow πŸ™‚

  • Hi all,

    That’s a great topic that you have here !

    One thing though, beside that the fact that “workflow” is not really the best term to use in that context, you don’t choose to turn on or off “linear workflow”. Most of the rendering operations that happens inside a 3d or 2d rendering package are expecting linear inputs.

    It just how it works. The purpose of a 3d rendering engine is to “solve” the rendering equation, which is at the end of the day is a sum. There is not question about that, the inputs has to be linear, or you will not get a correct result. You might be able to get result that suits you in terms of look but at the expense of unnecessary efforts and time.

    Same thing with all the convolution kernels used for any type of filtering. The way they work require a linear input.
    If you need to be convinced of that, usually filtering is easier to understand. Here is a little experiment : download a star field picture form the internet open that in your favorite compositing package and apply a blur filter on it (make sure that the there is no color transformation on your inputs, unlike Nuke for example in default mode). The stars are disappearing. It is not how is supposed to be. Do the same thing but with a gamma correction operation before and after the blur. Stars are now just blurred, like it should.

    All those operations are arithmetics. It has rules and requirements. If you don’t follow them then it will leads you to unpredictable results.

    Make sure that all your inputs are linear will not change the way you work, it will just become suddenly easier and faster and you will most likely increase the quality of your pictures.

    Don’t put too much confidence into your software. People at Autodesk, Adobe or Foundry are nice and wants to help but sometimes they just get on your way. It is better to really know how something is supposed to work. For example, it is not really valid to think that a texture has been painted with an embedded sRGB gamma curve and that you can apply a simple 2.2 gamma correction value.

    Actually the standard color space for HD cinema is REC-709 and the gamma function is slightly different. Depending of the way your color management chain is built, you might have to apply the corresponding REC-709 gamma correction function instead of the sRGB. You are always better off knowing exactly what your software is really doing, and how to change the default behavior.

    One more thing, don’t focus too much on the DPX format. It is still used in many places but only as a output from negative scanners. The idea behind DPX was to have a format that will not be too different in term of file size than a 8bits format and still will be able to represent most of the gamut provided by a film negative. It really has a lot to do with live-shooting. Encode the pictures in a 10Bits log format is more a compression scheme than a color management issue.

    Since almost 15 years now, a lot of VFX companies are using in-house or open source image format as their internal image format. Most of them are actually thought to be linear and store floating values. The best example is OpenEXR. It it built around the idea of linear colors stored in 16bits int or 16 32 bits float values. There is several compression schemes in OpenEXR, more efficient that just store the values in log. Also the storage prices are so low now that people are not so much into the compression war anymore πŸ˜‰ It is not rare to see 32bits float pictures where 16bits float might have been enough, but less practical from an operational point of view.

    There is a lot of really good books on rendering and compositing that are explaining how it works under the hood. This one is particularly good for compositing and it summarize pretty well the incredible story of image file formats : http://www.amazon.com/Art-Science-Digital-Compositing-Second/dp/0123706386/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1288890786&sr=8-3

    If you have to buy one, buy this one !



    • Great post!

      This stuff is hard to understand because so many applications try to be helpful by doing things automatically, but by doing so they take away our control and understanding. Rage against the machines!

  • Where do I turn on linear workflow in C4D 11.5???

  • In compositing software,just switch to Nuke.Will do just with Linear!!!

  • In compositing software,just switch to Nuke.Will do just fine with Linear!!!

  • Nice video.

    You are the first on who can describe me what the Linear Workflow is and whats its used for.
    Thanks man Will waitung for your next video. πŸ™‚

  • Hi Nick,
    Can you do for me a tutorial about the camera technique ( camera manipulation )it’s so hard to set a camera in the scene, ( I mean a complicated manipulating like 180 degree rotating then reverse with 90 degree… like clawn movement ) this is the most difficult part in the scene, and if you can guid me to some sources if it possible,
    thanks in advanced ….

  • Great tutorial. I’ve looked into it a bit myself but I have come across one problem. So…HDRIs are in linear space. But after importing them into the lumination channel the value for “HDR-Gamma” is 2.2. When reapplying a 2.2 gamma in Photoshop the HDRI is too bright. Do I have to de-gamma of my HDRIs in Cinema 4D too?

  • This is amazing……….

  • Hi Nick,
    I want to say that this is a very nice explenation of the LWF method!
    I found this one to, also a very simple but good one: http://www.pixsim.co.uk/downloads/The_Beginners_Explanation_of_Gamma_Correction_and_Linear_Workflow.pdf

  • Man… You’re really good! πŸ˜€ I love your tutorials πŸ˜‰

  • Hopefully someone can help me make sense of this-

    If something is created in a linear workflow, say in C4D, we’ve tweaked and adjusted based on what we see in the program, and then we export that in a linear way, it won’t look correct, or how it did in C4D. This is because it needs gamma applied to show it accurately, how it looked in C4D? How come it displays correctly in our program if at the core of this whole gamma thing, our monitors are to blame? After all, I am still viewing both formats on the same monitor… Is C4D (or any linear compatible program) adjusting “under the hood” (like adding 2.2 gamma) to show us the proper image while we work?

    Hope that made sense. Still wrapping my head around this.

  • you are the light
    Thank’s a lot

  • I was blind but now I see…Great tutorial!
    Finisched my first big archviz job using LWF a couple of weeks ago, I saved hours in tweaking and fiddling with lights, because now it’s nearly impossible to have blown-out areas!
    But the one thing I struggled with was the ‘details enhancement’ option to add those tiny shadow details in cracks and gaps: It became nearly invisible and I found no way to enhance the effect like when using no LWF. Is there a workaround for this, without having to go through the hassle of multipassing a seperate ambient occlusion layer?
    Secondly, I only make still images, that are thrown into Photoshop just to make some minor level & color balance tweaks. Is there any reason why I should start rendering in 16 or 32 bit? I’m still confused in that area…

  • (Using 11.5)I’ve started using linear workflow recently mainly for interior scenes. I use the color correction effect but I also remember being told from a tutorial to also manually change each material I’m using adding a ‘filter’ and adjusting gamma to 0.45

  • Thanks a lot for this video πŸ™‚

    I’m a young graphic designer, so at the beginning i’m from the print size of the force ( yep, i’m Dark Vader, but spelled in Helvetica Neue Bold ).

    The color problem for us it’s much bigger, because after the problem from the screen, we have to solve once again that problem with the paper. That’s make a very large range of possibilities to make your works looks like the biggest piece of shit ever πŸ™‚

    But i’ve began to learn C4D with the 11.5, but i really begin to work with it since the 12 ( yep, i’m young in this business ), so the linear workflow is a ” default setting ” for me. And AE is turned on 32 bits and linear permanently, so not a problem πŸ™‚

    But as i know the problem, i can tell you that your example with the little sketch is quite good and helps a lot to understand that problem.

    Still following your posts πŸ™‚

  • I finally had the “Ah ha!” moment when you describe how the mixing of 50% greys becomes inaccurate with the gamma curves in place. Thanks so much Nick.

  • Hi, Nick!

    It’s almost a year that I’m following this blog and I have to say: Wooow! Amazing!
    The way you squeeze cinema4d is fantastic!

    I use c4d for ArcitectureVizualization and since I had the R12 version I used to work with LWF on.

    Setting a normal scene I put:
    -Sky Object;
    -eventually some Lights;
    -ToneMapping (esponential 1,2 1);
    -ColourCorrection with a 2,2 Gamma (AND HERE COMES THE ISSUE!)
    -LWF with sRGB.

    So what happens it’s that all of my textures seem washed out!

    And this is my opinion about:
    despite LWF gets c4d scene into a linear space I do apply 2,2 gamma because my monitor (Ws 7 and Vista 64 bit) has a 2,2 gamma and by default GI gamma is 1.

    What do I have to do to work in linearspace and to have a right monitor result?

    Thank you so much.


  • Why do my LWF images look washed out? I am using R12 and some area lights its set to 32 bit sRGB Tiff PSD. should i be using DPX?

    • the only texture i am using is the reflection which is an hdri linear color space 32bit rest is just color and reflections

  • WOW!, I am relatively new to C4D, and also to your blog, and just this morning I was following one of your tutorials, and you were using R12, while I’m still on R11.5, and I noticed that your render was way better looking and more “brighter” than mine, and with out knowing why or anything about linear workflow, I just hacked it and applied more light to get the render better looking. anyway thanks for the cool discussion, sorry for the late comment I suppose this discussion has been ended way back

  • LW is so great it gives better fallout for the dark and white, no burned out objects near light sources and most importantly more natural and no need for really high lights intensity values

  • If the linear workflow is turned off, then take cinema4D the gamma correction of 2.2 out? Or am i wrong?
    Sorry for my bad english.

  • Good blog. I got a lot of great info. I’ve been watching this technology for awhile. It’s fascinating how it keeps varying, yet some of the core factors remain the same. Have you seen much change since Google made their most recent acquisition in the domain?

  • I have been exploring for a bit for any high-quality articles or weblog posts on this sort of house . Exploring in Yahoo I eventually stumbled upon this web site. Studying this info So i’m happy to express that I’ve an incredibly excellent uncanny feeling I discovered exactly what I needed. I such a lot surely will make certain to don?t omit this site and provides it a look on a continuing basis.

  • Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to mention that I’ve really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing on your feed and I am hoping you write again soon!

  • Great site Nick! Long time viewer, first time posting. So Im about to tear my hair out over this one…
    I’ve followed along in your “How to setup and Use Sub-Surface scattering” tutorial and I loved it. So just today I was trying to post an image from a render using that technique to my friends and family online.

    Much to my dismay the render (no matter how many settings I changed) would come out improperly. The Picture Viewer inside Cinema looks great! However, all of my renders (jpg, tiff, etc.) appear washed out in OSX Snow Leopard. Yes I know this is a color profile issue.

    Opening any of my renders in Finder, Preview, Photoshop all appear washed out. I’ve done lots of research and here’s what I’ve determined so far: most software as well as browsers assume a color profile of sRGB. Thats fine. However, something within my workflow needs to change – whether its within Cinema4D, or maybe something in the render settings I’ve missed.

    I’ve posted a screen capture with what I want my rendered jpg to look like inside The Picture VIewer and what actually renders. I’ve also intentionally left Render Settings and Project Settings open so you can see whats going on. Please let me know how I can make my renders appear exactly like whats inside Cinema. Thanks in advance Nick


  • What gamma setting are people using in OSX Lion? 1.8 or 2.2?

  • Ok, it’s all clear as mud right now. JK. Let me get this straight. 1) C4d linear and export, 2) import into AE, change color settings to sRGB IEC61966 and check “linearize working space” 3) Render out from AE, and then do we? 4) reimport that file and color correct it at that point?

    That was where I got lost.

  • I have a question I have been unable to find an answer for… The Linear workflow is working between C4D and After Effects and the 3D renders are looking good and color consistent… My problem is I have some RGB colors from the CMYK values of the print campaign I am matching. When I go to the linearized 16 bit workspace, those values blow out and are way brighter than they were before. The color picker changes in the 16bit space so I have the “,” color values then. Other than just eyeball picking new colors which seem close to the original RGB values, I have not found a way to get the colors back to where they need to be to resemble the original RGB values. Any advice?

  • Long time editor-Medium time Mographer-C4D Newbie has comment and question.

    Excellent explanation of the concept to someone initially baffled by it.

    Question- If client provides video that is not linear (what ever codec/format that might be) how to you make them so and is a lot of time lost in this process?

  • Who was that idiot that decided to do 2.2 gamma in the first place?
    I don’t get it. If 99% of monitors and TVs in the world are 2.2 gamma, why am I suppose to work in 1.0 gamma, when it will look wrong all of those 99% of the monitors?
    It confuses me – are the textures I have on my computer are all 2.2 or 1.0??
    Then why my renders should look so bright if in fact that’s not how i want them to look at end result?
    Let’s say okay- I make my render look awesome in 1.0, but when I save it to 2.2 – it’s just dark, and wrong. And then I have to also remember, my monitor is also 2.2, like majority…. Which one suppose to look right?? The bright image or the dark one ?
    I wish there is some straight forward explanation how am I suppose to treat my monitor as, what gamma are my textures treated as, what gamma are my renders in 3Dsmax should be, what gamma should my passes be saved as, what gamma the comp should work as, and what gamma should I see my FINAL renders as.

    So frustrating….

  • Been thinking about this for a few days.

    As an editor for 30 years I have trusted my engineering monitor & scopes to judge color. and levels. Whether its color correction of video or color creation in mograph.

    How can I make color judgements using the linear workflow if I cant trust what I see on the monitor? That makes no sense to me. Like trying to judge things in the edit bay with sunglasses on πŸ˜€

    My workflow is to cut in PrP. Dynamic link to AE. Soon link to C4D. Then export to intermediary and import back into PrP.

    Nick, what would your advice be given this workflow? I would really appreciate your input.

  • hi nick! hope you are fine. Nick i,m really struggling with after effects. i hope i’v got the gamma issue or not. actually the problem i’m facing is about blurriness. i have a work to do with thousands of cloners of box with step effectors comes together and make a thick ring or tube. the material is reflective black. my cloner buffer looks pretty sharp and cool in picture viewer in C4D. i rendered all the passes with 16×16 max anti aliasing. but wen i just open the linear workflow .aec file in after effects each and every passes and buffers look little low quality blurry. the awesome reflections in the depth of cloner ring becomes totally ugly πŸ™ πŸ™ i use NVIDIA GeForce GTX560 2GB DDR5. any help pleeeeeeease.

  • technically it’s not really correct to say “it makes lights behave more realistic” although the net-result are indeed better looking renders. what “linear workflow” does is simply treating colors and greyscales the proper “linear” way, since almost every 3D package renders “linear” internally anyway. simply put: it “de-gammas” everything that has a gamma on it and leads to a better “spread” of colors and intensities.

  • My head just exploded.

  • When working with external render engine, as the case of V-Ray. Within this engine configurations also exist Gamma settings and linear workflow within the Parameter Color Mapping. My question is: When do I have activated these settings from V-Ray, I switch the project settings in Cinema 4D, or leave them as they come activated by default?.

    Excuse my English. No language management.

  • I used to dable with the linear workflow a while back, but found the standard C4D Color Mapping render effect seems to give me good renders. My motion graphics work is a tad photorealish at times, but a stylized sell is okay for my clients. I have been simply using the color mapping setting in C4D and that seems to dial the harshness way back. Any thoughts of that workflow as it stands in the versions of C4D R15 and beyond? Is Linear Workflow still a better way to work?

  • You forgot to say what it is.

    You need a sentence that begins with “Linear Workflow is….” and then describe what it is.

    The heading on this page reads “what is linear workflow…” but we never find out. We just get a bunch of words that say other stuff.

    • He explains it as best as he can in the video. didnt you watch it? he says its a workflow that corrects for how distorted information from outside the model is corrected (or rather “over-corrected”) so that it looks as it should when it is finally rendered. a linear workflow will ultimately give you more realistic rendering results

  • Hey I think this really helped things make sense for me, especially because I didn’t realize how it applied to AE either.


    In case this link is lost in an earlier comment I apologize. This thread has gotten quick deep on what appears to be a hot, and fascinating, topic.

  • Hi there –

    Has anyone run into problems with your alpha channels and multipass rendering when you work in Linear? I’ve noticed that the some of the special passes like diffusion or ambient occlusion flood the alpha channel now that I’ve switched to Linear in AE (16bit).

  • Hello nik! the greatest internet gorilla ever!
    I first want to thank you soo much for your amazing free tutorials, so clear, simple, quick and right to the point! Fucking profetional style tutorials!

    Holly molly, this article is made in 2010, a whole 7 years ago.. But it s still an active discussion.. Knowledge is limitless!

    So I have almost read all the comments
    And i have a quite clear vision about the LWF concept but still I have a simple question:

    -when you finish ur job in AE using LWF (by change the setting and color space and stuff before starting) , so if you export your final video, so this nice result will be on linear right?
    But after all we will deliver it to other clients and different devices and screens, so should we apply a correction gamma curve again ? Is this “regamma correction” necessary? How do we apply it if it is? Before exporting? Or does AE apply it automatically? I mean the practical part of LWF is still a bit unclear..

    Thank you for reading, waiting for replay!

  • Thanks a lot Nick πŸ™‚

    Does it mattter, and if yes how far, how the monitor setup is?

    In my case IΒ΄m using an Eizo CX which has follow Modes:
    – Custom
    – Paper (which doesnΒ΄t matter in this case)
    – Adobe RGB
    – sRGB

    The most Renderings are for Display showup, followed by Prints πŸ™‚

    I would really appreciate some advises on this πŸ™‚

    Keep on the good Job Nick πŸ™‚
    Kind regards from Germany

  • Hey Nick,

    Thanks a lot for the detailed article on linear vs non linear work flow.

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