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How to Enhance Your VFX with HDR

How to Enhance Your VFX with HDR

Check out our post below and learn how to utilize HDR to create vibrant VFX.

High Dynamic Range (HDR) can add an incredible layer of depth to your visual effects, and your movie as a whole. HDR brings you magnitudes of greater brightness ranges and color depth, giving you the ability to make your VFX truly shine.

You may not have an HDR-compatible screen to view this on, but you can already tell there is a strong vibrance to this trailer, even on a standard monitor:
As studios are increasingly integrating high volumes of data capture and HDR into their production pipelines, more TVs than ever now have HDR compatibility - so it’s a great time to jump in, and start implementing HDR into your workflow. 

How to Edit VFX in HDR

Lumetri Color (found in Premiere Pro CC, as well as After Effects CC) is an excellent tool for editing HDR footage. Of course, you’ll want to first capture your footage with a camera capable of shooting in a format for HDR - but once it’s loaded into your project, here’s how you begin to edit it:
As you’re coloring HDR footage, imagine you’re working on a stereoscopic 3D movie. Because of the added color depth, you have the ability to make certain elements “pop” on the screen, and drastically enhance shadow and highlight detail. Want to add more visual attention to a floating sci-fi HUD in the corner of your scene? Boost the brightness of that element alone, and it will prominently stand out. Ask yourself which VFX could actually benefit from HDR enhancement, and adjust accordingly. Some of the most common visual effects that utilize HDR are matte paintings, sunsets, cityscapes, set extensions, and other areas where you would expect a burst of brightness, like explosions and muzzle flashes. One great example is GreyScaleGorilla's HDRI Pack: Ultimate Skies.

One advantage you have when using ActionVFX footage, is that all our effects have been meticulously shot to ensure you have complete control over the look of our visual effects. Not only do you have access to 4K resolution, but you’re getting OpenEXR and 10-bit ProRes 4444 files that will allow you to take full advantage of HDR in post-production, to make that explosive moment in your movie visually astounding.  

Which Color Space Should I Use for HDR?

Rec 709 vs. Rec 2020
First, it’s important to know which color space you’re planning to work in. You may be planning a standard 1080p Blu-Ray release, as well as a 4k Blu-Ray and a Netflix or YouTube release with HDR. You will need to make sure the color space is adjusted accordingly, and have a Rec 709 version for standard, non-HDR 1080p Blu-Ray, as well as a Rec 2020 HDR version for Netflix, YouTube, or 4k Blu-Ray. Of course, you’ll also want to make sure you’re editing on a monitor that supports Rec 2020.

When we talk about Rec 709 vs. Rec 2020 color spaces, they aren’t technically official “color spaces” - but rather describe the full range of specs for HDTVs and UHDTVs, respectively. However, there really aren’t any other descriptors for the color spaces in which they reside, so they have each been loosely labeled as their own color spaces.

Rec 709 is a much older color space (circa 1990), so it’s more widely supported, and that’s why it would be better suited for a 1080p Blu-Ray release. However, Rec 2020 - the new color space on the block - is designed to give you a much wider color gamut to work with, that takes advantage of the latest HDR technology in many of today’s 4k TVs.  

The best way to optimize your VFX for delivery across multiple platforms is to have two reference monitors during the edit; a Rec 2020 monitor that supports the HDR format you’ll be encoding in, as well as a standard Rec 709 monitor to reference what your image will look like on non-HDR displays. 

Which HDR Format Should I Use?

HDR10 vs. Dolby Vision
If Rec 2020 was like a painter’s canvas, HDR formats would be the brand of paint best-suited for that canvas. And to know which HDR format you need to use, you should think of where this metaphorical “painting” will be displayed for optimal viewing - i.e., the destination(s) you’re encoding for.

HDR10 is an open-source format found in most lower-end 4k HDR monitors and TVs - largely due to the fact that it’s cheaper for consumers because of open-source licensing for manufacturers. It uses static metadata, so the dynamic brightness and color levels in your video will all have similar ranges, and thus a similar look to every scene. Dynamic brightness and color are present, but they are somewhat limited.

Dolby Vision is currently the premium standard of HDR picture quality, utilizing dynamic metadata that allows all brightness and color ranges to fluctuate throughout each scene, giving you more creative control, and allowing for greater vibrance to your VFX. Although it’s not fully-supported on all 4k TVs and monitors, Dolby Vision is inherently adaptable, allowing it to function as a true Dolby Vision signal on a Dolby Vision TV, or as a regular HDR10 signal on non-Dolby Vision sets. Because of this cross-compatible versatility, Dolby Vision is an excellent choice for encoding in HDR.

For a deeper understanding of how these HDR formats work, check out the video below.

How to Export Video in HDR

Once you’re done editing your HDR masterpiece, it’s time for exporting in HDR.
Now you’re ready to blow people’s minds with an awesome 4K HDR video!

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