Color before VFX? Or VFX before color?

Would love to hear everyone’s Pros and Cons for commercial and also feature work!

Do you like to work on your VFX shots with colored plates? Or do you prefer dailies and then color your comp?

Do you prefer to color final rendered comps? Or multiple assets for the VFx artist to comp?
Why one way or the other?

Advantages and disadvantages?


You are in luck @ace_elliott as a huge fan of grading at the end of VFX I wrote a confluence page for my company. I posted that article here: Some thoughts on the grade workflow

TLDR: I would love all of my shots to be consistent. This makes duplicating my VFX work from one shot to the next much easier.
I love working on high dynamic range footage (HDR = anything that has not been compressed to meet rec.709 requirements).
I understand that this is not always the best way to work. Hello beauty and clean up work, I am looking at you.

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When I’m lucky enough to work on graded material, I prefer it because I know exactly what the final product will look like. But depending on the client, it’s not always the case.


I’ll add that from the perspective of adding CG elements, lighting them and comping them it doesn’t get better than doing it pre-final-grade.

One may use an invertable balance pass, to get an uneven exposure to a better place for work and approvals but that’s a gentle push rather than the destructive chainsaw a colourist can and will put to your pixels during the final grade—for commercials that is.

That being said, 90% of what we work on gets graded first and left to us to pick up the pieces.

Feature work, well, actual feature work, never works on graded materials. DI is always last.


Grade last, there are loads of workflows that give you both (BLG, grade in flame, stuff like this)

You are destroying the image when grading, destroying any real relationship between light and image data, its all wonky and doing anythig on top is a hack.

as @cnoellert has said for cg integration this is a huge disadvantage as you have to match the grade with your cg elements and nothing makes any sense anymore.

another thing: Greenscreens, do you want a graded greenscreen to pull a key from?

another one; Colorists love to add grain, glows etc all things we have to match when comping on top.

I think in a modern pipeline espeically considering HDR and SDR deliverables , or even DCP and rec709/TV any image manipulation should be as procedual as possible, thats my main take on how I structure my pipeline.

Hell, last job had a DC and a agency grade - am I supposed to do comps twice?

I understand the challenges with scheduling and how overcooked the whole topic of color is… thats politics i am a tech guy, i do all this stuff in the background to get the best possible results , my clients dont even know at what place in the pipeline we grade it as everything can happen all at once as i keep it procedual.

I dont know where this comp after grade comes from, probably some legacy telecine type stuff.

There is also a nice in-between workflow that is very kuch overlooked. thats what i use on selected jobs if it makes sense, and that is to work on graded-log you remove the final Display-rendering-transform before exporting your grade, then this drt is applied in flame as a view transform, this gives you a much wider range to work with - its not scene-reffered proper nice stuff but its also not compeltely destroyed like graded footage is

i also like to extend this with unified grain management where all the grain is removed pre grading and added in flame in finishing on the final timeline.

Dont get me wrong there are merits to working on graded stuff, people have nade a career out of it for 30 years and its been fine, its sinple, you can charge alot if clients change the grade and stuff like that, clients are used to the workflow
, color refusing to hand out their projects so you can apply color yourself in your pipeline etc

politics basically - from a tech-perspectivr its nonsensical to even consider comp after color,

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Comp after grade used to be the norm back in the day when it was film, but we used to run into all sorts of issue if they did any secondary grading on blue / green screen shots.
Now everything we do is graded after comp, (film / episodic, but I suspect commercials are the same now.), but we do view through the grade, very important when dealing with elements such as blood, which sometimes need some creative grading in comp to look red post grade.


I was used to do the conform with raw material, do comp, then send to grade.
After grade link everything back in timeline with graded version.

But when I went to different company (and country),
Here in Mumbai all advertising is done after grading.
This is mostly a time issue. Grading comes from another company on a HD.
Do conform in a 2K timeline with graded footage, start comping, versioning, languages and deliver HD/SD masters and socials. If shot needs CG, then the shot is comped in Nuke, and send as TGA or ProRes file to me, to put in my timeline. It took a while for me to get used to this workflow, but everything here is based on speed and money haha.
For greenscreens/chroma I receive a separate pass from the grading most of the time.
Only feature film work and OTT is done before grading.

And sometimes it’s a mix. Recently worked on an ad.
Main film was graded somewhere else and already finished.

Now some extra films/one takers came in. Client asked if I could do the DI/grading in flame on the raw files and match it with the main film. Now my knowledge with working with R3D files and colourspaces came in handy, and I could quickly match it and make the client happy.

Is there any pros about “colour before comp”?
Sometimes “colour before comp” could be happen here in Tokyo though.

I think such cases are almost incident of lack of education or technical knowledge.(I totally agree @finnjaeger, Its because of politics)
They always say it’s because of budget and schedule but evetually post-production had to pay much more time and cost.


There sure are! I do a mix of colour before comp and comp before colour. For me it really depends on the project and the clients involved. Most of my clients are very much used to the edit/colour/finish workflow and I find that sometimes sticking to that order can save you certain headaches.

For instance a last minute VFX change that would be a simple tweak, could be done very quickly with them in the room if you are using that workflow, but if that same change needs to go back to colour grading, then you could be in to 24hrs to round trip it… especially if the colour is done out of house.

I’d say that as much as I love to composite and work with RAW footage, the pre-graded workflow is what I use for 80% of the commercials I finish today.

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This is why color is still done before comp in commercials. Cuts never lock until ship anymore, so if the client picks a different shot that hasn’t been graded yet, then congrats you just lost a day and the ship deadline is still tomorrow.

thats the inherent problem.

Color needs to be procedual and pipeline friendly.

the way its handled right now is quiet frankly garbage, it needs to be metadata like a BLG or be procedually applied after comp, otherwise no matter if you grade first or last you will always have a break-point that will end up costing you sleepless nights regardless.

color changed 1 day before deadline and you worked on graded? bohoo bro.

Comp changes right before delivery and you graded after comp and have no way of doing this automatically? sucks to be you.

I really do think that the future has do be a full integration of color work into the full pipeline and not have it be a break-point its just not working anymore with these deadlines and flexible edits thats never lock


For episodics, we work on ungraded plates, for all of the benefits mentioned above. But we also get the dailies color settings. So we’ll have the shot’s LUT and CDL that we can pipe in as a viewer process to get an idea of where the colorist is likely going to take the shot, which is super helpful. This lut and cdl get baked to our HD deliveries for editorial and creative review(s), so the they can cut in our shots and watch it in context with the rest of sequences. Then final comps will be delivered uncolored (and full res) to go to the colorist.

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There are fewer top colorists than finishing artists, and a top colorist can make a much bigger difference in the look of a final project than a top finishing artist can. Therefore in ad land, the schedules are adjusted to match colorist availability. You’re trying to solve this like it’s a technical problem. It’s not. It’s a people/perception problem.

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I’m inclined to say “no”, but here are the two upsides, which are sort of the same thing through different lenses:

  1. Once you’re done the work is done. There’s no going to grade, no worry of someone at the color house picking apart your work for sport, you’re done.
  2. Clients incapable of evaluating anything other than final imagery will give useful feedback. If the material is ungraded all comments will be about the grade.

Which is all a sort of long winded way of saying if you’re on a short job and/or have difficult clients, there is some upside to the workflow.

nonetheless I hate it.


the thing is - you can totally fix the people problem with good technology.

In my pipeline anyone can grade whenever they please, before, after, during the edit, it doesnt matter at all, we can comp during grading or whenever.

it just requires a little bit of rethinking established workflows, but then its besutiful and there is no problem any more at all.

I also like to make sure we talk about the same thing, for me comp is comp, its the heavy lifting of actually manipulating stuff proper, dealing with noise and possible CG ibtegration and the like.

finishing of course is “after” grade but thats realistically just putting in titles and fixing timewarps and whatever else is sort of happening on the timeline. but tbh even that has no technical reason to not be done under a grade .

Resolve is going into comp/finishing and fusion comes before the color tab for a reason.

Resolve is entering the field with their drx renderer.

BLG is a thing

Flame has image now

its happening, there is no technical reason why it cant be done, no more or less overhead no politicall issues, just requires re-thinking

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It really depends on the job and what makes the client most comfortable. 99% of my work is commercial spots. I prefer to work post-grade rec 709 because:

  1. The client has seen and signed off on the look, so I have a clear vision of where I’m taking it.
  2. I’m responsible for the project from ingest to export. With the grade completed, there is no intermediate step in which the product leaves my control, then comes back to me and I need to incorporate it into my work flow. In spot work this is particularly important because I am tweeking every level from bottom to top until the moment of delivery. Having an intermediate step is deadly. It is time-inefficient, or I need to step on top of the grade because there is no time to redo it.
  3. Keeping clients graphics proper and consistent is hard enough in rec. 709. Making a conversion between the generic with colour and the final with graphics is one more headache I don’t want to deal with.

That said, since I work for the editorial company and rarely accept outside work, I have the opportunity to start long before colour using the raw footage. Most of my work is done using the footage as the element, so any paintwork (I do a lot of paint work) or patchups are using the original pixels. When the colour comes back to me, it’s rare that I need to tweek anything again that has it’s base in the footage. I usually only need to do minor tweeks in screens, and even that is minor since I use the existing screens for lighting and texture.

I don’t think my method is better than anything else. I just think it’s best for what is required from me.


Doing CG comping, plate fixes, etc. of course is good to do on ungraded footage. But when I do creative look development, I insist on doing that on top of the final graded output.

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@GPM @ytf

how would having the grade as yet another timeline effect on each clip in your timeline hurt these workflows?

Youd still see final color, but the pixels you manipulate are actually clean but everything is live and nice, no need to roundrtrip anything

Have you ever gotten an OOH Baselight colorist to send you BLGs?