By Debra Kaufman
At NAB 2015, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences officially launched the ACES (Academy Color Encoding System). Now, says AMPAS Science and Technology Council managing director Andy Maltz, more than two years later, ACES has been adopted by innumerable product manufacturers and used on at least 100 feature films, from Guardians of the Galaxy 2 to Woody Allen’s Café Society. Marvel, Screen Gems, NBCUniversal and Netflix are among the studios that have committed to the standard. The Academy also launched ACESCentral.com, an online forum on which 700+ users discuss and seek support on ACES questions from online mentors.
It’s about time for some changes. “We always said there wouldn’t be a next generation ACES until ACES 1.0 was widely adopted,” says Maltz. “Right around the two-year point of ACES 1.0, it became more than apparent that it was time to start moving towards enhancements and extensions.” After years of serving as co-chairs of the ACES project, Starwatcher Digital principal Jim Houston and RFX president Ray Feeney stepped down, making way for Marvel Studios vice president of technology Annie Chang as incoming ACES chair and HBO director of production R&D Rod Bogart and EFILM vice president of imaging science/technical director Joachim Zell as vice chairs.
“Annie, Rod and I are all using ACES as a tool in our day-to-day production,” says Zell. “So we will also be able to talk about what does or doesn’t work, and guide it in the right direction to make it an end-to-end system.”
The first version of ACES has largely been a success. “Everything worked the way we expected it to work,” says Maltz. But, despite the fact that nothing in ACES 1.0 is “broken,” Maltz and the ACES project team became increasingly aware that some portions of the standard hadn’t been as widely adopted as others, and that some tweaks and enhancements were required for ACES to reach its ultimate destination. “Our goal is to get all six major studios to declare publicly that all deliverables should come in as ACES deliverables,” says Maltz.
As the first step, says Zell, they identified 15 different constituent groups, including the major studios, post production houses, DITs, cinematographers, VFX professionals, colorists, manufacturers and producers. Zell reveals that they have just conducted a meeting with Disney, Fox, Paramount, Sony, Universal and Warner Bros. “We all met in one room, and although it is too early to talk about what we’ve discovered, I can say that the studios are the ones who benefit most from a common standard in terms of look and color management, so we expected they would give positive feedback,” says Zell. “The studios definitely support the mission the Academy is going for by inventing ACES and bringing it to the market.”
Maltz enumerates aspects of ACES 1.0 that need to be tweaked. First is adoption of ACES’ metadata file, dubbed ACES clip. “You can use that metadata carrier to better communicate how to reproduce the colors,” says Maltz. “We’re adamant about that; it’s required for archiving. This has to happen for people to be able to get what they want.” The ACES team is also looking at the Look Modification Transform (LMT), an easier implementation of custom looks. Third is the Common LUT. “To communicate a look you need a standardized version,” he says. “We didn’t anticipate a programmatic or algorithmic description of a look, and one new requirement is that people need to use the algorithmic description, like shader language.”
Zell adds that the process of interviewing groups impacted by ACES will provide a roadmap for going forward. “The outcome will help us understand where ACES is at the moment and where people want it to go,” he says. “What we will have learned in the discovery phase will help us get to ACES Next or ACES 2.0.