ACES & After Effects Walkthrough

Hey all,

I work with an animation studio in NYC. We’ve been troubleshooting our ACES workflow on a few projects, and I compiled a tutorial walkthrough to help coworkers and freelancers get better accustomed to the process.

It would be great to run it by any of you and see if you had any feedback or if I’m missing anything crucial.

You can find the PDF available here: ACES and After Effects Walkthrough

Look forward to your thoughts!

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Hey Casey, awesome share! Thanks a ton. Have you tried setting the working space to ACEScg instead of HDTV Rec.709? If you go that route you can do the exact same setup but you’ll get much richer results with color falloff and shouldering on lights. I’ll usually precomp any chance renders and apply OCIO input - Utility sRGB Texture / output ACEScg to each. Any renders or footage where you can’t preserve rgb I’ll add a convert color profile effect to (directly to the footage inside the precomp), set the input color space to ACEScg and the output to sRGB, while leaving the options to linearize either input or output off, since ACEScg does that inherently. Also, while applying any lighting effects or flares or anything within the in/out transform adjustment layers (709, D60, etc. to ACEScg and then the inverse) you can get some killer results clamping the lights simply by adding a levels with the gamma set to .454 (which you can toggle on and off) in conjunction with an exposure effect. I’ll either clamp the exposure’s gamma to .87 or .454 depending on whether or not I have the levels turned on, and rather than adjusting the light intensity or size in the effect itself, moving or adjusting the exposure value gets really great results. You can crank it really high without any blowout at all, and the colors stay saturated, even more so when clamping the gamma. Anyways, your pdf basically helped me turn a huge corner on this process, which has been a bit of a puzzle to figure out, so thanks man!!! I hope you find some of what I mentioned above helpful for sure, and if you’ve got any extra insights I’d love to hear em! Cheers! Ryan

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Hey Ryan,

Awesome to hear!!! Glad it was helpful. Those are some great tips. Gotta experiment with those lighting tips.

We’ve actually had mixed results working in ACEScg, mainly because our renders need to be delivered to a posthouse for finishing. Working in Rec709 allows us to properly animate and design in a color space we’re “used” to and then deliver it in ACES2065-1, which the posthouse can properly slot into their pipeline with expected results. We really want to be able to animate and design everything in Rec709 / sRGB, then just apply an ACES transform at the end so it can be properly “inverted” later in the pipe.

Also, were just on regular iMac / DELL monitors so I’m actually not sure if we could work in ACEScg and be confident that we’re seeing the entire spectrum of what were doing, if you know what I mean? Unless I’m missing something, we’d all need to have calibrated HDR monitors to properly view our work.

Thanks again!

Hi Ryan!

This was a super helpful fun through. This is the closest solution i have found in After Effects as well. Im a little confused by the section discussing gamma shifts on layers like optical flares. You are saying to create layer with the following structure?

Optical Flares
Levels (Gamma set to .454)
Eposure (adjusted for desired brightness)

Setting the Levels to .454 kind of makes sense, as you are converting the sRGB input in to linear space. Is this the appropriate way of doing this? That would be a conversion to linear sRGB right? Wouldnt you instead use an OCIO translate from sRGB to ACEScg? This is my main confusion with ACES in AE.

This leads to my biggest misunderstaing. How do you set colors properly on effects in after effects? If i have a fill effect with a specific red value. How do i get the same value after converting from ACEScg to my ODT which is Output sRGB? Im struggling seeing how a lot of effects that are color dependent will work in AE.

Hey Jacob,

Biggest thing I’d recommend, if your effects are giving weird results, is to do everything UNDERNEATH the OCIO transform. Color correction, effects, etc. Essentially just work in Rec 709 with the ACES transform applied only at export. This way, you can actually just see what the hell is going on in your comp at Rec.709. Then, when you export, the OCIO will transform everything into ACES equally, and come out balanced on the other side of the color pipeline.

I feel like that would sacrifice a lot of the benefits of working in ACES though. We have only worked with a couple of finishing houses that use ACES as their first option right now. So for us, its more about gaining the benefits of color blending etc and less about being able to export ACES at the end.

Ah - gotcha. This guide / setup is much more geared towards maintaining color consistency between a Rec709 workflow within an ACES pipeline / delivery, so that the colorist ultimately sees what we see.

I’m not sure how deep AE will really go in terms of maximizing ACES - outside of the regular blending mode / blurs you can get at 32bpc. Especially if you’re working on a regular SDR monitor.

hello @caseydrogin, it’s been a year from this post, any things you changed from this workflow?

I am examining the use of Aces for a similar pipeline research, and would like to compare notes.
if you would, tell me:

  1. do you ever check the “linearize workings space” checkbox? if so - when?
  2. it is recommended for vfx to use Acescg (on OCIO, not ae’s CM) and not aces2601 - don’t you use that?

Hey @yooofi

No, not much has changed from this workflow on our end. In answer to your questions:

  1. I do not check Linearize working space. I’m not actually sure when this would need to be checked hah. We work in Rec709 / None 32bpc colorspace up until we are exporting / delivering. This is where OCIO transforms everything into ACES EXRs.

  2. Our specific workflow is usually delivering VFX / Graphics from our studio to a finishing house / colorist. Using ACES2065-1 - we have found - leads to the most consistent color from After Effects > Davinci Resolve.

For reference, here are the proper Davinci Resolve settings to use when importing your ACES EXRs from After Effects. I would use this to test that the EXRs were looking correct when importing into Resolve, even when working on a Rec709 monitor.

If you are exporting for delivery out of AE and have no intention of going into Resolve, then it’s up to you what version of ACES you’d like to work in.

Again, our main goal with this workflow is not necessarily to be “compositing” in ACES. Instead, we wanted to make sure that our color remained consistent from After Effects > Resolve.

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Thanks Casey.

I am not sure either :slight_smile: . why would you need it if everything is with OCIO anyway and get’s the conversion to a linear color space? . and especially if it’s such a mess setting up (preserve RGB on every imported footage, adding a gamma fix on each comp, and importing stuff like multilayered PSD’s that were not created with linear in mind will be a disaster)

so I have been trying to examine which workflow is better or more efficient and to which case.

the linear workflow recommendation on compositing is something that has been long advocated and for good reason, but when using OCIO you get most if not all of it’s benefits anyway. am I right?

from examining how comping behaves on linearize vs not linearizing I find that in non-linearizing working space I need more exposure stops to make things match. everything else gets the linear sweetness anyway - the blurs, glows, and even blending modes on OCIO layers - behave in a linear fashion so don’t need that for this. another thing that I think makes the difference is if you have sRGB linear assets like a 3D multipass inside. but that also can by bypassed with color profile converter…

I am trying to build a pipeline that would fit most cases, in my needs I usually need to comp different video sources, and on occasion a CGI that can be beauty+shadow (EXR that can work in non-linear working space) but sometimes it is CGI that does need linearizing because of the blend modes .

if you have any thoughts about that from your experience I would love to know.

Hey @yooofi

the linear workflow recommendation on compositing is something that has been long advocated and for good reason, but when using OCIO you get most if not all of it’s benefits anyway. am I right?

Yeah, I think you are correct. Working in 32bpc will provide you with the color / blur / FX opportunities that you would get from OCIO.

There are some things that can pop up when working in 32bpc (certain effects not working right, weird glitches with blending modes) - however, if you are trying to deliver in HDR or just be able to get some sweet bokeh effects, definitely go for it. This is especially true if your CG pipeline is exporting in HDR from C4D / Maya / etc.

Again, our workflow is mainly designed to keep things consistent when going from Rec 709 in After Effects > ACES Color Pipeline in Resolve.

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hi @caseydrogin why would you check Rec709 and not none in the working space in Ae? did you find any difference between the two when you are practically doing all the color management yourself anyway?

@caseydrogin got a questions for you - why do you change the working space to rec709 and not working in “none”. it seems to me you are not using any of Ae’s color management anyway and if you wish to turn it off in any way you could just set it to “none” (this is actually the instructions in the OCIO manual).

Hey @yooofi - theres no difference between None and Rec709 for our purposes. I usually use Rec709 since that’s a “monitor” colorspace and would translate over to Davinci / other programs. But you can use None and have really the same result :slight_smile:

thank you. I noticed that when it’s set to none, you can lose most of the color management after effects is sneaking in through embeded profiles when you import footage. can you explain about “monitor” color space? I do notice a slight gamma shift r when I change from “none” to “rec709”

That is because most camera footage is rec.709 but you’re likely viewing it on sRGB monitor without conversion in “none”. If you’d select either rec.709 or sRGB as the working space the footage should appear the same. In sRGB mode it gets auto converted from 709 to sRGB resulting in the same picture viewed as it actually should be.
You wouldn’t have to do this if your monitor is already in rec.709 but then any sRGB or other colorspace elements like graphics would be viewed with incorrect gamma/primaries without conversion.

If you don’t want color management you’d have to set up a viewing reference conversion from 709 to srgb for camera footage and also convert any sRGB graphics or elements with any other colorspace to 709 if rec.709 is your delivery.

AE set to “none” enables full control over color and can make it very noticable when something isn’t converted or delivered in a wrong format. I often get image files that are in P3 when they should be sRGB and they’ll appear desaturated without AE management.
On the other hand you could easily overlook some things if in a rush.

It boils down to preference wether you use AE’s management (with or without ACES) or not as long as you understand what’s happening under the hood :slight_smile:

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