What is a LUT and, if I’m an agency producer, why should I care? Well, every business has its esoteric acronyms but this is a rather important one. While the production biz is not as bad as say the medical industry, if you are a director, line producer, agency producer or art director you need to understand the nomenclature.
LUT stands for Look Up Table and understanding it is important for us non-DP’s and non-DIT’s in a couple ways. In general, LUTs are formulas used to “translate” one set of color presets or “looks” from one device to another, say a camera to a client monitor. More specifically, they are a mathematically precise way of taking specific RGB (red, green and blue) values from an file or imaging device and changingthem to new RGB values by changing the hue, saturation and brightness of the original signal.
On shoots of any dollar significance, an originating camera like an Arri or Red can shoot and record in what is analogsus to a raw (also refered to as log) photographic file on a still camera. Looking at a raw image on a client monitor for the uninitiated is disconcerting to say the least, evoking “Is that how it’s going to look?” comments. Consequently, the DP will send a LUT signal from the camera to the monitor that more closely aligns with what you would expect to see in the final product. If you have time on the set (ha, ha) you can experiment with different LUT looks from the camera.
But the real value of shooting raw or log (with the aid of LUT’s) is that it allows the camera to record the complete photographic values to the maximum ability of that camera and its chip for any given scene. Consequently the editor or colorist will be able to recover more from the highlights and shadows of a project and adjust more colors and tones in post-production. This is the bigger creative intersection for LUTs; color grading, formerly called color-timing or simply color correction. Most advanced editing platforms like Adobe Premier, DaVinci Resolve, Avid and Final Cut have the ability to manipulate your footage with its original look or LUT into virtually an infinite number of other looks. Again, LUTs can help manipulate color values by changing hue, saturation brightness, and contrast. Most sophisticated editorial software has numerous preprogramed LUTS that can quickly generate most of what you could reasonable conceive. Want the look of a classic film noir? There is a preset LUT for that. Want an early Technicolor look, or some moody ‘Apocalypse Now’ feel? There are a LUT’s for those. By using LUTs, you can do quick overall corrections and find a cinematic style that you like or perhaps make certain colors pop, and within these convenient presets, there are an infinite number of manipulations an editor or colorist can apply to get exactly what you envision.