Adobe Speedgrade CC Crash Course for Beginners (Part Two): The Workspace Simplified

In Part One we looked at what Speedgrade does, and how you can set up a basic workflow to get started.

In this part we’ll look at the dreaded (unfairly) Speedgrade interface (GUI), and how to understand it.

A birds-eye view of the Speedgrade workspace

Every GUI is born out of necessity of a particular kind of workflow. Adobe Speedgrade isn’t any different. If you can understand the rationale behind the GUI, it might make your life a bit easier.

At first glance, Speedgrade throws most people off. E.g., where’s the top menu? There’s no File… or Edit… or even a Help (F1). It’s not there because it’s not needed. Actually, a help button would be definitely welcome, and the atrocious ‘Services’ tab under Speedgrade (the only available top menu) must be tucked away where it belongs. Services does not work for all countries. The top menu bar is the only major design fail on Speedgrade. Thankfully, we don’t need it much either.

Here are the basic divisions of the Speedgrade GUI:

Speedgrade Desktop

Speedgrade Monitor

The GUI is divided into the following four parts:

  • A – Desktop
  • B – Timeline
  • C – Tools/Grading
  • D – Monitor

Let’s look back at what the basic workflows for Speedgrade are, and you’ll see how this interface is perfectly reasonable.

You choose your footage (A), and move it to the Timeline (B). Once you’re done importing, you don’t need your Desktop view anymore. Compare this to NLEs, where the Media Browser window is constantly needed to find and replace footage for editing.

Once your footage is on the timeline, you are not expected to edit anything on it, which is why the timeline is as barebones as it needs to be. The most important feature of the timeline is its playback feature, and for that, it’s perfectly fine. You can edit if you want to, but that is just laziness on your part.

The Monitor view replaces the Desktop view after you’ve loaded your footage or sequence. At the bottom, your Tools/Grading window is ready to be used for Color Grading.

After spending some time in Speedgrade, the interface appears perfectly aligned with its capabilities. If people compare it to Resolve and praise Resolve’s GUI (which is praiseworthy, by the way), they are probably taking into account Resolve’s new editing ability. I don’t see why a color correction or grading application needs to look like an NLE. Each app is different, and serves a different market.

Let’s look at each section of the workspace in detail.

The Desktop and Monitor

You use the Desktop as a Media Browser, to find your footage, EDLs, etc. Once you’ve located your footage and brought it into the project, there is no need to visit the Desktop view again. This is replaced by the Monitor view, which shows you the results of your grade. The Desktop view is as follows:

Speedgrade Desktop Detail

E is a general browser, which offers a simple way to find and sort footage that is recognized by Speedgrade. It will show both supported and unsupported formats, so don’t be fooled into selecting codecs that aren’t supported.

F is where your footage shows up. If you can see a thumbnail, it means Speedgrade supports that format. It also shows EDL files.

G is how you can add multiple timelines (more later).

When you use a two-monitor setup, the full-screen monitor view is sent to your calibrated display. You can set up the Monitor part of your GUI to display the Vectorscope, Histogram or Waveform. Like I’ve shown in the second photo on this page, you can resize the lower tool window because that’s what you’ll be using the most. Here’s what the monitor looks like (Click to enlarge):

Speedgrade Monitor Detail

H is divided into four parts:

  • Frame rate and resolution
  • Histogram/Vectorscope/Waveform toggle. The left-most icon is to hide and unhide the lower grading (tools) panel (C)
  • Playback and scrub controls
  • Quick image manipulation controls like crop, aspect ratio, etc. You can also select to view individual channels separately.

As you can see, you can load two timelines at the same time, and the monitor displays them side by side (Green arrows). We also discussed in Part One how Speedgrade assumes you have a handle on your resolution, and doesn’t force you to adhere to any one resolution. In the above image, the image on the left is 2.5K from the Blackmagic camera, while the one on the right is from a Canon 5D Mark III.

The Timeline

The timeline is where your footage rests. Speedgrade divides it into the following parts:

  • I – Playhead
  • Tracks – Each individual line
  • Timeline – a bunch of tracks that pertain to one footage or sequence

The Playhead is the scrubber, the thing that moves when you play a clip. You can scrub through your footage by sliding it left or right. The cool thing about Speedgrade is that you can create many Playheads. You can select each playhead to view the frame at that point, which is a fast way to match footage from multiple cuts.

Tracks are like their counterparts in an NLE, with each layer affecting the one beneath it (not applicable for audio). Speedgrade allows the following kind of tracks:

  • Footage tracks (with a thumbnail view) – blue by default (looks grey to me)
  • Grading track – red by default (looks light purple to me)
  • Audio – green by default
  • Pan and Scan – light/transparent green

At present, we are concerned only with the footage and grading tracks. One can grade directly on footage, but Speedgrade recommends that you always (as good practice) create a grading track and do your changes on that. You can create many separate grading tracks over the footage and compare their effects separately. In this respect, it works similarly to Adjustment layers in Photoshop.

You’ll notice a pattern here:

  • Side by side video on the monitor
  • Multiple timelines
  • Multiple playheads

Speedgrade gives you as many options as possible to compare footage. This is a critical activity when it comes to grading, as you’re always trying to match one clip to another. You’re always referencing something.

Note: In the tools area (C), there is a tab that says ‘Timeline’ as well. It pertains to clips that you need to load while in desktop view. It also shows you a quick overview of the frame rates of each clip individually. Don’t confuse this ‘Timeline-tab’ with the general timeline mentioned above.

The Tools/Grading Panel

The tools or grading panel (C) has eight tabs. We are only concerned with four presently:

  • Timeline tab (see note above).
  • Clip – also used to check frame rate, time warp (ramping up or down), aspect ratio, color space, file format and gamma curve.
  • Look – the actual grading panel.
  • Mask – for creating and moving masks with keyframes.

Look and Mask is where 90% of all Speedgrade work happens.

Speedgrade Grading Panel Detail

The Look tab has the following sections (refer to above image, click to enlarge):

  • J – Stacks of ‘stuff’ you have applied – Primary grade, LUTs, filters and effects, secondary grade, etc. You can toggle each one on or off. Works somewhat like Adjustment Layers in Photoshop.
  • K – The three basic modes of how the tool is presented.
  • L – The grading tools.
  • M – Default and customizable Looks (LUTs) that you can create.

The stacks show what you applied for each track. As you scrub across the timeline, this will change when you are at a different clip. +P adds a primary grade. +S adds a secondary grade, + adds a new effect (Speedgrade has a bunch of powerful in-built effects), etc. Once you’ve created a look you like, you can save the look, and it shows up immediately in section M.

Section K gives you three modes – wheel mode, slider mode and ‘editboxes’ mode (punch in the numbers yourself mode). Before you dive into color grading, and if you’re new to all this, read Color Correction Tools.

Go through sections A to M again. You’ll see that the basic workflow pattern is simple and linear. There are very few GUI design elements that interfere with this workflow. The only thing you need to do is ‘get a hang of it’. This is mandatory on any software.

In Part Three we’ll look at how to import footage or sequences into Speedgrade. The most difficult part of working with Speedgrade is importing complicated sequences from various NLEs.