Have you ever noticed that your favorite directors use certain color palettes? Or that some movies have dark green hues, really saturated reds, or the ever-famous teal and orange look? Applying these same looks to your own films can be as simple as using a LUT.
What is a LUT in Film?
A LUT, or lookup table, refers to a series of numbers to shortcut you to a specific outcome. In filmmaking, it is referring to shortcutting your camera footage from being flat, to your final result once it’s colored.
Think of it like an Instagram or Snapchat filter. No, not the ones with silly faces. I’m talking about the filters that change the hues and colors of your image. Let’s go a little bit more in-depth with how they work.
Why Use a LUT
Using LUTs in film is the perfect way to jumpstart your color-grading as well as being able to replicate your favorite movies and shows. Do you have a favorite movie that you love the color on? There is probably a LUT for that specific film look. Not only does it save you a lot of time in color grade, but it also alleviates you from having to purchase and learn how to use expensive software. We are all busy these days and having to learn the ins and outs of how to color grade, especially when we’re on a time crunch, is not how we want to spend our time.
Using LUTS is also a wonderful way to match your cameras. Cameras have different sensors, and different native settings, and handle colors differently depending on the brand. Being able to match those colors is a lot simpler with LUTs instead of trying to adjust your hues, contrast, and saturation on your own.
LUTs are not only extremely versatile, but they also aren’t software specific. With so much at our fingertips, we are able to use them in a lot of different programs. Whether it’s DaVinci Resolve, Premiere Pro, or After Effects, people are creating LUTs just for your specific needs. So before you go falling in love with one, this has definitely NOT happened to me, make sure that you are downloading LUTs for the program you are using.
Different Types of LUTs
Knowing which kind of LUT you need is a really important part of the color grading process. The two main LUT types are 1D and 3D. 1D refers to a general gamma curve that can only change black and white levels, contrast, and brightness. So for most of us, that is extremely limiting. In contrast, a 3D LUT maps hue and saturation so those colors can be adjusted relative to other colors. This gives you a lot more control when it comes to your color grades. I recommend using 3D as much as you can so you can fine-tune the look you want.
Well, how do we tell the difference between a 1D and a 3D LUT? The easiest way to tell the difference is through their file extensions. 1D LUTs generally have a file extension of .lut while 3D LUTs have a file extension of .cube.
Example of using a LUT
The Handmaid’s Tale Season 1, directed by Reed Morano, is a beautiful example of using LUTs. The importance of red in the costumes, representing childbirth and fertility, is emphasized by the blue and green shadows/highlights. The red popping within the color grade allows the viewer to be right along for the journey and understand the significance of the colors. LUTs are also a great indicator of different worlds or telling the viewer how they are supposed to be feeling.
A film that does this really well is The Farewell, directed by Lulu Wang. She uses fuschia peonies representing love, wealth, and prosperity to welcome in the newlyweds and juxtaposes that with the pale blues and dark hues symbolizing the imminent death of Nai Nai. From death comes life and this is a beautiful story about how a family comes together. The color lends itself to the story and is just as much a part of the filmmaking journey as any other part of the production.
My Tips for using LUTs
If LUTs are in your future there is one thing to keep in mind. It is always best to color-correct your footage before using a LUT. That is because you want to have a well-balanced image of blacks/whites, contrast, and brightness. If you try to match footage between cameras or put a LUT on flat footage, it automatically won’t work the way it is supposed to.
A lot of colorists, myself included, recommend putting the LUT on at the end of your color grade so you have as much information to work with as possible. Go here for more tips on color-correcting and color grading.
Where to get LUTs
Creative Market is a great place to find LUTs as they have personal, commercial, and extended commercial licensing for you to buy so you don’t have to worry about the legal hassle. Not only that, but they are extremely affordable and give you a full breakdown of the programs they can be used with, and what kind of LUTs they are. I have found that the packs on Creative Market are the most versatile.
If you are looking for a flat purchase of LUTs without having to do commercial and extended licensing, Fiverr is also a great place to look. You can reach out to the individual creator and ask them about a flat purchase without any of the licensing deals.
LUTs are such a great way to have your footage look amazing in minutes. In a world of creatives where we all do everything ourselves, having a polished film is definitely something that should be prioritized. We should be taking advantage of all of the tools available to us and LUTs are a great way to help get your post-production journey started. Now that you know what is a LUT, I hope this article was informative and answered a few questions.