HPA Tech Retreat: Academy Color Encoding System Update

The Academy Color Encoding System (ACES), first introduced in late 2014, has made increasing inroads in the film industry. Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS) Science and Technology Council managing director Andy Maltz said at least three of this year’s Academy Awards nominees in the Best Picture and Best VFX categories used ACES; SMPTE also has created seven standards related to the use of ACES. According to AMPAS’ ACES project chair Annie Chang, the group released ACES 1.1 this last year.

“ACES 1.1 includes transforms for HDR, new documentation, and a parametric ODT,” said Chang. “We created a non-technical primer for anyone who wants to understand ACES, and we also created QuickStart Guides aimed at colorists, cinematographers, post production supervisors, producers, directors, facilities engineers, editors and archivists.”

Also significant in 2018, Chang, and ACES co-chairs Joachim “JZ” Zell and Rod Bogart went on a listening tour, talking to 80 individuals, collecting 450 comments and creating 48 main points of feedback.

“We launched ACESnext to move the process forward,” said Chang. She noted that, although ACES is open source, it’s moving on a parallel track to the Academy Software Foundation (ASWF), which was launched as ACES was already in motion. “We’re trying to structure our work the way the Linux Foundation has structured ASFW,” she said.

ACES is divided into an implementation technical advisory committee (TAC), chaired by Zell, and an architecture TAC, chaired by Bogart. The committee is considering doing a Plugfest. “The scope is defined by the TAC on a per-topic basis,” said Chang. “They are short-lived, topic-based pop-up groups.”

Zell reported that ACESnext virtual working group on ODT (output device transforms) has been expanded with a new virtual working group on ACESclip, to focus on ACESclip requirements, review and revision. The CLF Spec/Code Review (for a common LUT format) virtual working group kicked off its first meeting in January this year. “Everything is documented,” said Zell, who referred to the ACES Central website and associated GitHub documents.

Dr. Wolfgang Ruppel at Germany’s RheinMain University of Applied Sciences focused on the Academy Digital Source Master specifications. “It’s based on the ACES2065-1 Academy color encoding specification,” he said, and “a specialization of IMF defined in Application #5 (SMPTE ST 2067-50)” as well as an Output Transform, in addition to Look Modification Transforms (LMTs), added as a “sidecar asset.”

“We believe it is future proof, prepared for multiple device ACES master file sets,” said Ruppel, who’s dubbed it an Über Master.

“IMF vendors have demonstrated interoperability at the recent SMPTE IMF Plugfest hosted by the Academy,” added Ruppel. “Ten vendors participated, and all IMF App#5 packages provided were compliant and fully interoperable.”