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Poor man's control surface

poor-man-control If you do much color correcting and/or you have ever used or been around a high-end color correction system like any DaVinci or a Quantel Pablo then you’ve probably watched with envy as the colorist controls all the action by a dedicated control panel. There’s usually some combination of trackballs, rings and knobs that a good colorist can work like an extension of their own hands. They can take control of the three trackballs and quickly work magic. Now that Apple Color has come along there’s been some third party control surfaces for that application as well. You really can’t do extensive color grading in Color without a control surface. The software was not designed to be used primarily with a mouse. You can do it, but it isn’t easy or particularly fun. But this post isn’t about a fancy-schmancy control surface with glowing trackballs and perfectly weighted knobs and dials … it’s about using a lowly little Kensington Expert Mouse (which is really a trackball and not a mouse at all) to make using something like Colorista or the Final Cut Pro 3-way color corrector just a little bit easier. To be honest, it really doesn’t make life that much easier, at least not as easy as a control surface would in a dedicated color grading environment. One thing that really makes color grading with a professional colorist on a real color grading system is the ease with which they can manipulate the controls and play different parameters off of one another. Often a little tug on the lift might require a tweak to the gain. This is easy when you can manipulate both at once but quite a bit more time consuming when you have to click and drag one at a time. The Kensington trackball won’t give you control over more than one parameter at a time. But it will give you a bit more precise control over the color wheels. That’s lift/gamma/gain in Colorista and Blacks/Mids/Whites in the Final Cut Pro 3-way color corrector.  The secret lies in the Kensington MouseWorks software control panel. Once installed it’s available in the System Preferences of Mac OSX and lets you fine tune control over all of the buttons and controls on the trackball. Specifically, it’s the Drag command that I like to use with the color wheels: mouseworks_screen It’s pretty simple really. I mapped the Drag command (which is just a click and drag only it holds the item for dragging until you click any button again) to the pressing of the two top buttons on the trackball. I apply a color correction filter, put my mouse pointer over dot in the color wheel I want to manipulate, press (and release) the two buttons for drag and then I can just roll the trackball around to move the correction: colorist-pointer The trackball is able to move the pointer around with ease once it is locked with the Drag buttons. The best part is I can still see the results update in realtime in the Canvas, my client monitor as well as (most importantly) the Video Scopes. The above image is from Magic Bullet Colorist which I vastly prefer over the build-in FCP 3-way. But the FCP 3-way has one advantage over Colorista when using the Kensington. Any time you have your mouse hovering over the Blacks, Mids or Whites color wheel you can then spin the Kensington’s “award winning Scroll Ring®” and adjust the level slider beneath the color wheel without ever having to move your mouse pointer: expertmouse-scrollring fcp-scroll-ring1 This little adjustment via the scroll right is a nice timesaver since you don’t have to move your hand off the unit or move the mouse to a new position to click and drag the sliders. I really wish a similar thing would happen in Colorista. The levels control in that plug-in aren’t sliders that run beneath the color wheel but rather little rings that run around the outside of them. While it makes perfect sense that the scroll ring on the trackball would control them since they are almost in the same place it doesn’t work. But what you can do is use the drag-lock technique and then control with the trackball: colorista-drag-lock Amazon has great deals on the Kensington Expert Mouse Trackball so grab one, for both Mac and PC. If you are interested in learning more about color correction and color grading you should also pick up a copy of Steve Hullfish’s great book The Art and Technique of Digital Color Correction. He goes into great detail about all aspects of this art and he does it with a lot of different software examples. It’s a great resource for all things color correction.


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  • benr

    Can someone explain to me why, if Kensington can sell this ball for $60, and audio hardware companies like Frontier Designs and Novation can make the AlphaTrack (under $200, with a motorised fader, 3 touch sensitive rotory controls and transport buttons) and Nocturn (9 touch sensitive dials and a dozen buttons, $150), some company can’t make a perfectly usable three-way control surface for around $400-500?

    The best we’ve got is the “budget” Tangent Wave at $1600!

    It might have been a niche market five years ago, but surely such a device at that price point would fly off the shelves these days. Am I missing something?

  • http://www.sparkmedia.com Paul Carlin

    I’d like to see three trackballs and a tablet all working together. A driver to support Colorista/Color would allow each trackball to control low/mid/high. Add a rubber band to hold it all together and you’ve taken a giant leap towards improving your workflow.

    • http://www.scottsimmons.tv Scott Simmons

      As far as working in Color, the ‘drag lock’ method where you click the two button together does work since that works in any app where you click and drag …. like the Color color wheels. But the scroll ring doesn’t seem to have any effect at all.

  • Dennitzio

    I use a Kensington trackball and a Wacom 12×12 together. Best combo ever, especially for video editing. Sometimes I pretend I’m using am using an Inferno (look, ma, no keyboard!)

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  • http://www.petersalvia.wordpress.com Peter Salvia

    What great intuitive and innovative approach Scott! After grading my second 1 hour show using nothing but a 5 button mouse and the keyboard my shoulder just about fell off. I will definitely be looking for more control surface offerings at this year’s NAB.

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  • http://ShaverAssociates.net Rob

    Here’s an out-of-the-box idea: Just buy three Kensington $60 trackballs. Then you’d need some kind of driver or something to bind each to it’s respective screen controls/color wheels.

    So $180 and some software and you’ve got it.

  • http://ShaverAssociates.net Rob

    Oh, I see Paul Carlin had the same suggestion.

  • Mark Timmer

    I bought the Kensington trackball but it says the software is not working on a intel Mac?? Downloaded the latest driver (from 2006!) from their website but that didn’t make any difference. Can you help me out?

    • http://www.scottsimmons.tv Scott Simmons

      I got mine here:


      It’s called Mouseworks and it’s down at the bottom. Says it works with Intel-Macs and has worked for me on two machines.

  • Jaime Cano

    Does it work in Color as well?

  • Jean-Jacques Briquet

    Great deal on the link so I had to get one. I am not a fan of trackballs, maybe because the last time I had to use one is when I broke my thumb skating and had to use a computer for school. But man this rocks, color correcting this way is so much better than using a mouse, not talking about using the ring for transport also. So who is up the task of making a trackball trio to work as a DVRebel control surface, there has to be a way.

  • Lee Niederkofler

    The software doesn’t recognizes the expert mouse! I use a new mac book pro???

  • adrjork

    To adjust the level sliders beneath the color wheels, is it possible to use the “virtual” scroll ring action of the SlimBlade (Kesington trackball without scroll ring, but with a function that emulates it)?

  • Gene Greenwood

    Is theere a link to your photos as they are all broken links

    • bfrazer

      Thanks for asking, Gene. At some point the image links on a bunch of our older stories became broken. I’m checking with our IT guys to see if all of these images have actually been nuked, or if they still live on a server somewhere where we can re-link them to the article. Stay tuned.

  • Gene Greenwood

    Is there any way that you have the pics and we can repost it. Seems a lot of peeps are into this for the Davinci Resolve. I followed your deal and love it