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Blackmagic DaVinci Goes up to 11

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CreativeCOW presents Blackmagic DaVinci Goes up to 11 -- DaVinci Resolve Review


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Whether you are an experienced colorist or new to the world of color management, the question of the day is "What will happen when I turn it up to 11?"

Sympathy for Nigel Tufnel aside – after all he is a rock star and I'm not – at least I have learned that 11 IS louder. And possibly, a LUT is like a capo for your amplifier: no sense learning all those finger contortions, if all you want to do is play a piece, say, in a different key. Too loose a reference? Maybe it's an artist thing.

This is going to be a personal view – that of a colorist, mostly working as a service bureau, importing projects from any number of clients using a variety of edit software. Although Resolve is being used in many aspects of recorded media production – on-set, in edit prep, pre-vis, in parallel with post production editing, visual effects and mastering/versioning – not everyone will use all the tools for everything; some will only use it for its core strength, which is colorgrade.

Resolve is a complete color management package. It is not a plug-in. It is meant to be a highly flexible, adaptable solution, designed to cope with the entire environment within color management. That is, it not only deals with the individual values within an image, but provides the means to control those values within the many colorspaces in use today – mobile devices, broadcast television, recorded media, and theatrical release. It is now much more, with apparently plenty of room to grow.

However you have – or plan to acquire – the software, for a while now, there have been a couple of things that must be present for a successful install.

For the past few versions, there have been five options: two "Lite" and two "full" versions for Windows and MacOS, and a Linux package. "Lite" is free to download; the full license as always has a price tag and is dongle controlled.

(Here is the Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve version comparison page.)

The main difference between the Lite and full offerings has not changed appreciably — a few processes are not available in the free version, but there are some very significant similarities, in that the hardware platform has always been demanding – Release 11 is no exception. Without going into a lot of detail, it is now more important than ever to review the configuration PDF that is published on the Blackmagic Design website. Resolve relies on its optimized relationship with its host operating system, drivers and system accessories. It is crucial that these be as up to date as possible.

(Here are links to the 2014 configuration guides for Windows, Mac, and Linux.)


RESOLVE 11
Blackmagic stresses that over 140 changes, improvements and implementations have been added since the last release. Some users may note that the download has also been slightly streamlined. The payload used to include some test footage and at least the manual as a PDF – are not included in this version.

It is worth noting that the manual is still accessible under the Help tab, and text-searchable. The only quibble I might have with that approach is that it is a distinct advantage to already be familiar with Resolve's internal vocabulary and workflow – essentially, knowing already what you are asking for, so a real neophyte would be well advised to spend some time with simply reading the manual or taking advantage of some of the numerous online teaching resources – and, of course, the DaVinci Resolve forum at Creative COW.

 

[Ed. note: by request from the folks in that forum, we added an additional forum exclusively focused on DaVinci Resolve Basics & Configuration – needless to say, a highly recommended stop as well.]


NEW FEATURES
I don't know whether they count the new logo as one of the differences, but this is your first hint that you have Resolve 11:





It's that orange circle with the little white propeller. Maybe I should move my dock to the lower edge of screen. Frankly, I liked the little prismatic propeller better, but that would be harder and more expensive to print on a T-shirt – maybe this is in preparation for NAB'15?

So when you click on that, you get this:




… a moody amber-and-teal scene perhaps depicting a grassy landscape, and the usual list of trademarks and patents – names of processes recognized as part of the colorgrading language. Yes, they invented those things.

After that, it starts to look pretty familiar to those who have been keeping current with Resolve's evolution. So far, with some exceptions, it is hard to tell the difference sometimes, as there is a continuity in the overall look and feel of the implementation. Whether this is a good thing or not may depend on a user's expectations of either a graphically-arresting game experience or a utilitarian work environment. But that might be another artist thing.

Once the application is fully launched, users added and/or selected, we are actually already involved in a thematic workflow. By default, we are presented with (in part):





… a "Media" page, the first of four basic modes that the application offers.

The others are "Edit," "Color," and "Delivery" – which makes sense considering a conventional way of thinking about how a job is organized. From a fundamental point of view, the simple goal for using this software is to bring in media, treat it, and send it back to wherever it came from – which would ordinarily proceed from left to right as it does across the bottom of the User Interface page.

What is not shown in this screen grab is the browser, monitor and media pool partitions that would start making up the source bins that will contribute to the playable timeline. There have been improvements made toward disclosing as much information about the media as exists, and in many instances, provision to change some of a clip's individual parameters. Very powerful stuff when attempting to integrate codecs that might not be as complete as others, lacking timecode, for example – or even requiring a re-assignment, whether internally (change timecode) or re-link a clip reference to a completely new source file, which would be part of a reconforming process.

This is really where the current version starts to depart, at least as far as its kernel function is concerned, because at least according to the marketing, what we are now dealing with is a new kind of Non-Linear Editing system. This could be a pivot point for the editing sector, but as advanced as the edit function is becoming, in this colorist's opinion, it still has some growing to do.

When we open the "Edit" page, the "Master" timeline is no longer present as a "sequence of everything," but can be created if its existence might be an advantage – the so-called "Remote Grade" approach. Otherwise, as has been the case, this is where EDLs, XMLs, AAFs and so on can be imported to rebuild a timeline composed in some other editing application.

It should be noted that selecting any one of the tool/icons shown below is more of a branching operation – once the operator's cursor is actually deployed, the tool's action changes in relation to the clip extents. For example, "on" a boundary will "roll" the cut, slightly "away" from the cut, a click-and-drag will "slip" or "slide" the clip… and so on. That's the second icon from the left that does most of those things. The other icons overwrite, insert, replace, very much like the actions found in most editing software.





It would be even better if an edit interface was as intuitive as a film splicer, but those days are gone. The process of editing is now way beyond slapping a sequence of pictures on a timeline. It does need to be observed that the basics are there – sequence assembly is definitely possible, and has been for some time as an *on-line* tool, more than equal to the task of making revisions to an otherwise-locked timeline.

However, this is not the same as creating a coherent scene in a free-form creative atmosphere, where there may be many cameras, takes, and audio tracks in play. The recent addition of waveforms in the edit page is a definite asset, and might help alleviate the lack of an audio scrubbing ability, but for those who need to hear the media in order to differentiate critical cues, it might not be enough.

It is interesting that the "old" multi-track layered model for stacking video priority is still a standard approach. As far as gestural functions are concerned, in various modes, mouse actions switch in proximity to clip extents – in time there may be some efficiency gains to be had, but it is going to take some practice and muscle memory to be confident with whether an editor is going to execute a slip, slide, roll, or trim when they decide to click and drag. *And you can.* But so far, at least for me, its a good thing that 'apple-z' is still "Undo."

 

NLE COMPARISONS?
Before diving into any meaningful feature-for-feature comparisons with other NLEs, there really are some basic internal engine functions that have to be addressed. Resolve's major strength is its ability to process a large number of high resolution media types in real time, something that many other applications have either completely failed to deliver or had to rely on caching or proxy strategies.

Here is the issue. One of the essences of the editing function is nimbleness – the ability to retrieve, arrange, and display decisions as fast as the speed of thought – and the competition in this sector is brutal and unforgiving. It has been reported that the playback "smoothness' in the Resolve edit page is not the same – fundamentally smooth, real-time as in the COLOR page, where the image enhancements are made.

This may be in part due to some internal data-handling differences. I do not have any insights into this as a software engineer, but it has the feel of needing two media players. Whether it would be a good idea to splash up the media the way an NLE would, without any recoding, in the edit page, and then flip to the Resolve engine for adding the color correction might be for another generation of computers.

All that said, many third-party transitions are now supported, effects can be trimmed for ballistics (ease-in, ease-out), time code addresses can now be directly typed into the user interface! With feedback in the viewer! Little by little, the proprietary control surface gives up its small luxuries.

A number of producers and editors voiced the opinion to me personally that the next project they did would be in Resolve and would bring it to me pre-built. So far that hasn't happened, although there have been a lot of new projects. When the rubber met the road at the end of the day, for whatever reason, they all decided to stay with what they knew and we would just continue to work it out.

What would be really great would be if everyone had a copy of at least Resolve Lite on their workstations and tried to export the job to pre-troubleshoot the migration. The only hurdle is making sure that the editing workstation can support booting Resolve – but it would likely eliminate the vast majority of show-stoppers that take up so much irreplaceable problem-solving time in the production schedule.

The fact of the matter is that the existing edit interface in Resolve has some very familiar features and functions and is much, much easier to learn, comparatively speaking, than figuring out some of the truly bizarre incompatibilities between application timelines as they are imported from other sources.


BACK TO COLOR…
One major change in the COLOR page is the secondary qualifications keyer.




Matte Finesse may become a friend of yours.

Denoise is new. No more, or at least fewer, sparkling keys. Black and White clip work like limiters, increasing the contrast of an alpha channel, and for those who think they might be missing the Inside/Outside blur, its combined into the "Ratio" factor. I've been dealing with some overcast bare-branch treeline horizons for the past while and this tool works better at working out separations that were never, ever meant to be keys.

Color Match has been generating some chat:




The way this is supposed to work is when a scene is being set up, an approved, calibrated test chart is recorded as part of the source footage. Theoretically, anyone dealing with the incoming footage can apply this tool to analyze the values inherent in the footage and bring those values to match a standard.

Color charts have been in use for a very long time of course, with varying results. There are a few caveats. First, the chart has to be shot in a very controlled way – evenly lit, not angled in such a way that it is picking up any shadows or reflected stray (non-image-forming) reflections, and so on.

It should be obvious that if any lighting conditions change between the recording of the chart and the first actual take, or the fifth, or the seventy-second, then the standard is essentially ruined, but this is a "set" problem – which could be due to anything from budget and scheduling issues to a halogen lamp going sour. It's a tool. Great when it works, but be prepared to cope with what happens when it doesn't. Of dubious value to the highly-experienced … it requires a lot of experience to get it right.

And please don't try to make your own charts. Seriously.




Nice try.


Grouping is another very useful new feature.




Pre-clip means that adjustments made to this node tree will be applied to the group prior to any individual clips within that group. The company example is the application of a log-transform to linearize a group, but it could be anything. Correct color temperature for a series of shots that were obviously mis-filtered, then make them all black and white.

You could then go into clip mode to tweak them relative to each other, and then, when someone in the room asks to see the whole scene a little darker, use Post-clip to grade the group a few points down without tweaking them all again.

Maybe it might mean trying to figure out how to ripple a relative value correction over a range – one of those pesky finger contortions that Nigel Tufnel would not bother with. Nor should you.

Speaking of groups: Collaboration.




This screen grab has all the "Collaboration" options grayed out because my #2 system is not part of a centralized server. However this could be extremely valuable in a shared workflow where many actions are being carried out on larger projects with a complex network of teams working on various versions of scenes, effects, episodes and so on.

This might not be so obvious an advantage to independent project producers who can control the evolution of a show's revision process, but where a lot of clips are changing hands, authorship becomes critical.


EasyDCP is not new to Resolve 11. It appeared in Version 10, but it is worth mentioning that Resolve does offer a viable player, at least for conforming a Digital Cinema Package. It does not fully emulate all the vague little snags that exist out there in the wild among all the divergent server types in use, but at least you can see what you made, and Fraunhofer explicitly makes its software with Blackmagic display hardware in mind. Buy the easyDCP license to make the watermark go away.





DELIVERY
Getting to the last step, the "Delivery" page is now offered in three sections:




If all you are doing is a round trip – out of some NLE and back again – this is the only page you need. You have refrained from trying to revise your AAF-imported timeline though, I hope. That often doesn't work, especially if there were actions embedded in the sequence that made it complicated to get the whole timeline running in the first place.


RESOLVE GOES TO 11
No, I am not covering all 140 features. Work for me is about to commence on an overlapping series. It's possible that there will be opportunities to discuss more real-world situations as they come up, but so far, so good. Safe to proceed.

Color control, beyond simple correction, is itself more important than ever. Digital production techniques call on many image origination strategies, and final product release is now a panoply of displays, devices, streams, and methods. The challenge before software developers now is to make it simpler but more sophisticated, bigger, faster, but not heavier – and the role of 'colorist', not well-defined to begin with, can now encompass the skills of an editor, lighting director, camera operator, roto-artist, VFX specialist, tracker, delivery author and so on. No more simply making it lighter and darker, sometimes at the same time.

Few applications get into double-digit versions. Many peak at around V5 or 6, and then start to decline, either because their internal processing becomes obsolete, its market is superseded by some environmental influence – competition, usefulness – or it is simply time to re-envision its whole reason for being. The (small-d) daVinci color correction system, now (capital-D) DaVinci, in use in one form or another for nearly thirty years, is still evolving with only more utility to come.



Comments

Re: Article: Blackmagic DaVinci Goes up to 11
by David Mathis
Thank you very much for this article. The biggest hurdle for me as adopting Resolve as my primary, wait, only NLE is the playback as you described. I sincerely hope that Blackmagic Design will address in the next version or preferably in another update.

I look forward to see what their plans are with Fusion and given their history, all should be good. Until now it is FCP X for editing and Motion for the basic motion graphics and titles. Resolve will be used mainly for color grading though I am tempted to do a rough cut in there. Trimming tools are much better and some of the features from Final Cut Pro 7, such as adding a transition to multiple clips with one a simple keyboard shortcut is a very big bonus.
Re: Article: Blackmagic DaVinci Goes up to 11
by Russ Froze
Really I am very interested in what has happened to Resolve. With BorisFX as plugins and of coarse Fusion I see no reason to pay for a subscription to Avid or Adobe when Resolve lite is free. Perhaps playback is choppy but I'm willing to live with it since resolve has no problem ingesting Magic Lanterns dng files over a network. Perfect, no far from it but it's a great start. Pulled a great key with BCC9 did some light wrap and color grading and cut the thing together all in one app. No trans coding or round trips of the Magic Lantern dng and oh my the render speed is amazing. Say what you will but this package looks like a contender and if nothing else it will rock the foundations of post and make others rethink their approach. Thank you Black Magic Design
Russ Froze
Re: Article: Blackmagic DaVinci Goes up to 11
by Russ Froze
I can honestly state that I am seriously contemplating Davinci Resolve as my next NLE. With the addition of plugin support for Boris CC and soon I hope Eyeon Fusion there is no reason to leave Resolve. It's lightning fast, supports just about any codec (including dng, cdng) and renders out quicker than anyone else. Davinci Resolve has been turned into a real slicing and dicing machine. All I can say is wow and fairly soon good bye Adobe, Avid and yes even my beloved Vegas. Of coarse it plays nice on a Mac as well. Can you say good bye to subscription? Oh yes I can, I certainly can and will.
Russ Froze


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