Taking a Bite out of Cookie Monster with Resolve 9
COW Library : DaVinci Resolve : Juan Salvo : Taking a Bite out of Cookie Monster with Resolve 9
Finishing and color correcting the Cookie Monster music video spoof of the Carly Rae Jepsen hit "Call Me Maybe" was my latest fun and challenging job. Who doesn't love Cookie Monster? Intended to be a viral video, "Share It Maybe" needed to be shot and finished as quickly as possible. As serendipity would have it, I was part of Blackmagic Design's private beta for Resolve 9, which gave me the power and features I needed to do just that.
As a freelance colorist in New York City, I am not pigeonholed into any one genre. I work on a wide variety of projects, including narrative features, shorts, music videos, corporate videos, commercials and documentaries. I often work out of GRS Systems, which does rentals, duplications and conversion services. I also do commercial work at agencies around town and have worked as a consultant on projects by luminary documentary filmmakers as well as acted as post-supervisor on nationally broadcast series such as "Spain...on the Road Again" with Mario Batali and Gwyneth Paltrow.
My career started in Miami, where I was a news editor. I got into high-end suites working on linear editing systems, which led me to doing commercials. That's where I started doing color and finishing work. I really enjoy finishing because I like being the guy who saves the day. The client comes in with issues with source material, with different video standards and codecs, and I'm the guy who can say, yes we can fix that.
Color is a craft in and of itself. It gets associated with editing and finishing, but it is its own detailed, careful, thoughtful work. It takes a lot of emotional awareness. You have to understand the context of what you're grading and the overall feel of the piece, as well as the technical aspects of manipulating color and the limits of what you can do. It's a learned skill that you develop over time. It takes practice and experience. What I love about doing color work is seeing my skills and sensibilities develop over time.
What is wrong with this picture? Not quite the right color. Click image for larger view.
Cookie Monster needs to be just the right shade of blue. Click image for larger view.
The toolsets have also gotten better over time. I started in color correction with a Sony BVX-10 color-correction unit in an online editing suite. I was able to get amazing results using what would now seem like basic red, green and blue knob controls for setup, gamma and gain, correcting for camera white balance and overall tonality. As I left Miami for Seattle, Atlanta and Charlotte, I gained access to finishing systems from Quantel and Discreet (now Autodesk), which allowed me to further hone my grading and finishing skills, doing more fine, detailed work , specific to the scenes or shot. But as the industry shifted away from linear systems to NLE solutions like Avid, Media 100 and eventually Final Cut Pro, I needed a system specifically focused on color correction, so we ended up using Final Touch (which became Color), an affordable solution for a 4K capable system. It allowed us to work in better color space, with much finer control and tracking.
I was always aware of DaVinci, or as it was known then, daVinci. Having had the pleasure of seeing it in action on some commercial jobs, I knew what an amazing solution it was, but Final Touch offered us similar capabilities in a more affordable package, so I couldn't justify investing in it. But when Blackmagic Design bought it and made it affordable, I immediately jumped on board. The Resolve tools and functionality were great and the speed of the GPU processing on a Mac-based system blew me away.
The Resolve tools and functionality were great and the speed of the GPU processing on a Mac-based system blew Juan away. Click image for larger view.
We picked it up on day one, of course, and almost three years later I found myself in the private beta for Version 9 when the Cookie Monster video came up. My friends Josh and Jason Diamond (of the Diamond Brothers) were directing the video, working with editor Jesse Averna and producer Jim Muscarella of The Hidden Fortress, and asked if I wanted to be involved. I jumped at the chance, knowing that Resolve 9 would be the perfect tool for the job.
At that point in the beta, I knew that Resolve 9 was remarkably solid and had some incredibly useful new features. The first time I opened Resolve 9, I was impressed with how clean and concise everything was, focused on exactly what you need to do in each step without any clutter. Functionality is more visible and streamlined, and the organizational features allowed us to name nodes and thus track what we're doing within the grade as well as flag and mark shots or frames within shots. Those small interface changes really helped to accelerate the workflow.
Resolve 9's streamlined project selection made it so fast to get started, and the new scrub-able media thumbnails let me review source clips and identify the shots I wanted in a very efficient manner. Perhaps best of all, the conform back to RED R3D files from Jesse Averna's offline cut took three quick steps and a few seconds. New production metadata fields are handy for shot notes, and resizable gallery stills let me work the way I want, bringing in my custom library of style grades as well as tracking versions and grades for particular scenes within the project.
For "Share It Maybe," Cookie Monster was shot on a greenscreen in several scenes, and Resolve 9's great new compositing features made my job a lot easier. We could do a rough key, look at the composite, rough in the grade, and preview it for the Diamond Brothers who approved the color. I used qualifiers to selectively grade Cookie Monster to make sure he was the right shade of blue, and being able to use multiple nodes gave me a fabulous amount of fine control. A key on Cookie Monster's fur tones kept his corrections isolated from the rest of the image.
The before shot looks gloomy and muted. Click image for larger view.
Great color grading work, Juan! The color graded shot is bright and cheerful. Cookie Monster looks a little dismayed at his empty bowl. He must needs cookies. Click image for larger view.
Probably the biggest challenge was fixing the video of the original Carly Rae Jepsen music video, which is playing on a computer monitor in the "Share It Maybe" video. Shooting off an LCD screen meant there was glare, so it was difficult to see what was playing. Ordinarily you'd send a shot like that to visual effects, but we didn't have the time or budget resources. What I did was use Resolve 9's sophisticated tracker to generate a matte in another, and then use a key mixer node to combine the two. Using these two techniques with Resolve's node-based workflow, I was able to apply a pretty drastic grade, only affecting the image in the computer screen. Using Resolve 9's new feature set for what would have been a visual effect saved a lot of time and made the workflow much more efficient.
Cookie Monster's greenscreen shots were keyed in Adobe After Effects and rendered out as ProRes 4444 files, and with Resolve 9's new support for alpha channels, it was simple to execute the final composites. Then it was just a matter of a lightning fast render for final delivery.
I was able to put "Share It Maybe" through the entire post workflow -- including compositing and keying -- in roughly six hours. Now the video has almost 9 million views.
It was so much fun to be involved in "Share It Maybe," which was shot in the Sesame Street offices and featured actual Sesame Street employees. As a freelance colorist, I'm continually faced with new challenges. With the new features of Resolve 9 as well as its reliability and speed, the technology takes a back seat and I can focus on doing my job as a colorist.
The video has almost 9 million views now.
Thanks also to Debra Kaufman for coordination and additional editing on this piece.