The FCP X – RED – Resolve Dance

df_fcpx-red-resolve_5

I recently worked on a short 10 minute teaser video for a potential longer film project. It was shot with a RED One camera, so it was a great test for the RED workflow and roundtrips using Apple Final Cut Pro 10.1.2/10.1.3 and DaVinci Resolve 11.

Starting the edit

As with any production, the first step is to properly back up and verify the data from the camera and sound cards. These files should go to redundant drives that are parked on the shelf for safe keeping. After this has been done, now you can copy the media to the editorial drives. In this case, I was using a LaCie RAID-5 array. Each day’s media was placed in a folder and divided into subfolders for RED, audio and other cameras, like a few 5D shots.

df_fcpx-red-resolve_4Since I was using FCP X and its RED and proxy workflows, I opted not to use REDCINE-X Pro as part of this process. In fact, the Mac Pro also didn’t have any RED Rocket accelerator card installed either, as I’ve seen conflicts with FCP X and RED transcodes when the RED Rocket card was installed. After the files were copied to the editorial drives, they were imported into an FCP X event, with media left in its original location. In the import setting, the option to transcode proxy media was enabled, which continues in the background while you start to work with the RED files directly. The camera files are 4K 16×9 .r3d files, so FCP X transcodes these to half-sized ProRes Proxy media.

df_fcpx-red-resolve_1Audio was recorded as double-system sound using a Sound Devices recorder. The audio files were 2-channel broadcast WAV files using slates for syncing. There was no in-camera audio and no common timecode. I was working with a couple of assistant editors, so I had them sync each clip manually. Instead of using FCP X’s synchronized clips, I had them alter each master clip using the “open in timeline” command. This lets you edit the audio directly to the video as a connected clip within the master clip. Once done, your master clip contains synced audio and video.  It functions just like a master clip with in-camera audio – almost (more on that later).df_fcpx-red-resolve_9

All synced clips were relabeled with a camera, scene and take designation, as well as adding this info to the camera, scene and take columns. Lastly, script notes were added to the notes column based on the script supervisor’s reports.

Transcodes

df_fcpx-red-resolve_6Since the post schedule wasn’t super-tight, I was able to let the transcodes finish overnight, as needed. Once this is done, you can switch FCP X to working with proxies and all the media will be there. The toggle between proxy and/or optimized-original media is seamless and FCP X takes care of properly changing all sizing information. For example, the project is 4K media in a 1080p timeline. FCP X’s spatial conform downscales the 4K media, but then when you toggle to proxy, it has to make the corresponding adjustments to media that is now half-sized. Likewise any blow-ups or reframing that you do also have to match in both modes.

df_fcpx-red-resolve_2The built-in proxy/optimized-original workflow provides you with offline/online editing phases right within the same system. Proxies for fast and efficient editing. Original or high-resolution transcodes for finishing. To keep the process fast and initially true to color decisions made on set, no adjustments were made to the RED files. FCP X does let you alter the camera raw color metadata from inside the application, but there’s no real reason to do this for offline editing files. That can be deferred until it’s time to do color correction. So during the edit, you see what the DoP shot as you view the RED files or the transcoded proxies.

df_fcpx-red-resolve_3We did hit one bad camera load. This might have been due to either a bad RED drive or possibly excessive humidity at that location. No matter what the reason, the result was a set of corrupt RED clips. We didn’t initially realize this in FCP X, and so, hit clips that caused frequent crashes. Once I narrowed it down to the load from that one location, I decided to delete these clips. For that group of shots, I used REDCINE-X Pro to transcode the files. I adjusted the color for a flatter, neutral profile (for later color correction) and transcoded full-resolution debayered 1080p ProRes 4444 files. We considered these as the new camera masters for those clips. Even there, REDCINE-X Pro crashed on a few of the clips, but I still had enough to make a scene out of it.

Editing

The first editing step is culling down the footage in FCP X. I do a first pass rejecting all bogus shots, like short clips of the floor, a bad slate, etc. Set the event browser to “hide rejected”. Next I review the footage based on script notes, looking at the “circle takes” first, plus picking a few alternates if I have a different opinion. I will mark these as Favorites. As I do this, I’ll select the whole take and not just a portion, since I want to see the whole take.

Once I start editing, I switch the event browser to “show favorites”. In the list view, I’ll sort the event by the scene column, which now gives me a quick roadmap of all possible good clips in the order of the script. During editing, I cut mainly using the primary storyline to build up the piece. This includes all overlapping audio, composites, titles and so on. Cutting proceeds until the picture is locked. Once I’m ready to move on to color correction, I export a project XML in the FCPXML format.

Resolve

df_fcpx-red-resolve_7I used the first release version (not beta) of DaVinci Resolve 11 Lite to do this grade. My intention was to roundtrip it back to FCP X and not to use Resolve as a finishing tool, since I had a number of keys and composites that were easier done in FCP X than Resolve. Furthermore, when I brought the project into Resolve, the picture was right, but all of the audio was bogus – wrong takes, wrong syncing, etc. I traced this down to my initial “open in timeline” syncing, which I’ll explaining in a bit. Anyway, my focus in Resolve was only grading and so audio wasn’t important for what I was doing. I simply disabled it.

Importing the FCPXML file into a fresh Resolve 11 project couldn’t have been easier. It instantly linked the RED, 5D and transcoded ProRes 4444 files and established an accurate timeline for my picture cut. All resizing was accurately translated. This means that in my FCP X timeline, when I blew up a shot to 120% (which is a blow-up of the 1080p image that was downscaled from the 4K source), Resolve knew to take the corresponding crop from the full 4K image to equal this framing of the shot without losing resolution.

The one video gotcha I hit was with the FCP X timeline layout. FCP X is one of the only NLEs that lets you place video BELOW what any other software would consider to be the V1 track – that’s the primary storyline. Some of my green screen composite shots were of a simulated newscast inserted on a TV set hanging on a wall in the primary scene. I decided to place the 5 or 6 layers that made up this composite underneath the primary storyline. All fine inside FCP X, however, in Resolve, it has to interpret the lowest video element as V1, thus shifting everything else up accordingly. As a result the, bulk of the video was on V6 or V7 and audio was equally shifted in the other direction. This results in a lot of vertical timeline scrolling, since Resolve’s smallest track height is still larger than most.

df_fcpx-red-resolve_8Resolve, of course, is a killer grading tool that handles RED media well. My grading approach is to balance out the RED shots in the first node. Resolve lets you adjust the camera raw metadata settings for each individual clip, if you need to. Then in node 2, I’ll do most of my primary grading. After that, I’ll add nodes for selective color adjustments, masks, vignettes and so on. Resolve’s playback settings can be adjusted to throttle back the debayer resolution on playback for closer-to-real-time performance with RED media. This is especially important, when you aren’t running the fastest drives, fastest GPU cards nor using a RED Rocket card.

To output the result, I switched over to Resolve’s Deliver tab and selected the FCP X easy set-up. Select handle length, browse for a target folder and run. Resolve is a very fast renderer, even with GPU-based RED debayering, so output wasn’t long for the 130 clips that made up this short. The resulting media was 1080p ProResHQ with an additional 3 seconds per clip on either side of the timeline cut – all with baked in color correction. The target folder also contains a new FCPXML that corresponds to the Resolve timeline with proper links to the new media files.

Roundtrip back into FCP X

Back in FCP X, I make sure I’ve turned off the import preference to transcode proxy media and that my toggle is set back to original/optimized media. Find the new FCPXML file from Resolve and import it. This will create a new event containing a new FCP X project (edited sequence), but with media linked to the Resolve render files. Audio is still an issue, for now.

There is one interesting picture glitch, which I believe is a bug in the FCPXML metadata. In the offline edit, using RED or proxy media, spatial conform is enabled and set to “fit”. That scales the 4K file to a 1080p timeline. In the sequence back from Resolve, I noticed the timeline still had yellow render bars. When I switched the spatial conform setting on a clip to “none”, the render bar over it went away, but the clip blew up much larger, as if it was trying to show a native 4K image at 1:1. Except, that this was now 1080 media and NOT 4K. Apparently this resizing metadata is incorrectly held in the FCPXML file and there doesn’t appear to be any way to correct this. The workaround is to simply let it render, which didn’t seem to hurt the image quality as far as I could tell.

Audio

Now to an explanation of the audio issue. FCP X master clips are NOT like any other master clips in other NLEs, including FCP 7. X’s master clips are simply containers for audio and video essence and, in that way, are not unlike compound clips. Therefore, you can edit, add and/or alter – even destructively – any material inside a master clip when you use the “open in timeline” function. You have to be careful. That appears to be the root of the XML translation issue and the audio. Of course, it all works fine WITHIN the closed FCP X environment!

Here’s the workaround. Start in FCP X. In the offline edited sequence (locked rough cut) and the sequence from Resolve, detach all audio. Delete audio from the Resolve sequence. Copy and paste the audio from the rough cut to the Resolve sequence. If you’ve done this correctly it will all be properly synced. Next, you have to get around the container issue in order to access the correct WAV files. This is done simply by highlighting the connected audio clip(s) and using the “break apart clip items” command. That’s the same command used to break apart compound clips into their component source clips. Now you’ll have the original WAV file audio and not the master clip from the camera.

df_fcpx-red-resolve_11At this stage I still encountered export issues. If your audio mixing engineer wants an OMF for an older Pro Tools unit, then you have to go through FCP 7 (via an Xto7 translation) to create the OMF file. I’ve done this tons of time before, but for whatever reason on this project, the result was not useable. An alternative approach is to use Resolve to convert the FCPXML into XML, which can then be imported into FCP 7. This worked for an accurate translation, except that the Resolve export altered all stereo and multi-channel audio tracks into a single mono track. Therefore, a Resolve translation was also a fail. At this point in time, I have to say that a proper OMF export from FCP X-edited material is no longer an option or at least unreliable at best.

df_fcpx-red-resolve_10This leaves you with two options. If your mixing engineer uses Apple Logic Pro X, then that appears to correctly import and convert the native FCPXML file. If your mixer uses Pro Tools (a more likely scenario) then newer versions will read AAF files. That’s the approach I took. To create an AAF, you have to export an FCPXML from the project file. Then using the X2Pro Audio Convert application, generate an AAF file with embedded and trimmed audio content. This goes to the mixer who in turn can ingest the file into Pro Tools.

Once the mix has been completed, the exported AIF or WAV file of the mix is imported into FCP X. Strip off all audio from the final version of the FCP X project and connect the clip of the final mix to the beginning of the timeline. Now you are done and ready to export deliverables.

For more on RED and FCP X workflows, check out this series of posts by Sam Mestman at MovieMaker.

Part 1   Part 2   Part 3

©2014 Oliver Peters

DaVinci Resolve 10

df_r10_1_sm

Last NAB, Blackmagic Design caused everyone to perk up when it touted Resolve 10 as an online editor. Once it was released, it became a bit more obvious that Resolve was still primarily a color corrector, but one that also added editing features. This latest update has been out for a number of months (including a lengthy public beta period) and gone through several updates. Resolve 10 was a free update for owners of previous versions. No short review can do this program justice, due to the depth of its toolset, but let’s take a quick dive into what it has to offer. (Click any image to enlarge.)

df_r10_10_smDaVinci Resolve 10 comes in several versions for Mac and Windows, including Resolve Lite (free), Resolve Software ($995) and Resolve ($29,995), which includes the custom Resolve control surface. There are also Linux configurations. All versions will only work with Blackmagic video devices for I/O and monitoring, but these are not required for operation. In addition to mouse, trackpad and tablet control, Tangent Devices (Wave, Elements), JL Cooper (Eclipse) and Avid Artist control panels may be used as lower cost alternatives to the Resolve control surface. The free Lite version is most likely the biggest software bang-for-the-buck in the industry, but you’ll need the paid version for blur and noise reduction, 3D stereoscopic work, support for more than two GPUs and output at sizes bigger that UltraHD.

New in Resolve 10

df_r10_2_smSince Resolve 10 was a pretty thorough overhaul of the Resolve 9 interface, there’s a lot new in terms of minor changes throughout the application. Many functions are more streamlined and logical and will make more sense to the new user. Editing is the biggest new addition and most of the typical functions are there, including various edit modes, tracks, effects, titles, speed changes, transitions and audio. Although I really can’t envision starting any edit from scratch in Resolve 10, it’s easier than ever to make editorial changes when the client has last minute adjustments in mind. The point is that this can now be achieved in the grading session, without having to go back into an edit bay.

df_r10_9_smA big addition is the integration of an effects architecture, using the OpenFX plug-in format. Various developers are tweaking their OpenFX filters for compatibility with Resolve 10, but already I’ve been able to test the FilmConvert film emulation plug-in. Filters are applied to clips or a complete track as a node, so there are no third-party transition effects. However, since Resolve can render the timeline as a single file or as individual source clips, this means that the rendered clips will also have the applied effects baked into the rendered media. The application of an OpenFX filter to a node will slow down render speeds.

Resolve 10 also gained the ability to create DCPs straight from the timeline for cinema masters. However this only preps the project settings and does not cover the licensing fees that you need for an actual DCP export.

Nodes

df_r10_6_smEvery color corrector takes a different approach for how to build up a series of color correction adjustments. Resolve uses nodes, which have become fairly sophisticated. Although, it’s not a true compositor’s node tree, it does start to approach that. Node types include serial, parallel, splitters, combiners and layer mixers. These let a colorist not only string together a series of adjustments (serial nodes), but also split and recombine a signal, and create parallel node paths that are combined for a final output. The layer mixer node includes composite modes, similar to those used in Photoshop. While a lot of Resolve demos got very deep into node trees that dissect every aspect of a shot, I tend to take a simpler approach, sticking to curves and lift/gamma/gain controls. Nevertheless, if you need that power, it’s there in Resolve 10.

Strengths

df_r10_4_smDaVinci Resolve 10 – even the free Lite version – represents an amazing level of versatility. For example, many editors and DITs use it to prep media for an edit. It’s super simple to apply LUTs to log-profile camera files and spit out edit-ready, adjusted source files. Resolve is one of the fastest renderers I’ve encountered and it handles cross-format conversions quite well. For example, it can render Avid-compliant MXF media, which is relatively uncommon. The scaling function is second to none. After Effects used to be my preferred tool for upscaling images, but I’ve found that Resolve is even better. Not only is the quality great, but you have control over the smoothness or crispness of the scaled image.

df_r10_5_smYou can’t talk about Resolve without mentioning the tracker. If you apply a “power window” to a portion of a shot (like a person’s face), you need to track the movement. The tracker in Resolve is a very fast, point-cloud style tracker. These tracks are almost always dead-on, so you never think twice about using the tracker. One the things I especially like about Resolve is the image quality and processing. It uses 32-bit floating math. Essentially this means that you can crank up video in one node – even past the point of clipping – and then pull it back down (recovering detail without a clip) in the next node.

Weaknesses

User interfaces are a very subjective issue in color correction tools, just like they are for editing software. I find this to be a weakness, because I work with a dual-display system. With Resolve you can’t place the viewer on the secondary monitor, like you can with Adobe SpeedGrade CC or Apple Color. You can place the video scopes and the new audio mixer there, but the viewer is locked to the primary screen. If you use the enhanced viewer mode, it hides the node tree. This tends to make operation awkward if you don’t have a control surface nor an external broadcast monitor.

df_r10_3_smThe depth of Resolve’s color correction toolkit is amazing, but it’s almost too much. For example, you have both wheels and sliders for primary control. That makes it very adaptive to different working styles, but it also makes it easy to lose track of which tool you used to make adjustments. Some things don’t make sense to me. For instance, the maximum saturation level isn’t all that large and if you really want a shot dripping with chroma, it takes several serial nodes to do that.

A personal peeve, since I use dual 20” screens, is that something broke between Resolve 9 and Resolve 10. The earliest version of Resolve on the Mac was optimized for 1920×1080 screens (or larger), but then this was subsequently corrected for smaller resolutions, like laptops and the 20” Apple Cinemas. Apparently this has reverted a little with the latest version. With Resolve 9, the interface opened and was correctly scaled for the 20” display. With Resolve 10, the interface opens with the right edge running off the screen. You have to click the green “plus” button (one of the top three buttons in every Mac OS X window) to resize the window to fit the display.

Roundtrips with your editor

df_r10_8_smDaVinci Resolve 10 has the broadest support for roundtrips of any color correction tool, translating XML (Final Cut Pro 7 and Premiere Pro), FCPXML (Final Cut Pro X), EDL and AAF (Avid) list formats. This is a bi-directional roundtrip, so you can import sequences from your NLE into Resolve 10, but then also export NLE-compatible lists that properly relink to the rendered media. When Final Cut Pro X version 10.1 was released, compatibility was broken, but that’s recently been fixed with the latest updates from each company. However, it’s still not quite perfect. I tried two very simple sequences of a few shots each. One sequence used 1920×1080 ProRes HQ files from a Blackmagic Cinema Camera. The other used native, camera raw files from a RED EPIC (various sizes and frame rates). Both sequences were cut in FCP X and the FCPXML from each imported without issue into Resolve 10.

df_r10_7_smGoing the other way, back into FCP X, did present some issues. Both of the new FCPXMLs that were imported into FCP X reported error messages, although the clips and sequences imported correctly. The 1920×1080 files from the BMCC were fine. The EPIC files, which had been resized in the original FCP X timeline, were all interpreted by FCP X as 1280×720, even though Resolve 10 had correctly rendered the media as 1920×1080. These same timelines imported fine into Premiere Pro using standard XMLs.

Final thoughts

DaVinci Resolve 10 is currently the most popular color correction tool, largely because of the free version. It is powerful, though at times I feel that the correction tends to be a little harsher than with other grading applications. The interface could stand to be even more streamlined. Nevertheless, I’ve done grades that required extensive correction, which would have been impossible to achieve in any other color correction application.

It’s an essential tool that functions like a “Swiss Army knife” and as such, you owe it to yourself to spend some time learning it. The manual, written by noted colorist and author Alexis Van Hurkman, is easy to follow. Training resources include online tutorials at Color Grading Central, Ripple Training, Tao of Color and Mixing Light.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / Creative PlanetNetwork.

©2014 Oliver Peters

Color Concepts and Terminology

df_clrterms_10_sm

It’s time to dive into some of the terms and concept that brought you modern color correction software. First of all – color grading versus color correction. Many use these terms to identify different processes, such as technical shot matching versus giving a shot a subjective “look”. I do this too, but the truth of the matter is that they are the same and are interchangeable. Grading tends to be a more European way of naming the process, but it is the same as color correction. (Click on any of the images in this article for an expanded and more descriptive view.)

All of our concepts stem from the film lab process known as color timing. Originally this described the person who knew how long to leave the negative in the chemical bath to achieve the desired result (the “timer”). Once the industry figured out to manipulate color in the negative-to-positive printing process, the “color timer” was the person who controlled the color analyzer and who dialed in degrees of density and red/blue/green coloration. The Dale Grahn Color iPad application will give you a good understanding of this process. Alexis Van Hurkman also covers it in his “Color Correction Handbook”.df_clrterms_09_sm

Electronic video color correction started with early color cameras and telecine (film-to-tape transfer or “film chain”) devices. These were based on red/blue/green color systems, where the video engineer (or “video shader”) would balance out the three components, along with exposure and black level (shadows). He or she would adjust the signal of the pick-up systems, including tubes, CCDs and photoelectric cells.

RCA added circuitry onto their cameras called a chroma proc, which divided the color spectrum according to the six divisions of the vectorscope – red, blue, green, cyan, magenta and yellow. The chroma proc let the operator shift the saturation and/or hue of each one of these six slices. For instance, you could desaturate the reds within the image. Early color correction modules for film-to-tape transfer systems adopted this same circuity. The “primary” controls manipulated the actual pick-up devices, while the “secondary” controls were downstream in the signal chain and let you further fine tune the color according to this simple, six-vector division.

df_clrterms_11_sm

Early color correction system were built to transfer color film to air or to videotape. They were part machine control and part color corrector. Modern color correction for post production came to be, because of these three key advances: memory storage, scene detection and signal decoding.

Memory storage. Once you could store and recall color correction settings, then it was easy to go back and forth between camera angles or shots and apply a different setting to each. Or you could create several looks and preview those for the client. The addition of this technology was the basis for a seminal patent lawsuit, known as the Rainbow patent suit, as the battle ranged over who first developed this technology.

Scene detection. Film transfer systems had to play in real-time to be recorded to videotape, which meant that shot changes had to trigger the change from one color correction setting to the next. Early systems did this via the operator manually marking an edit point (called “notching”), via an EDL (edit decision list) or through automatic scene detection circuitry. This was important for the real-time transfer of edited content, including film prints, cut negative and eventually videotape programs.

Signal decoding. The ability of color correction systems to decode a composite or component analog (and later digital) signal through added hardware, shifted color correction from camera shading and film transfer to being another general post production tool at a post facility. The addition of a signal decoder board in a DaVinci unit split the input signal into RGB parts and enabled the colorist to enhance the correction of an already-edited master using the “secondary” signal electronics of the system. This enabled “tape-to-tape” color correction of edited masters. Thanks to scene detection or an EDL, color correction could be shot-to-shot and frame-accurate, when played back in real-time for its re-encoded, corrected output back to a second videotape master.

Eventually the tools used in hardware-based, tape-to-tape color correction systems became standard. Quantel and Avid led the way by being first to incorporate these features into their nonlinear editing software.

_________________________________

Color correction software tends to break up its control into primary and secondary functions. As you can see from the earlier explanations, there’s really no reason to do that, since we are no longer controlling the pick-up devices within a camera or telecine. Nevertheless, it’s terminology we seem to be comfortable with. Often secondary controls enable masking and keys to isolate color – not because it has to be that way – but, because DaVinci added these features into their secondary control set. In modern correction tools, any function could happen on any layer, node, room, etc.df_clrterms_03_sm

The core language for color manipulation still boils down to the simple controls exemplified by the Dale Grahn app. A signal can be brighter, darker, more or less “dense” (contrast) and have its colorimetry shifted by added or subtracting red, blue or green for the overall image or in the highlight, midrange or shadow portions of the image. This basic approach can be controlled through sliders, knobs, color wheels and other user interfaces. Different software applications and plug-ins get to the same point through different means, so I’ll cover a few approaches here. Bear in mind, that since some of these actually represent somewhat different color science and math, examples that I present might not yield exactly the same results. Many controls are equivalent in their effect, though not necessarily identical in how they affect the image.

df_clrterms_01_smA common misconception is that shadow/mid/highlight controls on a 3-way color corrector will evenly divide the waveform into three discrete ranges. In fact, these are very large, overlapping ranges that interact with each other. If you shift a shadow luminance control up, it doesn’t typically just expand or compress the lower third of the waveform. Although some correctors act this way, most tend to shift the whole waveform up or down. If you change the color balance of the midrange, this color change will also affect shadows and highlights. The following is a quick explanation of some of the popular color control models.

Contrast/pivot/temperature/tint

df_clrterms_07_smContrast and temperature controls have recently become more popular and are considered a more photographic approach to correction. When you adjust contrast, the image levels expand or stretch as viewed on a waveform. Highlights get brighter and shadows deepen. This contrast expansion centers on a pivot point, which by default is at the center of the signal. If you change the pivot slider you are shifting the center point of this contrast expansion. In one direction, this means the contrast control will stretch the range below the pivot point more than above it. Shift the pivot slider in the other direction for the opposite effect.

df_clrterms_06_smColor temperature and tint (also called magenta) controls balance the red/blue/green signal channels in relationship to each other. If you slide a color temperature control while watching an RGB parade display on a waveform, you’ll note that adjustments shift the red and blue channels up or down in the opposite direction to each other, while leaving green unaffected. When you adjust the tint (or magenta) slider, you are adjusting the green channel. As you raise or lower the green, both the red and blue channels move together in a compensating direction.

Slope/offset/power

df_clrterms_08_smThe SOP model is used for CDL (color decision list) values and breaks down the signal according to luma (master), red, green and blue and are expressed in the form of plus or minus values for slope, offset and power. Scratch Play’s color adjustments are a good example of the SOP model in action. Slope is equivalent to gain. Picture the waveform as a diagonal line from dark to light. As you rotate this imaginary line, the higher part becomes taller, which represents brightness values. Think of the slope concept as this rotating line. As such, its results are comparable to a contrast control.

The offset control shifts the entire signal up or down, similar to other shadow or lift controls. The power control alters gamma. As you adjust power, the gamma signal is curved in a positive or negative direction, effectively making the midrange tones lighter or darker.

Lift/gamma/gain

df_clrterms_02_smThe LGG model is the common method used for most 3-way color wheel-style correctors. It effectively works in a similar manner to contrast and SOP, except that the placement of controls makes more sense to most casual users. Gain, as the name implies, increases the signal, effectively expanding the overall values and making highlights brighter. Lift shifts the entire signal higher or lower. Changing a lift control to darken shadows, will also have some effect on the overall image. Gamma bends the curve and effectively makes the midrange values lighter or darker.

Luma ranges

df_clrterms_04_smThe portions of the signal altered by highlight/shadow/midrange controls (like SOP, LGG or other) overlap. If you change the color balance for the midrange tones, you will also contaminate shadows and highlights with this color shift. The extent of the portion that is affected is controlled by a luma range control. Many color correction applications do not give you control over shifting the crossover points of these luma ranges. Some that do, include Avid Symphony, Synthetic Aperture Color Finesse and Adobe SpeedGrade. Each offers curves or sliders to reduce or expand the area controlled by each luma range and effectively tightens or widens the overlap or crossover between the ranges.

DaVinci Resolve includes a similar function within its log-style color wheels panel. It uses range adjustments that can limit the area affected by the balance and saturation controls. Similar results may be achieved by using HSL keyers or qualifiers that include softening controls.

Channels or printer lights

df_clrterms_05_smVideo signals are made up of red, blue and green channel information. It is not uncommon for properly-balanced digital cameras to still maintain a green color cast to the overall image, especially if log-profile recording was used. Here, it’s best to simply balance the overall channels first to neutralize the image, rather than attempt to do this through color wheel adjustments. Some software uses actual channel controls, so it’s easy to make a base-level adjustment to the output or mix of a channel. If your software uses printer lights, you can achieve the same results. Printer lights harken back to lab color timing, using point values that equate to color analysis values. Regardless, dialing in a plus or minus red/blue/green printer light value effectively gives you the same results as altering the output value of a specific color channel.

This is just a short post to go over some of the more confusing terminology found in modern color correction software. Many applications tend to blend the color science models, so as you apply the points mentioned to your favorite tool, you may see somewhat different results. Hopefully I’ve gotten you in the ballpark, in order to understand what happens when you twirl the knob the next time.

©2014 Oliver Peters

Making FCP X Work For You

df_fcpx4u_1_sm

Final Cut Pro X is steadily gaining numbers among professional editors as Apple integrates more features in response to users’ needs. Unlike the previous iterations of Final Cut Studio – where everything was integrated into a bundle of Apple applications – FCP X relies more on an ecosystem of outside developers who have brought a number of useful tools to the table. This means that you only buy what you need and fill your toolkit according to your own specific workflow. Here are some tips on getting the most out of the FCP X. (Click on images for an expanded view.)

Motion and Compressor

df_fcpx4u_18_smApple sells Motion 5 and Compressor 4 as standalone applications through the Mac App Store. Although not essential for running FCP X, each adds useful functions. Motion 5 is an advanced compositor that’s optimized for the design and animation of motion graphics. It also has become an effects creation tool for Final Cut Pro X. Many of the filters, transitions and generators found in FCP X are actually Motion templates. It’s easy to open a copy of an effect from FCP X into Motion and customize it. Likewise, you can create you own effects plug-ins from scratch and “publish” them back to Final Cut. Many of the free or low-cost filters available for FCP X were created exactly this way.

Compressor 4 is an updated version of Apple’s encoding software. This new version is faster and better optimized for current hardware and includes new presets for Apple devices. Since DVD and Blu-ray creation has been integrated into the FCP X Share menu, as well as Compressor, this will be the tool you need for separate production of “one-off” review discs.

Moving between the Final Cuts

df_fcpx4u_6_smFinal Cut Pro X introduced a new version of XML, which differs greatly from the XML used by Final Cut Pro 7 or Adobe Premiere Pro. Yet, this the core method Apple provides for interchange with other applications. If you need AAFs, OMFs, FCP 7 XMLs, EDLs and so on, you first have to go through the new FCPXML format. To date, only a handful of applications, like DaVinci Resolve, can natively read/write FCPXML; therefore, general interoperability will require one of several third-party translation utilities.df_fcpx4u_3_sm

Intelligent Assistance/Assisted Editing jumped into the game early with applications designed to make FCP X a better citizen of the post world. Xto7 for Final Cut Pro and 7toX for Final Cut Pro are XML translation utilities that let editors bring legacy FCP projects into FCP X, as well as to go from FCP X back to FCP 7 (or Premiere Pro). Although the need for 7toX seems obvious, going in the other direction (Xto7) is also quite useful. For instance, it’s the only efficient way to create an audio OMF from an FCP X project. Use the translation to get the timeline into FCP 7, where you can generate the OMF export. This is also a good way to get from FCP X to Apple Color, if that’s still your preferred grading application.

Other applications for FCP X from Intelligent Assistance include Sync-N-Link X. It is designed to batch-process double-system audio synchronizing based on timecode. Lastly Event Manager X is a tool for editors to control which Events and Projects show up inside Final Cut Pro X at launch.

df_fcpx4u_2_sm

Interoperability with other applications

df_fcpx4u_7_smApple left EDL generation to third-party developers. XMiL Workflow Tools’ EDL-X is the application to use if you need to generate CMX 3600-compliant edit decision lists (EDLs). This is still an important need in many industry workflows, such as sending files and a sequence to an outside color correction or visual effects facility. EDL-X gives you control over customizing lists based on the needs at the other end. This includes length of reel names, which data is used for the reel names and the inclusion of source lists.

df_fcpx4u_5_smFinal Cut Pro X uses a trackless timeline design, which doesn’t translate to a layout required by audio mixers working on a DAW, like Avid Pro Tools. The software designed to translate an FCP X Project (edited sequence) for Pro Tools use is Marquis Broadcast’s X2Pro Audio Convert. It reads the FCPXML file and generates an AAF file with linked or embedded media. This is compatible with newer versions of Pro Tools. In addition, the FCP X Roles and Sub-roles feature is used to organize the track layout when the file is opened in a Pro Tools session.

df_fcpx4u_17_smWhat if you want to mix the audio yourself, but don’t own Pro Tools? There’s another option. Assuming that Soundtrack Pro is installed on your computer (part of the “legacy” Final Cut Studio) or you’ve purchased Adobe Production Premium CS6, which includes Audition, then you can also use Xto7 to translate your timeline’s audio into XML. Import the translated XML list into one of these DAW applications, which will automatically link to the audio files on your hard drives. Now you can mix the audio in a familiar track-based environment.

df_fcpx4u_8_smIf you’ve left Apple Color behind, then Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve is tailor-made for Final Cut Pro X. The roundtrip between the two applications is solid and even their user interfaces sport similar aesthetics. Resolve is a world class grading tool used on blockbuster features, but even the free version will cover nearly all of your needs. Another interesting free (donation requested) application is ClipExporter from Mind Transplant. df_fcpx4u_15_smThis translation utility can generate composition files for SynthEyes, Nuke and After Effects from FCP X timelines, as well as self-contained or reference QuickTime movies from individual Event clips.

df_fcpx4u_16_smTwo more applications that will add powerful capabilities to your system are Red Giant Software’s PluralEyes 3 and Soundbite from Boris FX. PluralEyes 3 is a standalone application for clip synchronization using audio. It can sync double-system productions, as well as multiple camera angles based on matching audio waveforms, without the use of timecode. This new version supports the FCPXML format, as well as roundtrips to and from FCP X.

df_fcpx4u_9_smSoundbite is a dialogue search engine powered by Nexidia and used to be known as Get before Boris FX picked up the product. It’s the cousin of Avid’s PhraseFind, but operates outside of any specific NLE. To use it with FCP X, first analyze a folder of media to search for specific words, phrases or terms. Markers are placed at the word matches within the “found” clips. Then generate an FCPXML file for these search results, which will be imported into Final Cut as a new Event, complete with markers placed at the locations of the word matches.

Finally, let’s not for get the useful workflow and maintenance/system management tools from Digital Rebellion, like Preference Manager and Pro Versioner.

Filters, transitions, titles, generators and templates

df_fcpx4u_11_smVideo effects in Final Cut Pro X are based on Motion templates built on an updated version of the FxPlug architecture. Many of the effects created for FCP X by third-party developers are simply a combination of native Motion effects, which have been “published” as a single FCP X effect. In this process, the developer can choose to limit or reveal as many adjustment sliders as is appropriate. Therefore, a very complex effect can be controlled with a single slider within the FCP X inspector pane. Some plug-in developers go beyond that, of course, but the combination of the traditional developers and the new crop of editor-designer-entrepreneurs has led to a rich ecosystem of effects just for FCP X.

df_fcpx4u_10_smAll of the major developers have introduced FCP X products. These include Boris FX, Coremelt, GenArts, Red Giant, Tiffen, Digital Film Tools, RE:Vision, DigiEffects, CHV and many more. I find those from Noise Industries and Digital Heaven to be the best match for most users. Digital Heaven’s Transitions Pack, BoxX, ReincarnationX and SubtitleX effects form a nice combination of tools that you’ll use every day. Not overly flashy, but very useful.

df_fcpx4u_14_smNoise Industries’ FxFactory is the only comprehensive package that you can grow as your need increases. The free version acts as a license manager for the partner plug-ins, while the paid Pro version adds a set of Noise Industries’ own filters. Most of these plug-ins run in FCP 7/X, After Effects and Premiere Pro, although a few are specific to only FCP X.df_fcpx4u_13_sm Since these plug-ins are developed by individual partner companies, like Nattress, LucaVFX, idustrial revolution, PHYX and others, you can buy the filters as you need them and grow the repertoire over time.

Final Cut Pro X naturally includes a nice complement of built-in filters, so before you started draining the bank account, you should definitely check out what’s already included. If you want freebees based on Motion templates, simply scour the web for a plethora of effects. FCP.co’s free plug-ins forum and the Alex4D filters are a good starting point. FCP X also includes a wide range of audio filters brought over from Logic. It also recognizes most third-party AU (Mac audio units) filters, like Focusrite or Waves plug-ins.

df_fcpx4u_12_smApple Final Cut Pro X is proving to be a viable platform for the professional user. You’ll find a range of tools that augment FCP X, which will enable you to complete productions at nearly any level of complexity. The supporting ecosystem of applications, utilities and plug-ins is growing every day and quickly expanding this next generation Final Cut Pro beyond it seemingly simple beginning.

Click here for Part 2.

Originally written for DV magazine / Creative Planet Network

©2013 Oliver Peters

DaVinci Resolve Workflows

df_resolve_main

Blackmagic Design’s purchase of DaVinci Systems put a world class color grading solution into the hands of every video professional. With Resolve 9, DaVinci sports a better user interface that makes it easy to run, regardless of whether you are an editor, colorist or DIT working on set.  DaVinci Resolve 9 comes in two basic Mac or Windows software versions, the $995 paid and the free Lite version. The new Blackmagic Cinema Camera software bundle also includes the full (paid) version, plus a copy of Ultrascope. For facilities seeking to add comprehensive color grading services, there’s also a version with Blackmagic’s dedicated control surface, as well as Linux systems configurations.

Both paid and free versions of Resolve (currently at version 9.1) work the same way, except that the paid version offers larger-than-HD output, noise reduction and the ability to tap into more than one extra GPU card for hardware acceleration. Resolve runs fine with a single display card (I’ve done testing with the Nvidia GT120, the Nvidia Quadro 4000 and the ATI 5870), but requires a Blackmagic video output card if you want to see the image on a broadcast monitor.

Work in Resolve 9 generally flows left-to-right, through the tabbed pages, which you select at the bottom of the interface screen. These are broken into Media (where you access the media files that you’ll be working with), Conform (importing/exporting EDL, XML and AAF files), Color (where you do color correction), Gallery (the place to store and recall preset looks) and Deliver (rendering and/or output to tape).

Many casual users employ Resolve in these two ways: a) correcting camera files to send on to editorial, and b) color correction roundtrips with NLE software. This tutorial is intended to highlight some of the basic workflow steps associated with these tasks. Resolve is deep and powerful, so spend time with the excellent manual to learn its color correction tools, which would be impossible to cover here.

Creating edit-ready dailies – BMCC (CinemaDNG media)

The Blackmagic Cinema Camera can record images as camera raw, CinemaDNG image sequences. Resolve 9 can be used to turn these into QuickTime or MXF media for editing. Files may be graded for the desired final look at this point, or the operator can choose to apply the BMD Film preset. This log preset generates files with a flat look comparable to ARRI Log-C. You may prefer this if you intend to use a Log-to-Rec709 LUT (look up table) in another grading application or a filter like the Pomfort Log-to-Video effect, which is available for Final Cut Pro 7/X.df_resolve_1_sm

Step 1 – Media: Drag clip folders into the Media Pool section.

Step 2 – Conform: Skip this tab, since the clips are already on a single timeline.

df_resolve_3_smStep 3 – Color: Make sure the camera setting (camera icon) for the clips on the timeline are set to Project. Open the project settings (gear icon). Change and apply these values: 1) Camera raw – CinemaDNG; 2) White Balance – as shot; 3) Color Space and Gamma – BMD Film.

Step 4 – Deliver: Set it to render each clip individually, assign the target destination and frame rate and the naming options. Then choose Add Job and Start Render.

The free version of Resolve will downscale the BMCC’s 2.5K-wide images to 1920×1080. The paid version of Resolve will permit output at the larger, native size. Rendered ProRes files may now be directly imported into FCP 7, FCP X or Premiere Pro. Correct the images to a proper video appearance by using the available color correction tools or filters within the NLE that you are using.

Creating edit-ready dailies – ARRI Alexa / BMCC (ProRes, DNxHD media)

df_resolve_2_smBoth the ARRI Alexa and the Blackmagic Cinema Camera can record Apple ProRes and Avid DNxHD media files to onboard storage. Each offers a similar log gamma profile that may be applied during recording in order to preserve dynamic range. Log-C for the Alexa and BMD Film for Blackmagic. These profiles facilitate high-quality grading later. Resolve may be used to properly grade these images to the final look as dailies are generated, or it may simply be used to apply a viewing LUT for a more pleasing appearance during the edit.

Step 1 – Media: Drag clip folders into the Media Pool section.

Step 2 – Conform: Skip this tab, since the clips are already on a single timeline.

Step 3 – Color: Make sure the camera setting for the clips on the timeline are set to Project. Open the project settings and set these values: 3D Input LUT – ARRI Alexa Log-C or BMD Film to Rec 709.

df_resolve_4_smStep 4 – Deliver: Set it to render each clip individually, assign the target destination and frame rate and the naming options. Check whether or not to render with audio. Then choose Add Job and Start Render.

The result will be new, color corrected media files, ready for editing. To render Avid-compatible MXF media for Avid Media Composer, select the Avid AAF Roundtrip from the Easy Setup presets. After rendering, return to the Conform page to export an AAF file.

Roundtrips – using Resolve together with editing applications

DaVinci Resolve supports roundtrips from and back to NLEs based on EDL, XML and AAF lists. You can use Resolve for roundtrips with Apple Final Cut Pro 7/X, Adobe Premiere Pro and Avid Media Composer/Symphony. You may also use it to go between systems. For example, you could edit in FCP X, color correct in Resolve and then finish in Premiere Pro or Autodesk Smoke 2013. Media should have valid timecode and reel IDs to enable the process to work properly.

df_resolve_5_smIn addition to accessing the camera files and generating new media with baked-in corrections, these roundtrips require an interchange of edit lists. Resolve imports an XML and/or AAF file to link to the original camera media and places those clips on a timeline that matches the edited sequence. When the corrected (and trimmed) media is rendered, Resolve must generate new XML and/or AAF files, which the NLE uses to link to these new media files. AAF files are used with Avid systems and MXF media, while standard XML files and QuickTime media is used with Final Cut Pro 7 and Premiere Pro. FCP X uses a new XML format that is incompatible with FCP 7 or Premiere Pro without translation by Resolve or another utility.

Step 1 – Avid/Premiere Pro/Final Cut Pro: Export a list file that is linked to the camera media (AAF, XML or FCPXML).

Step 2- Conform (skip Media tab): Import the XML or AAF file. Make sure you have set the options to automatically add these clips to the Media Pool.

Step 3 – Color: Grade your shots as desired.df_resolve_6_sm

Step 4 – Deliver: Easy Setup preset – select Final Cut Pro XML or Avid AAF roundtrip. Verify QuickTime or MXF rendering, depending on the target application. Change handle lengths if desired. Check whether or not to render with audio. Then choose Add Job and Start Render.

df_resolve_9_smStep 5 – Conform: Export a new XML (FCP7, Premiere Pro), FCPXML (FCP X) or AAF (Avid) list.

The roundtrip back

The reason you want to go back into your NLE is for the final finishing process, such as adding titles and effects or mixing sound. If you rendered QuickTime media and generated one of the XML formats, you’ll be able to import these new lists into FCP7/X or Premiere Pro and those applications will reconnect to the files in their current location. FCP X offers the option to import/copy the media into its own managed Events folders.

df_resolve_7_smIf you export MXF media and a corresponding AAF list with the intent of returning to Avid Media Composer/Symphony, then follow these additional steps.

Step 1 – Copy or move the folder of rendered MXF media files into an Avid MediaFiles/MXF subfolder. Rename this copied folder of rendered Resolve files with a number.

Step 2 – Launch Media Composer or Symphony and return to your project or create a new project.df_resolve_8_sm

Step 3 – Open a new, blank bin and import the AAF file that was exported from Resolve. This list will populate the bin with master clips and a sequence, which will be linked to the new MXF media rendered in Resolve and copied into the Avid MediaFiles/MXF subfolder.

Originally written for DV magazine / Creative Planet Network

©2013 Oliver Peters

Offline to online with 4K

df_4k_wkflw_01

The 4K buzz  seems to be steam-rolling the industry just like stereo3D before it. It’s too early to tell whether it will be an immediate issue for editors or not, since 4K delivery requirements are few and far between. Nevertheless, camera and TV-set manufacturers  are building important parts of the pipeline. RED Digital Cinema is leading the way with a post workflow that’s both proven and relatively accessible on any budget. A number of NLEs support editing and effects in 4K, including Avid DS, Autodesk Smoke, Adobe Premiere Pro, Apple Final Cut Pro X, Grass Valley EDIUS and Sony Vegas Pro.

Although many of these support native cutting with RED 4K media, I’m still a strong believer in the traditional offline-to-online editing workflow. In this post I will briefly outline how to use Avid Media Composer and Apple FCP X for a cost-effective 4K post pipeline. One can certainly start and finish a RED-originated project in FCP X or Premiere Pro for that matter, but Media Composer is still the preferred creative  tool for many editing pros. Likewise, FCP X is a viable finishing tool. I realize that statement will raise a few eyebrows, but hear me out. Video passing through Final Cut is very pristine, it supports the various flavors of 2K and 4K formats and there’s a huge and developing ecosystem of highly-inventive effects and transitions. This combination is a great opportunity to think outside of the box.

Offline editing with Avid Media Composer

df_4k_wkflw_04_smAvid has supported native RED files for several versions, but Media Composer is not resolution independent. This means RED’s 4K (or 5K) images are downsampled to 1080p and reformatted (cropped or letterboxed) to fit into the 16:9 frame. When you shoot with a RED camera, you should ideally record in one of their 4K 16:9 sizes. The native .r3d files can be brought into Media Composer using the “Link to AMA File(s)” function. Although you can edit directly with AMA-linked files, the preferred method is to use this as a “first step”. That means, you should use AMA to cull your footage down to the selected takes and then transcode the remainder when you start to fine tune your cut.

Avid’s media creation settings are the place to adjust the RED debayer parameters. Media Composer supports the RED Rocket card for accelerated rendering, but without it, Media Composer can still provide reasonable speed in software-only transcoding. Set the debayer quality to 1/4 or 1/8, and transcoding 4K clips to Avid DNxHD36 for offline editing will be closer to real-time on a fast machine, like an 8-core Mac Pro. This resolution is adequate for making your creative decisions.df_4k_wkflw_02_sm

df_4k_wkflw_08_smWhen the cut is locked, export an AAF file for the edited sequence. Media should be linked (not embedded) and the AAF Edit Protocol setting should be enabled. In this workflow, I will assume that audio post is being handled by an audio editor/mixer running a DAW, such as Pro Tools, so I’ll skip any discussion of audio. That would be exported using standard AAF or OMF workflows for audio post. Note that all effects should be removed from your sequence before generating the AAF file, since they won’t be translated in the next steps. This includes any nested clips, collapsed tracks and speed ramps, which are notorious culprits in any timeline translation.

Color grading with DaVinci Resolve

df_4k_wkflw_03_smBlackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve 9 is our next step. You’ll need the full, paid version (software-only) for bigger-than-HD output. After launching Resolve, import the Avid AAF file from Resolve’s conform tab. Make sure you check “link to camera files” so that Resolve connects to the original .r3d media and not the Avid DNxHD transcodes. Resolve will import the sequence, connect to the media and generate a new timeline that matches the sequence exported from Media Composer. Make sure the project is set for the desired 4K format.

df_4k_wkflw_09_smNext, open the Resolve project settings and adjust the camera raw values to the proper RED settings. Then make sure the individual clips are set to “project” in their camera settings tab. You can either use the original camera metadata or adjust all clips to a new value in the project settings pane. Once this is done, you are ready to grade the timeline as with any other production. Resolve uses a very good scaling algorithm, so if the RED files were framed with the intent of resizing and repositioning (for example, 5K files that are to be cropped for the ideal framing within a 4K timeline), then it’s best to make that adjustment within the Resolve timeline.df_4k_wkflw_05_sm

Once you’ve completed the grade, set up the render. Choose the FCP XML easy set-up and alter the output frame size to the 4K format you are using. Start the render job. Resolve 9 renders quite quickly, so even without a RED Rocket card, I found that 4K ProRes HQ or 4444 rendering, using full-resolution debayering, was completed in about a 6:1 ratio to running time on my Mac Pro. When the renders are done, export the FCP XML (for FCP X) from the conform tab. I found I had to use an older version of this new XML format, even though I was running FCP X 10.0.7. It was unable to read the newest version that Resolve had exported.

Online with Apple Final Cut Pro X

df_4k_wkflw_11_smThe last step is finishing. Import the Resolve-generated XML file, which will in turn create the necessary FCP Event (media linked to the 4K ProRes files rendered from Resolve) and a timeline for the edited sequence. Make sure the sequence (Project) settings match your desired 4K format. Import and sync the stereo or surround audio mix (generated by the audio editor/mixer) and rebuild any effects, titles, transitions and fast/slo-mo speed effects. Once everything is completed, use FCP X’s share menu to export your deliverables.

©2013 Oliver Peters

DaVinci Resolve 8

Blackmagic Design’s acquisition of DaVinci has transformed this Ferrari into the preferred tool for desktop color grading, while still maintaining its stature. Resolve 8.1 comes in three Mac flavors – Resolve Lite (free), Resolve (paid, software-only) and the DaVinci Resolve Control Surface (software included). Blackmagic Design announced that a Windows version is in development for early 2012. All of these products use the same base software tools and features, except the Lite version is restricted to SD and HD sizes and doesn’t include the stereo 3D support or noise reduction of the paid versions.

The release of the 8.1.1 patch removed the limitation on the number of correction nodes possible in the Lite version. In short, the grading power is now the same between the free and the paid versions. Another welcomed change is that all versions now read AAF files and Avid MXF media, which had previously been a paid option.

Hardware configurations

I tested DaVinci Resolve 8.1 and 8.1.1 on my eight-core Mac Pro under Mac OS 10.6.8 and “Lion” 10.7.2. A change that came with 8.1 was relaxation of the minimum monitor resolution requirements, from the original spec of 1920 x 1080 down to 1680 x 1050 pixels (or higher). That works for my 20-inch Apple Cinemas and it also allows you to use Resolve on some of the MacBook Pro models.

One of the hallmarks of the Resolve software is that it can leverage the power of additional GPU cards. You can install one or more NVIDIA CUDA-enabled cards for accelerated performance and rendering, but this isn’t required for Resolve to work. When a second GPU card is present, Resolve offloads some of the image processing chores to the other card. Installation of additional GPU cards into a Mac Pro poses some issues. There are only four PCIe slots in the machine and only slot one permits a double-wide card. MacPros currently ship with either an ATI 5770 or an ATI 5870 display card. The only approved (and currently available) NVIDIA CUDA cards for the Mac are the Quadro 4000 and the Quadro FX4800. Not all Mac software – notably Apple Color – is compatible with multiple GPU cards installed into the tower.

DaVinci recommends several GPU configurations, but of these options, the most cost-effective combo is the ATI 5770 with the Quadro 4000. Both are single-wide cards, so this leaves you room for two more PCIe cards, such as a Red Rocket and a storage adapter. A Mac Pro can only run one card that requires auxiliary power, so you cannot use the upgraded 5870 together with the 4000, as each requires aux power connections to the motherboard. I tested Resolve in three GPU configurations: the ATI 5870 (my standard card) and the Quadro 4000 each by themselves, as well as the 4000 combined with my original NVIDIA GeForce GT120 display card. Resolve Lite only allows one extra GPU card, but the paid Mac and Linux versions let you run more. Since this poses slot limitations on the Mac Pro, DaVinci recommends the Cubix PCIe expansion chassis if you need to build a more powerful system.

Video I/O and control surfaces

DaVinci Resolve will only operate with certain Blackmagic Design capture cards. I installed the Decklink HD Extreme 3D card. At $995 it offers a wide range of HDMI, analog and digital connections and supports SD, HD, 2K and stereo 3D operation. It has built-in 3Gb/s SDI, 4:2:2 and 4:4:4 RGB.

The Decklink HD Extreme 3D card looks like a double-wide card, but actually half of the width is a bridge adapter for the HDMI connectors. If you don’t need HDMI, the adapter can be left off, so you only have one slot to worry about. Even if you need HDMI, but are tight on slots, you could still connect the HDMI cable to the back of the card and find a way to snake the cable out through some other opening in the Mac Pro chassis. Not ideal, but definitely functional.

Having a Decklink card is important for proper external monitoring, but the Resolve interface does include a full screen viewer. If the grading you do is only for the web, it could be viable to run Resolve without any video I/O card at all. On the other hand, if stereo 3D projects are in your future, then this is the card you’ll want.

DaVinci Resolve supports three third-party control surfaces in addition to Blackmagic Design’s own powerful, but expensive DaVinci Resolve Control Surface ($29,995). That’s an advanced three-panel unit designed with full-time, professional colorists in mind. If that’s a bit too rich for the blood, then you can chose from the Avid Artist Color, Tangent Devices Wave or the JL Cooper Eclipse CX panels. Control surfaces are nice, but Resolve is perfectly functional with only a mouse and keyboard.

Getting started

Installation went smoothly under both 10.6.8 and 10.7.2. The paid version uses a USB license key (dongle), which can be moved among several machines if you need to run Resolve on more than one Mac (not simultaneously).  The Resolve software (including an SQL database used to store projects) and various Blackmagic Design utilities, codecs and FCP 7 Easy Set-ups are installed. You’ll need to rebuild or restore your FCP preferences afterwards. The Decklink installation will do the same, in addition to running a firmware update for the card itself. One gotcha with the Quadro 4000 card is that you have to install two pieces of software: the retail driver for the card along with a separate CUDA enabler.

Resolve is a very deep application designed for professional colorists. If you launch it without even browsing the manual, you are going to be clueless. The tabbed interface opens up many layers to the software, which are too complex to spell out here. Unlike other color correction tools and plug-ins, Resolve is designed to be a self-contained finishing environment, complete with VTR or file-based ingest and output capabilities using the Decklink hardware.

Resolve offers input and output LUTs for various formats, notably the ARRI ALEXA Log-C profile, as well as updated RED camera raw settings. Aside from color correction, other tools include conforming media to EDL, XML and AAF files, resizing, tracking and more. Fortunately the manual includes a Quick Start section. Assuming that you have a basic understanding of color correction software, you can be up and running and get your first project out the door on day one.

Performance

Resolve’s color correction model uses a node structure. The first node is your primary correction and then subsequent serial nodes are for secondary color correction. You can also introduce parallel nodes. For example, maybe you’d like to derive a mask from an earlier stage of correction, but introduce it later into the signal path. That mask is a parallel node.

I ran through a series of 23.98 and 25fps HD projects. Each used different ProRes or DNxHD codecs. With the ATI 5870 card and a standard timeline (one or two nodes on each clip), I was consistently able to achieve real-time playback. In order to test the value of a second GPU card, I built up a taxing 1:15-long timeline with six nodes on each clip (one primary plus five secondaries). Some of these nodes included blur or sharpening. Both the 5870 and 4000 cards by themselves played the sequence back at 15-16fps.

Changing to a two-card configuration (GT120 plus the Quadro 4000) only picked up about 2fps – playing at approximately 18fps. In all three configurations, this timeline took under two minutes to render. This performance is on par with Apple Color for simple projects and faster when you get more complex. Since NVIDIA CUDA cards offer more benefit on PCs than Macs, I would expect Resolve running under Windows next year to significantly outperform these tests.

One caveat is that the noise reduction module in the paid version of Resolve only works with a CUDA-enabled GPU card, such as the Quadro 4000. Unfortunately, the quality wasn’t better than similar filters, like Neat Video or Magic Bullet Cosmo, so I wouldn’t let that be a deciding factor. For me, having a second GPU doesn’t justify the purchase of an extra card, especially when you consider the trade-offs. Unless you plan to build a dedicated color grading suite around Resolve instead of a general purpose editing workstation, you’re probably better off with one high-end ATI or NVIDIA card.

Impressions

 

New features added to Resolve include multi-layered timelines, FCP XML support for FCP X and a color wheels panel. In Resolve 7, timelines were a flattened, single-layer video track. If your FCP or Avid sequence consists of several video tracks, those will now show up as corresponding layers in the Resolve timeline. The new color wheels tab makes the interface more consistent with conventional color correction interface design.

A huge selling point for Resolve is the depth of roundtrip support. I was able to import and grade various edited sequences from Final Cut Pro 7, X and Avid Symphony 6. Since Resolve reads and writes the two formats of XML used by FCP X and FCP “classic”, you can actually send simple sequences from one NLE to the other. Edit in FCP X, grade in Resolve, render and send to FCP 7. Or the other way around. The enhanced Avid support makes Resolve an excellent tool to augment Media Composer’s built-in color correction mode. Not to mention that both applications can now also run on the same Blackmagic Design hardware.

I found Resolve relatively easy to learn and use. The controls and interaction are very responsive, with little delay between moving a slider, curve or wheel and seeing the update in the viewer, on the screen and/or on the scopes. The interface is optimized only for a single display, which I don’t prefer. You can send the scopes to the secondary display, but that’s it. This leaves you with a complex UI on the main screen. Your principal color correction tools appear in smaller, tabbed sections at the bottom. If you build a dedicated Resolve suite, consider one of the Apple 27-inch displays for your system. Although, Resolve is resolution independent, the Mac configurations are really designed for HD and possibly 2K projects. I think it’s unrealistic to try to push complex, native 4K projects through such a workstation.

Truthfully, I prefer the interface design of Apple Color, but DaVinci Resolve’s toolset is a much better fit for the post production landscape of 2012. Editors who aren’t ready to invest the time to learn the application are better served by the FCP X Color Board or plug-ins like Magic Bullet Colorista II or Sapphire Edge. If you do spend a little time learning Resolve, you’ll end up with one of the best values available in post today. Even the free Resolve Lite places the controls of a multi-hundred-thousand-dollar DI system at your fingertips.

Written for DV magazine (NewBay Media, LLC)

©2011 Oliver Peters