Rocket Rooster


Film emulation LUTs (color look-up tables) are always a popular discussion point and I’ve covered a number of the products on the market. Some of these are plug-in effects that include 3D LUT files as part of the package, like Koji, Color Finale, FilmConvert, etc. Others are toolkits with different types of files that are designed to be mixed and matched, like SpeedLooks, Osiris, ImpluZ, and others. One of this latter group is Rocket Rooster. I’ve mentioned them before, but in this post I’d like to go a bit deeper.

Rocket Rooster offers a range of “look” products that together become a toolkit for any type of film emulation, whether we are talking about motion film (3D LUTs) or still photography (Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw presets). For video, these include log-to-Rec709 correction, negative stocks, print stocks, combined negative/print LUTs, and various subjective “movie looks”. As with many other film emulation products, they should be viewed as a starting point and not the only process that you would apply to get your final look. The Rocket Rooster packages include LUTs in .cube, .3dl, .icc, and .mga versions to be compatible with just about any editing, grading, or compositing application. The method of importing and adding external LUT files varies with each software. For example, in Final Cut Pro X you’d need Color Grading Central’s LUT Utility. In After Effects, you’d need Red Giant’s LUT Buddy. Premiere Pro CC, Resolve, and Media Composer all enable direct access to an external file.

There are different ways you can work with these LUTs. For example, if you shoot with log profiles, then Rocket Rooster offers both log-to-Rec709 camera patch profiles, as well as LUTs that combine the log conversion with a negative film stock setting into a single file. Since many of these looks work best when you combine a negative and a print stock (as you would in real film production), the next step is to pair the negative stock LUT with a matching print stock LUT. The Rocket Rooster film stock choices include several Kodak and Fuji emulations, along with a series of in-house creative presets designed to be reminiscent of certain popular styles.

Within your application, you have to bookend both LUT filters around a color correction filter, so that the grading adjustments occur between the two LUTs. For example, in FCP X, you would apply LUT Utility and select a log-to-negative LUT. Place a color correction filter next, followed by a second instance of LUT Utility. For the second LUT, pick a print stock LUT that you like. Premiere Pro CC makes this easier with the new Lumetri Color panel. In the basic correction tab, select the log-to-negative LUT and in the creative tab, pick the print stock LUT. In both NLEs, you’d use the color correction tools to hone the desired look. Rocket Rooster also offers a set of integrated files with both negative and print stock emulations in a single LUT file. With these, you’d select the file based on the negative stock you want to use, but the built-in print emulation is standardized on Kodak 2383.

Unlike other developers, these stock emulations tend to be a bit more aggressive in matching the coloration of the stock, but are more subdued in terms of final output contrast and saturation levels. That’s to allow enough margin in the resulting color for further grading. There are variants with different contrast balances for use with higher dynamic range cameras or that are readier for final output. All of this is spelled out in their user guide.

As with most LUT packages, you have to play around to get the right combo for your desired style. A little trial-and-error is part of the fun and experimentation. Of course, this process has to be interactive with your color correction tweaks to get the right look. Below are a series of stills demonstrating some of the results that are possible. Each of these uses one or two of the Rocket Rooster LUTs along with a varying amount of Lumetri Color grading. (Click on any image for the slideshow.)

©2015 Oliver Peters

Telestream Switch


For many editors, Apple QuickTime Player Pro (not QuickTime Player X) has been their go-to media player and encoding application. Since this is a discontinued piece of software and Apple is actively deprecating QuickTime with each new version of Mac OS X, it stands to reason that at some point QuickTime Player Pro will cease to function. Telestream – maker of the highly-regarded Episode encoder – plans to be ready with Switch.

Switch will run on Mac and Windows platforms and has steadily gained features since its product launch. (It is currently in version 1.6.) Switch is a multi-function media player that comes in three versions: Switch Player – a free, multi-format media player with file inspection capabilities; Switch Plus – to play, inspect, and fix media file issues; and, Switch Pro – a comprehensive file encoder. All Switch versions will play a wide range of media file formats and allow you to inspect the file properties, but only the Plus and Pro paid versions include encoding.

Building on its knowledge in developing Episode and its tight relationship with Apple, Telestream hopes to make Switch the all-purpose encoder of choice for most editors. The intent is for editors to use Switch where they would normally have used QuickTime Player Pro in the past. Unlike other open source media players, Telestream can play many professional media formats (like MXF), display embedded captions and subtitles, and properly encode to advanced file formats (like Apple ProRes). Since Switch Plus and Pro are designed for single-file processing, instead of batch encoding like Episode, their prices are also lower than that of Episode.

While the playback capabilities of Switch cover many formats, the encoding/export options are more limited. Switch Plus, which was added with version 1.6, can export MPEG-2, MPEG-4, and QuickTime (.mov) files. There’s also a pass-through mode in cases where files simply need to be rewrapped. For example, you might choose to convert Canon C300 clips from MXF into QuickTime movies, but maintain the native Canon XF codec. This might make it easier for a producer to review the media files before an upcoming edit session. Switch Plus also adds playback support for HEVC and MPEG-2 on windows, AC3 audio, and pro audio meters that display tru-peak and momentary loudness values.

Switch Pro includes all of the Plus features, as well as playback of Avid DNxHD, DNxHR, and JPEG 2000 files. It can encode in QuickTime (.mov), MPEG-4, and MPEG-2 (transport and program stream) containers. You can also export still frames and iTunes Store package formats. Codec encoding support includes H.264, MPEG-2, and ProRes. (ProRes export on Windows is ProRes HQ 4:2:2 for iTunes only.) While that’s more limited than Episode, Telestream plans to add more capabilities to Switch over time.

Switch Pro is more than an encoder, it also includes SDI out via AJA i/o devices (for preview to an external calibrated device), loudness monitoring, and caption playback. Even the free Player will pass audio out to speakers through AJA cards and USB-connected Core Audio devices. Unfortunately this does not appear to work when you have a Blackmagic Design card installed. Telestream has acknowledged this as a bug that it plans to fix in the 2.0 release later this year.

The goal for the Switch product line is to be a powerful and affordable visual QC tool, that you can also use it to make corrections to metadata, formats, audio, etc., and encode to a new file. Along with the usual inspection of file properties, Switch includes a set of audio meters that display volume and loudness readings. Although it does not offer audio and video adjustment or correction controls, you can re-arrange audio channels and speaker assignments. Telestream Switch is a very useful encoder, but if you just need a versatile media player and inspection tool, then you can easily start with the free player version.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetworks.

©2015 Oliver Peters

iZotope RX Loudness Control



As more emphasis is being placed on loudness compliance around the world, it’s important for editors and sound mixers to have the right tools to stay legal. iZotope offers its Insight metering to see where your levels are, but a new addition is the RX Loudness Control plug-in. This not only analyzes your mix, but fixes it to be compliant. This plug-in is designed for Avid ProTools and Media Composer, along with the Adobe Creative Cloud applications. It works with mono, stereo, or surround mixes, but is not a real-time plug-in. Instead, it quickly analyzes your final mix and performs a faster-than-real-time processing of the track.

RX Loudness Control includes presets for eight international loudness standards and correction includes three components: fixed gain to hit a specific target, optional short-term loudness compression, and True Peak limiting. By design, the intent is to leave the mix dynamics in place, but where necessary IRC II (Intelligent Release Control) limiting is used. This style of limiting is also found in iZotope’s Ozone 6 mastering suite.

Operation for editors using Avid Media Composer or Adobe Premiere Pro CC couldn’t be easier. In Media Composer, first create a mixdown clip of your timeline mix and place that on an available track. Mute all other tracks. Apply the RX Loudness Control as an AudioSuite filter to the mixdown clip. Set the loudness standard preset, analyze, and render.

With the Adobe applications, the RX Loudness Control appears as an export preset in the export module of Premiere Pro or through Adobe Media Encoder. Simply export your timeline using the RX Loudness preset. Make adjustments to the settings as needed. If you want the mixed/processed track to automatically be imported back into the same project, make sure to check that box. Now export. The new .wav file will appear in your project, so simply mute all existing audio in your sequence and drop the processed .wav onto an empty audio track.

In the current version, there is no native support for Apple Final Cut Pro X or Logic Pro X. However, if you also own, subscribe to, or have access to Avid or Adobe applications (with the RX Loudness Control plug-in installed), you could use one of those to process your FCP X mix. First export a mix from FCP X as either a self-contained QuickTime movie or an audio file. Bring that into one of the other applications to encode the file using RX Loudness Control. When that’s completed, import the processed audio track back into FCP X. Mute or detach and remove all audio from your project (edited timeline) and connect the newly processed composite mix for your final compliant audio mix.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetworks.

©2015 Oliver Peters

Automatic Duck Redux


Automatic Duck invented timeline translations between applications. Necessity is the mother of invention, leading Wes Plate, an Avid Media Composer editor who tackled compositing in Adobe After Effects, to team with his programmer father, Harry. The goal was to design a tool to get Avid timelines into After Effects compositions. Automatic Duck grew from this beginning to create a series of translation products that let editors seamlessly move timelines between a number of different hosts, including Media Composer, Pro Tools, After Effects, and Apple Final Cut Pro “classic”.

Four years ago Adobe licensed the IP for the original Automatic Duck Pro Import products, as well as brought the father/son team on board to develop tools for Adobe. Now they are back on their own and have decided to reboot Automatic Duck, which has been mothballed for the past four years. Seeing an opportunity in Apple’s Final Cut Pro X, the company has developed Ximport AE, a timeline translation tool to bring Final Cut Pro X projects (edited sequences) into After Effects. The team is no stranger to Final Cut Pro X’s new FCPXML format, since it was the first developer to create a companion utility that translated Final Cut Pro X 10.0 projects into Pro Tools sessions.

Knowing the market

df3915_ad_2First, let’s define the market. Who is Automatic Duck Ximport AE for? Editors who do most of their heavy lifting in Media Composer, Final Cut, or Premiere Pro might not see the attraction. On the flip side, though, there are quite a few editors for whom After Effects is the tool of choice for all effects and even finishing. For this group, the NLE is where they spend the least amount of time. They use an editing application for shot selection and assembly and then go straight to After Effects for everything else.

If you are a motion graphics designer who relies on After Effects, then your occasional need for an NLE might be best served by FCP X. The interface is fast and easy to master, compared with more traditional track-based edit software. Finally, if you are a dedicated FCP X editor, you no longer have a “send to Motion” function as in the old Final Cut Studio. This means you can’t send more than a single shot to Motion for treatment. Besides, After Effects may still be your preferred motion graphics application. Take all of these points into consideration and you’ll see that there’s a clear need to get a project from FCP X into After Effects – the industry’s dominant motion graphics application.

How it works

df3915_ad_4Automatic Duck Ximport AE is designed as a plug-in that’s installed into After Effects, including CS6 up through the current CC2015 version (and beyond). There are several other competing translation tools on the market, which convert between flavors of XML or from FCPXML into AE Scripts. Automatic Duck is the only one that integrates directly into the After Effects import menu. Ximport AE cuts out one middle step in the process and should provide for a more complete translation from FCP X into After Effects.

I’ve been beta testing the product for a few months and it certainly hits the mark for serious users. The steps are simple. Just cut your sequence in Final Cut Pro X and then export an FCPXML for that project (sequence). When you open After Effects, select File > Import > Automatic Duck Ximport AE. This opens a dialogue box with a few settings and it’s where you navigate to the correct FCPXML file. Settings include whether to let your clips cascade up or down in the After Effects timeline, as well as an option to create pre-comps from Final Cut’s secondary storylines. The question mark icon also launches the user guide.

In the timelines I’ve tested, the translation is quite good. Compound clips are packaged as pre-comps. The active angle of Multicam clips and the selected pick of Audition clips are translated. Alternate angles aren’t.  Generally transform, crop, opacity, and blend functions are supported, as are audio and video keyframes. A number of third party filters are accurately translated between applications, assuming that the same filter is installed into each host. At launch, these include selected plug-ins from Boris FX, Digital Anarchy, Noise Industries/FxFactory, PHYX, Red Giant, and Yanobox. Check the user guide for a detailed list with specific filters.

Some caveats

df3915_ad_3It’s worth noting, however, that just about all of the built-in FCP X filters are not translated into an equivalent filter in After Effects. For example, the color board metadata is included in the FCPXML, but there’s no way to read that info on the After Effects side. This is true even when there are filters that appear to be the same. For example, both hosts include a native Gaussian blur filter, yet that doesn’t get translated. On the other hand, if you apply a Flipped filter in FCP X, it will be correctly translated into the -100 transform scale value in After Effects. So again, read the user guide and do a little experimentation to see what works and what doesn’t in your projects. Whenever an effect is not supported, a note is made in the companion HTML file created at import. A marker is also placed on that clip in the After Effects timeline, naming the missing plug-in.

df3915_ad_6I tested a number of supported third-party products, staying mainly within the Red Giant family. Translation was good between the Magic Bullet tools, but not without issue. For example, Universe ToonIt Expressionist Noise was available in both hosts, yet the effect was not applied in the After Effect composition. That’s because at the time I tested this using a beta build, that specific Universe filter had not been included. This has since been corrected. Other effects, like Looks, Colorista III, Mojo, Universe Glow, and others worked flawlessly. According to Wes Plate, the plug-in has been architected in a way to easily add support for new effects plug-ins. The bottom line is that if you stay within the supported features, you will get the richest translation experience from FCP X into After Effects that’s currently available in the market.

Automatic Duck Media Copy 4.0

df3915_ad_5Along with Ximport AE, the company will also introduce Automatic Duck Media Copy 4.0. The original Media Copy grew out the need to collect, copy, and move sequences and their associated media. The original version worked for Avid Media Composer and Apple Final Cut Pro “classic” sequences. It would read either the AAF or XML file and copy all associated media, plus the timeline edit info. This new folder could then be moved to another system for more editing or used as a back-up archive. Media Copy 4.0 has been updated to add FCPXML support. As before, it collects media and timeline files for use elsewhere. It does not trim or transcode the media, but you have the choice to copy media all into a single folder or to maintain a folder hierarchy matching the original paths within the newly created location. Media Copy works well as a standalone application or as a companion to Ximport AE. It supports Avid Media Composer, Final Cut Pro X, and Final Cut Pro 6/7.

With the reboot of Automatic Duck, they’ve decided to partner with Red Giant Software to provide marketing, sales, and customer support. Red Giant will offer Automatic Duck Ximport AE for $199 and Media Copy 4.0 for $99. If you still have need for Automatic Duck’s legacy products, the company is posting them again on their own website for free, with an optional “donate” button. These include Pro Import FCP, Pro Export FCP (for FCP 7 users), and Pro Import AE (for importing AAF and XML into AE CS 5.5 or earlier).

Regardless of which NLE you use, I’ve found Media Copy to be an essential tool, whether or not you work with effects or motion graphics. It’s great to see Automatic Duck update it, as well as launch their next great product, Ximport AE. Adobe After Effects will continue to be the ubiquitous compositing and motion graphics choice for most editors, so this marriage between Final Cut Pro X and After Effects make great sense.

For more, here’s a good interview with Wes Plate at Red Shark News.

©2015 Oliver Peters

Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve 12

The industry has been eager to check out Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve 12. This “first look” is based on the initial build of the Resolve 12 public beta. A number of functions have not yet been enabled, so expect to see some changes in the product by the time you read this.

As with any public beta, the point is to get feedback and reap the benefit of crowdsourced quality testing, so be careful about using it on real jobs. That being said, so far I’ve found the public beta builds to be reasonably stable. I’ve had a chance to test the application on several different machines, including two 2009-2010 Mac Pro towers and a new 15” Retina MacBook Pro. Testing included a Sapphire 7950 and an Nvidia Quadro 4000 GPU, as well as the built-in Nvidia card on the laptop.

Blackmagic is no longer using the “Lite” name to identify the free version. The branding is now DaVinci Resolve 12 (free) and DaVinci Resolve 12 Studio ($995). The free version includes the majority of features and is limited to an output no larger that UltraHD 4K. The paid version adds advanced features, including stereoscopic functions, networked collaboration between users, multiple GPU support, and the ability to output at larger than UltraHD 4K frame sizes.

Blackmagic Design hardware products are required to output an analog or digital signal to an external video monitor or tape deck. If you are comfortable making color judgements based on the viewer image, then no hardware is require for operation and rendering. You can also hot rod your system with the DaVinci Control Surface ($29,995) or a number of supported third-party surfaces that are less costly.

Refreshing the user interface

df3115_R12_3DaVinci Resolve 12 ushers in a fresh user interface. Previous versions mimicked the style of Apple Final Cut Pro X, but the new UI is flatter with thinner fonts. It takes on the trendy design aesthetic employed in Windows 8/10 and Mac OS X/iOS. The background colors are a lighter grey with a faint blue cast to them. Although pleasing, I find that last part strange for a color correction application, where a true grey is considered the norm.

The interface has been optimized for single and dual-monitor systems, as well as higher-density displays, like Apple’s Retina. Resolve 12 is divided into four modes or pages: Media, Edit, Color, and Deliver. Software control panels can be opened or closed as needed, including videoscopes, media storage locations, mixers, audio meters, inspector, effects, and more. There are some interesting options to control whether or not a panel or window runs the full horizontal or vertical length of your display. However, there is no way to create a custom workspace by docking panels in different places and then saving that as your personal layout. Interface colors also can’t be personalized.

As before, timelines support sources with mixed formats and frame rates, however, the base timeline setting must match that of the project. This means you cannot have a 720p/59.94 and a 1080i/29.97 timeline within the same project. You can’t have multiple timelines open, but it’s easy to access different timelines in the same project quickly. You can also cut one timeline into another as a nested sequence. Such nests (as well as compound clips) can be decomposed in the timeline, leaving the original source clips to work with.

Resolve 12 no longer includes a separate section in the UI for timelines, as these are placed together with the source media in the Media Pool. One simple solution is to create a Bin for your edits and manually drag the timelines you’ve created into that Bin. Another option is to filter timelines into a Smart Bin by including some common element in the name. For example, you could append “seq” (for sequence) to the end of the name of each timeline. Set your filtering criteria to names that contain “seq” and then timelines will automatically show up in the Smart Bin that you’ve created for timelines.

Editing with Resolve 12

df3115_R12_4As a a nonlinear editing application (NLE), Resolve 12 is an interesting mash-up among several other NLEs, including Premiere Pro, FCP 7 and FCP X. There are new features clearly intended for editors, including multi-camera editing. You can now organize clips and timelines into custom bins, add metadata, assign sortable color flags and other metadata values, and automatically filter clips into Smart Bins. You can sync grouped clips (double-system sound) and multi-camera clips using in-points, timecode, or audio waveforms. The multi-cam editing routine is similar to other NLEs, where you drop a multi-cam clip onto your main timeline and then cut between camera angles.

Blackmagic placed a lot of attention on timeline trim functions. It’s now possible to do some very elaborate asymmetrical trims of multiple clips. Slip/slide trimming and split audio is all very easy and fluid. There is no trim window, so on-the-fly JKL trimming – a la Media Composer – isn’t possible. When you trim via the mouse or keyboard, you get a 2-up preview in the viewer and a 4-up display when slipping and sliding clips. You can access a curve editor in the timeline for transitions, which lets you control the transition acceleration. When you select source clips in the list view mode of the browser, you get a skimmable filmstrip of the selected clip, much like in FCP X.

Video effects are still based on OpenFX, so any third-party filters and transitions that offer OFX host support (FilmConvert, BorisFX, NewBlueFX, etc.) will show up in either the Edit page effects palette or the Color page, depending on whether the filter is something that requires a color correction node in order to be applied. Blackmagic also includes its own toolbox of effects and transitions, including the new Smoothcut transition. This is a morphing dissolve designed to smooth jumpcuts between edited soundbites from on-camera interviews. It is similar to Adobe’s Morph Cut or Avid’s FluidMorph, but seems to rely more heavily on GPU processing. Therefore, you don’t have to wait until a lengthy analysis pass is completed before you can review the results. As with all of these effects, real-world results vary with how closely the alignment is on both sides of the cut. It tends to work best with a duration of two to four frames.

Audio went through big changes in Resolve 12 to improve performance and to add features. VST and AU plug-ins are supported. Any that are installed on your system will show up in the audio effects palette. Effects can be applied to clips or tracks and there’s automation-style track mixing. The way audio tracks are implemented seems confusing to me – especially audio track patching. Tracks can be mono, stereo, 5.1, or adaptive, but there’s no indication in the timeline window as to what type of track it is. When you edit a multi-cam clip to the timeline and the source audio contains several channels, then it is no longer possible to break those clips apart or access individual channels from the timeline. Both Adobe and Apple use similar methods, but with a better approach in each’s implementation. Like in Premiere Pro, it is best to start out by properly setting the source audio channel configuration in the clip properties menu for each clip. You can access this in the Media page.

Other improvements

df3115_R12_5DaVinci Resolve 12 is not only about editing. Since Resolve is used a lot as a DIT tool to generate dailies, there’s a new capability in the Media page to apply color space changes and camera LUTs to a group of clips. If you shot log-encoded footage and apply a Rec709 LUT on the Media page, you’ll now see the corrected color throughout. The downside is that such LUTs are not visible on the Color page and can’t be removed in any of the color adjustment nodes.

The new blue and greenscreen 3D keyer is accessible on the Color page. It yields high-quality results and is aided by new, matte finesse controls, plus Resolve’s great masking and tracking capabilities. There’s also improved ACES support, better shot-matching between clips, and more.

Resolve 12 uses a central database to house all project files. This makes it harder to move files between users than with other NLEs. Previous versions let you export Resolve projects to move them to other systems, but now Resolve 12 adds copy, move, transcode, relink, and consolidate functions. Support for FCPXML (for projects offline-edited using FCP X) has been updated to the newest version of this format.

There had been a bug in how Resolve wrote FCPXML files, so going back into FCP X from Resolve exhibited relinking issues. This only occurred when importing on a different machine than where the files were generated. This bug appears to have been fixed in version 3 of the public beta build.

To include another tool for editors, Blackmagic added an AAF export to Pro Tools feature. I don’t have ProTools, so I wasn’t able to test the Pro Tools export properly. All audio clips are exported in .MXF format, which means many applications can’t play the audio. For example, when I imported the AAF into Apple Logic Pro X, the track sheet was blank. I have been able to send audio from Final Cut Pro X into Logic Pro X using X2Pro Audio Convert to create an AAF.


df3115_R12_2Real-time media performance is critical to a good editing experience. Resolve 12 is optimized for hardware using the PCIe 3.0 bus, which supports greater bandwidth. Older Mac Pro towers or Windows computers that use PCIe 2.0, are going to be challenged when loaded with PCIe cards. You see this mainly in the Edit page, because more things are going on in the interface on that page. Windows user with the newest hardware and Mac users who own new “trash can” Mac Pros will most likely have a better editing experience than owners of legacy machines.

I experienced choppy video being displayed in the viewer of the Edit page, even though output through the Decklink was fine. Ironically, viewer and video output were smooth on the other pages. After consulting with Blackmagic, the following recommendations gave me the performance I would expect out of an NLE: run in the single-screen layout, close the audio mixer panel, close the audio meters, and/or switch the video monitoring setting to 8-bit. Of these, the mixer suggestion made the biggest difference. The ability to create on-the-fly, low-resolution proxies for editing wasn’t enabled with the first few builds of the public beta. It was turned on in build three. This gives you similar results to that of other NLEs running in a half-resolution, quarter-resolution or “dynamic real-time” mode.

One common mistake that I see users make, when I read some of the internet forum posts, is that they load up the timeline clips with color correction nodes and still expect real-time editing performance. Physics hasn’t changed. Adding effects and color correction to clips is going to negatively impact playback. As a general rule, get all of your editing done first and then save your color correction until last. You’ll be a lot happier.

Final thoughts

Once the official Resolve 12 release rolls out, we’ll see where it finds a place as an editor. This release won’t sway editors who are currently happy with one of the other popular NLEs to switch to Resolve 12 as their main axe. However, I suspect it will increasingly become the finishing tool of choice – probably edging out Autodesk Smoke over time. Now that the editing tools and performance are there, it becomes the ideal application for final edit revisions, grading, and mastering. It can already combine lists and media from a range of creative editing systems.

The other element in this equation is Fusion, the node-based composting application they picked up from EyeOn. There’s already a connecting plug-in between it and NLE timelines that Avid has enjoyed. With a bit more development time, I could clearly see some integration between Resolve and Fusion. That might be why “Studio” is now part of the name change. Hmmm…

When Resolve 11 came out, it, too, was touted as an editor. My critical assessment was that it was a grading tool that could be used as an editor, but you wouldn’t want to. With Resolve 12, Blackmagic has produced an application that is both grading tool and an editor. I could easily see myself using it as my secondary NLE. There is certainly great synergy between Final Cut Pro X and Resolve. Why not have both in your arsenal?

The enticement of a free editing application to many new users is hard to resist. Not to mention that it is cross-platform and unfettered by a software subscription business model. Clearly the development pace by Blackmagic Design since they acquired the product has been impressive. This makes me believe that Resolve will find a new audience willing to use it as their primary creative tool for start-to-finish post production.

Click here for a look back at Resolve 11, which will give you an additional insight into some of Resolve’s feature set.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetwork.

©2015 Oliver Peters

Blackmagic Design UltraStudio 4K and UltraStudio Express


Post-production technology is changing with the shift to file-based workflows, Thunderbolt data paths, and adoption of 4K. To address the varied needs that range from one-man-band shops to large facilities, Blackmagic Design has developed the UltraStudio Thunderbolt product family. This includes the low-cost Mini Recorder and Mini Monitor modules at one end and the UltraStudio 4K Extreme at the other. I tested the UltraStudio 4K and UltraStudio Express, which sit in the middle of the family.


UltraStudio 4K

The UltraStudio 4K is a rack-mount unit that’s designed for facility or mobile truck installation. It is one rack unit tall, connects to a Mac or PC via a single Thunderbolt cable, and is compatible with Thunderbolt and Thunderbolt 2 protocols. All connections are on the back plane and the fan vents through the sides for tight rack spacing. The sleek front surface features a small confidence LCD display and six illuminated audio/video input selector buttons.

As a 4K unit, it supports numerous 4K UHD, 4K DCI, 2K, 1080p, 720p, NTSC, and PAL formats and frame rates. The back panel connections cover pretty much everything, including SDI, HDMI, composite and component analog video, AES digital audio, as well as XLRs for timecode and two channels of analog audio. If you need more than two channels of audio, then that is designed to be passed as embedded SDI or over AES. There’s a Thunderbolt loop-through, as well as two SDI loops for the two SDI input connections. Finally, UltraStudio 4K supports connection to a VTR, so it includes a standard 9-pin remote connector.

Like other Blackmagic rack units, UltraStudio 4K does not come with a power cord. This is an international, multi-standard system that can be installed into 120-240V/50-60Hz electrical systems. Since power plug configurations vary around the world, Blackmagic has opted to have you provide your own. In the United States, any standard three-prong power cord – like the one on the back of most monitors – should fit. Thunderbolt cables are also not included.

UltraStudio 4K is built around a chipset that supports SDI, 3G-SDI, and 6G-SDI bandwidths. This is essential for high-frame-rate 1080p, stereo 3D, 4:4:4, and 4K workflows. Yet these units are still compatible with SD and HD infrastructures. 6G-SDI (6Gb/s) is fast enough for UltraHD video at up to 30fps to be passed over a single BNC cable. In standard HD operation, the two SDI outputs can be configured for a full HD and a second down-converted signal. This unit doesn’t up or down-convert between 4K and HD or SD. However, if you are working in DCI versus UHD sizes, UltraStudio will up or down-convert to the nearest 4K size – up to 4096 or down to 3840 pixels wide.

In the UltraStudio product line, the big brother is UltraStudio 4K Extreme, a larger, more powerful unit with 12G-SDI bandwidth. That’s enough for 4K 60p video over a single BNC cable. It features even more connections, a larger LCD display, dual power supplies, and built-in hardware encoding for H.265 and Apple ProRes (on Mac OS X). 4K Extreme not only connects via Thunderbolt, but can also connect to a PCIe host using a small PCIe adapter card. Therefore, you aren’t limited to computers with Thunderbolt. This is the same unit that Avid will be selling as the Avid DNxIO. That version will embed hardware encoding of the Avid DNxHR codec and will be sold and supported through Avid and its reseller channels.

df2915_ultrastudioexpress34UltraStudio Express

If you need something portable, then UltraStudio Express fits the bill. This is an SD/HD unit that connects and is powered via a single Thunderbolt line. The small aluminum housing includes SDI and HDMI i/o connectors, as well as a multi-pin port for everything else. The unit ships with two breakout cables for a variety of analog audio and video connectors. One breakout cable features professional BNC and XLR connectors, while the other uses RCA plugs. The “pro” cable also includes a 9-pin VTR remote. UltraStudio Express is fanless and small, so it’s a perfect laptop companion. If you only need SDI or HDMI connectivity, then there’s no need to connect either of the breakout cables.

Like the larger 4K systems, UltraStudio Express supports a wide range of SD and HD standards with some conversion capabilities. On input it can convert HD to SD or SD to HD. On output from HD to SD or 720 to 1080. UltraStudio 4K adds SD to 720 or 1080 conversion on output. So, while there is a good range of conversion options on both systems, these might not cover every combination of frame rates, pulldowns, etc.

Both units are driven by Blackmagic Design’s Desktop Video software. This installer includes drivers, the Desktop Video Utility, Media Express, and Blackmagic Disk Speed Test. On a Mac, you access the Desktop Video Utility through System Preferences to set up the configuration of the unit. Media Express is Blackmagic’s own media player, capture, and print-to-tape software application. This is important for Final Cut Pro X users, since that NLE is designed only as a file-based editor without its own tape capture or output modules.

Diving in

df2915_Media-ExpressSince these are Thunderbolt devices, I tested both the UltraStudio 4K and Express units on my Retina MacBook Pro. I connected the output to a Panasonic 1080p monitor via SDI and later to my home Samsung using HDMI. Thunderbolt is hot-swappable, so it was easy to go back and forth between units. The Blackmagic Desktop Video Utility quickly recognized each unit for fast reconfiguration of settings if needed. Both units work with a wide range of Apple, Adobe, Avid, and Blackmagic Design software, so regardless of whether you are using Resolve, Premiere Pro CC, FCP X, or Media Composer, the systems just seem to work. Check the specs on the website, but a ton of other applications, like Smoke, Fusion, and Photoshop, to name a few, are also compatible.

I spent a fair amount of time running both Apple Final Cut Pro X, as well as Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2015 through both units. These are generally the NLEs I work with today. Naturally I expect DaVinci Resolve to work, but I was pleasantly surprised that Adobe SpeedGrade CC 2015 now also works. Enabling Mercury Transmit out of SpeedGrade through Blackmagic hardware has been a bit of an issue in the past. This meant the user had to decide between working with SpeedGrade and AJA hardware or Resolve and Blackmagic hardware. For Blackmagic owners this dilemma is gone. Finally, with current hardware, it all works as expected.

How 4K is handled with each unit depends on the application and what it’s capable of. For example, I have a test clip of Sony XAVC 4K footage (4096×2160). When I play that in either Premiere Pro CC or Final Cut Pro X through the UltraStudio Express it will display as 1080 even though the sequence is 4K. That’s because the unit can only output 1080. Both applications are savvy enough to downscale the sequence to 1080 and therefore it plays. Naturally this taxes the computer, although FCP X had far less trouble than Premiere Pro is doing so.

This was not the case when I connected the larger UltraStudio 4K. When you use Final Cut Pro X, the video output is determined by the settings in the Desktop Video Utility. If you set it to 1080p (to match the monitor), then FCP X will downscale a 4K timeline to 1080p and it will be happily piped to the monitor. This isn’t true in Premiere Pro, which overrides the Desktop Video settings. Even if you set it to 1080p, because the unit is capable of handling 4K, Premiere Pro will cause it to be set to match the 4K sequence. If you are working in a 4K sequence, UltraStudio 4K will play it at 4K (one of the 2160p choices). When that happens the 1080p monitor goes black. This means that you have to know which unit is right for you based on the monitors you own and the NLE you cut with. Or you may have to upgrade your monitors.

Both units work well. The Thunderbolt loop-through on the UltraStudio 4K came in handy by leaving my second port on the MacBook Pro free. I connected a LaCie Rugged FireWire 800 drive using a FW800-to-Thunderbolt adapter. It could effortlessly play a single stream of 1080p or 4K for a long time without dropping frames or causing any issues. Latency was extremely small over SDI (a bit more on HDMI) and there were no issues with audio sync. The build quality of both units is solid and Blackmagic Design now offers a three-year limited warranty.

The only caveat I would offer is that the UltraStudio 4K (and I’m sure this would go for the Extreme, too) is definitely an item that should only go into a noisy machine room. That’s because the fan is very loud – think hair dryer on low. The nice PR images that show a short rack containing one of these units next to an editor or colorist are pure fantasy.

Blackmagic Design has come a long way in a few short years to be a key player and leader in broadcast, production, and post technology. If you are considering any of the new Macs or even PCs that employ Thunderbolt, then you’d be hard-pressed to beat these units. They perform well, handle 4K, and set the standard for affordability.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetwork.

©2015 Oliver Peters

Color Finale


When Apple launched Final Cut Pro X, one of the items that users missed from previous versions was the popular three-way color corrector. Most built-in color correction modules and plug-ins use the common color wheel method for changing color balance. It’s based on the principle that to reduce a certain color cast you push the wheel in the opposite direction of that color. This decreases the color you want to reduce by shifting the balance towards the colors that are on the opposite side of the wheel.

Apple replaced the color wheel model in FCP X with the color board – a set of tabs for exposure, saturation and color (tint or hue). In the color tab, which controls balance, you see a color swatch field divided into positive and negative halves. To decrease one color, you simply move the puck into the negative range for that color. Although this may be intuitive to users who don’t know anything about color theory, it’s contrary to how most other color tools work.

As a result, many FCP X editors have been on the lookout for good color correction plug-ins that use the more common three-way color wheel method. The complication is that the FCP X user interface is very restrictive for software developers, which limits the sort of custom controls they can use. The usual workaround – if they don’t utilize the space of the Inspector panel – is a of HUD (heads-up display) or an overlay on top of the viewer image. To date, plug-ins that offer color wheels have included Yanobox Moods, Red Giant Colorista III, FilmConvert, and Hawaiki Color. Some, like Ripple Tools RT Color Balance and Lawn Road Color Precision, use the Mac OS color picker in a way that functions as a color balance control.

Layer-based correction

df1115_cf_2_smThe newest color correction plug-in for Final Cut Pro X is Color Finale from Color Grading Central. This is a layer-based color corrector that combines four tools into a single filter. These include color wheels, curves, LUTs, and vectors. To solve the interface issue, Color Finale uses a floating panel that lives on top of the regular FCP X interface. When you apply the Color Finale filter to a clip and click Open in the Inspector window, the floating control panel is launched. You can move it around in case it obscures part of the regular FCP X interface. Within this panel you can select any of its four tools for as many layers as you like and rearrange them into any layer order. Each layer has a separate opacity control and the filter has an overall “mix” slider in the Inspector window. This lets you adjust the intensity of the complete filter or of individual layers.

df1115_cf_1_smThese four tools combine most of the functions offered by other individual filters into a single plug-in. The three-way color corrector works as expected with balance and level controls for shadow, mid-range, and highlight sections, plus a global saturation slider. The LUT control is like Color Grading Central’s LUT Utility. Color Finale ships with several basic camera patch and creative look LUTs (same as with LUT Utility). These are installed into a standard Motion Templates directory for FCP X. You can add any .cube format LUT file to this folder and it will show up inside FCP X as one of Color Finale’s LUT options. The curves are unique among FCP X plug-ins, because these are true multi-point curves. Other curve tools are based on an s-curve, but not here. You can add numerous control points along any of the RGB or master curves and make precise adjustments. The vector tool is based on the six color vectors: red, green, blue, cyan, magenta, and yellow. You can adjust the luminance and saturation, as well as shift the hue, for each of these vectors.

df1115_cf_3_smIn a very, very loose sense, Color Finale is a bit like having Resolve inside FCP X and is most similar to FilmLight’s Baselight Editions color correction plug-in. You can easily mix and match tools as layers within the plug-in control panel. If you apply the Color Finale filter to multiple clips on the timeline, once you’ve opened the panel, you can move from clip to clip and add or adjust correction layers within this panel, as long as it stays open. If you’ve closed it, clicking Open in the Inspector will relaunch the control panel. Using “copy” and “paste attributes” enables you to copy-and-paste Color Finale effects from one clip to another. Unfortunately there is no way within the filter to split-screen the uncorrected and corrected image nor to store grades as presets. However, you can toggle individual layers on and off.


df1115_cf_4_smAs with any tool, how the controls work for you is a very subjective thing. Most of the tools feel very good to me, but I have a few minor issues. For me, the range of the color wheels is too extreme. Once you get about 1/4 of the way out from the color wheel’s center, you’ve made a pretty large balance change. At the edges, the change is huge and unusable for anything other than a special effect. Therefore, I’d rather see finer granularity with less extreme change at the edges of the wheel – or the ability to exceed the limits of the wheel for a more extreme change.

df1115_cf_5_smI find the vectors very limiting for secondary adjustments, because you cannot select how wide the envelope is around that vector color. For instance, the red vector will affect a red coat, but not flesh tones that tend to fall into the orange range – and orange is not a true color vector. The developers feel that adhering to true vectors results in a cleaner image as opposed to an HSL model; however, HSL secondary correction (as in Colorista III or Avid Symphony) enables you to be more selective about the colors that you are grabbing for adjustment. I’ve also become used to having contrast, pivot, color temperature, and tint controls. These are a key feature of Adobe SpeedGrade and included with many other filters. Hopefully at some point these will also be added to Color Finale.


A few key features that would be nice to have are tracking, masking, and keying. These aren’t built into the current version, but might be added natively into later versions. However, with the introduction of FCP X 10.2, filters gain a built-in shape mask function courtesy of the host application. This means that Color Finale gets a shape mask that can be use as a form of “power windows”. In addition, if you’ve purchase ColorMelt’s SliceX/TrackX package, its masking and mocha-powered tracking function can be combined with Color Finale grading.

Most importantly, the developers have done a fine job of balancing correction quality with real-time performance. Stacking seven or eight layers of various tools inside Color Finale still leaves you with real-time playback of a sequence with unrendered clips. You would not get this performance if you stacked the same number of individual color correction filters onto a single FCP X clip. Render speeds, when you do choose to render, are fast.

For many, Color Finale will be the color corrector that Apple should have made. It works well and combines a fine set of tools into a single package. Since it works as any standard filter does, you can use it in conjunction with any other effect and with Final Cut’s built-in tools. For example, you can use FCP X’s log processing to correct Log-C gamma-encoded clips upstream of the filter. You can still add a vignette or key mask on top by using the regular FCP X color board tool. As an added bonus, Color Finale also installs and works with Motion 5. If you’re an editor that prefers to do your grading inside the NLE and skip troublesome roundtrips, then Color Finale is a good addition to your Final Cut Pro X toolkit.

Denver Riddle, the developer of Color Finale, has posted an excellent grading tutorial for how you can creatively use this tool with FCP X (click this link).

(Full disclosure: I was involved in the Color Finale beta team and participated in providing testing and feedback during the development phase.)

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetwork.

©2015 Oliver Peters