Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve Panels

I started my editing career in the era of linear editing suites, where dedicated control panels ruled. CMX keyboards, Grass Valley switchers, ADOs – you name it. These enabled operational speed and experienced editors could drive these rooms like a virtuoso pianist. Much of that dexterity has been lost, thanks to the ubiquity of software-based user interfaces for applications running on general purpose computers and controlled by a mouse. But Grant Petty and Blackmagic Design have set out to change that. At the beginning of March, he introduced two new color correction control panels as companion tools to the company’s DaVinci Resolve editing and grading solution. According to Petty more people are using Resolve to edit than to color correct. By introducing these new panels, he hopes to get more of these users involved in the color correction side of Resolve.

Blackmagic Design now offers three DaVinci Resolve panels: Advanced ($29,995), Mini ($2,995) and Micro ($995). Obviously, the Advanced panel is for serious, dedicated color correction facilities with the traffic to support that investment. It’s a large, three-module console with four trackball/ring controls in the center section. The Mini and Micro panels are designed to be more portable than the Advanced panel. The Mini is essentially a three-trackball subset of the center section of the larger panel. The Micro is the trackball section of the Mini, without the Mini’s tilted backplane. If you are an editor who uses Resolve for color correction, but that’s less than 50% of your workload, then the Micro is probably the right panel for you. If you color correct more than 50%, then the Mini is the better bet. However, these panels are designed for more than just editors. If you work as a DIT (digital imaging technician) in the field or on-set, you most likely use Resolve, making these panels the perfect addition to your toolkit.

Taking the Mini for a spin

Blackmagic Design loaned me a Resolve Mini panel for about two weeks for this review. I have to say, it was love at first sight. These panels continue with Blackmagic’s modern industrial design style. This has earned them an international Design Team of the Year award from the Red Dot Awards last year. The Mini panel is a well-constructed metal console with precision trackballs, rings, knobs and buttons. (The panel also uses some high-impact plastic in its construction.) With packaging, it weighs 24 pounds, thus it’s more “transportable” than portable. If you want something to toss into a gig bag, then the Micro would be the panel to buy. The Mini is better for facility use; however, it’s easy enough to move between rooms as needed.

The smaller Micro is bus-powered over USB, but the Mini includes several connection and power options. Communications can be over ethernet or USB/USB-C. Power options include standard AC wall power, 12 volt 4-pin, or ethernet PoE. Like other Blackmagic Design products, you have to supply your own power chord, but the Mini does include a USB-to-USB-C adapter chord. To run the panel, you need to install Resolve Studio (paid) or Resolve (free), version 12.5.5 or later. And yes, these panels only work with Resolve. Connection is drop-dead easy. Just power it up and plug in the USB cable to any available USB port on your computer (or looped off of a connected device, like a monitor). Then select the panel in Resolve’s preferences. This ease of installation is refreshing, without any of the finickiness of other protocols, like EUCON. The one downside for editors is that this panel only controls the color mode of Resolve. There are no dedicated controls for editing, importing or exporting. So you won’t be able to shed the keyboard and mouse completely.

Everything at your fingertips

The main section of the panel includes three trackballs for hue control and rings for luminance control. Generally these correspond to shadow, mids and highlight ranges of the image. Across the top of this flat section are twelve knobs for additional color controls. Push in the knobs to reset their adjusted values. On the right are buttons to move through nodes, clips and stills, along with play/stop buttons. The slanted backplane of the Mini panel features two five-inch, high-resolution LCD menu/control displays, fifteen buttons on either side, eight soft keys across the top, and eight knobs under the displays. The buttons on the left select the portion of the interface that you need to deal with, like primary correction, tracking, sizing, blurs, etc. The buttons on the right are to add nodes, copy and paste, move through stills and keyframes, and toggle the computer display to a full screen viewer.

Resolve’s primary color correction window is pretty deep, requiring paging through different sections of the control window, such as primary bars, primary wheels, log, raw and more. There’s actually a fourth control wheel for offset in addition to lows, mids and highs. Much of this is exposed to the panel. For example, you can use the knobs to adjust the primary bars, while also moving the trackballs, which would normally adjust the primary wheels. Across the bottom of Resolve’s primary window are additional controls for contrast, saturation and more, which spread across two pages of that interface window. These controls are all active on the Mini by using the twelve knobs located above the trackballs. In some cases, you’ll need to change the part of the interface that appears on the two LCDs. This is enabled by the two arrow keys in the upper left corner of the panel. However, switching pages on the panel is required less often than when you only use the mouse with the interface.

The offset function (the fourth primary wheel and fourth trackball on the Advanced panel) can be accessed by selecting the offset key located above the middle trackball. In that mode, the left ring controls temperature, middle ring controls tint and right ring controls level. The right trackball controls color balance.

Resolve is built around controls that may or may not be present in other applications. For example, it is designed as a YRGB system, meaning you can gang level and color controls, but can also correct Y (luminance) lift/gamma/gain levels independent of color (RGB). In addition to standard three-wheel color corrections, you also have contrast/pivot control, as well as some photographic-style enhancements. These include color boost (like a vibrance control), mid detail (softens or sharpens the image), plus blurs. In you are using Resolve Studio, then temporal noise reduction is active. From what I can tell, this is the only control not active when using the panel with the free version of Resolve.

Resolve uses an elaborate curves system, which you would think would be difficult to implement with knobs and buttons. However, Blackmagic has done a wonderful job. The normal curve levels (ganged or independent channels) can be adjusted by six of the knobs under the LCD displays. These work at preset intervals of 0, 20, 40, 60, 80 and 100% along the curve path from dark to light. If you use hue curves, you start with one of six preset colors selected from the panel. Then an “input hue” knob lets you change the selected color left or right within its hue range, based on the last color knob selected. Custom curves also offer a YSFX tool. This is an adjustment to shrink and even invert the curve range. The extreme opposite setting results in a negative image.

There are plenty of other tools. Resolve has a powerful point-cloud tracker, which can also be accessed from the Mini. One handy feature is the ability to automatically add a node with a preset box or circle window. Once applied, then you adjust the window. Although you can step through keyframes, it still requires the mouse to add or delete keyframes. You also have to delete nodes via mouse and not from the panel. Some keys, like FX and User are available for future expansion.

In practice

I spent about a week with the panel, working on and off with some test projects. Needless to say, I enjoyed the process, but there are a few things I wish were different.  The Mini panel is really designed for full-time color grading. If you have a desk layout for editing, then there probably isn’t enough extra space to situate the Mini is an optimal location. For instance, if you wanted to place the panel between your keyboard and display, then the Micro would be a better option. There is no power switch, so the panel is always on. Fortunately, it’s fan-less and quiet, even when on. There are no illumination controls for the displays or the backlit keys. That’s fine in a normally lit room, but might be too bright for some, if you keep the light level very low in the suite.

I’d like to see more versatile transport control. Resolve supports faster-than-real-time playback and scrubbing, but the control panel only gives you 1X play in the forward or reverse directions. It would be nice to have better transport control from the panel. Resolve functions, like adding LUTs, can’t be handled from the panel. The controls to select HSL qualifiers for secondary color correction include eyedroppers, but you still need to use the mouse to graphically pick the right area of the screen. It would be nice if you could do this with the trackball. These are minor points and by no means deal breakers.

A dedicated color correction panel will not only make you a faster colorist – it will also make you a better one. More controls are front and center, which means you are likely to discover and use processes that you would otherwise miss if you simply relied on the mouse or a pen and tablet. You have two hands to control the panel. As with any other tactile task, such as audio mixing with a mixing board, your hands will soon know instinctively what to adjust without having to look at the panel. You can stay more focused on your video display and the scopes. Grading is not only faster, but it’s more intuitive.

Some are going to baulk at the price, no matter how reasonable these portable panels are. To place that into context, at $2,995, the Mini is still less expensive than a decked out Mac Pro or MacBook Pro, which might be your main editing/grading workstation. Plus they work with the free version of Resolve. So if color correction is part of your business model and Resolve is your color correction tool of choice, then either of these two DaVinci Resolve panels is easily justified. The more I’ve been using the Resolve Mini, the more I like it. It’s the Porsche of small grading control panels – solid, stylish and powerful.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / Creative Planet Network

©2017 Oliver Peters

More LUTs from IWLTBAP

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With more cameras shooting in some form of a log or flat color profile and more editing software being able to integrate color look-up tables (LUTs), numerous developers have designed their own LUT packages. Some, like Koji, strive to duplicate the colorimetry of certain film stocks, while others, such as SpeedLooks from LookLabs, create stylized “look” files that give you a range of creative color correction choices.

One new developer offering a package of easy to use LUTs is French filmmaker IWLTBAP. Through the website, you can pick up a comprehensive package of LUTs in the 32x32x32 .cube format, which are compatible with most modern editing and compositing software applications. If you edit in Adobe Premiere Pro CC, the Lumetri Color panel lets you browse and add any .cube LUTs you’ve saved on your hard drives. If you cut in Apple Final Cut Pro X, then the addition of a LUT plug-in, like Color Grading Central’s LUT Utility, enables you to add third-party LUTs to any clip on the timeline.df1316_iwltbap_4

I took these LUTs for a spin and like most LUT packages, they come in a groups. First you have Utility LUTs, which are designed to convert color spaces from log to Rec709 (the standard video color space) or in the opposite direction. These are organized by camera type, since not all manufacturers use the same logarithmic values. Then the color correction or “look” LUTs are grouped into Standard and Log versions.

The Standard LUTs are to be applied to images that are already in Rec709 color space, while the Log versions can be used as a one-step LUT to be applied to generic log images. For example, you could apply both a Log-to-Rec709 Utility LUT and a second LUT from the Standard group to achieve your result. Or simply apply the single Log version to that same clip and end up with similar results. The dual-LUT approach gives you more incremental control over the Log conversion based on camera models, whereas the single-step solution is designed for generic log images. However, both can yield the desired grade, depending on the clip. In addition to the paid LUT package, IWLTBAP offers two Bonus LUTs, which are available as a free download from the website.

df1316_iwltbap_2There are over 80 LUTs in each group and these are organized by color style and number. The numbers don’t really mean anything. In other words, they aren’t an attempt to mimic a film stock number. As you ascend in numbers, the next step is a more aggressive or somewhat different version of the previous. The key is the prefix and suffix for each. These LUT files carry a STD or LOG suffix so you know whether these are from the Log or Standard group. Then there’s a prefix: C for cold, H for hot, W for warm, F for film, and X for creative. Each style has several variations within that general look. For example, the LUT file labelled “F-9490-STD.cube” is a LUT with a filmic curve designed for a Rec709 image.

df1316_iwltbap_7When working with LUTs, it’s often hard to know what result you get until you try it. Then if you don’t like the look, you have to continue to slowly browse through your LUT files – applying each, one at a time – until you get the right look. Often that can lead to a lot of trial and error. The IWLTBAP package ships with lightweight Windows and Mac preview applications, however, the developer warns of some occasional instability on some machines. The easiest solution is to use their web-based LUT previewer. Simply upload a reference JPEG from your clip and then toggle through the LUTs to preview how those will affect the shot.

df1316_iwltbap_6I ran some tests on Blackmagic Design camera footage in both FCPX and Premiere Pro CC and got some really pleasing results. In the case of FCPX, if you use LUT Utility, you have to copy the .cube files into LUT Utility’s Motion Templates folder. This is found under Effects/CGC. Files stored there become visible in the LUT Utility pulldown menu. Note that only the first 50 or so files in that folder can be accessed, so be selective. If you apply two instances of the LUT Utility to a clip, then you can apply a Log-to-Rec709 conversion in the first and then the creative look LUT in the second. This plug-in has a mix slider, so you can adjust the intensity of the LUT to taste. As an effects plug-in, you can also place other effects, such as color correction in-between the two LUT Utility effects as part of that stack of effects. Doing this gives you nice control over color within FCPX with very little overhead on the application’s performance.

df1316_iwltbap_3If you are an FCPX user that has adopted Color Grading Central’s ColorFinale grading tool as your go-to color correction plug-in, then all of this LUT management within the application can be simply handled from the ColorFinale interface itself. Stack layers of LUTs and other color tools all inside the ColorFinale panel. LUT choices can be added or removed using the integrated LUT Manager and then relaunching FCPX to activate them as part of ColorFinale.

If you are a Premiere Pro CC editor, then the latest version was enhanced with the Lumetri Color panel. This control is organized as a stack of color modules, which include two entry points to add a LUT – in the Basic and the Creative tabs. In my testing of the new URSA footage, I applied a Log-to-Rec709 LUT for the URSA in Basic and then one the “look” LUTs, like the free Aspen standard version, in Creative. You still have all the other color control in the Lumetri panel to fine-tune these, including the intensity level of the LUT.

df1316_iwltbap_5LUTs are a creative tool that should be thought of as a stylistic choice. They aren’t an instant fix and shouldn’t be the only tool you use to color correct a clip. However, the LUTs from IWLTBAP provide a good selection of looks and moods that work well with a wide range of shots. Plus the package is very affordable and even more so if you get it after reading this blog! Readers who are interested can get 25% off of the retail price using the discount code DIGITALFILMS. Or by using this direct link.

Last but not least, check out the free, downloadable 4K film grain clip. It’s a ten second ProRes file that can be overlaid or blended to add grain to your shot.

©2016 Oliver Peters

Carol

df0116_carol_smFilms tend to push social boundaries and one such film this season is Carol, starring Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara and Kyle Chandler. It’s a love story between two women, but more importantly it’s a love story between two people.  The story is based on the novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, who also penned The Talented Mr. Ripley and Strangers on a Train. Todd Haynes (Six by Sondheim, Mildred Pierce) directed the film adaptation. Carol was originally produced in 2014 and finished in early 2015, but The Weinstein Company opted to time the release around the start of the 2015 awards season.

Affonso Gonçalves (Beasts of the Southern Wild, Winter’s Bone), the editor on Carol, explains, “Carol is a love story about two women coming to terms with the dissatisfaction of their lives. The Carol character (Cate Blanchett) is unhappily married, but loves her child. Carol has had other lesbian affairs before, but is intrigued by this new person, Therese (Rooney Mara), whom she encounters in a department store. Therese doesn’t know what she wants, but through the course of the film, learns who she is.”

Gonçalves and Haynes worked together on the HBO mini-series Mildred Pierce. Gonçalves says, “We got along well and when he got involved with the production, he passed along the script to me and I loved it.” Carol was shot entirely on Super 16mm film negative, primarily as a single-camera production. Only about five percent of the production included A and B cameras. Ed Lachman (Dark Blood, Stryker, Selena) served as the cinematographer. The film negative was scanned in log color space and then a simple log-to-linear LUT (color look-up table) was applied to the Avid DNxHD36 editorial files for nice-looking working files.

Creating a timeless New York story

Cincinnati served as the principal location designed to double for New York City in the early 1950s. The surrounding area also doubled for Iowa and Pennsylvania during a traveling portion of the film. Gonçalves discussed how Haynes and he worked during this period. “The production shot in Cincinnati, but I was based at Goldcrest Films in New York. The negative was shipped to New York each day, where it was processed and scanned. Then I would get Avid editorial files. The cutting room was set up with Avid Media Composer and ISIS systems and my first assistant Perri [Pivovar] had the added responsibilities on this project to check for film defects. Ed would also review footage each day; however, Todd doesn’t like to watch dailies during a production. He would rely on me instead to be his eyes and ears to make sure that the coverage that he needed was there.”

He continues, “After the production wrapped, I completed my editor’s cut, while Todd took a break. Then he spent two weeks reviewing all the dailies and making his own detailed notes. Then, when he was ready, he joined me in the cutting room and we built the film according to his cut. Once we had these two versions – his and mine – we compared the two. They were actually very similar, because we both have a similar taste. I had started in May and by September the cut was largely locked. Most of the experimenting came with structure and music.”

The main editorial challenges were getting the right structure for the story and tone for the performances. According to Gonçalves, “Cate’s and Rooney’s performances are very detailed and I felt the need to slow the cutting pace down to let you appreciate that performance. Rooney’s is so delicate. Plus, it’s a love story and we needed to keep the audience engaged. We weren’t as concerned with trimming, but rather, to get the story right. The first cut was two-and-a-half hours and the finished length ended up at 118 minutes. Some scenes were cut out that involved additional characters in the story. Todd isn’t too precious about losing scenes and this allowed us to keep the story focused on our central characters.”

“The main challenge was the party scene at the end. The story structure is similar to Brief Encounters (a 1946 David Lean classic with the beginning and ending set in the same location). Initially we had two levels of flashbacks, but there was too much of a shift back and forth. We had a number of ‘friends and family’ screenings and it was during these that we discovered the issues with the flashbacks. Ultimately we decided to rework the ending and simplify the temporal order of the last scene. The film was largely locked by the sixth or seventh cut.”

As a period piece, music is very integral to Carol. Gonçalves explains, “We started with about 300 to 400 songs that Todd liked, plus old soundtracks. These included a lot of singers of the time, like Billie Holiday. I also added ambiences for restaurants and bars. Carter (Burwell, composer) saw our cut at around the second or third screening with our temp score. After that he started sending preliminary themes to for us to work into the cut. These really elevated the tone of the film. He’d come in every couple of weeks to see how his score was working out with the cut, so it became a very collaborative process.”

The editing application that an editor uses is an extension of how he works. Some have very elaborate routines for preparing bins and sequences and others take a simpler approach. Gonçalves fits into the latter group. He says, “Avid is like sitting down and driving a car for me. It’s all so smooth and so fast. It’s easy to find things and I like the color correction and audio tools. I started working more sound in the Avid on True Detective and its tools really help me to dress things up. I don’t use any special organizing routines in the bins. I simply highlight the director’s preferred takes; however, I do use locators and take a lot of handwritten notes.”

Film sensibilities in the modern digital era

Carol was literally the last film to be processed at Deluxe New York before the lab was shut down. In addition to a digital release, Technicolor also did a laser “film-out” to 35mm for a few release prints. All digital post-production was handled by Goldcrest Films, who scanned the Super 16mm negative on an ARRI laser scanner at 3K resolution for a 2K digital master. Goldcrest’s Boon Shin Ng handled the scanning and conforming of the film. Creating the evocative look of Carol fell to New York colorist John J. Dowdell III. Trained in photography before becoming a colorist in 1980, Dowdell has credits on over 200 theatrical and television films.

Unlike other films, Dowdell was involved earlier in the overall process. He explains, “Early on, I had a long meeting with Todd and Ed about the look of the film. Todd had put together a book of photographs and tear sheets that helped with the colors and fashions from the 1950s. While doing the color grading job, we’d often refer back to that book to establish the color palette for the film.” Carol has approximately 100 visual effects shots to help make Cincinnati look like New York, circa 1952-53. Dowdell continues, “Boon coordinated effects with Chris Haney, the visual effects producer. The ARRI scanner is pin-registered, which is essential for the work of the visual effects artists. We’d send them both log and color corrected files. They’d use the color corrected files to create a reference, preview LUT for their own use, but then send us back finished effects in log color space. These were integrated back into the film.”

Dowdell’s tool of choice is the Quantel Pablo Rio system, which incorporates color grading tools that match his photographic sensibilities. He says, “I tend not to rely as much on the standard lift/gamma/gain color wheels. That’s a video approach. Quantel includes a film curve, which I use a lot. It’s like an s-curve tool, but with a pivot point. I also use master density and RGB printer light controls. These are numeric and let you control the color very precisely, but also repeatably. That’s important as I was going through options with Todd and Ed. You could get back to an earlier setting. That’s much harder to do precisely with color wheels and trackball controls.”

The Quantel Pablo Rio is a complete editing and effects system as well, integrating the full power of Quantel’s legendary Paintbox. This permitted John Dowdell and Boon Schin Ng to handle some effects work within the grading suite. Dowdell continues, “With the paint and tracking functions, I could do a lot of retouching. For example, some modern elements, like newer style parking meters, were tracked, darkened and blurred, so that they didn’t draw attention. We removed some modern signs and also did digital clean-up, like painting out negative dirt that made it through the scan. Quantel does beautiful blow-ups, which was perfect for the minor reframing that we did on this film.”

The color grading toolset is often a Swiss Army Knife for the filmmaker, but in the end, it’s about the color. Dowdell concludes, “Todd and Ed worked a lot to evoke moods. In the opening department store scene, there’s a definite green cast that was added to let the audience feel that this is an unhappy time. As the story progresses, colors become more intense and alive toward the end of the film. We worked very intuitively to achieve the result and care was applied to each and every shot. We are all very proud of it. Of all the films I’ve color corrected, I feel that this is really my masterpiece.”

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetwork.

©2016 Oliver Peters

Red Giant Magic Bullet Suite 12

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Red Giant released Magic Bullet Suite 12 in February. Popular tools have been streamlined along with the addition of a brand new film emulation tool. The suite now includes Magic Bullet Looks 3.0, Magic Bullet Colorista III, Magic Bullet Film 1.0, Magic Bullet Mojo 2.0, Magic Bullet Cosmo 2.0, Denoiser II, and LUT Buddy. The new update adds OpenFX compatibility.

Along with feature and interface changes, Red Giant has also focused on performance improvements across the board, as well as bringing more of the tools into new hosts like Apple Final Cut Pro X. A single installation of the suite will install the plug-ins into as many application hosts as you have on your system. However, check the compatibility list for your particular NLE. For example, everything installs into Adobe Premiere Pro CC and After Effects CC, but Final Cut Pro X only gets Colorista, Looks, Cosmo, Film, and Mojo. Avid Media Composer is only compatible with Looks and Resolve gets Mojo, Film, Looks, and Cosmo. Depending on your toolkit, you might opt for one or two of the individual plug-ins rather than the entire suite. If you already installed version 12.0, you’ll need to download and reinstall 12.1 in order to add the plug-ins into new hosts, like Resolve 12.

Magic Bullet Looks (v3.1)

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Magic Bullet Looks is a popular go-to plug-in for sophisticated stylization of an image. It includes tool modules for color correction, lens effects, relighting, and a lot more. The interface design has been flattened and streamlined. As before, it runs as a separate application that opens whenever you launch the interface from the clip on the timeline. The frame that you are parked on becomes the reference frame to which you apply your looks. In 3.0 and 3.1, you can now hover the mouse over the various preset looks and the larger Looks viewer will be updated to preview that look on your frame. In addition, this will also preview the various tool modules used to create the look. Red Giant has created many new preset looks based on popular film and TV show treatments. All are customizable. The 3.1 update added a Trackpad Mode, enabling you to use a laptop or standalone trackpad like a control surface.

New tool modules have been added, such as a LUT tool and a 4-way color corrector. The latter adds a very intuitive luma range graph to easily change the crossover points between lo/mid and mid/hi. Importing LUTs into Looks doesn’t seem to work perfectly. It’s pretty solid in the Adobe applications, but color management with FCP X is quirky. When I imported LUTs into Looks with FCP X, the result was a lot more extreme than in the Adobe applications. This is likely an issue with FCP X’s color pipeline when an external program is involved.

Magic Bullet Colorista III (v1.1)

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The earlier version of Colorista was a feature-packed plug-in that functioned like a mini-grading application. It had master, primary, and secondary grading, plus curves, a power mask, and keyer. With Colorista III, Red Giant decided to simplify the plug-in by including one level of primary grading, curves, a keyer, and HSL secondary adjustments. The power mask is gone, because the developers decided to rely on the new built-in masking that’s part of Premiere Pro CC and Final Cut Pro X. Adobe added bezier masks with built-in tracking to all effects, so if you are using Colorista III in Premiere Pro CC, you now have a better masking capability than in the past. Apple added shape masks to all effects with the introduction of FCP X 10.2.

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With FCP X, the developers were able to integrate the color grading wheels into the inspector pane, but in a vertical configuration. The response of the wheels is weighted, so that you move the mouse farther in relationship to the puck’s travel on-screen. This results in better granularity to the adjustment, but might require a bit of time for new users to get accustomed to the feel. Although it includes curves, these are not true multi-point curves, as you are limited to five control points along the line. Typically these work best when you want an s-curve correction.

A big addition to Colorista III are Lightroom-style shadow and highlight controls. Adjusting the shadows slider acts like you are adding or removing fill light from an image. There’s also a new vignette slider, so you can quickly dial in the size and darkness of an edge vignette. Most of the Magic Bullet products include a strength slider, while enables you to dial back on the amount of the color treatment. This lets you make a more extreme correction and then tone it down for the final look. One welcomed addition is an overall white balance control with a color picker to select what you determine as white in the image. This is very good news for FCP X editors in particular.

New 1.1 features, which are applicable to Adobe hosts, include support for OpenCL and Cuda. This allows for real time color correction during video playback via Adobe Premiere Pro’s Mercury Playback Engine. The Skin Overlay is back and there’s a keyer “cut out” mode to create transparency for layered color corrections.

Magic Bullet Film

df1315_mbs12_6_smFilm style LUTs (color look-up tables) are all the rage and this one is particularly well thought-out. Red Giant has reverse-engineering the LUTs from actual film and includes 22 negative stocks and four print stocks. These include the typical Kodak and Fuji variations as well as settings for some imaginary custom stocks designed by Red Giant. The key to this plug-in is that it is intended to pair a film negative LUT with a film print LUT, in order to more accurately mimic a real-world film pipeline.

df1315_mbs12_7_smIn addition to the LUTs, you have a number of control sliders for tint, exposure, contrast, saturation, and skin tone. There’s a slider for the amount of built-in grain to be added, as well as an instant vignette and a strength slider. A particularly interesting control is the vintage/modern slider. Shift it all the way to modern and you get a very strong orange/teal effect, whereas going fully in the vintage direction leaves the image more reddish and faded.

Magic Bullet Mojo 2.0

df1315_mbs12_8_smMojo is for the folks who want the extreme orange/teal coloration that many blockbuster films use. This is my least favorite filter in the suite, because few films that I see actually look like the results you get here – blockbuster or not. It’s a color treatment whose purpose is to cool off the background independent of skin tones. Depending on the shot and the art direction used in production, sometimes you get great results and other times not so much. df1315_mbs12_9_smFortunately there are plenty of adjustments to derive a decent, albeit stylized, color correction. As part of the Looks refresh, there is now a set of Mojo tools built into Looks, as well. Mojo has also been GPU-accelerated. Red Giant claims it’s 20% faster in Adobe products and 80% faster in FCP X. In the testing that I’ve done, the results have been in line with these numbers.

Magic Bullet Cosmo 2.0

Cosmo is a skin smoothing filter. It’s effectively the “vaseline on the lens” trick. If you have an actress with more textured skin and you need to soften it, then Cosmo does one of the better jobs I’ve seen. It isolates skin from the background, so that you end up softening only skin without hurting background detail.

df1315_mbs12_3_smThe new version has good performance, so you can keep on working with the filter applied without having to render to continue. Cosmo is GPU-accelerated with a 20% bump in Adobe products. In addition to FCP X, it is also available in Sony Vegas Pro.

Denoiser II and LUT Buddy

Denoiser II is general solution for reducing video noise and works well with most footage. LUT Buddy is a tool included with a number of Red Giant products. It is designed to import and export LUTs, although in my testing behavior was inconsistent. I could get it to generate a LUT, but not import all LUTs that should have been compatible.

LUT Buddy is very useful for turning the grade you create in one application into a LUT that can be used in another. For example, you can use a number of different color correction filters in After Effects to grade a shot and then use LUT Buddy to turn that grade into a LUT. Then in Premiere Pro, apply the LUT that you created, without the need for using the same filters as were used in After Effects. Here’s where LUT Buddy should have worked to read its own grade, but it didn’t. When I applied the grade and played the clip, the color correction would flicker on and off. However, I was still able to import that LUT using Premiere Pro’s Lumetri filter, so the process is still functional. My initial testing was done with Adobe CC2014, but in retesting in Adobe CC2015, unfortunately I could no longer get LUT Buddy to export a LUT.

df1315_mbs12_10_smOverall, this a solid update. Better performance and new tools. In most hosts you can stack several instances of these filters and still get real-time playback, which is a significant step forward. Magic Bullet Suite 12 is the perfect package for editors that want to have plenty of control over the look of their image, yet stay inside the editing application.

To usher in Magic Bullet Suite 12, Red Giant produced another of its innovative short films, called “Old/New”. It’s directed by Seth Worley and narrated by Patton Oswalt. Along with a clever storyline, the film was produced using a wide range of Red Giant products. Make sure that you check out the behind-the-scenes video to see how they did it.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetwork.

©2015 Oliver Peters

Rocket Rooster

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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

Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve 12

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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.

Performance

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

Color Finale

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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.

Impressions

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.

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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