Australian Design Shines with Blackmagic

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One of the things to do in the week after NAB is to scour the internet to pick up those gems I might have missed at the show. I was curious to run across a blurb at RedShark News about a prestigious design award picked up by Blackmagic Design.

df1616_bmd_reddot_6Anyone in this industry who’s been exposed to any Blackmagic product knows that the company has a sense of taste when it comes to industrial design, packaging, and even their website. Products, like their rack-mounted gear and cameras, have a certain finesse even down to the screws that hold them together. One look at DaVinci Resolve and you know they’ve aimed at the best-looking and easiest-to-navigate user interface of any NLE. The redesign of the Cintel Scanner is like an art piece to hang on the wall.

df1616_bmd_reddot_2This year they’ve been honored as the Design Team of the Year by the Red Dot Awards. This is a design competition founded by German industrial designer Professor Dr. Peter Zec, former president of Icsid (International Council of Societies of Industrial Design) and current head of the German design center, Design Zentrum Nordrhein Westfalen. The Design Team of the Year Award (which is awarded and not competed for) goes to one company each year. Blackmagic Design is in good company, as past winners include Apple, Porsche, and frog design (who has been closely involved with Apple over the years) – among many others.df1616_bmd_reddot_4

df1616_bmd_reddot_5Blackmagic’s design team is headed by Simon Kidd, Director of Industrial Design, who’s been with the company for ten years. This is the first time the honor has gone to an Australian firm and highlights the outstanding work being done down under. That design aesthetic can be seen not only at Blackmagic, but other Australian firms, too, including Atomos and Rode Microphones. It’s nice to see this recognition go to any company in the film and video space, but even better when it goes to someone who really values design along with solid functionality.

©2016 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

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

Blackmagic Design UltraStudio 4K and UltraStudio Express

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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.

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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

DaVinci Resolve – 10 Tips to Improve Your Skills

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Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve is one of the pre-eminent color correction applications – all the more amazing that it’s so accessible to any user. Even the free Lite version does nearly everything you’d want from any color grading software. If you have an understanding of how to use a 3-way color correction filter and you comprehend procedural nodes as a method of stacking corrections, then it’s easy to get proficient with Resolve, given a bit of serious seat time. The following tips are designed to help you get a little more comfortable with the nuances of Resolve. (Click on the images below for enhanced views.)

df2215_resolvetips_1_smPrimary sliders. Resolve gives you two ways to adjust primary color correction – color wheels and sliders. Most people gravitate to the wheels control panel, but the sliders panel is often faster and more precise. Adjustments made in either control will show up in the other. If you adjust color balance using the sliders, while monitoring the RGB parade display and/or the histogram on the video scopes, then it’s very easy to dial in perfect black and white balance for a shot. If the blue shadow portion looks too high on the RGB parade display, it means that the shadows of the image will look bluish. Simply move the blue lift slider lower to push the shadows closer to a true black. An added benefit of this panel is that the controls react to a wheeled mouse. This is great if you don’t have access to a control surface. Hover the mouse over the slider that you want to adjust and twirl the mouse wheel up or down to make your correction.

df2215_resolvetips_2_smGang/ungang curves. Given the propensity of cameras to record with log gamma profiles, you often find the need to apply an s-shaped luma curve during color correction. This shifts the low and high ranges of the image to expand the signal back to full levels, while retaining a “filmic” quality to that image. In the custom curves panel you’ll encounter a typical layout of four curves for luma and RGB. The default is for these to be ganged together. Adjust one and they all change. However, this means you are jacking around chroma levels when you might simply want to alter luma. Therefore, make sure to disable ganging before you start. Then adjust the luma curve. Only adjust the R, G or B curves if it’s beneficial to your look.

df2215_resolvetips_3_smHue/sat curves. If you toggle the curves pulldown menu, you’ll notice a number of other options, like hue vs. hue, hue vs. sat, and so on. These curve options let you grab a specific color and adjust its hue, saturation or brightness, without changing the tone of the entire image. When you sample a color, you end up with three points along the curve – the pin for the selected color and a range boundary pin on either side of that color. These boundary points determine the envelope of your selection. In other words, how broad of a range of hues that you want to affect for the selected color. Think of it as a comparable function to an audio EQ.

It is possible to select multiple points along the curve. Let’s say you want to lower the saturation of both bright yellows and bright blues within the frame. Choose the hue vs. sat curve and select points for both yellow and blue. Pulling these points down will lower the saturation of each of these colors using a single panel.

The hue vs. hue curve is beneficial for skin tones. A film that I’m currently grading features a Korean lead actress. Her skin tones normally skew towards yellow or green in many shots. The Caucasian and African American actors in the same shots appear with “normal” skin tones. By selecting the color that matches her flesh tones on the curve, I am able to shift the hues towards a value that is more in keeping with pleasing flesh tone colors. When used in combination with a mask, it’s possible to isolate this correction to just her part of the frame, so as not to affect the coloration of the other actors within the same shot.

df2215_resolvetips_4_smTracking/stabilization. Most folks know that Resolve has one of the best and fastest trackers of any application. Add an oval mask to someone’s face, so that you can brighten up just that isolated area. However, as the person moves within the shot, you have to adjust the mask to follow their face. This is where Resolve’s cloud-point tracker is a lifesaver. It’s fast and most of the time stays locked to the subject. The tracking window also enables stabilization. Use the pulldown menu to toggle from tracking to stabilization. This is a two-step process – first analyze and then stabilize. You can dial in an amount of smoothness, if you want to retain some of the camera drift for a more natural appearance to the shot.

df2215_resolvetips_5_smBlurs/masks/tracking. Resolve (including the free version) enables blurring of the image. This can be used in conjunction with a mask and with tracking, if you need to blur and track an object, like logos that need to be obscured in non-scripted TV shows. Using a blur with a vignette mask lets you create a dreamy effect. This is all possible without resorting to third-party filters or plug-ins.

df2215_resolvetips_6_smScene detection/slicing. There are three ways to get a show into Resolve: a) edit from scratch in Resolve; b) roundtrip from another NLE using FCPXML, XML, AAF or an EDL; or 3) export a flattened media file of your timeline from another NLE and import that master file into Resolve. This process is similar to when masters were output to tape, which in turn were graded in a DaVinci “tape-to-tape” color correction session. Resolve has the ability to analyze the file and determine edit points with reasonable accuracy. It will break up the files into individual master clips within your media pool. Unfortunately, these are viewed in the timeline as individual media clips with boundaries, thus making trimming difficult.

My preference is to place the clip onto a new timeline and then manually add splices at all edit points and dissolves. Since Resolve includes editing capabilities, you can trim, alter or add points in case of error or missed edits. This can be aided by importing a matching, blank XML or EDL and placing it onto a higher track, which then lets you quickly identify all edit points that you’ll need to create.

df2215_resolvetips_7_smAdd dissolves. In the example above, how do you handle video dissolves that exist in the master file? The solution (in the Resolve timeline) is to add an edit point at the midpoint of the dissolve that’s embedded within the media file. Next, add a new dissolve equal to the length of the existing dissolve in the video. This way, color correction for one shot will naturally dissolve to the color correction of the second shot. In effect, you aren’t dissolving video sources – only color correction values. This technique may also be used within a single shot if you have correction changes inside that shot. Although in the second case, adding correction keyframes in the Color page is normally a better solution. This might be the case if you are trying to counteract level changes within the shot, such as an in-camera iris change.

df2215_resolvetips_8_smNode strategy. Resolve allows you to store complex grades for shots – which will include as many nodes as required to build the look – at a single memory register. You can build up each adjustment in multiple nodes to create the look you desire, store it and then apply that grade to other shots in a single step. This is very useful; however, I tend to work a bit differently when going through a scene in a dramatic project.

I generally go through the scene in multiple “passes”. For instance, I’ll quickly go through each shot with a single node to properly balance the color and make the shots reasonably consistent with each other. Next, I’ll go back through and add a second node (no adjustment yet) for each shot. Once that’s done, I’ll go back to the head of the scene and in that second node make the correction to establish a look. I can now use a standard copy command (cmd-C on the Mac) to store those values for that single node. When I go to the next shot, the second node is already selected, so then I simply paste (cmd-V on the Mac) those values. Let’s say the scene is a two-person dialogue scene using two singles. Angle A is a slightly different color than Angle B. Set the second node adjustment for Angle A, copy, and then paste to each Angle A shot (leapfrogging the Angle B shots). Then repeat for the Angle B shots.

Lastly, I might want to add a vignette. Go back through the scene and add a third, blank node for each shot. Create the vignette in node three of the first shot, then copy and paste into each of the others. I can still adjust the darkness, softness and position of the vignette at each shot, as needed. It’s a bit of an assembly line process, but I find it’s a quick way to go through a scene and build up adjustments without getting fixated on a single shot. At any point, I can review the whole scene and get a better feel for the result of my corrections in the context of the entire scene.

df2215_resolvetips_9_smLUTs. Resolve enables the application of technical and creative LUTs (color look-up tables). While I find their use limited and should be applied selectively, it’s possible to add your own to the palette. Any .cube LUT file – whether you found it, bought it, or created your own – can be added to Resolve’s library of LUTs. On the Mac, the Resolve LUT folder is found in Library/Application Support/Blackmagic Design/DaVinci Resolve/LUT.

df2215_resolvetips_10_smExport with audio. You can export a single finished timeline or individual clips using the Deliver page. At the time of this post, Resolve 12 has yet to be released, but hopefully the audio export issues I’ve encountered have been completely fixed. In my experience using Resolve 11 with RED camera files, it has not been possible to accurately export a complete timeline and have the audio stay in sync. I haven’t found this to be the case with other camera formats, though. So if you are exporting a single master file, expect the potential need to bring the picture into another application or NLE, in order to marry it with your final mix. Resolve 11 and earlier are not really geared for audio – something which Resolve 12 promises to fix. I’ll have a review of Resolve 12 at some point in the future.

Hopefully these tips will give you a deeper dive into Resolve. For serious training, here are some resources to check out:

Color Grading Central

Explenite

FXPHD

Lynda

Mixing Light

Ripple Training

Tao of Color

©2015 Oliver Peters

The FCP X – RED – Resolve Dance II

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Last October I wrote about the roundtrip workflow surrounding Final Cut Pro X and Resolve, particularly as it relates to working with RED camera files. This month I’ve been color grading a small, indie feature film shot with RED One cameras at 4K resolution. The timeline is 1080p. During the course of grading the film in DaVinci Resolve 11, I’ve encountered a number of issues in the roundtrip process. Here are some workflow steps that I’ve found to be successful.

Step 1 – For the edit, transcode the RED files into 1080p Apple ProRes Proxy QuickTime movies baking in camera color metadata and added burn-in data for clip name and timecode. Use either REDCINE-X Pro or DaVinci Resolve for the transcode.

Step 2 – Import the proxies and double-system audio (if used) into FCP X and sync within the application or use Sync-N-Link X. Ideally all cameras should record reference audio and timecode should match between the cameras and the sound recorder. Slates should also be used as a fall-back measure.

Step 3 – Edit in FCP X until you lock the cut. Prepare a duplicate sequence (Project) for grading. In that sequence, strip off (detach and remove) all audio. As an option, you can create a mix-down track for reference and attach it as a connected clip. Flatten the timeline down to the Primary Storyline where ever possible, so that Resolve only sees this as one track of video. Compound clips should be broken apart, effects should be removed, and titles removed. Audition clips should be finalized, but multicam clips are OK. Remove effects filters. Export an FCPXML (version 1.4 “previous”) list. You should also export a self-contained reference version of the sequence, which can be used to check the conform in Resolve.

Step 4 – Launch Resolve and make sure that the master project settings match that of your FCP X sequence. If it’s supposed to be 1920×1080 at 23.976 (23.98) fps, then make sure that’s set correctly. Resolve defaults to a frame rate of 24.0fps and that won’t work. Locate all of your camera original source media (RED camera files in this example) and add them to your media bin in the Media page. Import the FCPXML (1.4), but disable the setting to automatically load the media files in the import dialogue box. The FCPXML file will load and will relink to the RED files without issue if everything has gone correctly. The timeline may have a few clip conflicts, so look for the little indicator on the clip corner in the Edit window timeline. If there’s a clip conflict, you’ll be presented with several choices. Pick the correct one and that will correct the conflict.

Step 5 – At this point, you should verify that the files have conformed correctly by comparing against a self-contained reference file. Compound clips can still be altered in Resolve by using the Decompose function in the timeline. This will break apart the nested compound clips onto separate video tracks. In general, reframing done in the edit will translate, as will image rotation; however, flips and flops won’t. To flip and flop an image in FCP X requires a negative X or Y scale value (unless you used a filter), which Resolve cannot achieve. When you run across these in Resolve, reset the scale value in the Edit page inspector to normal from that clip. Then in the Color page use the horizontal or vertical flip functions that are part of the resizing controls. Once this is all straight, you can grade.

Step 6 option A – When grading is done, shift to the Deliver page. If your project is largely cuts-and-dissolves and you don’t anticipate further trimming or slipping of edit points in your NLE, then I would recommend exporting the timeline as a self-contained master file. You should do a complete quality check the exported media file to make sure there were no hiccups in the render. This file can then be brought back into any NLE and combined with the final mixed track to create the actual show master. In this case, there is no roundtrip procedure needed to get back into the NLE.

Step 6 option B – If you anticipate additional editing of the graded files – or you used transitions or other effects that are unique to your NLE – then you’ll need to use the roundtrip “return” solution. In the Deliver page, select the Final Cut Pro easy set-up roundtrip. This will render each clip as an individual file at the source or timeline resolution with a user-selected handle length added to the head and tail of each clip. Resolve will also write a corresponding FCPXML file (version 1.4). This file will retain the original transitions. For example, if you used FCP X’s light noise transition, it will show up as a dissolve in Resolve’s timeline. When you go back to FCP X, it will retain the proper transition information in the list, so you’ll get back the light noise transition effect.

Resolve generates this list with the assumption that the media files were rendered at source resolution and not timeline resolution. Therefore, even if your clips are now 1920×1080, the FCPXML represents these as 4K. When you import this new FCPXML back into FCP X, a spatial conform will be applied to “fit” the files into the 1920×1080 raster space of the timeline. Change this to “none” and the 1080 media files will be blown up to 4K. You can choose to simply live with this, leave it to “fit”, and render the files again on FCP X’s output – or follow the next step for a workaround.

Step 7 – Create a new Resolve project, making sure the frame rate and timeline format are correct, such as 1920×1080 at 23.976fps. Load the new media files that were exported from Resolve into the media pool. Now import the FCPXML that Resolve has generated (uncheck the selection to automatically import media files and uncheck sizing information). The media will now be conformed to the timeline. From the Edit page, export another FCPXML 1.4 for that timeline (no additional rendering is required). This FCPXML will be updated to match the media file info for the new files – namely size, track configuration, and frame rate.

At this stage, you will encounter a second serious flaw in the FCP X/Resolve/FCP X roundtrip process. Resolve 11 does not write a proper FCPXML file and leaves out certain critical asset information. You will encounter this if you move the media and lists between different machines, but not if all of the work is being done on a single workstation. The result will be a timeline that loads into FCP X with black clips (not the red “missing” icon). When you attempt to reconnect the media, FCP X will fail to relink and will issue an “incompatible files” error message. To fix the problem, either the colorist must have FCP X installed on the Resolve system or the editor must have Resolve 11 installed on the FCP X system. This last step is the one remaining workaround.

Step 8 option A – If FCP X is installed on the Resolve machine, import the FCPXML into FCP X and reconnect the media generated by Resolve. Then re-export a new FCPXML from FCP X. This new list and media can be moved to any other system. You can move the FCP X Library successfully, as well.

Step 8 option B – If Resolve is installed on the FCP X machine, then follow Step 7. The new FCPXML that you create there will load into FCP X, since you are on the same system.

That’s the state of things right now. Maybe some of these flaws will be fixed with Resolve 12, but I don’t know at this point. The FCPXML list format involves a bit of voodoo at times and this is one of those cases. The good news is that Resolve is very solid when it comes to relinking, which will save you. Good luck!

©2015 Oliver Peters

Stocking Stuffers 2014

df_stuff14_1_smAs we head toward the end of the year, it’s time to look again at a few items you can use to spruce up your edit bay.

Let’s start at the computer. The “tube” Mac Pro has been out for nearly a year, but many will still be trying to get the most life out of their existing Mac Pro “tower”. I wrote about this awhile back, so this is a bit of a recap. More RAM, an internal SSD and an upgraded GPU card are the best starting points. OWC and Crucial are your best choices for RAM and solid state drives. If you want to bump up your GPU, then the Sapphire 7950 (Note: I have run into issues with some of these cards, where the spacer screws are too tall, requiring you to install the card in slot 2) and/or Nvidia GTX 680 Mac Edition cards are popular choices. However, these will only give you an incremental boost if you’ve already been running an ATI 5870 or Nvidia Quadro 4000 display card. df_stuff14_2_smIf you have the dough and want some solid horsepower, then go for the Nvidia Quadro K5000 card for the Mac. To expand your audio monitoring, look at Mackie mixers, KRK speakers and the PreSonus Audiobox USB interface. Naturally there are many video monitor options, but assuming you have an AJA or Blackmagic Design interface, FSI would be my choice. HP Dreamcolor is also a good option when connecting directly to the computer.

The video plug-in market is prolific, with plenty of packages and/or individual filters from FxFactory, Boris, GenArts, FCP Effects, Crumplepop, Red Giant and others. I like the Universe package from df_stuff14_3_smRed Giant, because it supports FCP X, Motion, Premiere Pro and After Effects. Red Giant continues to expand the package, including some very nice new premium effects. If you are a Media Composer user, then you might want to look into the upgrade from Avid FX to Boris Red. Naturally, you can’t go wrong with FxFactory, especially if you use FCP X. There’s a wide range of options with the ability to purchase single filters – all centrally managed through the FxFactory application.

df_stuff14_4_smFor audio, the go-to filter companies are iZotope, Waves and Focusrite to name a few. iZotope released some nice tools in its RX4 package – a state-of-the-art repair and restoration suite. If you just want a suite of EQ and compression tools, then Nectar Elements or Nectar 2 are the best all-in-one collections of audio filters. While most editors do their audio editing/mastering within their NLE, some need a bit more. Along with a 2.0 bump for Sound Forge Pro Mac, Sony Creative Software also released a standard version of Sound Forge through the Mac App Store.

df_stuff14_5_smIn the color correction world, there’s been a lot of development in film emulation look-up tables (LUTs). These can be used in most NLEs and grading applications. If that’s for you, check out ImpulZ and Osiris from Color Grading Central (LUT Utility required with FCP X), Koji Color or the new SpeedLooks 4 (from LookLabs). Each package offers a selection of Fuji and Kodak emulations, as well as other stylized looks. These packages feature LUT files in the .cube and/or .look (Adobe) LUT file formats and, thus, are compatible with most applications. If you want film emulation that also includes 3-way grading tools and adjustable film grain, your best choice is FilmConvert 2.0.

df_stuff14_6_smAnother category that is expanding covers the range of tools used to prep media from the camera prior to the edit. This had been something only for DITs and on-set “data wranglers”, but many videographers are increasingly using such tools on everyday productions. These now offer on-set features that benefit all file-based recordings. Pomfort Silverstack, ShotPut Pro, Redcine-X Pro and Adobe Prelude have been joined by new tools. To start, there’s Offload and EditReady, which are two very specific tools. Offload simply copies and verifies camera-card media to two target drives. EditReady is a simple drag-and-drop batch convertor to transcode media files. These join QtChange (a utility to batch-add timecode and reel IDs to media files) and Better Rename (a Finder renaming utility) in my book, as the best single-purpose production applications.

df_stuff14_7_smIf you want more in one tool, then there’s Bulletproof, which has now been joined in the market by Sony Creative Software’s Catalyst Browse and Prepare. Bulletproof features media offload, organization, color correction and transcoding. I like it, but my only beef is that it doesn’t properly handle timecode data, when present. Catalyst Browse is free and similar to Canon’s camera utility. It’s designed to read and work with media from any Sony camera. Catalyst Prepare is the paid version with an expanded feature set. It supports media from other camera manufacturers, including Canon and GoPro.

df_stuff14_8_smFinally, many folks are looking for alternative to Adobe Photoshop. I’m a fan of Pixelmator, but this has been joined by Pixlr and Mischief. All three are available from the Mac App Store. Pixlr is free, but can be expanded through subscription. In its basic form, Pixlr is a stylizing application that is like a very, very “lite” version of Photoshop; however, it includes some very nice image processing filters. Mischief is a drawing application designed to work with drawing tablets, although a mouse will work, too.

©2014 Oliver Peters