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

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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

DaVinci Resolve 11

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With the release of DaVinci Resolve 11, Blackmagic Design has firmly moved into the ranks of nonlinear editing. In addition to a redesigned logo and splash screen, Resolve 11 sports more editorial tools than ever before. Now for the first time it is worthy for consideration as your NLE of choice. I have covered previous releases of Resolve, so I’ll only briefly touch on color correction in this article.

As before, DaVinci Resolve 11 comes in four versions: Resolve Lite (free), Resolve Software ($995), Resolve (with the control surface for $29,995) and the Linux configuration. Both free and paid versions support a variety of third-party control surfaces, with the most popular being the Avid Artist Color and the Tangent Devices Element panels. Resolve Lite supports output up to UltraHD (3840 x 2160). It includes most of the features of the paid software, except collaboration, stereo 3D and noise reduction. Although you can operate Resolve without any third-party i/o hardware, if you want external monitoring or output to tape, you’ll need to purchase one of Blackmagic Design’s PCIe capture cards or Thunderbolt i/o devices.

Color Match

df_resolve11_2_smThe interface is divided into four modules: media, edit, color and deliver. All color correction occurs in the color module. Here you’ll find a wealth of grading tools, including camera raw settings, color wheels, primary sliders and more. Color Match is a new correction tool. If you included a color chart when you shot your footage, Resolve can use the image of that chart to set an automatic correction for the color balance of the scene.

Color Match features three template settings for charts, including X-Rite ColorChecker, Datacolor SpyderCheckr and DSC Labs OneShot. If you used one of these charts and it’s in your footage, then select the appropriate set of color swatches in the Color Match menu. Next, select the Color Chart grid from the viewer tools, which opens an overlay for that chart. Corner-pin the overlay so that the grid lines up over the color swatches in the image and hit the Match button. Resolve will instantly adjust its curves to correct the color balance of the shot, so that the chart in the image matches the template for that chart in Resolve. Now you can copy this grade and apply it to the rest of the shots within that same set-up.

Although this isn’t a one-shot fix, it’s intended to give you a good starting point for your grade. While this feature demos really well and is certainly a whizz-bang attention-getter, it has the most value for novice users or for DITs who need to get a quick grade for dailies while on location.

Editing

df_resolve11_3_smThe biggest spark of interest I’ve seen for Resolve 11 is due to the editing tools. As an NLE, it’s somewhat of a mash-up between Final Cut Pro 7 and Final Cut Pro X. It copies a lot of X’s design aesthetic and even some features, like clip skimming in the media bins; yet, it is clearly track-based. For editors who like a lot of FCP X, but are put off by Apple’s trackless, magnetic timeline, Resolve 11 becomes a very tantalizing, cross-platform alternative.

Resolve 11’s edit module most closely aligns with Final Cut Pro 7, although there is no multi-cam feature, yet. The keyboard commands mirror the FCP 7 set, as do menu options and much of the working style. One big improvement is a very advanced trim mode, which offers good asymmetrical trimming. If you start a project from the beginning in Resolve 11, you can easily import media, organize clips into bins/folders, add logging information and, in general, do all of the nuts-and-bolts things you do in every editing application.

The interface uses a modal design and supports dual and single monitor configurations. Although there are numerous panels and windows that can be opened as needed, the general layout is fixed. Certain functions are restricted to the edit module and others to the color module. For example, transition effects, titles and generators would be added and adjusted in the edit module, while working with a standard timeline. Color correction and other image effects are reserved for the color module, which uses a node-based hierarchy. Resizing and repositioning can be done in either.

Resolve includes an inspector pane on the right side of the timeline viewer that is much like that of FCP X. Here you’ll find composite, transform, cropping, retiming and scaling controls. If you select a transition, then its adjustment controls appear in the inspector panel. Resolve supports the OpenFX video plug-in architecture. Third-party transitions will show up in the edit mode’s OpenFX library, while the filters only show up when you are in the color mode. Like FCP X, inspector controls are limited to sliders, color pickers and numerical entry, with no allowance for custom third-party plug-in interfaces.

My biggest beef is performance. Resolve 11 is optimized to pass the highest quality images through its pipeline, which seems to impede real-time playback, even with ungraded footage. In other NLEs, hitting play or the space bar brings you to full-speed, real-time playback in a fraction of a second. In Resolve it takes a few seconds, which is clearly evident in its dropped-frame indicator. Even with proper real-time playback, video motion does not look as smooth and fluid in the viewer as I would expect. There are a number of factors that affect this, including drive performance (high-performance storage is good), GPU performance (one or more high-end cards are desirable) and age of the machine (a new top-of-the-line system is ideal). Resolve is also not as gracious with a wide range of native media types as some of the other NLEs.

df_resolve11_4_smColor grades will affect performance. What if you start grading in the color mode and bounce back into the edit mode? This has the same impact on the computer as applying several filters in a traditional NLE. Add a stack of effects on most NLEs and playback performance through those clips is often terrible until you render. To mitigate this issue, Resolve includes smart caching, which is a similar sort of background render as that of FCP X. The software renders clips with a grade or an effect applied anytime the machine is idle.

Audio in Resolve 11 is still in the very early stages. There is no audio plug-in architecture. Hopefully Blackmagic will add AU and/or VST support down the road. Having multiple audio tracks also hurts system performance. Complex audio in the timeline quickly choked my system. Having even a few tracks caused the audio to drop out during playback. Resolve employs a similar track design to Adobe Premiere Pro. This means adaptive tracks, where a single timeline track can contain one mono channel, two stereo channels or multiple surround channels. This is an interesting design, but it seems to impact round-tripping between other applications. For example, I’ve exported multi-channel timelines via XML. In this process, when I brought that timeline into FCP 7 or Premiere Pro, these tracks only showed up as mono tracks with one channel of audio.

Roundtrips

df_resolve11_6_smWhere Resolve 11 really shines is in its roundtrip capabilities. It can take media and edit list formats from a range of systems, then let you process the media and finally output a new set of media files and corresponding lists. EDL, AAF, XML and FCPXML formats are supported, making Resolve 11 one of the better cross-application conversion tools. For instance, you can edit in FCP X, conform and grade in Resolve 11 and then output that in a compatible format to finish in the same or different NLE, such as Media Composer, Smoke, Premiere Pro, etc. Of course, with Resolve 11, you could simply finish in Resolve and output final deliverables from right within the application. That’s clearly the design goal Blackmagic had in mind.

Personally, I still prefer to use the roundtrip method, but there are a few wrinkles in this process. I have already mentioned audio issues. Another is resizing, such as FCP X’s “spatial conform” and Premiere Pro’s “scale to frame size”. These are automatic timeline functions to fit oversized images into smaller timeline frames, such as putting 4K media into a 1080 timeline. This feature automatically down-scales the source image so that either horizontal or vertical dimensions match. Unfortunately some of this information gets lost in the translation between applications.

df_resolve11_8_smI recently ran into this on two jobs with 4K RED media and Resolve 11. The first was a project cut in FCP X. The roundtrip went fine, but when the newly rendered 1080 media was back in FCP X, the application still thought it needed to enable spatial conform, which had been used in the offline edit. Disabling spatial conform caused FCP X to blow up the 1080 media 200%. The simple fix was just to leave spatial conform on and let FCP X render this media on export. There were no visible issues that I could detect.

The second was a music video project that the director had cut on Premiere Pro CC2014. There was extensive reframing and repositioning throughout. Importing this timeline into Resolve 11 was a complete disaster and would have meant rebuilding all of this work to reframe images. Ultimately I opted to use SpeedGrade CC2014 on this particular job, since it correctly translated the Premiere Pro timeline via Adobe’s Direct Link feature.

As a general rule, I would recommend that if you know you are going outside of the application, do not use any of these automatic resizing tools in the offline NLE. Instead, manually set the scale and position values, because Resolve does an excellent job of interpreting these parameters when set during the offline edit.

OpenFX

df_resolve11_5_smBlackmagic added the OpenFX architecture with Resolve 10, but now that Resolve 11 is out, new developers are joining the party. On my test system I installed both the FilmConvert 2.0 plug-in and the Boris Continuum Complete 9 package. The filters are accessed in the color modules and are applied to nodes, just like other grading functions. Although other host versions of the FilmConvert filter include color wheels within the filter’s control panel, they are excluded in the OpenFX version. You do get the camera and film emulsion presets. This is my favorite film emulation and grain plug-in and it makes a suitable complement to Resolve.

Boris FX’s BCC 9 for Resolve includes most of the same filters as for other hosts, including the new FX Browser. You can launch it from inside the Resolve interface, but when I tried to use it, the browser crashed the application. I’m running the public beta of 11.1, so that could be part of it. Otherwise, the filters themselves worked fine. So, if you need to add a glow, cartoon effect or spray paint noise to a shot, you can do so from inside Resolve with BCC 9.

OpenFX filters installed for other applications also show up in Resolve. I discovered this during my review of the HP Z1G2 workstation. Sony Vegas Pro 13 was installed, which also uses OpenFX. The NewBlueFX filters that were installed for Vegas also showed up in Resolve 11 on that machine.

A key point to remember it to apply OpenFX filters in a separate node. If you need to change the filter, simply delete the node and create a new one for a different filter. That way you won’t lose any of the correction applied to the clip.

Collaboration

df_resolve11_7_smResolve 11 enables collaboration among multiple users on the same project. This requires a paid version of Resolve 11 for each collaborator, a network and a shared DaVinci Resolve database. To test this feature, I enlisted the help of colorist and trainer Patrick Inhofer (Tao of Color, Mixing Light). Patrick set up a simple ethernet network between a Mac Pro and a MacBook Pro, each running a paid version of Resolve 11. You have to set up a shared project and open both Resolve seats in the collaboration mode. Once both systems are open with the same project, then it is possible to work interactively.

This is not like two or more Avid Media Composers running in a Unity-style sharing configuration. Rather, this approach is intended for an editor and a colorist to be able to simultaneously work on one timeline at the same time. One person is the “owner” of the project, while anyone else is a “collaborator”. In this model, the “owner” has control of the editing timeline and the “collaborator” is the colorist working in the color module. You could also have a third collaborator logging metadata for clips.

df_resolve11_9_smIn the collaboration mode, a bell-shaped alert icon is added to the lower left corner of the interface. Whenever the colorist adds or changes a correction on one or more clips and publishes his changes, the editor receives an alert to update the clips. When the update is made, the colorist’s changes become visible on the clips in the editor’s timeline. If the editor makes editorial changes to the timeline, such as trimming, adding or deleting clips, then he or she must save the project. Once saved, the colorist can reload the project to see these updates.

As long as you follow these procedures, things work well; however, in our tests, when we went the other direction, updates didn’t happen correctly. For example, color changes made by the editor or timeline edits made by the colorist, did not show up as expected on the other person’s system. Collaboration worked well, once we both got the hang of it, but the feature does feel like a 1.0 version. Updating changes worked, but you can also reject a change by choosing “revert”. This is supposed to take the clip back to the previous grade. Instead, it dropped the grade entirely and went back to an un-corrected version of the clip with all nodes removed.

DaVinci Resolve 11 is a powerful new version of this best-in-class color grading application. Although you might not edit a project from start-to-finish in Resolve, you certainly could. For now, Blackmagic Design is positioning Resolve as an NLE designed for finishing. Edit your creative cut in Media Composer, Final Cut Pro or Premiere Pro – mix in Logic Pro X, Pro Tools or Audition – and then bring them all together in Resolve 11. As we all know, clients like to tweak the cut until the very end. Now the grading environment can enjoy more interactivity than ever before.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetwork.

©2014 Oliver Peters

Amira Color Tool and your NLE

df_amiracolor_1I was recently alerted to the new Amira Color Tool by Michael Phillips’ 24p blog. This is a lightweight ARRI software application designed to create custom in-camera looks for the Amira camera. You do this by creating custom color look-up tables (LUT). The Amira Color Tool is available as a free download from the ARRI website (free registration required). Although the application is designed for the camera, you can also export looks in a variety of LUT file formats, which in turn, may be installed and applied to footage in a number of different editing and color correction applications. I tested this in both Apple Final Cut Pro X and Avid Media Composer | Software (v8) with good results.

The Amira Color Tool is designed to correct log-C encoded footage into a straight Rec709 offset or with a custom look. ARRI offers some very good instructions, white papers, sample looks and tutorials that cover the operation of this software. The signal flow is from the log-C image, to the Rec709 correction, and then to the CDL-based color correction. To my eye, the math appears to be floating point, because a Rec709 conversion that throws a shot into clipping, can be pulled back out of clipping in the look tab, using the CDL color correction tools. Therefore it is possible to use this tool for shots other than ARRI Amira or Alexa log-C footage, as long as it is sufficiently flat.

The CDL correction tools are based on slope, offset and power. In that model slope is equivalent to gain, offset to lift and power to gamma. In addition to color wheels, there’s a second video look parameters tab for hue intensities for the six main vectors (red, yellow, green, cyan, blue and magenta). The Amira Color Tool is Mac-only and opens both QuickTime and DPX files from the clips I tested. It worked successfully with clips shot on an Alexa (log-C), Blackmagic Cinema Camera (BMD Film profile), Sony F-3 (S-log) and Canon 1DC (4K Canon-log). Remember that the software is designed to correct flat, log-C images, so you probably don’t want to use this with images that were already encoded with vibrant Rec709 colors.

FCP X

df_amiracolor_4To use the Amira Color Tool, import your clip from the application’s file browser, set the look and export a 3D LUT in the appropriate format. I used the DaVinci Resolve setting, which creates a 3D LUT in a .cube format file. To get this into FCP X, you need to buy and install a LUT filter, like Color Grading Central’s LUT Utility. To install a new LUT there, open the LUT Utility pane in System Preferences, click the “+” symbol and navigate to where the file was saved.df_amiracolor_5_sm In FCP X, apply the LUT Utility to the clip as a filter. From the filter’s pulldown selection in the inspector, choose the new LUT that you’ve created and installed. One caveat is to be careful with ARRI files. Any files recorded with newer ARRI firmware are flagged for log-C and FCP X automatically corrects these to Rec709. Since you don’t want to double up on LUTs, make sure “log processing” is unchecked for those clips in the info tab of the inspector pane.

Media Composer

df_amiracolor_6_smTo use the custom LUTs in Media Composer, select “source settings” for the clip. Go to the color management tab and install the LUT. Now it will be available in the pull-down menu for color conversions. This color management change can be applied to a single clip or to a batch of clips within a bin.

In both cases, the source clips in FCP X and/or Media Composer will play in real-time with the custom look already applied.

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©2014 Oliver Peters

Comparing Color, Resolve, SpeedGrade and Symphony

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It’s time to talk about color correctors. In this post, I’ll compare Color, Resolve, SpeedGrade and Symphony. These are the popular desktop color correction systems in use today. Certainly there are other options, like Filmlight’s Baselight Editions plug-in, as well as other NLEs with their own powerful color correction tools, including Autodesk Smoke and Quantel Rio. Some of these fall outside of the budget range of small shops or don’t really provide a correction workflow. For the sake of simplicity, in this post I’ll stick with the four I see the most.

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Avid Technology Media Composer + Symphony

Although it started as a separate NLE product with dedicated hardware, today’s Symphony is really an add-on option to Media Composer. The main feature that differentiates Symphony from Media Composer in file-based workflows is an enhanced color correction toolset. Symphony used to be the “gold standard” for color correction within an NLE, combining controls “borrowed” from many other software and systems, like Photoshop, hardware proc amps and hardware versions of the DaVinci correctors. It was the first to use the color wheel control model for balance/hue offsets. A subset of the Symphony tools has been migrated into Media Composer. Basic correction features in Symphony include channel mixing, hue offsets (color balance), levels, curves and more.

Many perceive Symphony correction as a single level or layer of correction, but that’s not exactly true. Color correction occurs on two levels – segment and program track. Most of your correction is on individual clips and Symphony offers a relational grading system. This means you can apply grades based on single clips or all instances of a master clip, tape ID, camera, etc. All clips used from a common source can be automatically graded once the first instance of that clip is graded on the timeline. The program track grade allows the colorist to apply an additional layer of grading to a clip, a section of the timeline or the entire timeline. So, when the client asks for everything to be darker, a global adjustment can be made using the program track.

Symphony also offers secondary grading based on isolating colors via an HSL key and adjusting that range. Although Symphony doesn’t offer nodes or correction layers like other software, you can use Avid’s video track timeline hierarchy to add additional correction to blank tracks above those tracks containing the video clips. In this way you are using the tracks as de facto adjustment layers. The biggest weakness is the lack of built-in masking tools to create what is commonly referred to as “power windows” (a term originated by DaVinci). The workaround is to use Avid’s built-in Intraframe/Animatte effects tools to create masks. Then you can apply additional spot correction within the mask area. It takes a bit more work than other tools, but it’s definitely possible. Finally, many plug-in packages, like GenArts Sapphire, Boris Continuum Complete and Magic Bullet Looks include vignette filters that will work with Symphony.

The bottom line is that Symphony started it all, though by today’s standards is “long-in-the-tooth”. Nevertheless, the relational grading model – and the fact that you are working within the NLE and can freely move between color correction and editing/trimming – makes Symphony a fast unit to operate, especially in time-sensitive, long-form productions, like TV shows.

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Adobe SpeedGrade CC

If you are current as a Creative Cloud subscriber, then you have access to the most recent version of Adobe Premiere Pro CC and SpeedGrade CC. With the updates introduced late last year, Adobe added Direct Link interaction between Premiere Pro and SpeedGrade. When you use Direct Link to send your Premiere Pro timeline to SpeedGrade, the actual Premiere Pro sequence becomes the SpeedGrade sequence. This means codec decoding, transitions and Premiere Pro effects are handled by Premiere Pro’s effects engine, even though you are working inside SpeedGrade. As such, a project created via Direct Link supports features and codecs that would not be possible within a standalone SpeedGrade project.

Another unique aspect is that native and third-party transitions and effects used in Premiere Pro are visible (though not adjustable) when you are working inside SpeedGrade. This is an important distinction, because other correction workflows that rely on roundtrips don’t include NLE-based filters. You can’t see how the correction will be affected by a filter used in the NLE timeline. Naturally, in the case of SpeedGrade, this only works if you are working on a machine with the same third-party filters installed. When you return to Premiere Pro from SpeedGrade, the color corrections on clips are collapsed into a Lumetri filter effect that is applied to the clip or adjustment layer within the Premiere Pro sequence. Essentially this Lumetri effect is similar to a LUT that encapsulates all of the grading layers applied in SpeedGrade into a single effect in Premiere Pro. This is possible because the two applications share the same color science. The result is a render-free workflow with the easy ability to go back-and-forth between Premiere Pro and SpeedGrade for changes and adjustments. Unlike a standard LUT, Lumetri filters can carry masks, keyframes and are 100% precise.

As a color corrector, SpeedGrade is designed with a layer-based interface, much like Photoshop. Layers can be primary (fullscreen), secondary (keys and masks) or filters. A healthy selection of effects filters and LUTs are included. The correction model splits the signal into what amounts to a 12-way color wheel arrangement. There are lift/gamma/gain controls for the overall image, as well as for each of the shadow, middle and highlight ranges. Controls can be configured as wheels or sliders, with additional sliders for contrast, pivot, temperature (red vs. blue bias), magenta (red/blue vs. green bias) and saturation. There are no curves controls.

Overall, I like the looks I get with SpeedGrade, but I find it lacking in some ways. There are definite plusses and minuses. I miss the curves. It currently does not work with Blackmagic Design hardware. Matrox, Bluefish and AJA are OK. It’s got a tracker, but I find both tracking and masking to be mediocre. The biggest workflow shortcoming is the lack of a temporary memory register feature. You can save a whole grade, which saves the entire stack of grading layers applied to a clip as a Lumetri filter. You can apply grades from earlier timeline clips quite simply and SpeedGrade lets you open multiple playheads for comparison/correction between multiple shots on the timeline. You can access the nine grades ahead and the nine grades beyond the current playhead position. You can also copy the grade from the clip below mouse position to the clip under the playhead by pressing the C key. What you cannot do is store a random set of grades or just a single layer in a temporary buffer and then apply it from that buffer somewhere else in the timeline. Adding these two items would greatly speed up the SpeedGrade workflow.

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Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve

The DaVinci name is legendary among color correction products, but that reputation was earned with its hardware products, like the DaVinci 2K. Resolve was the software-based product built around a Linux cluster. When Blackmagic bought the assets and technology of DaVinci, all of the legacy hardware products were dropped, in favor of concentrating on Resolve as the software that had the most life for the future. There are now four versions, including Resolve Lite (free), Resolve (paid – software only), Resolve with a Blackmagic control surface and Resolve for Linux. The first three work on Mac and PC. You may download the free Lite version from the Blackmagic website or Apple’s Mac App Store. The Lite version has nearly all of the power of the paid software, but with these limitations: noise reduction, stereoscopic tools and the ability to output at a resolution above UltraHD requires a paid version.

I’m writing this based on Resolve 10, which has rudimentary editing features. It is designed as a standalone color corrector that can be used for some editing. Blackmagic Design doubled-down on the editing side with Resolve 11 (shown at NAB 2014). When that’s finally released this summer, you’ll have a powerful NLE built into the application. The demos at NAB were certainly impressive. If that turns out to be the case, Resolve 11 would function as an Avid Symphony or Quantel Rio type of system. That means you could freely move between creative editing and color correction, simply by changing tabs in the interface. For now, Resolve 10 is mainly a color corrector, with some very good roundtrip and conforming support for other NLEs. Specifically there is very good support for Avid and FCP X workflows.

As a color corrector, Resolve offers the widest set of correction tools of any of these systems. In the work I’ve done, Resolve allows for more extreme grading and is more precise when trying to correct problem shots. I’ve done corrections with it that would have been impossible with any other tool. The correction controls include curves, wheels, primary sliders, channel mixers and more. Corrections are node-based and can be applied to clips or an entire track. Nodes can be applied in a serial or parallel fashion, with special splitter/combiner and layer mixing nodes. The latter includes Photoshop-style blend modes. Unlike SpeedGrade, you can store the value of a single node in a buffer (using the keyboard copy function) and then paste the value of just that node somewhere else. This makes it pretty fast when working up and down a timeline. Finally, the tracker is amazing.

A few things bother me about Resolve, in spite of its powerful toolset. The interface almost presents too many tools and it becomes very easy to lose track of what was done and where. There is no large viewer or fullscreen mode that doesn’t hide the node tree. This forces a lot of toggling between workspace configurations. If you have two displays, you cannot use the second display for anything other than the scopes and audio mixer. (This will change with Resolve 11.) Finally, you can only use Blackmagic Design hardware to view the video output on a grading monitor.

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Apple Color

Some of you are saying, “Why talk about that? It was killed off a few years ago! Who uses that anymore?” Yes, I know. What people so quickly forget, was that when the software was FinalTouch (before Apple’s purchase), it was very expensive and considered to be very innovative. Apple bought it, added some features and cleaned up some of the workflow. As part of Final Cut Studio, it set the standard for round-tripping with an NLE. Unfortunately for many Mac users, it retained its less glossy, “Unixy” interface and thus, didn’t really catch on for many editors. However, it still works just fine on the newest machines and OS versions and remains a fast, high-quality color corrector.

Nearly all of the long-form jobs I’ve done – including feature films and TV shows up to even a few months ago – have been done with Color. There are two reasons that I prefer it. The first is that most of these jobs were cut using FCP 7, so it’s still the most integrated software for these projects. More importantly, there are several key features that make it faster than SpeedGrade and Resolve for projects that fall within a standard range of grading. In other words, the in-camera look was good and there were no huge problem areas, plus the desired grade didn’t swing into extreme looks.

Color is designed with 10 levels of grading per clip – primary in, eight secondaries and primary out. Since secondaries can be fullscreen or a portion of the image qualified by an HSL key or mask, each secondary layer can actually have two corrections – inside and outside of the mask. In addition to these, there’s a ColorFX layer for node-based filter effects, which can also include color adjustments. In reality, the maximum number of corrections to a single clip could be up to 19. The primary corrections can include value changes for RGB lift/gamma/gain and saturation levels, as well a printer lights. On top of this are lift/gamma/gain color wheels and luma controls. Lastly there are curves. The secondaries include custom mask shapes and hue/sat/luma curves. There’s a tracker, too, but it’s not that great.

Where Color still shines for me is in workflow. Each layer is represented by a labelled bar on the timeline under the clip. This makes it easy to apply only a single secondary adjustment to other clips on the timeline simply by sliding the corresponding secondary bar from one timeline clip to one or more of the others. For example, I used Secondary 3 to qualify a person’s face and brighten it. I could then simply drag the bar for S3 that appears under the first clip on the timeline over to every other clip with the same person and similar set-up. All without selecting each of these clips prior to applying the adjustment.

Color works with all cards that work with Final Cut Pro, so there’s no AJA versus Blackmagic issue as mentioned above. Dual monitors work well. You can have scopes and the viewer (or a fullscreen viewer) on one display and the full control interface on the other. Realistically, Color works best with up to 2K video and one of the standard Apple codecs (uncompressed or ProRes work best). A lot of the footage I’ve graded with it was ProResHQ or ProRes 4444 that came native from an ARRI Alexa or transcoded from a C300, RED or a Canon 5D/7D. But I’ve also done a film that was all native EX rewrapped as .mov from a Sony camera and Color had no issues. Log-profile footage grades very nicely in Color, so Alexa ProRes 4444 encoded as Log-C forms a real sweet spot for Apple Color.

©2014 Oliver Peters