Moving From Apple’s Color to BlackMagic’s DaVinci Resolve, Days 1 – 3

Prologue

Photo from the origianl JL Cooper article

Almost 4 years ago (to the day) I wrote an article titled, Controlling Apple’s Color, From Mouse to the EclipseCX Control Surface. It was a very popular article in which I documented my initial transition from color grading with a mouse to color grading with a control surface.

Fast forward to today – and I’m starting a series of posts documenting my transition from grading in Apple Color to grading in BlackMagic’s DaVinci Resolve. Having never seen the Resolve in action and mostly skimming reviews of the app  I think I’m in a pretty good position to help Apple Color users figure out if Resolve is for them (or how hard the transition might be).

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting diaries of my mis-steps, successes, failures, and general impression of this latest (and most storied) entry in the desktop color grading market.

I encourage comments, questions, and your own observations at the bottom of this page (no registration is required). If you want to receive updates to these Diaries, just subscribe to my weekly Tao Colorist newsletter – focused specifically on the craft of video and film color grading.

Let’s move on…

Colorist Diary, Day 1

Researching My Options

JL Cooper EclipseCX colorist control surface

Just before Christmas 2010, BlackMagic announced Resolve version 7.1. This is the version I had been waiting for – they enabled support for the JL Cooper Eclipse colorist control surface. I had been waiting for either Euphonix or JL Cooper support. Not because I have anything against the Tangent Wave but because I own the JL Cooper and I have a Euphonix MC Color on long-term loan.

The DaVinci Resolve was designed to work with a control surface, and while I’ve heard that the software team had made huge strides in making the software ‘mouse friendly’ – I don’t have much interest in driving a grading session with just a mouse.

So… after reading the Resolve 7.1 data sheet – I immediately downloaded the DaVinci Resolve Mac Configuration Guide. BlackMagic did an outstanding job with this Guide. It clearly lays out all the ‘blessed’ MacPro workstations (at the time of this post, Resolve supports all MacPro towers from 2008 and onward), the specific video card (Decklink, of course), the various graphics cards, RAM, and even the exact PCI-E slot configurations (depending on which graphics cards you’re using). They also include links to all the various components, just so you don’t get confused (which didn’t stop me, as you’ll soon see).

RAM: I’m running a 2008 MacPro (the oldest supported machine) with 16GB of RAM. The Config Guide shows a rather odd RAM configuration: Either 6, 12, or 24 GB ram. I’m going to have to pull four GB – two of my sticks.

Graphics cards: Resolve requires (2) graphics cards – one to drive the primary display, one that simply handles render duties and shouldn’t have any displays attached to it. The Guide’s speediest configuration includes a discontinued card (nVidia GTX 285). Since I’ll be hobbled (for the time being) with an older MacPro, I want to target the 285 as my main graphics card. I start watching EBay for these cards.

Video card: It’s not enough to drive a main display and render out the footage – while I’m grading I need to view my work on a proper reference monitor. To do that, I need a video card that Resolve can output to feed the monitors and tape decks. Since Resolve is a BlackMagic product it’s logical that the only supported video card is the Decklink HD Extreme 3D. I briefly toy with the idea of stepping up to their Multibridge product, but it doesn’t do 3D – and while I have no 3D projects on the horizon, why spend more when the Extreme card will do what I need?

Of course, installing the Decklink Extreme means I have to pull out the AJA Kona 3 – which has been serving me well for many years. But I hold no grudges toward BlackMagic… A $995 card to run a formerly $200k+ grading system? Come on – let’s not quibble.

The way I see it: BlackMagic Design (along with AJA and Apple) started this whole revolution of 10-bit SDI quality professional editing on a desktop. If BlackMagic wants to limit the hardware to a card they produce to work with software they own, I won’t complain.

My final shopping list looks like this (affiliate links):

Grand Total: $2,415 US

Colorist Diary, Day 2

Pre-Installation

I do have a concern: I’m running a 2008 MacPro and I’m nervous that the NVidia 285 video card won’t work. But this machine is certified and there weren’t any notes saying that my config won’t run. So I jump in…

It’s a bit painful pulling out a perfectly functioning Kona 3 (with breakout box) from the MacPro. Whatever, moving on…

¡ D-OH !

WRONG! This is the PC version of the 285 card, not the Mac version

The nVidia 285 card throws me for a loop! After buying the darn thing off EBay, I realize there are several models of this card including a few over-clocked versions for the PC, PC versions that have had their ROM flashed for use in a Mac, and a model made specifically for the Mac. Of course, I bought an overclocked PC version. I ask around and finally find how to flash the ROM (I’ve since lost that link) – but it’s very tedious and I have no patience for it.

After hunting EBay I finally find the Mac versions of this card… which all run $50 – $100 more than the PC version.

Mac tax. Again, whatever. I’m used to it.

I buy a second 285 card. Joy oh happy day.

Installation

The last item to arrive is the Decklink (3 weeks after ordering). It takes the Resolve software almost two weeks to get to me, which, I don’t grok the delay.

At install, everything goes smoothly.

The 285 requires plugging the card into two jumpers on the MacPro. Apparently on the 2009 MacPro this is a bit of a pain. On my machine, it’s easy as pudding pie.

After rebooting and checking the system profile, it’s clear I’ve done something wrong with the RAM. I have 12 GB installed, but only 8 are being recognized. For years, RAM was installed in pairs across the two risers. I guessed that Apple changed the rules on me… which, after further research, they did (direct link to PDF).

"Allocating Memory" . . . About Darn Time!

I reinstall the RAM properly and everything seems to be running correctly. Both video cards are recognized, the correct amount of RAM is displaying… I chuckle; after 3+ years of 16GB of RAM in my computer, finally some production software that will recognize all of it (Final Cut Studio, I’m looking at YOU).

After installation, I hook up all my cables and spend the rest of the day checking all the runs between the Decklink card and into the tape decks, monitors, and speakers. I call it a day.

Colorist Diary, Day 3

Booting Up Resolve

The CUDA Preference Panel

The CUDA Preference Panel

I install Resolve. As I reboot the machine I’m thinking about getting ready to hunt down the latest CUDA drivers, since I’ve seen various people on the boards talk about a new version of CUDA having been released recently. Surprisingly, right after launch a prompt pops up asking me update the firmware on the NVidia 285 card.

It seems a CUDA control panel was installed with Resolve. Nice. That takes some of the hassle out of keeping my system updated.

The $995 USB Key

Before booting Resolve, I plug the dongle into my computer. I generally despise dongles. I have a Ziplock filled with almost a dozen dongles I’ve acquired over the past 9 years – maybe two of them are labelled. I have no idea what the others do, but clearly I’ve stopped running whatever software they’re supposed to enable.

The $995 USB Dongle

The Resolve dongle is nicely labelled. I might lose it, but I’ll never be at a loss as to which software it enables.

I plug it in, it lights up, a thought flashes through my mind, “$995 USB key”.

Launching Resolve I hit the login page. What next?

After watching Resolve 101 Class 1 from fxPhd, I customize my login

I pull out the iPad which has the October 2010 term from fxPhd on it. I signed up for the Resolve training 3 months ago, knowing this day wasn’t far off. I dive in. Class 1 gets me generally orientated with Resolve’s GUI, preferences, loading up shots, and getting those shots into the Color tab to start grading.

After Lesson 1 I set aside the training and start trying to grade. Beyond some basic primary grading – I can’t get anything else working. I’m floundering. In just a few minutes it becomes pretty clear to me – I’m missing some fundamental notions of the’Resolve method’. Particularly this node-based grading thing.

Here’s the good news: My last meeting as President of the New York Final Cut Users Group is tonight. And who do I have booked? My good friend and colorist Alexis Van Hurkman. His topic: “Why DaVinci’s Resolve? (for Final Cut Studio users)”

I head out, hoping that Alexis’ demo will have me up and running within the 60 minute slot he’s been allotted! The timing of my dive into Resolve couldn’t be more perfect.

Next Post: Days 4 & 5: Figuring It All Out (mostly)

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