Moving from Apple’s Color to BlackMagic’s DaVinci Resolve, Days 4 & 5

Note: This is part of a series of posts documented my transition from color correcting in Apple Color to color correcting in DaVinci Resolve. If this is your first time here, you’ll want to start reading at the first post.

Colorist Diary, Day 3.5

Later that Evening… Grokking It

The Alexis presentation at the NY Final Cut User Group meeting was terrific. And he went above and beyond the call of duty, dragging his MacPro tower down his 5th floor walk-up, into a cab, and clear across town to the B&H Event Space. I try not to think about how, at the end of a long day, he’ll be lugging that behemoth back up another 5 flights of stairs. Shivers.

All I can say: Thanks Alexis! (and… buy his book!!!)

Luckily for Alexis, B & H has a demo unit of the Tanget Wave control surface and they’ve agreed to loan it to us for the presentation (side benefit: Alexis doesn’t also have to drag in his Wave).

In 60 minutes Alexis gave us all a quick overview on how Resolve ‘thinks’. He keeps in mind his audience and puts Resolve in context as to how it differs from Color – including how secondaries work in Resolve (which had me stumped earlier in the day). He also demo’ed two killer features: Automatic Scene Detection and the Tracker.

As I’m watching him I’m picking up pretty quickly on how Resolve implements Nodes.

Or rather… serial Nodes. Earlier that day, right-clicking on a Node I’d noticed several types of Nodes, including ‘Parallel’ Nodes. But he’s keeping the demo moving along and doesn’t bog it down with particulars that don’t belong in this quick overview.

Right-click in the 'Nodes' panel you get these options

By the end of his overview, I’m pretty sure I can get a grade done. A basic grade, for sure…

As to rendering out, tracking, keyframing, working with EDLs, these are all things still ahead of me – but just grading… balancing a series of shots, working inside / outside of my isolations – that much I’ve got down. And my confidence is up.

It was a good evening.

Colorist Diary, Day 4

The next day I pull out the iPad and play along on fxPhd’s DaVinci Resolve 101 training. Over on the fxPhd website I see a few students complaining the training is too basic – they want more meat. I’m thinking to myself, “This is just the right amount of meat for me.”

I’m coming to Resolve cold. A 101 course should focus on someone like me. And it does. The instructor, Kelly Armstrong, is getting the balance just right.

What I’m still finding a bit confusing is project management… how Resolve handles saving Projects and what it calls “Master Sessions”. Even a call to Alexis doesn’t quite solve this confusion for me (sorry Alexis). I’ll be digging out the manual for that.

6 Hours Later…

fxPhd Class 2 took me six long, fun, experimental hours to get through. It was exhausting. Even though I can get through a basic grade – Resolve has a dizzying amount of options, all just a right-click away. Almost every interface element can be right-clicked – revealing lists of options.

Right-click on a clip to reveal this options panel. This is just one of many many 'right-click panels'.

Also not surprising – there are a fair amount of subtabs that I missed in my first go-through of the interface. And the Tracker is located in the Viewer menu – which I had completely missed.

So as Prof. Kelly covers all this, from pulling in the footage to actual grading, I keep stopping and repeated what she’s doing. Then I do it again – right-clicking everywhere and studying everything in the UI… I feel like I’m still not seeing most of it.

I’m also spending time getting the controls on the JL Cooper colorist control surface to feel right. Resolve uses different language than Apple Color (Color’s shadows / mids / highlights  = Resolve’s lift / gamma / gain). It’s not that the terminology is unknown to me – I frequently communicate in those terms – I’m just not used to seeing it labelled that way throughout the interface. So it takes some experimenting to figure out which preferences effect the speed of which knobs, wheels, and trackballs.

'RGB Balance Sensitivity' Parameters effect the trackballs

After a little while, I am happy to report that I feel the control surface has subtly. I’m not waiting for Resolve to react to my inputs, and slight inputs create subtle movements.

I do wonder how much I’ll like the JL Cooper Eclipse with Resolve. This board was designed for Apple Color. And I can really fly around Color’s interface with the Eclipse – getting direct access to any Tab and sub-Tab, more than I can do on the Wave or Euphonix MC Color. But my first impression is that the Eclipse in Resolve is a bit shoe-horned . But I’m not willing to make that call yet. It could just be that after many years of working with the Eclipse in Color I’ve got to give myself time to acclimate using it with Resolve. It could also be that the JL Cooper guys understand how this board is meant to be mapped – or that they’ve had more experience mapping it.

The custom mapping interface for the JL Cooper Eclipse

But here’s the big take-away from Day 4: Finally, I know I can do a job in Resolve.

That is, as long as it doesn’t require me to track, keyframe or render out. (minor details)

But I can grade, isolate, and key.

I’m done for the day.

Colorist Diary, Day 5

Digging Deeper

This morning I’m not getting bogged down in the interface nearly as much on Day 4. I quickly get through two more fxPhd classes. As we dive deeper in, I’m more comfortable with Resolve. Tracking is terrific. And that’s underselling it. Is it MochaPro awesome? Not quite. I do need to work with it more but it doesn’t quite have a Rotoscoping feature set.

Scene detection is powerful. One of these days I’m going to do a post on ‘interface innovations’ – and this will be one of them. Not only does Resolve go through a ‘flattened’ movie file and look for edit points, it has a simple interface for showing you its confidence in those edits. And by raising or lowering the ‘confidence threshold’ you can tell it what cuts to ignore. Of course, you can also do it manually. And you still need to check your work. I also know from Alexis’ presentation at the User Group meeting, you can map an EDL to the Scene Detection – vastly improving your results (and adding handles for dissolves). All in all, it looks like a strong implementation.

White lines show confidence level of cut point, horizontal green line can be dragged up/down to filter out low-confidence 'detections'.

I’m also really impressed with how Resolve treats EDLs distinctly from the footage being graded. I’ve taken some time playing with different sequences using the same footage.

Not only does the sequence in the project re-arrange itself as I load different EDLs, the grades track with the shots. And I can keep multiple EDLs inside the project, all just a click away.

This is a big difference from Color – where the EDL is the project. Literally. A project can be Reconformed to a different EDL, but that blows away the previous timeline. Color has no ability to hold a full 60 minute show, 5 minute teaser, and 30 second spot simultaneously in the same project as well as have all the grades ripple through those EDLs. It can’t come close to that workflow.

Sex’ing It Up

Running through Class 4 of the training, Prof. Kelly helps me find the Blur tab. I watch her talk about the different ways she uses blurs. She digs into Resolve’s ‘Pro-Mist’ blur option, which mimics a lens filter of the same name. Overall, she’s pretty impressed with Resolve’s blurs.

At this point… everything I’ve written about today… it’s all pretty impressive, right? I’m already seeing the value-add in stepping up to Resolve. But now…

On a vignette, isolating the outside of it, I twist the blur knob on the control surface…

Drop. Dead. Gorgeous.

Jaw drop. Literally. My jaw dropped.

One twist of the knob and I know these blurs are in another class beyond what I’ve worked with before.

It takes a moment. I chuckle. I close my mouth.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve done (what I consider to be) lots of great work in Apple Color, and I love working with diffusion – but these blurs are just silky. There’s a quality that’s hard define. But having worked with blurs in my grades for years… this is different. Sexy. But with depth. Like Audrey Hepburn in her prime. This is no Gaussian blur.

The various options for controlling blurs

As for the ‘ProMist’ blur option? Simulating diffusion of the same name? Unfortunately, the footage I’m using doesn’t really show it off. But I’m very excited. I’m looking forward to the dozens – hundreds – of hours I’ll spend working with this.

Moving on…

Geeking Out

I also love the ‘Key Mixer’ option in Resolve. For Apple Color graders: Imagine taking your isolations from several of the Secondaries (Vignettes from 2 or 3 secondaries, Luma key from another, color isolation from yet another) and then combining them to create a single key – which you can then work inside / outside on. Extremely powerful. You can work each of those isolations individually – then treat them globally, further down the line.

Several Isolations are feeding into each other, and their mattes are being combined to enable a global inside / outside correction.

Wishful Thinking

But it’s not all roses and honey.

I do find a couple things which I’m concerned about:

  • Once Resolve is configured to work with the JL Cooper control surface – it grabs the control surface, full time. Even if Resolve is closed. If I open up Apple Color, the surface doesn’t work. It turns out, the workaround is to launch Resolve and set the control surface preference to ‘None’. Now Resolve releases the panel and I can work in Color normally.
  • The DaVinci team is ‘hard-wiring’ the mapping of the control surface. This disables the customization feature that JL Cooper has developed for Color, which I was hoping woud come to Resolve. An email to JL Cooper confirms – they aren’t involved. A bummer, since I like setting up the panel to make sense to me. Resolve has much more functionality than any of these sub-$8k panels can implement, the ability to customize the surface for my most frequently used tools is something I’ve greatly appreciated about Apple Color.
  • These controls aren't conducive to mouse manipulation

    Again, regarding the JL Cooper control surface: Lift / Gamma / Gain knob controls for each of the R / G / B channels is missing. I’m a big user of these targeted controls. I have been for a decade. And Resolve’s controls for modifying those parameters with a mouse are very tiny. These controls feel more like an instrument panel (for visual feedback) than a gas pedal and brake (for individual control). I WILL miss these knobs on the control surface. I’d recommend they remove some of the vignette controls (which are easy to control with a mouse) to make room for these knobs. (Or come up with a panel customization feature that allows me to do so, since not every colorist will agree with my preferences.)

  • I’ve also noted a few observations about masking… In Color, when you add a mask you can easily toggle between the Inside / Outside of the mask. Resolve requires adding a new node. This means I’m doing in two nodes in what I used to do in a single “room”. It just feels like an extra step.
  • However… there is a bit of an upside to the Resolve Inside / Outside masking methodology… In Color there’s no obvious indication which side of the vignette you’ve applied a correction. This can get very confusing (and difficult to decipher) – especially if multiple vignettes in multiple secondaries are ‘in play’. In Resolve, it’s very clear exactly where operations are being performed.

    Quick: Which node effects the outside, which effects the inside???

  • Hue Curves. Resolve doesn’t have them. In Color, they are my bread and butter. I can easily isolate skin tones and make tiny subtle adjustments. And I don’t have to futz with doing isolations and masks. Just grab the color I want to tweak, add control point on either side to determine the roll-off… done.

    Apple Color's 'Hue Curve' control

Day 5 Wrap-Up

I’m sure my Resolve wish-list will grow. I know they’ve got people monitoring the message boards and Twitter (including the Product Manager). I’ve already had a response from BlackMagic regarding the first post in this series (which I’ll write about in the next installment) – so the DaVinci team is listening. And responding.

Imagine that coming from Apple (sorry ProApps, I couldn’t resist the jibe).

In the next installment: Grading my first ‘Resolve’ gig

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