From Apple’s Color to BlackMagic’s DaVinci Resolve: Week 2 Part 1

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 from the beginning.

My First Resolve Project – Total Failure

Yup. As much as I hate to admit defeat, my first project on the Resolve never happened. I tried. Very hard. For 2 days.

No Go.

What happened?

Technically . . .

Read The $&@ing Manual

Or more specifically, read the supported codecs PDF.

And by read I don’t mean scan, glance, or quickly survey. I mean READ THE DARN THING.

Here’s the story:

My first gig on Resolve is for a regular client of mine. It’s her personal documentary that she’s been working on for 3 years and is now ready to wrap up. I cut a great deal with her – she’s my Resolve guinea pig, she’s willing to be patient, she gets a super fantastic flat rate.

Her documentary is 26 minutes long and shot on. . . wait for it . . . DV25.

Yup. Mini DV.

Before you start rolling your eyes, I think this is a GREAT test of Resolve. Apple Color for years had trouble with interlaced footage and, from time to time, NTSC frame sizes. Now that Resolve is open to the masses, and I suspect very few Resolve shops prior to Resolve 7 had ever dealt with grading DV natively, this is a perfect time to see how this new software, freshly opened to the masses, would handle a codec of the masses.

Getting back to the $&@ing Manual, here’s what it looks like at first glance:

I’ve blurred the “Codec Details” column to simulate a ‘quick look’ at this document.

What I saw – from glancing at this document (hence the blur in the graphic) – is Resolve Supports several flavors of DVCPro and DV. The Apple XDCam list of codecs ran into the next page.

Fantastic! Resolve supports DV as long as FCP is installed (which it is).

So what happened?

Anatomy of a Train Wreck

After exporting the EDL from FCP and taking it into Resolve  (a straightforward process that didn’t have any hiccups), I graded the first few shots – which are wide exteriors of farm country. As I’m playing down the footage, something isn’t right.

I’m getting lots of Moire in the high-frequency detail, the footage is being deinterlaced and the aspect ratio isn’t being maintained. This is suddenly feeling like my early days with Final Touch / Apple Color. And that’s a BAD thing. Here’s what I’m seeing (click on the image for full size):

As I said:

  1. The aspect ratio is completely wrong. Resolve has several controls to handle this type of thing – but no combination of settings seems to fix the issue.
  2. Look at the horizontal lines wrapping around the silo. ‘Jaggies’ have been introduced in the Resolve render, suggesting a de-interlace gone wrong.
  3. Take a look at the high-frequency detail in the leaves at the top of the silo. Resolution is lost. And when the footage plays down it exhibits a strong moire effect. I’m thinking: Scaling issue.

I suspect these issues are all related to unwanted image scaling (probably related to the aspect ratio) and improper de-interlacing.

Next, I double check my frame size settings in Resolve. And here’s when I start figuring out my problem…

720 x 486 is the wrong frame size for DV25

My Timeline Format is set to the wrong frame size! Coolness.

Let’s just select 720 x 480, right? Opening the pull-down menu:

Where’s the setting I want?

Huh. I’m seeing lots of options here, including 480P… but nothing for NTSC 480i.

Scrolling to the bottom of this list is an option for “Custom”. I select that, enter 720 x 480.

Resolve seems to accept that frame size, I head to the ‘Color’ tab to start grading – and I’m still seeing these darn artifacts! I switch back to double-check my configuration and I find this:

HELLO?

480P?

Grrr…

I spend a few hours on this, going Round after Round with Resolve – trying different combinations of settings to find the ‘magic formula’ to get that 480i frame size to work correctly.

Except, this is NOT working. The PDF clearly said DV was an acceptable codec. There’s a bug. Must be, right?

Here’s where I start thinking: Work Around.

How to proceed?

Bail on NTSC and Up-Convert

Resolve is treating the 720x480i frame size as 480p, blending fields, and producing a terrible image. If I treat the footage as 720×486, Resolve is scaling the image and doesn’t maintain the correct pixel aspect ratio.

It’s now time to bail on NTSC.

I output the Textless to digibeta, then recapture in FCP as 1080i59.94 via a Teranex Mini. So far so good.

EDL Hell

I export the NTSC edl and use it to slice up the recaptured timeline.

But now I’ve got problems with the EDL. The edits don’t line up with my re-captured footage. I use the tool in the “Conform” tab to line up my reference movie to the EDL. The cuts seem to be happening correctly – until I get to the “Color” tab and those settings don’t seem to hold.

Double-G r r r r . . .

I stop. Why am I doing this again? Right. Image quality.

Solving The NTSC Problem

I stop diddling with the EDLs (I exported a total of 6 EDLs, and some of the issues I was having were total Operator Error) and focus on the really big problem: Image Quality.

The good news – in this new workflow the footage didn’t lose any quality!

Fantastic.

I call up a good friend and fellow colorist. His conclusion is the same as mine: This is almost entirely a problem with Resolve not recognizing 480 interlaced material.

A logical next test is to recapture the digibeta as ProRes in NTSC at 720×486 and feed that into Resolve. But I have no time for that now…

Prepping for A Freelance Resolve Gig

I call my client and apologize that after two days I have nothing to show. I explain what happened. She’s cool. She understands.

I bail on her project because I need to get some friggin’ grading done! I’ve signed up for a freelance gig in NYC on Resolve – I need to get a full day of ‘stick time’ so I feel comfortable for this gig.

My plan was to use this documentary to give me that stick time. But I have no patience for it anymore.

It occurs to me that I have some great footage that I know really well – and it’s HD, so I won’t have to deal with this whole NTSC fiasco . . . It’s my Tao Of Color training project, “In Tents“.

The project works beautifully. It’s a narrative short with a simple timeline. I feed the EDL into Resolve, I point it to the folder with the footage, Resolve does the rest. On my first attempt, the EDL loads perfectly, referencing back to the h.264 files from the Canon 5D originals.

Finally… something goes my way.

Unexpected Bonus

This footage was shot single-camera film style and reveals to me a nice feature of Resolve that I missed…

Resolve automatically links my grades to other shots from the same file name… Which, in this case is usually the same take. It’s a workflow that Avid’s been doing for years, and with file based workflows it seems immensely useful.

Its nifty – I grade my Hero shots and suddenly those grades auto populate the timeline. And if I decide they need to be tweaked, they are all linked together and get tweaked. Time saver.

Here’s a screenshot demonstrating that shots 32, 34, and 36 are linked together and share the same grade. If I change one of them, they all change. You can tell they’re linked by the Red Bar at the top of each linked thumbnail.

the Red Bars indicate shots that share the same grade

One of the challenges of this project is the constant changes in the outdoor light between takes – there’s a lot of grade management that’s going on. This linking feature in Resolve lets me visually see which takes are related to each other and makes it easier to understand how the edits are related to each other.

For the next day I practice the skills I know I’ll need on this upcoming gig… Working with masks, HSL selections, and the ever important still store.

At the end of this exercise I print out the manual and start digging into it, now that I’m familiar with the interface. The manual is finally starting to make sense to me. I think it’s the type of thing where the manual works best if you already have a basic understanding of the interface.

Tomorrow starts my first gig grading as a freelance Colorist on Resolve. I’m feeling confident, especially since I’m stepping in as the 2nd colorist, matching shots to all the Hero shots that have been graded over the previous 5 days. AND I’m friends with the Lead Colorist who will be able to help overcome obstacles I may face.

I can’t think of a better way to get up to speed!

Addendum: Resolve & DV25

In prepping this post, and just before I got back to grading my client’s documentary, I took another look at the Supported Codecs pdf. And this time I really read the darn thing. Wouldn’t you know it? Resolve does NOT support DV25 at NTSC. Here’s the same graphic as I started with at the top of this post – without the blur:

The PDF lists DVCProHD under DV

Where a quick glance shows multiple codecs for DV. In fact – the only DV codec that Resolve supports is DV PAL. The rest of those codec are for DVCProHD!

The pdf is missing the DVCProHD Codec Name.

Oops. Sucks for me.

So – as it is when learning any new piece of software, score one for Operator Error… with an assist from whoever wrote that PDF!

Coming Soon: Part 2 of my Week 2 experience moving from Color to Resolve. I learned tons. I think you’ll enjoy.



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You might also like earlier posts on Color Grading. To be alerted when new articles in this series come out, sign up for my weekly Color Grading newsletter. I also have a 14-minute short film for training, in which I teach you how to massively improve your color correction skillz – targeted at the working professional.


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Video Review: Magic Bullet Denoiser 1.0


Earlier this week I read Scott Simmon’s review of Magic Bullet’s Denoiser plug-in. I was intrigued. Scott didn’t have anything other his adorable baby footage to test the plug-in. He also made mention of thinking you’d want to apply the denoiser before grading rather than after grading. Well…

I just happened to have wrapped color correcting a 6-minute horror film shot on a Canon 7D. Obviously there was a lot of low-light footage and some of it suffered from noise and h.264 artifacting. I spent a good deal of time in Apple Color isolating and blurring out the artifacts. I also have a few other denoise plug-ins that work in FCP most of the time. But there were a few shots that defied all my attempts at fixing them.

I decided to test two things:

  1. Could MB Denoiser fix the one angle that had driven me nuts and was never adequately ‘denoised’?
  2. Would I see a perceptible difference in applying the filter before grading rather than after grading?

The following video review is really two parts. Part 1 (the first 11 minutes) covers some of the unique features of MB Denoiser… as well as some of its bugs. Part 2 shows my workflow and results of “Denoise Before or After?” test.

Read More…

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