Director Sean Baker is drawing wide praise for his realistic portrait of life on the fringe in America in his new film The Florida Project. Baker applies a light touch to the story of a precocious six-year-old girl living in the shadow of Disney World, giving it the feel of a slice-of-life documentary. That quality is carried through in the film’s natural look. Where Baker shot his previous film, Tangerine, entirely with an iPhone, The Florida Project was recorded almost wholly on anamorphic 35mm film by cinematographer Alexis Zabe.
Post finishing for the film was completed at Technicolor PostWorks New York, which called on a traditional digital intermediate workflow to accommodate Baker’s vision. The work began with scanning the 35mm negative to 2K digital files for dailies and editorial. It ended months later with rescanning at 4K and 6K resolution, editorial conforming and color grading in the facility’s 4K DI theater. Senior colorist Sam Daley applied the final grade via Blackmagic Resolve v.12.5.
Shooting on film was a perfect choice, according to Daley, as it allowed Baker and Zabe to capture the stark contrasts of life in Central Florida. “I lived in Florida for six years, so I’m familiar with the intensity of light and how it affects color,” says Daley. “Pastels are prominent in the Florida color palette because of the way the sun bleaches paint.”
He adds that Zabe used Kodak Vision3 50D and 250D stock for daylight scenes shot in the hot Florida sun, noting, “The slower stock provided a rich color canvas, so much so, that at times we de-emphasized the greenery so it didn’t feel hyper real.”
The film’s principal location is a rundown motel, ironically named the Magic Castle. It does not share the sun-bleached look of other businesses and housing complexes in the area as it has been freshly painted a garish shade of purple.
Baker asked Daley to highlight such contrasts in the grade, but to do so subtly. “There are many colorful locations in the movie,” Daley says. “The tourist traps you see along the highway in Kissimmee are brightly colored. Blue skies and beautiful sunsets appear throughout the film. But it was imperative not to allow the bright colors in the background to distract from the characters in the foreground. The very first instruction that I got from Sean was to make it look real, then dial it up a notch.”
Mixing Film and Digital for Night Shots
To make use of available light, nighttime scenes were not shot on film, but rather were captured digitally on an Arri Alexa. Working in concert with color scientists from Technicolor PostWorks New York and Technicolor Hollywood, Daley helmed a novel workflow to make the digital material blend with scenes that were film-original. He first “pre-graded” the digital shots and then sent them to Technicolor Hollywood where they were recorded out to film. After processing at FotoKem, the film outs were returned to Technicolor Hollywood and scanned to 4K digital files. Those files were rushed back to New York via Technicolor’s Production Network where Daley then dropped them into his timeline for final color grading. The result of the complex process was to give the digitally acquired material a natural film color and grain structure.
“It would have been simpler to fly the digitally captured scenes into my timeline and put on a film LUT and grain FX,” explains Daley, “but Sean wanted everything to have a film element. So, we had to rethink the workflow and come up with a different way to make digital material integrate with beautifully shot film. The process involved several steps, but it allowed us to meet Sean’s desire for a complete film DI.”
Calling on iPhone for One Scene
A scene near the end of the film was, for narrative reasons, captured with an iPhone. Daley explains that, although intended to stand out from the rest of the film, the sequence couldn’t appear so different that it shocked the audience. “The switch from 4K scanned film material to iPhone footage happens via a hard cut,” he explains. “But it needed to feel like it was part of the same movie. That was a challenge because the characteristics of Kodak motion picture stock are quite different from an iPhone.”
The iPhone material was put through the same process as the Alexa footage; it was pre-graded, recorded out to film and scanned back to digital. “The grain helps tie it to the rest of the movie,” reports Daley. “And the grain that you see is real; it’s from the negative that the scene was recorded out to. There are no artificial looks and nothing gimmicky about any of the looks in this film.”
The apparent lack of artifice is, in fact, one of the film’s great strengths. Daley notes that even a rainbow that appears in a key moment was captured naturally. “It’s a beautiful movie,” says Daley. “It’s wonderfully directed, photographed and edited. I was very fortunate to be able to add my touch to the imagery that Sean and Alexis captured so beautifully.”
As a working video editor, I’m at my desk and on my computer all day. So when I get home I want my personal workstation to feel as powerful as possible and having the right tools to support that experience are paramount.
I’m talking workstation accessories. I’ve put together a short list based on my personal experience. Some are well known, while some are slightly under the radar. Either way, they all make my editing life easier and more productive.
They make my home-based workstation feel like a full-fledged professional edit suite.
Wacom Intuos Pro Medium
In my work as an offline editor, I started to have some wrist pain when I used a mouse in conjunction with my keyboard. That is when I decided to jump head first into using a Wacom tablet. Within two weeks, all of my pain went away and I felt that I had way more control over drawing objects and shapes. I specifically noticed more precision when working inside of apps like Adobe’s After Effects and Photoshop when drawing accurate lines and shapes with bezier handles.
In addition, you can program minimal macros on the express keys on the side of the tablet. While the newest Wacom Intuos Pro Medium tablet costs a cool $349.95, it will pay for itself with increased efficiency and, in my experience, less wrist pain.
Genelec 8010A Studio Monitors
One workstation accessory that will blow you away is a great set of studio monitors. Genelec is known for making some great studio monitors and the 8010A are a set I wish I could get. These monitors are small — around 8-inches tall by 4-inches deep and 4-inches wide — but they put out some serious power at 96dBs.
Don’t be fooled by their small appearance; they are a great complement to any serious video and audio power user. They connect via XLR, so you may need to get some converters if you are going straight out of your station, without runing through a mixer. These speakers are priced at $295 each; they aren’t cheap, but they are another important accessory that will further turn your bay into a professional suite.
Tangent Element & Blackmagic Resolve Color Correction Panels
If you work in color correction, or aspire to color correct, color correction panels are a must. They not only make it easier for you to work in apps like Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve, but they free your mind from worrying about where certain things are and let your fingers do the talking. It is incredibly liberating to use color correction panels when doing a color grade — it feels like you have another arm you can use to work.
The entire set of Tangent Element Panels costs over $3,300, but if you are just getting started, the Tangent Element Tk (just the trackballs) can be had for a little over $1,100. What’s nice about the Tangent panels is that they work with multiple apps, including Adobe Premiere, FilmLight Baselight, etc. But if you know you are only going to be using Resolve, the Resolve Micro or Mini panels are a great deal at under $1,000 and $3,000, respectively.
Logitech G13 Advanced Gameboard
This one might sound a bit odd at first, but once you do some research you will see that many professional editors use these types of pads to program macros of multiple button pushes or common tasks. Essentially, this is a macro pad that has 25 programmable keys as well as a thumb controlled joystick. It’s a really intriguing piece of hardware that might be able to take place of your mouse in conjunction with your keyboard. It is competitively priced at only $79.99 and, with a little Internet research on liftgammagain.com, you can even find forums of user’s custom mappings.
Logickeyboard Backlit Keyboard
Obviously, the keyboard is one of the most used workstation accessories. One difficulty is trying to work with one in a dark room. Well, Logickeyboard has a dimmable backlit keyboard series for apps like Resolve and Avid Media Composer.
In addition to being backlit, they also have two powered USB 2.0 ports that really come in handy. These retail for around $140, so they are a little pricey for a keyboard but, take it from me, they will really polish that edit suite.
OWC USB-C Dock
With ports on Mac-based systems being stripped away, a good USB-C dock is a great extension to have in your edit suite. OWC offers a Mini-DisplayPort or HDMI-equipped version in the colors that match your MacBook Pro, if you have one.
In addition, you get five USB 3.1-compatible ports — including two of those being a high-powered charging port and a USB type C port — a Gig-E port, front facing SD card reader, combo audio in/out port and Mini-DisplayPort or HDMI port. These retail for under $150.
Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Carbon, which has locations in New York, Chicago and LA, is a boutique design and visual effects company that focuses on art, ideas, and talent. I am based in Chicago.
WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Head of color grading
WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
I work with clients to find color palettes and looks that best tell their story.
WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I’m still surprised with how much creativity is involved in the grading process. I especially love coming to solutions through mixing art and technique.
WHAT SYSTEM DO YOU WORK ON?
Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve
ARE YOU SOMETIMES ASKED TO DO MORE THAN JUST COLOR ON PROJECTS?
Sometimes I’m involved in projects from very early on, which usually entails creating tone and color palettes to be used during filming. I’ve also contributed reference images that help the creative team settle on an overall look or color, and have been present at camera tests to check light and exposure. I love being able to use my artistic background in painting and the fine arts to give projects their maximum creative potential.
Jeep “Two Words”
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
There are moments when I’m grading a piece and I have a strange connection with it as if I’m seeing it clearly for the first time. It’s like I suddenly know it’s going to be a wonderful grade. Moments like that are magical.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
Sunset, when all the lights in the city start turning on.
IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION?
Color grading chose me. Before I had officially started grading, I spent a lot of my time focusing on my painting, and while grading was something I could technically excel at, my art was the priority at the time. Then digital grading started gaining momentum in Spain and I gradually realized that color grading opportunities were more and more important to me. I feel extremely lucky. I’m self-taught and relied on my incredible network of supporters to give me chances to go further and further.
CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I worked on the last five Jeep commercials with a talented group of people from DDB Chicago and the great director Tobias Granström. Some other projects included a huge campaign for Panama Tourism out of VML, the hilarious Liquid Plumbr spot from FBC Chicago and the newest Machine Gun Kelly music video, directed by Steven Caple Jr., which has more than four million views on YouTube.
WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I’m proud of a lot of my recent work, but Recalculating for Jeep was an incredibly challenging and fulfilling project. We did a lot of research around the idea of sunsets, focusing on the sophistication of light and keeping it as natural feeling as possible.
WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION? ART? PHOTOGRAPHY?
Art, life, reading and my previous experiences.
NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My cell, my Dolby monitor and Spotify.
WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I have Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, Movidiam and Instagram, where I recently started @carretero.color to feature my color work.
DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
I always listen to music when I work. Music is great support — it can make you happy in a second! I listen to a lot of different bands, but Band of Horses, Tame Impala, Neil Young, Flaming Lips, Eels, Devendra, The Kills and Spanish music, like Niña Vintage, are some of my favorites!
WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I never let stress control me. Sometimes the challenges of the job are huge, but that’s our work and our industry — we know how to get it done. Challenges are wonderful because they point directly at our creativity. Being uncomfortable sometimes is a good thing. It makes you break down your limitations. Working with a great group of people helps a lot, too, so you can always have fun, even on the hardest days.
Silver Sound Showdown Music + Video Festival is unique in two ways. First, it is both a music video festival and battle of the bands at the same time. Second, every year we pair up the Grand Prize-winners, director and band, and produce a music video with them. The budget is determined by the festival’s ticket sales.
I conceived of the festival, which is held each year at Brooklyn Bowl, as a way to both celebrate and promote artistic collaboration between the film and music communities — two crowds that just don’t seem to intersect often enough. One of the most exciting things for me is then working with extremely talented filmmakers and musicians who have more often than not met for the first time at our festival.
Dog in the Night (song written by winning band Side Saddle) was one of our most ambitious videos to date — using a combination of practical and post effects. It was meticulously planned and executed by director/cinematographer Fletcher Wolfe, who was not only a pleasure to work with, but was gracious enough to sit down with me for a discussion about her process and the experience of collaborating.
What was your favorite part of making Dog in the Night?
As a music video director I consider it my first responsibility to get to know the song and its meaning very intimately. This was a great opportunity to stretch that muscle, as it was the first time I was collaborating with musicians who weren’t already close friends. In fact, I hadn’t even met them before the Showdown. I found it to be a very rewarding experience.
What is Dog in the Night about?
The song Dog in the Night is, quite simply, about a time when the singer Ian (a.k.a. Angler Boy) is enamored with a good friend, but that friend doesn’t share his romantic feelings. Of course, anyone who has been in that position (all of us?) knows that it’s never that simple. You can hear him holding out hope, choosing to float between friendship and possibly dating, and torturing himself in the process.
I decided to use dusk in the city to convey that liminal space between relationship labels. I also wanted to play on the nervous and lonely tenor of the track with images of Angler Boy surrounded by darkness, isolated in the pool of light coming from the lure on his head. I had the notion of an anglerfish roaming aimlessly in an abyss, hoping that another angler would find his light and end his loneliness. The ghastly head also shows that he doesn’t feel like he has anything in common with anybody around him except the girl he’s pining after, who he envisions having the same unusual head.
What did you shoot on?
I am a DP by trade, and always shoot the music videos I direct. It’s all one visual storytelling job to me. I shot on my Alexa Mini with a set of Zeiss Standard Speed lenses. We used the 16mm lens on the Snorricam in order to see the darkness around him and to distort him to accentuate his frantic wanderings. Every lens in the set weighed in at just 1.25lbs, which is amazing.
The camera and lenses were an ideal pairing, as I love the look of both, and their light weight allowed me to get the rig down to 11lbs in order to get the Snorricam shots. We didn’t have time to build our own custom Snorricam vest, so I found one that was ready to rent at Du-All Camera. The only caveats were that it could only handle up to 11lbs, and the vest was quite large, meaning we needed to find a way to hide the shoulders of the vest under Ian’s wardrobe. So, I took a cue from Requiem for a Dream and used winter clothing to hide the bulky vest. We chose a green and brown puffy vest that held its own shape over the rig-vest, and also suited the character.
I chose a non-standard 1.5:1 aspect ratio, because I felt it suited framing for the anglerfish head. To maximize resolution and minimize data, I shot 3.2K at a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and cropped the sides. It’s easy to build custom framelines in the Alexa Mini for accurate framing on set. On the Mini, you can also dial in any frame rate between 0.75-60fps (at 3.2K). Thanks to digital cinema cameras, it’s standard these days to over-crank and have the ability to ramp to slow motion in post. We did do some of that; each time Angler Boy sees Angler Girl, his world turns into slow motion.
In contrast, I wanted his walking around alone to be more frantic, so I did something much less common and undercranked to get a jittery effect. The opening shot was shot at 6fps with a 45-degree shutter, and Ian walked in slow motion to a recording of the track slowed down to quarter-time, so his steps are on the beat. There are some Snorricam shots that were shot at 6fps with a standard 180-degree shutter. I then had Ian spin around to get long motion blur trails of lights around him. I knew exactly what frame rate I wanted for each shot, and we wound up shooting at 6fps, 12fps, 24fps, 48fps and 60fps, each for a different emotion that Angler Boy is having.
Why practical vs. CG for the head?
Even though the fish head is a metaphor for Angler Boy’s emotional state, and is not supposed to be real, I wanted it to absolutely feel real to both the actor and the audience. A practical, and slightly unwieldy, helmet/mask helped Ian find his character. His isolation needed to be tangible, and how much he is drawn to Angler Girl as a kindred spirit needed to be moving. It’s a very endearing and relatable song, and there’s something about homemade, practical effects that checks both those boxes. The lonely pool of light coming from the lure was also an important part of the visuals, and it needed to play naturally on their faces and the fish mask. I wired Lite Gear LEDs into the head, which was the easy part. Our incredibly talented fabricator, Lauren Genutis, had the tough job — fabricating the mask from scratch!
The remaining VFX hurdle then was duplicating the head. We only had the time and money to make one and fit it to both actors with foam inserts. I planned the shots so that you almost never see both actors in the same shot at the same time, which kept the number of composited shots to a minimum. It also served to maintain the emotional disconnect between his reality and hers. When you do see them in the same shot, it’s to punctuate when he almost tells her how he feels. To achieve this I did simple split screens, using the Pen Tool in Premiere to cut the mask around their actions, including when she touches his knee. To be safe, I shot takes where she doesn’t touch his knee, but none of them conveyed what she was trying to tell him. So, I did a little smooshing around of the two shots and some patching of the background to make it so the characters could connect.
Where did you do post?
We were on a very tight budget, so I edited at home, and I always use Adobe Premiere. I went to my usual colorist, Vladimir Kucherov, for the grade. He used Blackmagic Resolve, and I love working with him. He can always see how a frame could be strengthened by a little shaping with vignettes. I’ll finally figure out what nuance is missing, and when I tell him, he’s already started working on that exact thing. That kind of shaping was especially helpful on the day exteriors, since I had hoped for a strong sunset, but instead got two flat, overcast days.
The only place we didn’t see eye to eye on this project was saturation — I asked him to push saturation farther than he normally would advise. I wanted a cartoon-like heightening of Angler Boy’s world and emotions. He’s going through a period in which he’s feeling very deeply, but by the time of writing the song he is able to look back on it and see the humor in how dramatic he was being. I think we’ve all been there.
What did you use VFX for?
Besides having to composite shots of the two actors together, there were just a few other VFX shots, including dolly moves that I stabilized with the Warp Stabilizer plug-in within Premiere. We couldn’t afford a real dolly, so we put a two-foot riser on a Dana Dolly to achieve wide push-ins on Ian singing. We were rushing to catch dusk between rainstorms, and it was tough to level the track on grass.
The final shot is a cartoon night sky composited with a live shot. My very good friend, Julie Gratz of Kaleida Vision, made the sky and animated it. She worked in Adobe After Effects, which communicates seamlessly with Premiere. Julie and I share similar tastes for how unrealistic elements can coexist with a realistic world. She also helped me in prep, giving feedback on storyboards.
Do you like the post process?
I never used to like post. I’ve always loved being on set, in a new place every day, moving physical objects with my hands. But, with each video I direct and edit I get faster and improve my post working style. Now I can say that I really do enjoy spending time alone with my footage, finding all the ways it can convey my ideas. I have fun combining real people and practical effects with the powerful post tools we can access even at home these days. It’s wonderful when people connect with the story, and then ask where I got two anglerfish heads. That makes me feel like a wizard, and who doesn’t like that?! A love of movie magic is why we choose this medium to tell our tales.
Cory Choy, Silver Sound Showdown festival director and co-founder of Silver Sound Studios, produced the video.
Yesterday, Blackmagic held a press conference on YouTube introducing a new pro camera — the Ursa Mini Pro 4.6K, which combines high-end digital film quality with the ergonomics and features of a traditional broadcast camera — and two new portable hardware control panels for the DaVinci Resolve (yes, only the Resolve) designed to allow color correction workflows to be mixed in with editing workflows.
For this article, I’m going to focus on the panels.
The color correction hardware market is a small one, usually headed by the same companies who produce color correction software. Tangent is one of the few that produces its own color correction panels. There is also the Avid/Euphonix Artist color correction panel and a few others, but the price jumps incredibly when you step up to panels like the Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve Advanced panels (just under $30,000).
I’ve previously reviewed the Tangent Ripple and Element color correction panels, and I love them. However, besides Tangent there really hasn’t been any mid- to prosumer-level products… until now. Blackmagic is offering the new Micro and Mini color correction panels.
The Blackmagic’s Micro color correction panel (our main image) is well priced at $995, which can be somewhat compared to the Tangent Wave (over $1,500 on B&H‘s site), Tangent Element Tk (over $1,135), or more closely compared to the Avid Artist Color Control Surface ($1,299). You’ll notice all of those are priced way higher than the new Micro panel. You could also throw the Tangent Ripple up for comparison, but that has a much more limited functionality and is much lower in price at around $350. The Micro panel is essentially three trackballs, 12 knobs and 18 keys. It is a collection of the most highly used parts of a color correction panel without any GUI screens. It connects via USB-C, although a USB 3 to USB-C converter will be included.
The Blackmagic Mini color correction panel (pictured right) is priced higher at $2,995 and can be compared to a combo of the Tangent Element Tk with one or two more in the Element set, which retail for $3,320 on www.bhphotovideo.com. The Mini adds two 5-inch displays, eight soft buttons, and eight soft knobs, in addition to everything the Micro panel has. It also has pass-through Ethernet to power and connect the panel, USB-C, and 4-pin XLR 12V DC power connection.
I am really excited to try these color correction panels out for my own — and I will, as the panels are on their way to me as I type. I need to emphasize that these panels only work with Resolve, no other software apps, so these were built with one workflow in mind.
I do wonder if in the future Blackmagic will sell additional panels that add more buttons and knobs or something crazy like a Smartscope through the Ethernet ports so I don’t have to buy additional SDI output hardware. Will everyone be ok with transport controls being placed on the right?
“We are always looking to design new products and features to help with the creative process,” says Blackmagic’s Bob Caniglia. “These new panels were designed to enable our growing number of Resolve users to be able access the power of DaVinci Resolve and Resolve Studio beyond a mouse and keyboard. The Micro and Mini control panels provide the perfect complement to our existing Advanced control panels.”
Blackmagic is really coming for everyone in the production and post world with recent moves like the acquisition of audio company Fairlight and realtime bluescreen and greenscreen removal hardware Ultimatte, providing Avid with their Media Composer DNx IOs, and even releasing an updated version of the Ursa camera, the Ursa Mini Pro. Oh, yeah, and don’t forget they provide one of the top color correction and editing apps on the market in DaVinci Resolve, and the latest color correction hardware like the Micro and Mini panels are primed to bring the next set of colorists into the Resolve world.
Oh, and as not to forget about the camera, the Ursa Mini Pro 4.6K is now available for $5,995. Here are some specs:
• Digital film camera with 15 stops of dynamic range.
• Super 35mm 4.6K sensor with third-generation Blackmagic color science processing of raw sensor data.
• Interchangeable lens mount with EF mount included as standard. Optional PL and B4 lens mount available separately.
• High-quality 2, 4 and 6 stop ND filters with IR compensation designed to specifically match the colorimetry and color science of Ursa Mini Pro.
• Fully redundant controls including ergonomically designed tactile controls that allow direct access to the most important camera settings such as external power switch, ND filter wheel, ISO, shutter, white balance, record button, audio gain controls, lens and transport control, high frame rate button and more.
• Built-in dual C-Fast 2.0 recorders and dual SD/UHS-II card recorders allow unlimited duration recording in high quality.
• LCD status display for quickly checking timecode, shutter and lens settings, battery, recording status and audio levels.
• Support for CinemaDNG 4.6K RAW files and ProRes 4444 XQ, ProRes 4444, ProRes 422 HQ, ProRes 422, ProRes 422 LT and ProRes 422 Proxy recording at Ultra HD and HD resolutions.
• Supports up to 60 fps 4.6K resolution capture in RAW.
• Features all standard connections, including dual XLR mic/line audio inputs with phantom power, 12G-SDI output for monitoring with camera status graphic overlay and separate XLR 4-pin power output for viewfinder power, headphone jack, LANC remote control and standard 4-pin 12V DC power connection.
• Built-in stereo microphones for recording sound.
• Four-inch foldout touchscreen for on-set monitoring and menu settings.
What do you need to know about the latest pro laptop from Apple? Well, the MacBook Pro is fast and light; the new Touch Bar is handy and sharp but not fully realized; the updated keys on the keyboard are surprisingly great; and working with ProRes QuickTime files in resolutions higher than 1920×1080 inside of FCP X, or any NLE for that matter, is blazing fast.
When I was tasked with reviewing the new MacBook Pro, I came into it with an open mind. After all, I did read a few other reviews that weren’t exactly glowing, but I love speed and innovation among professional workstation computers, so I was eager to test it myself.
I am pretty open-minded when it comes to operating systems and hardware. I love Apple products and I love Windows-based PCs. I think both have their place in our industry, and to be quite honest it’s really a bonus for me that I don’t rely heavily on one OS or get too tricked by the Command Key vs. Windows/Alt Key.
Let’s start with the call I had with the Apple folks as they gave me the lowdown on the new MacBook Pro. The Apple reps were nice, energetic, knowledgeable and extremely helpful. While I love Apple products, including this laptop, it’s not the be-all-end-all.
The Touch Bar is nice, but not a revolution. It feels like the first step in an evolution, a version 1 of an innovation that I am excited to see more of in later iterations. When I talked with the Apple folks they briefed me on what Tim Cook showed off in the reveal: emoji buttons, wide gamut display, new speakers and USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 connectivity.
They had an FCPX expert on the call, which was nice considering I planned on reviewing the MacBook Pro with a focus on the use of nonlinear editing apps, such as Adobe Premiere Pro, Avid Media Composer and Blackmagic’s Resolve. Don’t get me wrong, FCPX is growing on me — it’s snappy jumping around the timeline with ProRes 5K footage; assigning roles are something I wish every other app would pick up on; and the timeline is more of a breeze to use with the latest update.
The other side to this is that in my 13 years of working in television post I have never worked on a show that primarily used FCP or FCPX to edit or finish on. This doesn’t mean I don’t like the NLE, it simply means I haven’t relied on it in a professional working environment. Like I said, I really like the road it’s heading down, and if they work their way into mainstream broadcast or streaming platforms a little more I am sure I will see it more frequently.
Furthermore, with the ever-growing reduction in reliance on groups of editors and finishing artists apps like FCPX are poised to shine with their innovation. After all that blabbering, in this review I will touch on FCPX, but I really wanted to see how the MacBook Pro performed with the pro NLEs I encounter the most.
Let’s jump into the specs. I was sent a top-of-the-line 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, which costs $3,499 if configured online. It comes with a quad/-core Intel Core i7 2.9GHz (up to 3.8 GHz using Turbo Boost) processor, 16GB of 2133MHz memory, 1TB PCI-e SSD hard drive and Radeon Pro 460 with 4GB of memory. It’s loaded. I think the only thing that can actually be upgraded beyond this configuration would be to include a 2TB hard drive, which would add another $800 to the price tag.
Physically, the MacBook Pro is awesome — very sturdy, very thin and very light. It feels great when holding it and carrying it around. Apple even sent along a Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 adapter, which costs an extra $29 and a USB-C to Lightning Cable that costs an extra $29.
So yes, it feels great. Apple has made a great new MacBook Pro. Is it worth upgrading if you have a new-ish MacBook Pro at home already? Probably not, unless the Touch Bar really gets you going. The speed is not too far off from the previous version. However, if you have a lot of Thunderbolt 3/USB-C-connected peripherals, or plan on moving to them, then it is a good upgrade.
I ran some processor/graphics card intensive tests while I had the new MacBook Pro and came to the conclusion that FCPX is not that much faster than Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2017 when working with non-ProRes-based media. Yes, FCPX tears through ProRes QuickTimes if you already have your media in that format. What about if you shoot on a camera like the Red and don’t want to transcode to a more edit-friendly codec? Well, that is another story. To test out my NLEs, I grabbed a sample Red 6K 6144×3160 23.98fps clip from the Red sample footage page, strung out a 10-minute-long sequence in all the NLEs and exported both a color-graded version and a non-color-graded version as ProRes HQ QuickTimes files matching the source file’s specs.
In order to work with Red media in some of the NLEs, you must download a few patches: for FCPX you must install the Red Apple workflow installer and for Media Composer you must install the Red AMA plug-in. Premiere doesn’t need anything extra.
Test 1: Red 6K 6144×3160 23.98fps R3D — 10-minute sequence (no color grade or FX) exported as ProRes HQ matching the source file’s specs. Premiere > Media Encoder = 1 hour, 55 minutes. FCPX = 1 hour, 57 minutes. Media Composer = two hours, 42 minutes (Good news, Media Composer’s interface and fonts display correctly on the new display).
You’ll notice that Resolve is missing from this list and that is because I installed Resolve 12.5.4 Studio but then realized my USB dongle won’t fit into the USB-C port — and I am not buying an adapter for a laptop I do not get to keep. So, unfortunately, I didn’t test a true 6K ProRes HQ export from Resolve but in the last test you will see some Resolve results.
Overall, there was not much difference in speeds. In fact, I felt that Premiere Pro CC 2017 played the Red file a little smoother and at a higher frames-per-second count. FCPX struggled a little. Granted a 6K Red file is one of the harder files for a CPU to process with no debayer settings enabled, but Apple touts this as a MacPro semi-replacement for the time being and I am holding them to their word.
Test 2: Red 6K 6144×3160 23.98fps R3D — 10-minute color-graded sequence exported as ProRes HQ matching the source files specs. Premiere > Media Encoder = one hour, 55 minutes. FCPX = one hour, 58 minutes. Media Composer = two hours, 34 minutes.
It’s important to note that the GPU definitely helped out in both Adobe Premiere and FCPX. Little to no extra time was added on the ProRes HQ export. I was really excited to see this as sometimes without a good GPU — resizing, GPU-accelerated effects like color correction and other effects will slow your system to a snail’s pace if it doesn’t fully crash. Media Composer surprisingly speed up its export when I added the color grade as a new color layer in the timeline. By adding the color correction layer to another layer Avid might have forced the Radeon to kick in and help push the file out. Not really sure what that is about to be honest.
Test 3: Red 6K 6144×3160 23.98fps R3D — 10-minute color-graded sequence resized to 1920×1080 on export as ProRes HQ. Premiere > Media Encoder = one hour, 16 minutes. FCPX = one hour, 14 minutes. Media Composer = one hour, 48 minutes. Resolve = one hour, 16 minutes
So after these tests, it seems that exporting and transcoding are all about the same. It doesn’t really come as too big of a surprise that all the NLEs, except for Media Composer, processed the Red file in the same amount of time. Regardless of the NLE, you would need to knock the debayering down to a half or more to start playing these clips at realtime in a timeline. If you have the time to transcode to ProRes you will get much better playback and rendering speed results. Obviously, transcoding all of your files to a codec, like ProRes or Avid DNX, takes way more time up front but could be worth it if you crunched for time on the back end.
In addition to Red 6K files, I also tested ProRes HQ 4K files inside of Premiere and FCPX, and both played them extremely smoothly without hiccups, which is pretty amazing. Just a few years ago I was having trouble playing down 10:1 compressed files in Media Composer and now I can playback superb-quality 4K files without a problem, a tremendous tip of the hat to technology and, specifically, Apple for putting so much power in a thin and light package.
While I was in the mood to test speeds, I hooked up a Thunderbolt 2 SSD RAID (OWC Thunderbay 4 mini) configured in RAID-0 to see what kind of read/write bandwidth I would get running through the Apple Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter. I used both AJA System Test as well as the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test. The AJA test reported a write speed of 929MB/sec. and read speed of 1120MB/sec. The Blackmagic test reported a write speed of 683.1MB/sec. and 704.7MB/sec. from different tests and a read speed of 1023.3MB/sec. I set the test file for both at 4GB. These speeds are faster than what I have previously found when testing this same Thunderbolt 2 SSD RAID on other systems.
For comparison, the AJA test reported a write speed of 1921MB/sec. and read speed of 2134MB/sec. when running on the system drive. The Blackmagic test doesn’t allow for testing on the system drive.
What Else You Need to Know
So what about the other upgrades and improvements? When exporting these R3D files I noticed the fan kicked on when resizing or adding color grading to the files. Seems like the GPU kicked on and heated up which is to be expected. The fan is not the loudest, but it is noticeable.
The battery life on the new MacBook Pro is great when just playing music, surfing the web or writing product reviews. I found that the battery lasted about two days without having to plug in the power adapter. However, when exporting QuickTimes from either Premiere or FCPX the battery life dropped — a lot. I was getting a battery life of one hour and six minutes, which is not good when your export will take two hours. Obviously, you need to plug in when doing heavy work; you don’t really have an option.
This leads me to the new USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports — and, yes, you still have a headphone jack (thank goodness they didn’t talk with the iPhone developers). First off, I thought the MagSafe power adapter should have won a Nobel Peace Prize. I love it. It must be responsible for saving millions of dollars in equipment when people trip over a power cord — gracefully disconnecting without breaking or pulling your laptop off the table. However, I am disappointed Apple didn’t create a new type of MagSafe cable with the USB-C port. I will miss it a lot. The good news is you can now plug in your power adapter to either side of the MacBook Pro.
Adapters and dongles will have to be purchased if you pick up a new MacBook Pro. Each time I used an external peripheral or memory card like an SD card, Tangent Ripple Color Correction panel or external hard drive, I was disappointed that I couldn’t plug them in. Nonetheless, a good Thunderbolt 3 dock is a necessity in my opinion. You could survive with dongles but my OCD starts flaring up when I have to dig around my backpack for adapters. I’m just not a fan. I love how Apple dedicated themselves to a fast I/O like USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, but I really wish they gave it another year. Just one old-school USB port would have been nice. I might have even gotten over no SD card reader.
The Touch Bar
I like it. I would even say that I love it — in the apps that are compatible. Right now there aren’t many. Adobe released an update to Adobe Photoshop that added compatibility with the Touch Bar, and it is really handy especially when you don’t have your Wacom tablet available (or a USB dongle to attach it). I love how it gives access to so many levels of functionality to your tools within your immediate reach.
It has super-fast feedback. When I adjusted the contrast on the Touch Bar I found that the MacBook Pro was responding immediately. This becomes even more evident in FCPX and the latest Resolve 12.5.4 update. It’s clear Apple did their homework and made their apps like Mail and Messages work with the Touch Bar (hence emojis on the Touch Bar). FCPX has a sweet ability to scrub the timeline, zoom in to the timeline, adjust text and more from just the Touch Bar — it’s very handy, and after a while I began missing it when using other computers.
In Blackmagic’s latest DaVinci Resolve release, 12.5.4, they have added Touch Bar compatibility. If you can’t plug in your color correction panels, the Touch Bar does a nice job of easing the pain. You can do anything from contrast work to saturation, even adjust the midtones and printer lights, all from the Touch Bar. If you use external input devices a lot, like Wacom tablets or color correction panels, the Touch Bar will be right up your alley.
One thing I found missing was a simple application launcher on the Touch Bar. If you do pick up the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, you might want to download Touch Switcher, a free app I found via 9to5mac.com that allows you to have an app launcher on your Touch Bar. You can hide the dock, allowing you more screen real estate and the efficient use of the Touch Bar to launch apps. I am kind of surprised Apple didn’t make something like this standard.
From a purely superficial and non-scientific point of view, the newly updated P3-compatible wide-gamut display looks great… really great, actually. The colors are rich and vibrant. I did a little digging under the hood and noticed that it is an 8-bit display (data that you can find by locating the pixel depth in the System Information > Graphics/Display), which might limit the color gradations when working in a color space like P3 as opposed to a 10-bit display displaying in a P3 color space. Simply, you have a wider array of colors in P3 but a small amount of color shades to fill it up.
The MacBook Pro display is labeled as 32-bit color meaning the RGB and Alpha channels each have 8 bits, giving a total of 32 bits. Eight-bit color gives 256 shades per color channel while 10-bit gives 1,024 shades per channel, allowing for much smoother transitions between colors and luminance values (imagine a sky at dusk going smoothly from an orange to light blue to dark blue — the more colors per channel allows for a smoother gradient between lights and darks). A 10-bit display would have 30-bit color with each channel having 10 bits.
I tried to hook up a 10-bit display, but the supplied Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 dongle Apple sent me did not work with the mini display port. I did a little digging and it seems people are generally not happy that Apple doesn’t allow this to work, especially since Thunderbolt 2 and mini DisplayPort are the same connection. Some people have been able to get around this by hooking up their display through daisy chaining something like a Thunderbolt 2 RAID.
While I couldn’t directly test an external display when I had the MacBook Pro, I’ve read that people have been able to push 10-bit color out of the USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports to an external monitor. So as long as you are at a desk with a monitor you can most likely have 10-bit color output from this system.
I reached out to Apple on the types of adapters they recommend for an external display and they suggest a USB-C to DisplayPort adapter made by Aukey. It retails for $9.99. They also recommend the USB-C to DisplayPort cable from StarTech, which retails for $39.99. Make sure you read the reviews on Amazon because the experience people have with this varies wildly. I was not able to test either of these so I cannot give my personal opinion.
In the end, the new MacBook Pro is awesome. If you own a recent release of the MacBook Pro and don’t have $3,500 to spare, I don’t know if this is the update you will be looking for. If you are trying to find your way around going to a Windows-based PC because of the lack of Mac Pro updates, this may ease the pain slightly. Without more than 16GB of memory and an Intel Xeon or two, however, it might actually slow you down.
The battery life is great when doing light work, one of the longest batteries I’ve used on a laptop. But when doing the heavy work, you need to be near an outlet. When plugged into that outlet be careful no one yanks out your USB-C power adapter as it might throw your MacBook Pro to the ground or break off inside.
I really do love Apple products. They typically just work. I didn’t even touch on the new Touch ID Sensor that can immediately switch you to a different profile or log you in after waking up the MacBook Pro from sleep. I love that you can turn the new MacBook Pro on and it simply works, and works fast.
The latest iteration of FCPX is awesome as well, and just because I don’t see it being used a lot professionally doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be. It’s a well-built NLE that should be given a fairer shake than it has been given. If you are itching for an update to an old MacBook Pro, don’t mind having a dock or carrying around a bunch of dongles, then the 2016 MacBook Pro with the Touch Bar is for you.
The new MacBook Pro chews through ProRes-based media from 1920×1080 to 4K, 6K and higher will play but might slow down. If you are a Red footage user this new MacBook Pro works great, but you still might have to knock the debayering down a couple notches.
Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.
I’ll admit it. I’ve always been impressed with HP’s All-in-One workstations — from their z840 to their zBook mobile workstation and now their HP Z1G3. Yes, I know, the HP line of workstations are not cheap. In fact, you can save quite a bit of money building your own system, but you will probably have tons of headaches unless you are very confident in your computer-building skills. And if you don’t mind standing in the return line at the Fry’s Electronics.
HP spends tons of time and money on ISV certifications for their workstations. ISV certification stands for Independent Software Vendor certification. In plain English it means that HP spends a lot of time and money making sure the hardware inside of your workstation works with the software you use. For an industry pro that means apps like Adobe’s Premiere Pro and After Effects, Avid Media Composer, Autodesk products like 3DS Max and many others.
For this review, I tested apps like Avid Media Composer, FilmLight’s Baselight for Media Composer color correction plug-in, Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe Media Encoder and Adobe After Effects, as well as Blackmagic’s Resolve 12.5.2, which chewed through basic color correction. In terms of testing time, I typically keep a review computer system for a couple of months, but with this workstation I really wanted to test it as thoroughly as possible — I’ve had the workstation for three months and counting, and I’ve been running the system through all the appropriate paces.
I always love to review workstations like the HP Z1G3 because of the raw power they possess. While HP sent me one of the top-of-the-line Z1G3 configurations, which retails for a list price of $3,486, they have a pretty reasonable starting price at $1,349. From Intel i3, i5 and i7 configurations all the way up to the all mighty Intel Xeon — the HP Z1G3 can be customized to fit into your workflow whether you just need to check your email or color correct video from your GoPro.
Here are the specs that make up the HP Z1G3 All-in-One workstation I received:
● 23.6-inch UHD/4K non-glare and non-touch display (3840×2160)
● Intel Xeon E3-1270 v5 CPU, 3.6GHz (4 Cores / 8 Threads)
● 64GB DDR4 SODIMM 2133 GHz (4 x 16GB)
● Nvidia Quadro M2000M graphics (4GB)
● Two Z Turbo drives (512GB, PCIe M.2)
● Wireless keyboard and mouse
● Two Thunderbolt 3/USB 3.1 ports
● USB charging port
● Media card reader
● DisplayPort out
As I mentioned earlier, I tested the Z1G3 with many different apps, but recently I’ve been diving deeper into color correction, and luckily for my testing this fits right in. A few of the most strenuous real-world tests for computer systems is running 3D modeling apps like Maxon Cinema 4D and color correction suites like Resolve. Of course, apps like After Effects are great tests as well, but adding nodes on nodes on nodes in Resolve will really tax your CPU, as well as your GPU.
One thing that can really set apart high-end systems like the Z1G3 is the delay when using a precision color correction panel like Tangent’s Elements or Ripple. Sometimes you will move one of the color wheel balls and a half a second later the color wheel moves on screen. I tried adding a few clips and nodes on the timeline and when using the panels, I noticed no discernible delay (at least more than what I would expect). While this isn’t a scientific test, it is crucial for folks looking to plug in external devices.
For more scientific tests I stuck to apps like Cinebench from Maxon, AJA’s System Test and Blackmagic’s Disk Speed Test. In Cinebench, the Z1G3 ranked at the top of the list when compared to similar systems. In AJA’s System Test I tested the read/write speed of the non-OS drive (basically the editing or cache drive). It sustained around 1520MB/s read and 1490MB/s write. I say around because I couldn’t get the AJA app to display the entire read/write numbers because of the high-resolution/zoom in Windows, I tried scaling it down to 1920×1080 but no luck. In Blackmagic’s Disk Speed Test, I was running at 1560MB/s read and 1497.3MB/s write. The drive that I ran this test on is HP’s version of the M.2 PCIe SSD powered by Samsung, more affectionately known by HP as a Z-Turbo drive. The only thing better at the moment would be a bunch of these drives arranged in a RAID-0 configuration. Luckily, you can do that through the Thunderbolt 3 port with some spare SSDs you have lying around.
Almost daily I ran Premiere Pro CC, Media Encoder and Resolve Studio 12.5.2. I was really happy with the performance in Premiere. When working with QuickTimes in inter-frame codecs like H.264 and AVC-HD (non-edit friendly codecs), I was able to work without too much stuttering in the timeline. When I used intra-frame codecs like ProRes HQ from a Blackmagic’s Pocket Cinema Camera, Premiere worked great. I even jumped into Adobe’s Lumetri color tools while using Tangent’s Ripple external color correction panel and it worked with little discernable delay. I did notice that Premiere had a little more delay when using the external color correction panel than Media Composer and Resolve, but that seemed to be more of a software problem rather than a workstation problem.
One of my favorite parts about using a system with an Nvidia graphics card, especially a Quadro card like the M2000M, is the ability to encode multiple versions of a file at once. Once I was done editing some timelapses in Premiere, I exported using Media Encoder. I would apply three presets I made: one square 600×600 H.264 for Instagram, one 3840×2160 H.264 for YouTube and an Animated GIF at 480×360 for Twitter. Once I told Media Encoder to encode, it ran all three exports concurrently — a really awesome feature. With the Nvidia Quadro card installed, it really sped along the export.
Another app I wanted to test was Media Composer 8.6.3. Overall Media Composer ran great except for the high-resolution display. As I’ve said in previous reviews, this isn’t really the fault of HP, but more of the software manufacturers who haven’t updated their interfaces to adapt to the latest UHD displays. I had filmed a little hike I took with my five-year-old. I gave him a GoPro while I had my own. Once we got the footage back home, I imported it into Media Composer, grouped the footage and edited it using the multi-cam edit workflow.
Simply put, the multi-camera split was on the left and the clip I had in the sequence was playing simultaneously on the right. Before I grouped the footage into a multi-group, I transcoded the H.264s into DNxHD 175 an intra-frame, edit-friendly codec. The transcode was nearly realtime, so it took 60 minutes to transcode a 60-minute H.264 — which is not bad. In the end, I was able to edit the two-camera multi-group at 1920×1080 resolution with only minor hiccups. Occasionally, I would get caught in fast forward for a few extra seconds when J-K-L editing, but nothing that made me want to throw my keyboard or mouse against the wall.
Once done editing, I installed the FilmLight color correction plug-in for Media Composer. I had a really awesome experience coloring using Baselight in Media Composer on the Z1G3. I didn’t have any slowdowns, and the relationship between using the color correction panel and Baselight was smooth.
The last app I tested with HP’s Z1G3 All-in-One Workstation was Blackmagic’s Resolve 12.5.2. Much like my other tests, I concentrated on color correction with the Tangent Ripple and Element-Vs iOS app. I had four or five nodes going in the color correction page before I started to see a slow down. I was using the native H.264 and ProRes HQ files from the cameras, so I didn’t make it easy for Resolve, but it still worked. Once I added a little sharpening to my clips, the HP Z1G3 really started to kick into gear. I heard the faint hum of fans, which up until this point hadn’t kicked in. This is also where the system started to slow down and become sluggish.
The Z1G3 is one of my favorite workstations, period. A while ago, I reviewed the previous All-in-One workstation from HP, the Z1G2, and at the time it was my favorite. One of my few complaints was that, while it was easy to fix, it was very heavy and bulky. When I opened the Z1G3 box, I immediately noticed how much lighter and streamlined the design was. It almost felt like they took away 50 percent of the bulk, which is something I really appreciate. I can tell that one of the main focuses with the Z1G3 was minimizing its footprint and weight, while increasing the power. HP really knocked it out of the park.
One of the only things that I wish was different on the Z1G3 I tested was the graphics card. While the Nvidia Quadro M2000M is a great graphics card, it is a “mobile” version of a Quadro, which has 128 fewer CUDA cores and 26GB/s less bandwidth than its desktop equivalent the M2000. I would love the option of a full-sized Quadro and instead of the mobile version but I also understand the power consumption will go up as well as the form factor, so maybe I give HP a pass here.
In the end, I know everyone reading this review is saying to themselves, “I love my iMac so why would I want the HP Z1G3?” If you are a die-hard Apple user, or you just saw the new Microsoft Surface Studio announcement, then it might be a hard sell, but I love both Windows- and Mac OS-based systems, and the Z1G3 is awesome. What’s even more awesome is that it is easily upgradeable. I took off the back cover, and with simple switch I could have added a 2.5-inch hard drive or two in under a minute. If you are looking for a new powerful workstation and want one that not only stands up to Resolve and Premiere Pro CC, the HP Z1G3 is for you.
Brady Betzel is an online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at email@example.com. Earlier this year, Brady was nominated for an Emmy for his work on Disney’s Unforgettable Christmas Celebration.
Throughout 2016, we have seen some interesting acquisitions in the world of post production software and hardware — Razer bought THX, Blackmagic bought Ultimatte and Fairlight and Boris FX bought GenArts, to name a few. We’ve also seen a tremendous consolidation of jobs. Editors are now being tasked as final audio mixers, final motion graphics creators, final colorists and much more.
Personally, I love doing more than just editing, so knowing tools like Adobe After Effects and DaVinci Resolve, in addition to Avid Media Composer, has really helped me become not only an editor but someone who can jump into After Effects or Resolve and do good work.
Unfortunately, for some people it is the nature of the post beast to know everything. Plug-ins play a gigantic part in balancing my workload, available time and the quality of the final product. If I didn’t have plug-ins like Imagineer’s Mocha Pro, Boris’s Continuum Complete, GenArt’s Sapphire and Red Giant’s Universe 2, I would be forced to turn down work because the time it would take to create a finished piece would outweigh the fee I would be able to charge a client.
A while back, I reviewed Red Giant’s Universe when it was in version 1, (check it out here). In the beginning Universe allowed for lifetime, annual and free memberships. It seems the belt has tightened a little for Red Giant as Universe 2 is now $99 a year, $20 a month or a 14-day free trial. No permanent free version or lifetime memberships are offered (if you downloaded the free Universe before June 28, you will still be able to access those free plug-ins in the Legacy group). Moreover, they have doubled the monthly fee from $10 to $20 — definitely trying to get everyone on to the annual subscription train.
Personally, I think this resulted from too much focus on the broad Universe, trying to jam in as many plug-ins/transitions/effects as possible and not working on specific plug-ins within Universe. I actually like the renewed focus of Red Giant toward a richer toolset as opposed to a full toolset.
Okay, enough of my anecdotal narrative and on to some technical awesomeness. Red Giant’s Universe 2 is a vast plug-in collection that is compatible with Adobe’s Premiere Pro and After Effects CS6-CC 2015.3; Apple Final Cut Pro X 10.0.9 and later; Apple Motion 5.0.7 and later; Vegas 12 and 13; DaVinci Resolve 11.1 and later; and HitFilm 3 and 4 Pro. You must have a compatible GPU installed as Universe does not have a CPU fallback plan for unsupported machines. Basically you must have 2GB or higher GPU, and don’t forget about Intel as their graphic support has improved a lot lately. For more info on OS compatibility and specific GPU requirements, check out Red Giant’s compatibility page.
Universe 2 is loaded with great plug-ins that, once you dig in, you will want to use all the time. For instance, I really like the ease of use of Universe’s RGB Separation and Chromatic Glow. If you want a full rundown of each and every effect you should download the Universe 2 trial and check this out. In this review I am only going to go over some of the newly added plug-ins — HUD Components, Line, Logo Motion and Color Stripe — but remember there are a ton more.
I will be bouncing around different apps like Premiere Pro and After Effects. Initially I wanted to see how well Universe 2 worked inside of Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve 12.5.2. Resolve gave me a little trouble at first; it began by crashing once I clicked on OpenFX in the Color page. I rebooted completely and got the error message that the OpenFX had been disabled. I did a little research (and by research I mean I typed ”Disabled OpenFX Resolve” into Google), and stumbled on a post on Blackmagic’s Forum that suggested deleting “C:\ProgramData\Blackmagic Design\Davinci Resolve\Support\OFXPluginCache.xml” might fix it. Once I deleted that and rebooted Resolve, I clicked on the OpenFX tab in the Color Page, waited 10 minutes, and it started working. From that point on it loaded fast. So, barring the Resolve installation hiccup, there were no problems installing in Premiere and After Effects.
Once installed, you will notice that Universe has a few folders inside of your plug-in’s drop down: Universe Blur, Universe Distort, Universe Generators, Universe Glow, Universe Legacy, Universe Motion Graphics, Universe Stylize and Universe Utilities. You may recognize some of these if you have used an earlier version of Universe, but something you will not recognize is that each Universe plug-in now has a “uni.” prefix.
I am still not sure whether I like this or hate this. On one hand it’s easy to search for if you know exactly what you want in apps like Premiere. On the other hand it runs counterintuitive to what I am used to as a grouchy old editor. In the end, I decided to run my tests in After Effects and Premiere. Resolve is great, but for tracking a HUD in 3D space I was more comfortable in After Effects.
First up is HUD Components, located under the Universe Motion Graphics folder and labeled: “uni.HUD Components.” What used to take many Video CoPilot tutorials and many inspirational views of HUD/UI master Jayse Hansen’s (@jayse_) work, now takes me minutes thanks to the new HUD components. Obviously, to make anything on the level of a master like Jayse Hansen will take hundreds of hours and thousands of attempts, but still — with Red Giant HUD Components you can make those sci-fi in-helmet elements quickly.
When you apply HUD Components to a solid layer in After Effects you can immediately see the start of your HUD. To see what the composite over my footage would look like, I went to change the blend mode to Add, which is listed under “Composite Settings.” From there you can see some awesome pre-built looks under the Choose a Preset button. The pre-built elements are all good starting points, but I would definitely dive further into customizing, maybe layer multiple HUDs over each other with different Blend Modes, for example.
Diving further into HUD Components, there are four separate “Elements” that you can customize, each with different images, animations, colors, clone types, and much more. One thing to remember is that when it comes to transformation settings and order of operations work from the top down. For instance, if you change the rotation on element one, it will affect each element under it, which is kind of handy if you ask me. Once you get the hang of how HUD Components works, it is really easy to make some unique UI components. I really like to use the uni.Point Zoom effect (listed under Universe Glow in the Effects & Presets); it gives you a sort of projector-like effect with your HUD component.
There are so many ways to use and apply HUD Components in everyday work, from building dynamic lower thirds with all of the animatable arcs, clones and rotations to building sci-fi elements, applying Holomatrix to it and even Glitch to create awesome motion graphics elements with multiple levels of detail and color. I did try using HUD Components in Resolve when tracking a 3D object but couldn’t quite get the look I wanted, so I ditched it and used After Effects.
Second up is the Line plug-in. While drawing lines along a path in After Effects isn’t necessarily hard, it’s kind of annoying — think having to make custom map graphics to and from different places daily. Line takes the hard work out of making line effects to and from different points. This plug-in also contains the prefix uni. and is located under Universe Motion Graphics labeled uni.Line.
This plug-in is very simple to use and animate. I quickly found a map, applied uni.Line, placed my beginning and end points, animated the line using two keyframes under “Draw On” and bam! I had an instant travel-vlog style graphic that showed me going from California to Australia in under three minutes (yes, I know three minutes seems a little fast to travel to Australia but that’s really how long it took, render and all). Under the Effect Controls you can find preset looks, beginning and ending shape options like circles or arrows, line types, segmented lines and curve types. You can even move the peak of the curve under bezier style option.
Third is Logo Motion, located under Universe Motion Graphics titled uni.LogoMotion. In a nutshell you can take a pre-built logo (or anything for that matter), pre-compose it, throw the uni.LogoMotion effect on top, apply a preset reveal, tweak your logo animation, dynamically adjust the length of your pre-comp — which directly affects the logo’s wipe on and off — and, finally, render.
This is another plug-in that makes my life as an editor who dabbles in motion graphics really easy. Red Giant even included some lower third animation presets that help create dynamic lower third movements. You can select from some of the pre-built looks, add some motion while the logo is “idle,” adjust things like rotation, opacity and blur under the start and end properties, and even add motion blur. The new preset browser in Universe 2 really helps with plug-ins like Logo Motion where you can audition animations easily before applying them. You can quickly add some life to any logo or object with one or two clicks; if you want to get detailed you can dial in the idle animation and/or transition settings.
Fourth is Color Stripe, a transition that uses color layers to wipe across and reveal another layer. This one is a pretty niche case use, but is still worth mentioning. In After Effects. transitions are generally a little cumbersome. I found the Universe 2 transitions infinitely easier to use in NLEs like Adobe Premiere. From the always-popular swish pan to exposure blur, there are some transitions you might use once or some you might use a bunch. Color Stripe is a transition that you probably won’t want to use too often, but when you do need it, it will be right at your fingertips. You can choose from different color schemes like analogous, tetradic, or even create a custom scheme to match your project.
In the end, Universe 2 has some effects that are essential once you begin using them, like uni.Unmult, uni.RGB Separation and the awesome uni.Chromatic Glow. The new ones are great too, I really like the ease of use of uni.HUD Components. Since these effects are GPU accelerated you might be surprised at how fast and fluid they work in your project without slowdowns. For anyone who likes apps like After Effects, but can’t afford to spend hours dialing in the perfect UI interface and HUD, Universe 2 is perfect for you. Check out all of the latest Red Giant Universe 2 tools here.
Brady Betzel is an online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org. Earlier this year, Brady was nominated for an Emmy for his work on Disney’s Unforgettable Christmas Celebration.
Not long ago, I was asked if I wanted to check out Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve 12.5 on a Microsoft Surface Pro 4. I was dubious, and wondered, “Do they really think I can edit, color correct, and deliver footage on a tablet?”
I was incredulous. I really thought this seemed like a pipe dream for Microsoft and Blackmagic. Everyone who works in post knows that you need a pretty monstrous workstation to play, let alone edit, media. Especially media with resolutions over 1920×1080 and 10-bit color! Well, let’s see how all of that played out.
Thankfully, I received the higher-end version of the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 tablet. Under the hood it was packing a dual-core 2.2 GHz Intel i7, 6650U CPU, 8GB RAM, NVMe Samsung MZFLV256 (256GB SSD) and an Intel Iris graphics 540 GPU. The display sports a beautiful 3:2 aspect ratio at 2736×1824 resolution; not quite the UHD 16:9/1.78:1 or true 4
K 1.9:1 aspect ratio that would be comfortable when working in video, but it’s not bad. Keep in mind that when working with high-resolution displays like an Apple Retina 5K or this Surface Pro 4, some apps will be hard to read even with the scaling bumped up.
Resolve looks great, but the words and icons might be a bit smaller than what you are used to seeing. The Surface Pro 4 weighs an incredibly light 1.73 pounds, measures 11.5×7.93x.33 inches and has the best stand I’ve ever used on a tablet. This is a big pet peeve of mine – terrible tablet stands — but the Surface sports a great one. I am on the go a lot, so I need a sturdy stand that, preferably, is attached. The Surface has the stand every other tablet manufacturer should copy.
I use Wacom products, so I am used to working with a great stylus, therefore, I didn’t have high expectations for the pen included with the Surface Pro. Boy, I was wrong! I was I happily surprised at how nice it was. While it doesn’t have the 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity present in the Wacom products that you might be used to, it does have 1,024, with great palm rejection. The weight of the pen was great — like really great — and it mounts on the side of the Surface by a strong magnet.
Aside from the mouse and stylus, the Surface Pro 4 has a 10-point touchscreen, but I didn’t use it very much. I found myself defaulting to the stylus when I wanted to interact directly on the screen, like in Photoshop or adjusting curves inside Resolve. Last, but not least, is the tremendous battery life. I was constantly running Resolve as well as playing music from Spotify and Pandora and the battery would last me most of the day. Once I got into heavy grading where I pumped up the brightness, the battery life went to lasting under two to four hours, which I think is still great.
Ok, enough gloating about the Surface hardware and onto the real test: Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve 12.5 running on a tablet!
Right off the bat — and as you’ve probably already surmised — I’m going to tell you that the Surface 4 Pro is not going to stand up to a powerhouse like the HP z840 with 64GB of RAM and an Nvidia Quadro M6000. But, what I found the Surface Pro 4 excelling at was proxy-based workflows and simple color matching.
You won’t be able to play 4K clips that cleanly, but the Surface 4 Pro and Resolve will allow you to color correct, grade, add a few nodes for things, such as a vignette or qualifier, and even export your grade. But if I were you and wanted to use the Surface Pro appropriately, a nice simple color balance will run great.
Essentially. the Surface Pro is a great way to travel and grade your footage thanks to Intel’s pretty amazing Iris graphics technology. You should really check out Intel’s backstory on how one of their engineers went to NAB 2015 and talked with the Blackmagic crew and figured out what he needed to do to get Intel-based GPUs to work with Resolve. Check this out. Regardless of whether or not there is hyperbole in that video, it is very true that almost anybody can run Resolve, whether you are on a Surface or an Intel-powered desktop.
Oh, don’t forget that for many people, the free version of Resolve will be all they need. Resolve is an amazing nonlinear editor and professional-level color correction software available at anyone’s fingertips for free. This is a fact that cannot be understated.
To test the Surface 4 Pro, I found some Red 5K footage that I scaled down to 1920×1080 in a 1920×1080 23.976 project, did a simple edit, colored and exported a final QuickTime. When I had the debayer set all the way to full resolution, my Surface started to crawl (crawl would be the polite term — in fact, it was more like melt. This is why I suggest the proxy workflow. However, when I played back at ¼, more so at ⅛, I was actually able to work. I was running around 10 to 12 frames per second. While I know 12fps isn’t the best playback for a 23.976 5K clip at 1920×1080 resolution, it let me do my job while on the go. I like to call it the “Starbuck’s Test.” If I need more than that I definitely should be at home using a HP z840, or DIY custom-built 4K workhorse, which I am looking to build.
If you really want to get the Surface to sing in Resolve 12.5, you should stick to 1920×1080 resolution footage or smaller. With a couple of serial nodes I was able to consistently get 15fps playback. Yeah, I know this isn’t ideal, but if I’m on the run and can’t use a workstation with dual Nvidia Titans or GTX1080 GPUs, 64GB DDR5 RAM, running footage off a Thunderbolt 3 external SSD RAID (a set-up that would cost north of $5K), the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is a great alternate solution.
Something that is tough to deal with on the Surface is the small text and icon size in Windows 10. While there might be a way to fix it using registry key hacks, I don’t want to do that. I want to set it and forget it. For all I know, there is a way to make the text the right size, but I couldn’t find it easily.
There has to be a way this can be fixed, right? If you know of a true fix let me know on Twitter @allbetzroff. I would really love to know. I tried bumping up the icon/text zoom within Resolve and messing around with the zoom in the Window’s Control Panel, with no luck.
Another issue with using a tablet to color correct and grade is the lack of elegance and fluidity that professional color correction panels allow. If you do color at any sort of professional level you should probably have at the very least something like the Tangent Ripple or Element panels. Using a touch screen, mouse and/or stylus to edit and color correct gets old fast on a tablet.
Using the Tangent Ripple, which is surprisingly portable, I felt the elegance I know and love when using Resolve with a panel. (I will be doing a Tangent Ripple review later for some more in-depth analysis). I did love the ability to use the stylus to get in and fine-tune Power Windows and curves in Resolve, but you will definitely need some extra equipment if you find yourself doing more than a couple adjustments — much like any computer, and not just the Surface.
In the end, the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (my version goes for around $1,600) is an exceptional tablet. I love it. In addition to running Resolve 12.5. I also installed the Adobe Suite of tools and did some editing in Premiere, effects in After Effects, transcoding in Media Encoder and even round-tripped my sequence between Resolve and Premiere.
The Surface Pro 4 is a great “away-from-home” computer to run very high-end apps like Resolve 12.5, Premiere Pro CC, and even apps like After Effects with hard core plug-ins like Imagineer System’s Mocha Pro 5.
While the touchscreen and stylus are great for occasional use, you should plan on investing in something like the Tangent Ripple color panel if you will be coloring a ton in Resolve or any other app — it’s even priced well at $350.
From the amazing battery life to the surprisingly snappy response of the Intel Iris 540 GPU inside of pro video editing and color correcting apps like Resolve, the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is the Windows tablet you need in your mobile multimedia creator life.
Brady Betzel is an online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at email@example.com. Earlier this year, Brady was nominated for an Emmy for his work on Disney’s Unforgettable Christmas Celebration.
David Simon’s newest and much-anticipated six-part series Show Me a Hero premiered on HBO in the US in mid-August. Like The Wire, which Simon created, Show Me a Hero explores race and community — this time through the lens of housing desegregation in late-‘80s Yonkers, New York. Co-written by Simon and journalist William F. Zorzi, the show was directed by Paul Haggis with Andrij Parekh as cinematographer, and produced by Simon, Haggis, Zorzi, Gail Mutrux and Simon’s long-time collaborator, Nina Noble. Technicolor PostWorks‘ Sam Daley served as the colorist. I caught up with him recently to talk about the show.
A self-described “film guy,” New York-based Daley has worked as colorist on films ranging from Martin Scorsese’s The Departed to Lena Dunham’s Girls withcommercial projects rounding out his portfolio. When I asked Daley what stood out about his experience on Show Me a Hero, his answer was quick: “The work I did on the dailies paid off hugely when we got to finishing.” Originally brought into the project as dailies colorist, Daley’s scope quickly expanded to include finishing — and his unusual workflow set the stage for high-impact results.
Daley’s background positioned him perfectly for his role. After graduating from film school and working briefly in production, Daley worked in a film lab before moving into post production. Daley’s deep knowledge of photochemical processing, cameras and filters turned him into a resource for colorists he worked alongside and piqued his interest in the craft. He spent years paying his dues before eventually becoming known for his work as a colorist. “People tend to get pigeonholed, and I was known for my work on dailies,” Daley notes. “But ultimately the cinematographers I worked with insisted that I do both dailies and finishing, as Ed Lachman (cinematographer) did when we worked together on Mildred Pierce.”
Daley and Show me a Hero’s cinematographer, Andrij Parekh, had collaborated on previous projects, and Parekh’s clear vision from the project’s earliest stages set the stage for success. “Andreij came up with this beautiful color treatment, and created a look book that included references to Giorgio de Chirico’s painted architecture, art deco artist Tamara de Lempicka’s highly stylized faces, and films from the 1970s, including The Conformist, The Insider, The Assassination of Richard Nixon and The Yards. Sometimes look books are aspirational, but Andrij’s footage delivered the look he wanted‚ and that gave me permission to be aggressive with the grade,” says Daley. “Because we’ve worked together before, I came in with an understanding of where he likes his images to be.”
Parekh shot the series using the Arri Alexa and Leica Summilux-C lenses. Since the show is set in the late ‘80s, a key goal for the production was to ground the look of the show firmly in that era. A key visual element was to have different visual treatments for the series’ two worlds to underscore how separate they are: the cool, stark political realm, and the warmer, brighter world of the housing projects. The team’s relatively simple test process validated the approach, and introduced Daley to the Colorfront On-Set Dailies system, which proved to be a valuable addition to his pipeline.
“Colorfront is really robust for dailies, but primitive for finishing — it offers simple color controls that can be translated by other systems later. Using it for the first time reminded me of when I was training to be a colorist — when everything tactile was very new to me — and it dawned on me that to create a period look you don’t have to add a nostalgic tint or grain. With Colorfront I was able to create the kind of look that would have been around in the ’80s with simple primary grades, contrast, and saturation adjustments.”
“This is the crazy thing: by limiting my toolset I was able to get super creative and deliver a look that doesn’t feel at all modern. In a sense, the system handcuffed me — but Andrij wasn’t looking for a lot of razzle-dazzle. Using Colorfront enabled me to create the spine of an appropriate period style that makes the show look like it was created in the ‘80s. Everyone loved the way the dailies looked, and they were watching them for months. By the time we got to finishing, we had something that was 90% of the way there.”
Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve 11 was used for finishing, a process that was unusually straightforward because of the up-front work done on the dailies. “Because all shots were already matched, final grading was done scene by scene. We changed the tone of some scenes, but the biggest decision we made was to desaturate everything by an additional 7% to make the flesh tones less buzzy and to set the look more firmly in the period.”
Daley was enthusiastic about the production overall, and HBO’s role in setting a terrific stage for moving the art of TV forward. “HBO was awesome — and they always seem to provide the extra breathing space needed to do great work. This show in particular felt like a symphony, where everyone had the same goal.”
I asked Daley about his perspective on collaboration, and his answer was surprising. “’The past is prologue.’ Everything you did in the past is preparation for what you’re doing now, and that includes relationships. Andrij and I had a high level of trust and confidence going into this project. I wasn’t nervous because I knew what he wanted, and he trusted that if I was pushing a look it was for a reason. We weren’t tentative, and as a result the project turned into a dream job that went smoothly from production through post.” He assures this is true for every client — you always have to give 110 percent. “The project I’m working on today is the most important project I’ve ever worked on.”
Daley’s advice for aspiring colorists? “Embrace technology. I was a film guy who resisted digital for a long time, but working on Tiny Furniture threw all of my preconceptions about digital out the window. The feature was shot using a Canon 7D because the budget was micro and the producer already owned the camera. The success of that movie made me stop being an old school film snob — now I look at new tech and think ‘bring it on.’”