Review: Blackmagic’s Resolve 15

By David Cox

DaVinci Resolve 15 from Blackmagic Design has now been released. The big news is that Blackmagic’s compositing software Fusion has been incorporated into Resolve, joining the editing and audio mixing capabilities added to color grading in recent years. However, to focus just on this would hide a wide array of updates to Resolve, large and small, across the entire platform. I’ve picked out some of my favorite updates in each area.

For Colorists
Each time Blackmagic adds a new discipline to Resolve, colorists fear that the color features take a back seat. After all, Resolve was a color grading system long before anything else. But I’m happy to say there’s nothing to fear in Version 15, as there are several very nice color tweaks and new features to keep everyone happy.

I particularly like the new “stills store” functionality, which allows the colorist to find and apply a grade from any shot in any timeline in any project. Rather than just having access to manually saved grades in the gallery area, thumbnails of any graded shot can be viewed and copied, no matter which timeline or project they are in, even those not explicitly saved as stills. This is great for multi-version work, which is every project these days.

Grades saved as stills (and LUTS) can also be previewed on the current shot using the “Live Preview” feature. Hovering the mouse cursor over a still and scrubbing left and right will show the current shot with the selected grade temporarily applied. It makes quick work of finding the most appropriate look from an existing library.

Another new feature I like is called “Shared Nodes.” A color grading node can be set as “shared,” which creates a common grading node that can be inserted into multiple shots. Changing one instance, changes all instances of that shared node. This approach is more flexible and visible than using Groups, as the node can be seen in each node layout and can sit at any point in the process flow.

As well as the addition of multiple play-heads, a popular feature in other grading systems, there is a plethora of minor improvements. For example, you can now drag the qualifier graphics to adjust settings, as opposed to just the numeric values below them. There are new features to finesse the mattes generated from the keying functions, as well as improvements to the denoise and face refinement features. Nodes can be selected with a single click instead of a double click. In fact, there are 34 color improvements or new features listed in the release notes.

For Editors
As with color, there are a wide range of minor tweaks all aimed at improving feel and ergonomics, particularly around dynamic trim modes, numeric timecode entry and the like. I really like one of the major new features, which is the ability to open multiple timelines on the screen at the same time. This is perfect for grabbing shots, sequences and settings from other timelines.

As someone who works a lot with VFX projects, I also like the new “Replace Edit” function, which is aimed at those of us that start our timelines with early drafts of VFX and then update them as improved versions come along. The new function allows updated shots to be dragged over their predecessors, replacing them but inheriting all modifications made, such as the color grade.

An additional feature to the existing markers and notes functions is called “Drawn Annotations.” An editor can point out issues in a shot with lines and arrows, then detail them with notes and highlight them with timeline markers. This is great as a “note to self” to fix later, or in collaborative workflows where notes can be left for other editors, colorists or compositors.

Previous versions of Resolve had very basic text titling. Thanks to the incorporation of Fusion, the edit page of Resolve now has a feature called Text+, a significant upgrade on the incumbent offering. It allows more detailed text control, animation, gradient fills, dotted outlines, circular typing and so on. Within Fusion there is a modifier called “Follower,” which enables letter-by-letter animation, allowing Text+ to compete with After Effects for type animation. On my beta test version of Resolve 15, this wasn’t available in the Edit page, which could be down to the beta status or an intent to keep the Text+ controls in the Edit page more streamlined.

For Audio
I’m not an audio guy, so my usefulness in reviewing these parts is distinctly limited. There are 25 listed improvements or new features, according to the release notes. One is the incorporation of Fairlight’s Automated Dialog Replacement processes, which creates a workflow for the replacement of unsalvageable originally recorded dialog.

There are also 13 new built-in audio effects plugins, such as Chorus, Echo and Flanger, as well as de-esser and de-hummer clean-up tools.
Another useful addition both for audio mixers and editors is the ability to import entire audio effects libraries, which can then be searched and star-rated from within the Edit and Fairlight pages.

Now With Added Fusion
So to the headline act — the incorporation of Fusion into Resolve. Fusion is a highly regarded node-based 2D and 3D compositing software package. I reviewed Version 9 in postPerspective last year []. Bringing it into Resolve links it directly to editing, color grading and audio mixing to create arguably the most agile post production suite available.

Combining Resolve and Fusion will create some interesting challenges for Blackmagic, who say that the integration of the two will be ongoing for some time. Their challenge isn’t just linking two software packages, each with their own long heritage, but in making a coherent system that makes sense to all users.

The issue is this: editors and colorists need to work at a fast pace, and want the minimum number of controls clearly presented. A compositor needs infinite flexibility and wants a button and value for every function, with a graph and ideally the ability to drive it with a mathematical expression or script. Creating an interface that suits both is near impossible. Dumbing down a compositing environment limits its ability, whereas complicating an editing or color environment destroys its flow.

Fusion occupies its own “page” within Resolve, alongside pages for “Color,” “Fairlight” (audio) and “Edit.” This is a good solution in so far that each interface can be tuned for its dedicated purpose. The ability to join Fusion also works very well. A user can seamlessly move from Edit to Fusion to Color and back again, without delays, rendering or importing. If a user is familiar with Resolve and Fusion, it works very well indeed. If the user is not accustomed to high-end node-based compositing, then the Fusion page can be daunting.

I think the challenge going forward will be how to make the creative possibilities of Fusion more accessible to colorists and editors without compromising the flexibility a compositor needs. Certainly, there are areas in Fusion that can be made more obvious. As with many mature software packages, Fusion has the occasional hidden right click or alt-click function that is hard for new users to discover. But beyond that, the answer is probably to let a subset of Fusion’s ability creep into the Edit and Color pages, where more common tasks can be accommodated with simplified control sets and interfaces. This is actually already the case with Text+; a Fusion “effect” that is directly accessible within the Edit section.

Another possible area to help is Fusion Macros. This is an inbuilt feature within Fusion that allows a designer to create an effect and then condense it down to a single node, including just the specific controls needed for that combined effect. Currently, Macros that integrate the Text+ effect can be loaded directly in the Edit page’s “Title Templates” section.

I would encourage Blackmagic to open this up further to allow any sort of Macro to be added for video transitions, graphics generators and the like. This could encourage a vibrant exchange of user-created effects, which would arm editors and colorists with a vast array of immediate and community sourced creative options.

Overall, the incorporation of Fusion is a definite success in my view, whether used to empower multi-skilled post creatives or to provide a common environment for specialized creatives to collaborate. The volume of updates and the speed at which the Resolve software developers address the issues exposed during public beta trials, remains nothing short of impressive.

David Cox is a VFX compositor and colorist with 20-plus years of experience. He started his career with MPC and The Mill before forming his own London-based post facility. Cox recently created interactive projects with full body motion sensors and 4D/AR experiences.

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