Tag Archives: color grading panels

Review: Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve 12

This working editor is impressed with the color correction tool’s NLE offerings.

By Brady Betzel

If you’re looking for a nonlinear editor alternative to Adobe Premiere, Apple FCP X or Avid Media Composer you must check out Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve 12 Studio. The best part about the continuing evolution of Resolve is that Blackmagic has been adding NLE functionality to its color correction software, instead of building an editor from the ground up.

In terms of editing systems, Avid Media Composer has been in my life from the very first day I started working in television. At school we edited on Final Cut Pro 7 and Adobe Premiere, but once I hit the big time it was all Media Composer all the time. Now, of course, that is changing with Adobe Premiere Pro projects popping up more and more.

Many of today’s editors want to work on an NLE offering the latest and greatest features, such as resolution independence, wide codec support, occasional VFX integration and the all-mighty color correction. So that leaves us with Adobe, Avid and the newest player to the NLE game, Blackmagic and its Resolve product.

Resolve's multicam capabilities.

Resolve’s multicam capabilities.

Adobe realizes how important color is to an editor’s workflow and has added color correction inside of Premiere by incorporating Lumetri Color. In fact, Adobe’s After Effects also features Lumetri Color. But even with these new additions some are still wanting more. This is where Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve 12 is making its move into the nonlinear editing world.

Inside Resolve 12
With Version 12, Blackmagic has reinvented its internal NLE environment to catch the eye of any editor looking to make a change from their current editing system. In this review I’m looking at Resolve 12 from an editor’s perspective, not a colorist’s. Some NLEs say you can stay inside of their environment from offline to online, but oftentimes that’s not the case.

I think you will really like what Blackmagic is doing in Resolve 12 Studio — you will also like their visual effects and compositing app Fusion, which recently released its Version 8 public beta.

Blackmagic offers two versions of Resolve: Resolve Studio and Resolve. They also offer the DaVinci Resolve Advanced Panel, which retails for $29,995. Resolve Studio sells for $995, while plain Resolve is free, and you get a lot of horsepower for free. If $30K is too pricey for your budget, remember that a lot of high-end colorists use the Tangent Element coloring panels — they retail for under $3,500. (You can check out my review of the Tangent Element panels here.) Color panels will change the way you look at color correcting. Coloring by mouse or tablet compared to panels is like playing baseball with one arm tied behind your back.

The Resolve Panel

The differences between Resolve Studio and Resolve is Studio’s realtime noise reduction and motion blur parameters using CUDA and OpenGL GPUs and stereoscopic 3D grading. The free version has mastering limitations; very limited GPU and Red Rocket support; lack of collaborative teamwork-based features; lack of remote grading; limitation of proxy generation to the UHD frame size; limit of project frame sizes to UHD; and a lack in ability to render the Sony XAVC codec. But keep in mind that even the free Resolve will support the Tangent Element panel if you have it.

Powering It Up
Technically, you should have a pretty beefy workstation at your disposal to run Resolve, especially if you want to take advantage of the enhanced GPU processing and realtime playback of high-resolution sources. One common debate question is, “Do I transcode to a mezzanine format or stay native?” Personally, I like to transcode to a mezzanine format like DNxHD or ProRes, however with systems becoming the powerhouses they are today that need is slowly dying. Even though Resolve can chew through different native codecs such as AVCHD it will definitely be to your advantage to find a common intraframe codec such as ProRes 4444, Cineform or DNxHD/HR as opposed to an interframe codec such as XDCAM, which is very processor-intensive and can slow your system down during edit.

A very thorough explanation can be found over at Sareesh Sudhakaran’s website: http://wolfcrow.com/blog/intra-frame-vs-inter-frame-compression. The minimum requirements for Resolve on a Mac are OS X 10.10.3 Yosemite and 16GB of system memory, although 8GB is the minimum supported. For a Windows system you need Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit with SP1 with 16GB of system memory, although 8GB is the minimum supported as well.

In addition, you will need up-to-date drivers from your GPU, and if I was you a high-end GPU (or two or three) with as much memory as possible. Many people report a couple prosumer Nvidia 980 Ti cards to be a great value if you aren’t able to jump up to the Quadro family of GPUs. In addition AMD and Intel GPUs are supported.

Let’s be real, you should either have a sweet X99 system with as much RAM as you can afford or something on the level of an HP z840 or recent Mac Pro to run smoothly. You will also want an SSD boot drive and a RAID (SSD if possible) to get the most out of your editing and color experience with minimal lag, especially when adding Power Windows, motion blur and grain.

The Interface
My immediate reaction to Resolve’s updated interface is that it looks and feels like an amalgamation of FCP X and Adobe Premiere CC 2015. If you like the way Adobe separates out their assembly, color and NLE interfaces then you will be right at home with Resolve’s Media, Edit, Color, and Deliver keys. In the timeline you will see a similar look to FCP X with rounded corners and an otherwise intriguing graphical user interface. I’m not going to lie, it felt a little shiny at first but coming from Media Composer almost every NLE interface will feel shiny and new. So the questions is: will it perform on the same level as a tried and true behemoth like Avid’s Media Composer?

Testing the NLE
There are a few key functions that I test on every NLE I jump into: trimming, multicam editing and media management. For the most part, every NLE can insert edit, assemble edit and replace an edit, but most can’t replicate Avid’s trimming and media management functionality.

Jumping into trim mode there are your standard ripple, overwrite, slip and slide trims. You can perform that multitrack asymmetric trim to pull time between those huge acts and even one type of trim that I really wish Avid would steal — the ability to trim durations of multiple clips simultaneously. The best way I can describe this is when you are building credits and you need to shorten them all by one frame. Typically, you could go in card by card and remove one frame from each card until you are done. In Resolve 12, you can trim multiple clips at the same time and in the same direction, i.e. trim one frame from every credit in a sequence simultaneously. It’s really a remarkable addition to a trim workflow, not to mention a time saver.

Second on my checklist for running an NLE is its ability to work smoothly with multiple camera angles in a grouped set of footage, sometimes referred to as groups. One of my personal pet peeves with Media Composer is the inability to change a group after it has been created (and by pet peeve I mean bane of my existence when I was assistant editor and a 12-hour group was off by one or two frames… but I digress.)

Luckily, Blackmagic has given us a solution inside of Resolve. After a group has been created, you can step “inside” of that group, add angles, add a final mix and even change sync. All of these changes ripple through the edits; it’s very impressive. My two favorite features in Resolve’s new multi group abilities are mixing frame rates within a group and auto syncing of audio and video based on waveforms. If you’ve ever needed Red Giant’s PluralEyes because there was no jam sync timecode on footage you received, then you will feel right at home inside of Resolve’s auto sync. Plus you can adjust the group after it’s been created! I love this… a lot.

Media management

Last on my list is media management. I have pretty high expectations when it comes to media management because I was an assistant editor for a little over four years working on Media Composer, and for the most part that system’s media management works rock solid — if you need to vent about how I am wrong you can tweet me @allbetzroff) — especially when used in conjunction with an Avid Shared Storage product like the Unity or ISIS. What I realize is that while Avid’s way of media organization is a little bit antiquated, it is reliable.

So what I’ve really started to embrace within the last year is metadata and I now recognize just how valuable it is with NLEs like FCP X and now Resolve. Metadata is only valuable, however, if someone actually enters it and enters it correctly.

If in Resolve you have properly kept your metadata game extremely up to date you can quickly and efficiently organize your media using Smart Bins. Smart Bins are incredible if they are set up properly; you can apply certain metadata filtering criteria to different bins such as interview shots, or have shots from a particular date to automatically populate. This is a huge time saver for assistant editors and editors without assistant editors; another feature I really love.

I couldn’t cover everything within Resolve in this space, but believe me when I tell you that the features not covered are just as great as the ones I have covered. In addition to the newly updated audio engine under the hood, there is a command to decompose a nested timeline in place — think of a nested sequence that you want to revisit but you don’t have to find the original and recut it into the sequence — one click and magically your nested sequence is un-nested. There is also compatibility with Open VFX, such as GenArts Sapphire and Boris FX BCC Continuum Complete. There is remote rendering and grading, plus many, many more features. One of my favorite resources is the Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve 12 manual written by Alexis Van Hurkman (@Hurkman on Twitter), who also wrote Color Correction Handbook: Professional Techniques for Video and Cinema, a phenomenal book on color correction techniques widely regarded as the manual for color correction.

Summing Up
In the end I can’t begin to touch on the power of Resolve 12 in this relatively small review; it’s constantly being updated! The latest 12.2 update includes compatibility with plug-ins like New Blue Titler from Media Composer via an AAF! I didn’t even get a chance to mention Resolve’s integration of Bezier curve adjustments to transitions and keyframe-able movements.

If you are looking for an upgrade in your color correction experience, you need to download the free version immediately. If you’re an editor and have never taken Resolve for a test drive, now is the time. With features like greatly improved dynamic trimming to the extremely useful and easy to set up Smart Bins to the new 3D tracker and foreground color matching, Resolve is quickly overtaking the color and NLE market in one solid and useful package.

Brady Betzel is an online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood. Previously, he was editing The Real World at Bunim-Murray Productions. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter, @allbetzroff.

 

Review: Tangent Element color panels

These compact surfaces can help editors gain control of their color work

By Brady Betzel

More and more these days offline editors are also color correcting or grading footage in some way. For those who are new to this and unsure of the differences between color correction and color grading, let me help…

Color correction is the process of balancing different cameras color properties, exposure and contrast to create a visibly and technically pleasing image — helped by an external waveform monitor, such as Tektronix products with the Double Diamond display. This can mean hours, days or weeks of work depending on factors such as white balancing or poor lighting.

Color grading, on the other hand, typically happens after the colorist balances the footage. This is where they will add “creative” looks to the content, such as the ubiquitous orange and teal look. While some software packages (Magic Bullet Looks, for example) are great, they are designed to be only color grading packages — for the most part tools such as Blackmagic’ DaVinci Resolve, Digital Vision’s Nucoda Film Master, FilmLight’s Baselight, Adobe SpeedGrade and others are built to correct as well as grade.

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There are a lot of conversations and arguments to be had about correcting and grading, but there is one thing that all colorists I’ve met agree on: color correcting and grading are more efficient and creative with hardware panels.

If you’ve never seen a colorist work, I highly suggest you find a way. At the beginning of my career, I had the opportunity to tag along with a friend to watch the colorist for a Barry Sonnenfeld show, called Pushing Daisies, at work. I was blown away.

To be honest, I don’t remember what panel or software was used (or even his name), but, like most “creative” people who work in any medium will tell you, it’s not the tool that should define you. In the end, I remember the colorist balancing and grading a day-for-night shot. It was incredible. I had seen what amateur colorists could do, but holy cow! A dedicated colorist really is a pro for a reason. It was magical.

element-tk_lg

Some vendors who produce color software also make color correction and grading panels — for example, the Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve Control Surface and the Digital Vision Nucoda Precision Panels. These surfaces target dedicated and high-end colorists and are often $20,000 to $30,000. Plus, there is the additional cost of equipment needed to run the software, like an HP z840 or Mac Pro, and a local storage server. It can set you back a lot of cash. This is where Tangent Element panels can help.

Affordable Control
In my opinion, the Tangent Element panels are great for someone who loves to learn everything about post production, including color correcting and grading… so me, for instance, (an editor/VFX artist who wants to color but doesn’t want to commit $30K to purchase a full panel) or a wedding videographer who really wants to dial in their color without that hefty price tag.

Tangent makes different panels and iOS apps that work well with a variety of software apps, including Resolve 12, Digital Vision Nucoda, Baselight and many more. If you’ve ever tried to color correct on your MacBook Pro or HP z800 with your mouse, a tablet, a keyboard, or a combination of all three, you probably understand how constrained your creativity becomes.

A color panel set typically contains different banks of buttons, knobs, scroll wheels, maybe a built-in tablet, roller balls and rings. Tangent sells a set of panels — that can be purchased separately or as a package — for way under the price tag of the Blackmagic control surface, the FilmLight Blackboard 2 or others in that price range.

Element Mf

Element Mf

The Tangent Element package costs in the neighborhood of $3,300, and the pieces are sold individually as well. For example, a place like B&H sells them individually: Element Mf costs $1,040; Element Bt costs $660; Element Kb costs $850; and Element Tk costs $1,135. Add that all up and it’s $3,686, but if you purchase the entire package all at once, you can save over $300. Oh, what do those letters after the panel’s name mean? They stand for each product’s function. Tk = Trackball, Mf = Multifunction, Kb = Knobs and Bt = Buttons. For an in-depth description of each, check out Tangent’s site.

Digging In!
When I opened the Tangent Element boxes and felt their weight for the first time, I was blown away at the build quality. I have been around some high-end color bays over the last few years, as an editor and online editor, and have been lucky enough to spin the track balls a few times. The expensive and luxurious panels are awesome, smooth and easy to navigate, but did I mention they are also expensive? So when I picked up the Tangent Element panels I was expecting plastic, or a lightweight set — like the difference between a Hyundai and a Mercedes. While they both do the same basic function, the feeling and weight are incomparable. This was not the case with the Tangent panels. The knobs were smooth, the rings rotated graciously and the balls rolled like butter. Considering the price, I was shocked at the quality.

What you will notice with a color panel is that every action has a button or a knob. Tangent requires that you download and use its software, Tangent Hub, including Mapper for certain applications. This helps in assigning functions to buttons in different programs. In some programs you are locked to what functions the manufacturer sets for the Tangent Element panels, such as Resolve, SpeedGrade and Baselight. This includes the Avid plug-ins for Baselight as well. Nucoda, however, allows for mapping using Tangent Mapper, which is a pretty big deal for such a powerful color application.

element-bt_lg

Element Bt

I tested the panels using Adobe SpeedGrade. As an editor, even if you just do a color balance pass, just one panel like the Tk can improve your color correcting tremendously. Keep in mind that when buying panels for Resolve, Tangent’s Application Compatibility list states that you must buy the Bt panel if you are buying the Kb panel. While it’s pretty awesome to have the full Elements set, if you wanted to go bare bones, you would likely want the Tk and the Kb panels, so it would kind of stink to have to shell out the extra $660 to get the knobs to work.

While I’m not digging too deep into the particulars of color correcting — and I’m looking at it from an editor’s perspective — the Tangent Element panels are a night and day difference when compared to color correcting with a mouse, tablet and/or keyboard. If you want some down and dirty talk about how Tangent Panels compare to others or whether functions like the soft clip are properly mapped to the panels in Resolve 12, you should sign up for the Lift Gamma Gain forums. They are one of my favorite resources next to Denver Riddle’s, where you can find some great tutorials to get you up to speed. (On a side note, I have Alexis Van Hurkman’s paperback book “Color Correction Handbook,” and it’s a phenomenal resource for color correction rules and techniques.)

For the price, the feel of these panels is great. The trackballs are great, the rings are smooth and even removable. The rings are attached by magnets and can be removed for easy cleaning, although I would leave that to a professional. You definitely don’t want to clean the trackballs on your own if you are unsure. You will most likely damage your panels and trackballs permanently.

Summing Up
I love these panels! The trackballs are at a great height and the button placement is great. I chose not to magnetically connect my panels edge to edge because I like to have them angled a little… just a personal preference. My line-up, from left to right was Mf, Tk, Bt and Kb.

One thing you should keep in mind when blindly purchasing color correction surfaces is button and trackball placement. Will you be comfortable with knobs and buttons above your trackballs? Personally, I find myself touching the trackballs and adjusting grades by accident when using compact color panels with the knobs and buttons placed on top, but the Tangent Elements panels have few buttons above the trackballs exactly for this reason.

The one thing I wish was different? I would love it if each panel had a separate USB plug with no hub to connect them all together (you need to purchase your own hub separately). It might be nice if one of Element panels had a built-in hub to help clean up the cable mess, but it’s definitely not a deal breaker.

If you are an editor who finds yourself editing, onlining, coloring and mixing your work (which hopefully you can do at least at a basic level), then you want the right tools to do the job. The full Tangent Element panel set is definitely a luxury item for the editor who dabbles in color, but it will increase your efficiency ten fold, if not more. Like any tool with keyboard shortcuts, the more you practice the faster you become. Next to my Wacom Intuos tablet, I really feel that these Tangent Panels are worth every penny. Check them out for yourself; I’m sure you will be impressed.

Brady Betzel is an online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood. Previously, he was editing The Real World at Bunim Murray Productions. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter, @allbetzroff.