Digital Bolex's Lab-Style RAW Software Will Be Your CinemaDNG Workflow Workhorse
By coincidence or not, it seems like each camera announced to use CinemaDNG as its RAW shooting format is poised to change the world in its own way. The Blackmagic Cinema Camera and the ~$3K Digital Bolex D16 seek to put quality acquisition tools in nearly anyone’s hands, while the future-bound Aaton Penelope Delta and open source Apertus Axiom bear their own technical notabilities (and nobilities). Clearly it’s time to really start wondering about CinemaDNG. As of now, the license-free format is being adopted by way more cameras than NLEs, and workflow questions, concerns, and schools of thought and technique abound. There’s hope and then some, though — just over the horizon the RAW processing software shipping with the Digital Bolex D16 just might change the world in its own way, too.
There’s plenty of CinemaDNG workflowing tutorials online, with at least one going as far as batch-commanding Adobe Lightroom to spit out each frame of footage as a 16-bit uncompressed Photoship .psd file to be reimported for editing and grading — but I’m sure not everyone wants to do that, and “everyone” seems to be the deal-breaker for Digital Bolex. How complicated does post workflow truly have to be with RAW? Can’t it be both powerful and intuitive? Of course, it already is in many cases — but a dedicated central solution is largely absent for CinemaDNG specifically. Well, the Digital Bolex project has been busy — on its own solutions, as well as its first complete short, below.
When comparing RAW to compressed workflows, the problems with most of the RAW workflows seemed to be:
- You can’t start editing your [CinemaDNG] footage right away… [because] most NLEs still don’t incorporate the ability to import a CinemaDNG sequence, so you have to do one or more transcodes during post in order to use your RAW footage to its best ability.
- The online process is so problematic that many people go to post houses to finish their films, even though they have capable computers and software at home. Using XML to match an edited sequence back to the original raw footage almost never works correctly in existing software.
- The extra drive space from all the different versions of the footage makes the hard drive space issue for raw much worse than it has to be. RAW takes up more space than compressed video, without question. But having to transcode multiple times increases the space issue exponentially.
So with these problems in mind, we came up with three mantras for the new [Digital Bolex post] software:
- Keep it raw as long as you can.
- Transcode only once.
- Transcode only what you need to transcode.
Give a warm (preliminary) welcome to Digital Bolex’s upcoming post software. Combined with back-to-front fluency in CinemaDNG specifically, the post software is going to be something special for the philosophy behind its interface: Digital Bolex is designing the software almost like a virtual floor plan of a post house or development lab, complete with “rooms.” Alternatively, it could be thought of as categorizing processing functionalities by the steps of the post process in which they occur.
The Copy Room is where you download the footage from cards to as many designated drives as you like. The software then reads the footage and compares it to the original cards to verify that all of the copies have been made correctly, before giving the user a big green check mark, indicating that it is safe to format the cards.
The Organize Room is where you label, categorize, and rename clips, edit file trees, incorporate script supervisor notes, and general organizational things.
The Color Room can be used both before and / or after the edit room. It is intended to let you apply your one light look non-destructively to a groups of clips, and then after a rough cut of the footage is complete you can go back and do a more refined color pass.
The Edit Room allows you to edit and play back your Cinema DNG footage in real time. To allow computers that are older to work well with the large files we have chosen to show the images in black and white while the image is playing, and render the color on paused frames.
The Export Room allows you to export your edit either as one file in a condensed rough cut, or as separate clips according to your edit. You may export to many different formats including Quicktime ProRes 444 [or DNxHD].
The idea is that you can have several people working on the same project simultaneously, using the same CinemaDNG files, and the only file that need to be sent from one computer to another is small and contains nothing but metadata. The assistant editor can be naming and categorizing clips while the editor is assembling sequences, while the DP setting looks for scenes. Hopefully this will create a friendly collaborative workflow for raw projects. On smaller projects where one person might be the producer, DP, and editor the “room” divisions define the work that is done and the work still needed to be done.
To quote Keanu Reeves: Whoa. As far as I can tell, this is the most significant support any CinemaDNG-sporting camera company is co-creating (with German media management developer Pomfort) for use with its own product. But that’s the other thing about it, the software won’t be just for its own product — DB CEO Joe Rubinstein tells me it will be available through Pomfort separately, not necessarily with the D16 exclusively. It goes further. Digital Bolex is so involved with CinemaDNG, the company’s own Elle Schneider is actually building the new CinemaDNG.org website. No other camera company (in digital cinema history, really) has ever so closely contributed to a format not self-developed, not to mention the infrastructure around it — and for a free RAW format, at that.
What all this means is something significant for CinemaDNG users at large, present and future. If it’s as elegant as it sounds, this software could best even Blackmagic’s powerful native integration of CDNG in DaVinci Resolve, by sheer intuitiveness. The live collaboration sounds like a key plus, the ‘room’ scheme keeps putting light bulbs above my head — and, it’s built from the ground up to manage and manipulate CinemaDNG footage. All of which could make it the must-have “RAWare” in the emerging CinemaDNG market, perhaps by default.
As of right now, the software is Mac-only upon launch, which may or may not coincide with that of the D16 — a beta-type version will definitely be included with the D16, while a commercially available more ironed-out version will come later. A Windows version should also be in the works. There are no price point details at this time. As a last note of DB’s community activism, Mr. Rubinstein tells me the software has no definite title yet, but welcomes suggestions — so if you’re good with catchy app names, head on over to the Digital Bolex site and pitch some!
What’s it to you guys, what do you think? What standard practices do you see settling into position as CinemaDNG proliferates — and do you think this software will find its way in?