June 3, 2016

Exclusive: How Blackmagic Design is Democratizing Color with Resolve

Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve 12 Remote Grading
What can we look forward to with Resolve 12.5?

Resolve's 12.5 beta has been loaded with features that make the life of a colorist easier. Color is a crucial part of the process, and having multiple tools to affect the image enables colorists to address clients' needs in a rapid and varied manner. 

It remains to be seen whether Resolve can make the jump to a full-fledged editing platform, but it's getting there: it was most recently the tool of choice for colorist Tony Ford for top Cannes contender The Lobster, which took advantage of the program's fundamental nodal workflow, Render Cache, and efficient tracking system.

Since Resolve was acquired by Blackmagic, its development has accelerated, each version rolling out tons of features and expanding the software beyond the capabilities of color grading.

No Film School spoke with Bob Caniglia, Senior Manager at Blackmagic, who had some insight into the company's philosophy and inner workings.

Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve 12.5
Credit: BlackMagic

Democratizing the software

Caniglia was already working in sales at DaVinci before it was acquired by Blackmagic. He jokes that he "went from being the youngest guy in sales at DaVinci to being the oldest guy at Blackmagic." At the time of the acquisition, Blackmagic already owned a post-production facility in Singapore that ran two high-end Resolve stations, so Caniglia had an innate understanding of the business of color grading.

What works for a high-end colorist can also work for a director working on her first short film.​

Transitioning from being a company that sold $350k-$500k hardware systems to offering free software required a change in vision for Resolve's potential. Caniglia says that since that change, they've added a tremendous amount of people.

"By that time, I already understood the high-end market by working with shops in New York and LA, but appealing now to the entire market is different and exciting in that we don't have to be so segmented," he said. In other words, what works for a high-end colorist can also work for a director working on her first short film.

But wouldn't a business model that gives away free software have financial challenges? "We offer Resolve for free just to get a filmmaker to start to use it," Caniglia said. "Resolve runs through and enables our entire product line, even in the switchers and camera shaders, where you have more control on a Resolve level than just lift, gamma, and gain. Even if people have the free version of the software, they generally buy some hardware to go along with it, whether it's a capture card or a Thunderbolt interface, so that's where we see the revenue."

"At this point, it would be a bit presumptuous to charge for something we're already giving away for free," added Caniglia.

Credit: Blackmagic

What's new: Live-grading, in-camera transcoding, a better UI

The free version is pretty unlimited compared to the paid Studio version, enabling filmmakers to bring a laptop on set to rough out grades for final polishing with a dedicated colorist later. "DPs can play around with looks and send the whole node tree to the colorist so they can see how they got a look, which is a more efficient workflow than just sending a still or screenshot," Caniglia said. Complementing on-set use is Resolve Live, which as the name suggests, can grade a signal from a live camera.

Resolve can also be used as a "utility knife" for transcoding and data management, to make proxies or convert formats.​​

Many of Blackmagic's cameras come with a full version of Resolve, capturing to formats that don't need transcoding for immediate editing. For all the different cameras and formats available, Resolve can also be used as a "utility knife" for transcoding and data management, to make proxies or convert formats.

Resolve has also progressively been featuring an enhanced design aesthetic. "We have a team that just works on interface, so the guys writing the hardcore feature stuff aren't really consumed with the design and layout," Caniglia said. "Resolve was the first product where we had guys concentrate on the UI as opposed to just the features. That's starting to show its true colors with Resolve 12.5 and the upcoming Ursa Mini release." 

Some things never change

Though some of the changes in Resolve 12.5 are cosmetic, the core functionality hasn't changed, especially in the Color page.

"While Color has been dressed up some, it hasn't been significantly altered," Caniglia said. "The high-end guys who've been working on Resolve for a while now are used to a certain layout. They don't want to suddenly have things switched around on them."

Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve 12.5
Credit: Blackmagic

Blackmagic has also taken various filmmaker's backgrounds into consideration. For example, long-time Resolve users will remember a time when primary color wheels were not part of the interface, which was a holdover from Resolve's high-end days where hardware color panels were required. Curves and the new Temperature and Tint sliders will look familiar to anyone coming from a stills background. Colorists now take the J, K, and L navigation keys for granted, a functionality which wasn't always present.

"The playing field has been leveled as far as tools. You're not going to be judged by what you've shot on.​"

"We tried to add many ways to manipulate the footage, not to have just 'the Blackmagic way,'" Caniglia said, "so people could find the most comfortable and natural ways to work. The first step is never the last step. There is no last version of Resolve; it's always the next version."

Listening to filmmakers

Aside from the tech, it's important to consider feedback from the vast community of colorists and filmmakers who use the software when improving the platform. "Two years ago we had a lot of naysayers that thought Resolve would only develop to a certain level, but we've kept adding new features for editing and coloring as well as the recent interaction with Fusion."

To maintain continuity with the software, Blackmagic has maintained the same core group of developers since the early 2000s, and has a large feedback group it polls. "Blackmagic has relationships with colorists around the world at many different levels working on all sorts of projects," explained Caniglia. "We ask for feedback from them all the time. "

Often, these features have been minor keyboard shortcuts and program workarounds that pay off in large wayslike the ability to drag and drop footage into the software, which has saved me tons of time in my own sessions.

Focus on the story

Caniglia has unexpected advice for aspiring filmmakers. "We get questions all the time about which camera to buy as an indie filmmaker," he said. "It's hard to answer because it depends on the needs of each project. I always go back to the same thing: worry about the story."

"The playing field has been leveled as far as tools," he continued. "You're not going to be judged by what you've shot on. In the past, you might have dressed up the narrative because you thought you weren't using the right tools, but we're at a point where those are available to everyone. Focus on your story."      

Tristan Kneschke operates Exit Editorial in New York City. Follow Tristan on Twitter.

Your Comment

8 Comments

I recently started trying to learn Fusion, and I have yet to see what's so great about node-based programs. I haven't yet tried this app, but so far working with nodes seems far more complicated and messy than working in layers. The jury's still out for me, I'll continue to trudge through it because I feel these programs have good value, have great potential, and of course have free versions to boot. But those nodes...

June 4, 2016 at 7:24PM, Edited June 4, 7:24PM

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Vidrazor
532

The point of nodes is to essentially the ability to have layers that don't effect each other because they happen independently of one another.

June 5, 2016 at 12:36AM

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Does that mean I could, for example, have a green screen and a magenta screen in the same shot, and key out both to separate video channels?

June 5, 2016 at 3:24AM

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kyleclements
Artist / Photographer
804

This can also be done in layer based apps.

But some find that nodes give a better overview over used effects.

I do not. I find a properly managed layer based system simpler.

June 5, 2016 at 12:18PM

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JeffreyWalther
Steadicam Operator
1126

It really depends on what you want to do. Layers probably make more sense for motion graphics and design work while nodes are more useful for compositing and grading.

There is a reason blockbuster VFX are done in node based programs like NUKE, Fusion, etc and thats because at that level of complexity layers just wouldn’t cut it. Look maybe they could but I’m skeptical.

Once nodes click with you it is amazing. It opens up new ways of thinking about problems but you have to throw away your layer based conceptual framework of how to composite.

Also nodes are only useful for singe shot compositing. “Finishing” i.e. mastering, online or whatever you want to call it is done in a timeline or “layers” based system like NUKE Studio or FLAME. Resolve has the timeline and grading windows separate for this reason.

I find AfterEffect incredibly poor for this sort of applications because each item is its own layer. I prefer to have vision on V1, graphics and supers on V2 and subtitles, disclaimers, etc on V3. You can create sub-sequences but at the expense of interactivity. Also something like FLAME negates the need to RAM preview by managing your renders and timeline. Premier now does this for you and is a better program than AfterEffects for finishing. While jumping between AE and Premier is a great new feature feels much more clunky than finishing in something like FLAME.

June 6, 2016 at 2:01AM

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Andrew Stalph
Editor
245

I initially thought nodes were a gimmick, but they're a far superior way to work. You can see the entire path that in image takes, from source to output, and graphically see everything that's being done to it. You can also split the image off and send it through different processes, then bring it back together at the end if you want.

Unfortunately, some programs cripple nodes' advantages with cumbersome UI. Nuke is a great example of this. One of the best things about nodes is that you should be able to see what the image looks like at each one, simply by clicking on it. That's how it worked in Shake. But Nuke makes you add viewer nodes and connect every node you want to look at to a viewer, by dragging a connection. It's unbelievably cumbersome.

Another nice thing about nodes is that you can see what's masking what. I don't know how Fusion works, but Shake and Nuke nodes have a Mask input on the side where you send a mask image in.

Nodes are kind of like tabs or styles in a text editor: They seem unnecessary and overcomplicated at first, but once you use them you'll never want to go back.

June 9, 2016 at 7:41PM, Edited June 9, 7:45PM

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David Gurney
DP
1399

Re: Vidrazor - If you are working on a smaller project and you only need to utilize a handful of effects, then you aren't going to see an advantage in using nodes. However, when you are working on a more complex project, then you will see the real advantages nodes have over layers. Below is a summary of LAYERS vs. NODES.

LAYERS
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Pros
1. Easy to use and understand.
2. Work fast and really well for a small number of effects.

Cons
1. Become more difficult to work with as the number of effects increase.
2. Become harder to visually see what's going on with a larger number of effects.
3. The order of operations are limited to linear directions (up and down) in affect.
4. Layer duplication usually becomes necessary when the same object or area requires independent effect control.
5. Output versioning (creating a different final result) becomes too complicated when dealing with large amounts of layers.

NODES
------------------
Pros
1. Work better than layers as the number of visual effects increase.
2. Easier to visually see how each node affects another node.
3. The order of operations are multi-directional (networkable) and are not directionally limited like layers.
4. Independent effect control to the same object or area only requires a node connector.
5. Output versioning (creating a different final result) is easy even in a complex network of nodes.

Cons
1. Not as easy to use and understand as layers.
2. Have no real advantage over layers when the number of effects are small.

Vidrazor it's like this. If you have a smaller project it's probably a be a better choice to use layers... if, however, you need to composite a much large and more complicated project... a node-based compositor is going to be a much better and smarter choice towards flexibility. So don't give up, and keep learning about node-based compositors and use them when needed.

June 6, 2016 at 8:49AM, Edited June 6, 8:59AM

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Razor
VFX Colorist
225

I don't know whether BM should give up on trying to shove Resolve down users' throats as an editor, or redouble their efforts to make it one. Either way, it currently sucks as an editor, to the point of being unusable. It's aggravating as hell to use alone, but you risk embarrassment trying to use it in front of clients.

And defending bad UI because "that's how it's always been" sucks too. Resolve scatters important functions all over the place, and suffers from some serious UI defects that waste users' time. For example, try figuring out where letterboxing is coming from if someone sends you a project. Not only is this cropping function buried under the wrong menu ("Color"), but its submitems are frequently disabled for no apparent reason and it always shows that there's no letterboxing applied, even when there is.

June 9, 2016 at 7:52PM

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David Gurney
DP
1399