Here's How to Set Up a 12K Workflow for Independent Projects in Post

12K resolution is here. Let's break down a post workflow for those without powerful workstations. 

When a new video file format, codec, or higher resolution is made available, there's the inevitable question of what's the best way to edit with it. While some camera manufacturers release a tremendous amount of resources that detail post workflows, others are not quite as thorough about what to do after production is wrapped. 

Luckily, Blackmagic Design provides filmmakers with plenty of valuable information. Not only do they develop cameras, but they also have DaVinci Resolve, which combines editing, color correction, visual effects, and post audio into a single software. When using one of their cameras, the two go hand-in-hand.

The company has recently released the URSA Mini Pro 12K, and soon, many of us will find ourselves needing to figure out a 12K workflow. If you do, here's how you can set up a 12K project in DaVinci Resolve. We'll also touch on how you can use other editing software like Avid, Final Cut Pro, and Premiere Pro to edit the 12K footage. 

Let's dive in. 

Can't I "Just Edit" 12K files?

First off, the marketing. You're going to see news about how you can just natively edit 12K Blackmagic RAW on any system. This is true with a powerful edit workstation, but it won't be true for all of us, especially indie folk. Premiere Pro has used similar marketing for years about editing RED RAW, and it suffers from the same problem. It "works," but it's not ideal for larger projects with more media, more tracks of video, and underpowered machines.

As an example, I was once working with a client editing a 6K RED RAW project in Premiere on a laptop, and every time he opened his project file, it took a literal hour to open. After waiting an hour for the project to open, the editing interface moved like syrup. The fans were full bore the whole time. It was a mess. While technically they were able to edit "in full resolution RED RAW" and it "worked," they would've had a much easier, more fun, creative post experience if they had just spent a day making dailies at the start.

Yes, you can edit these big files natively without transcoding, and if your system is powerful enough, go for it. But if your system is slower, make proxies. In our tests the new 13" MacBook Pro played 12K files just fine one a single track, but after adding two or three tracks of video, cross dissolves, or other effects, things slowed down. 

So what are proxies?

Proxies 

For most of us who haven't shelled out thousands of dollars for a pro workstation, you're going to want to set up a proxy workflow.

A proxy is a lower resolution, processor-friendly version of a video file that you can use to edit. When you create a proxy, it should have the exact same file name as the RAW file and be saved in a separate folder. This way it's easier to relink the media later on for color grading and the final deliverable. Proxy files can sometimes be called "offline" or "dailies" files, but we'll be using the term proxy.

You should make proxy files in a format that your computer can easily and painlessly edit. Below are the suggested proxy formats to use depending on the non-linear editor. 

Proxy Type

  • Avid Media Composer: DNx proxies
  • Resolve, Premiere or Final Cut Pro: ProRes proxies

Since we are editing with DaVinci Resolve, we will work with ProRes proxies. If you happen to be editing with another software, the idea is the same. ProRes comes in various flavors, like ProRes HQ, ProRes, ProRes LT, and ProRes Proxy. I suggest using ProRes LT. They are a small, light, and nimble file, but still look nice enough to send preview cuts out to the client.

ProRes Proxy, the smallest option of ProRes, has some visible image degradation, and I never use it unless I'm working on a documentary with thousands of hours of footage. For me, ProRes LT is the smart choice. Other editors may suggest making ProRes 4444 proxies, but those can big enough to almost defeat the purpose. You want a light, easy file to edit with, not color grade. 

Formatting the Proxy 

You're going to want to make the proxy files in either 1920x1080 or 1280x720 resolution. In deciding between the two, it's worth noting how much footage you will be editing. If there's a lot, 1280x720 might be the better route for slower machines. Plus, 720p ProRes LT files are especially useful for delivering files to clients over the internet, if that becomes necessary.

Either way, both are typical resolutions that will make it easier to go out to broadcast monitors and interact with various systems and platforms like YouTube or Vimeo.

It's also important to note the aspect ratio of the footage, especially if it's not 16x9. The URSA Mini Pro 12K has a 17x9 sensor but has selectable crop modes of 16:9, 2.4:1, etc. Depending on the aspect ratio the footage was shot in, you may have black bars at the top and bottom of the frame. That's okay. This is only a proxy file, not the final deliverable. The benefits of working in a "standard" resolution like 1920x1080 for your edit will outweigh the drawbacks of cropping or black bars.

Setting Up Your 12K Project in Resolve 

The first thing you'll need to do to create a proxy or dailies session in Resolve. Even if you are editing in another platform, it makes sense to make your dailies in Resolve. Fire up the software, and click on "new project" to create a new, fresh project. Navigate in the browser to your media, and bring it into the media pool.

Now that your media is in the media pool, you can see your resolution—12K, pretty exciting. 

Head on down to the gear icon in the lower right, and choose your timeline resolution. You'll notice that it's pretty much the "standard" resolutions. These are the resolutions that will interface the best with monitors, distributors, etc. You can do custom if you like, but we recommend sticking with a normal one.

You'll also notice that there isn't a "12K" timeline resolution. The largest is 8K. 12K isn't a delivery format yet. There aren't 12K monitors yet. It's just not a 12K world yet, so honestly, this makes sense. If you test on your system, you'll likely also notice that 8K timelines play slower than 1080p resolutions. With Resolve, you need to select one timeline resolution for the entire project; you can't mix 8K and 1080p timelines in a single project.

The beauty of Resolve is you can change this whenever you want. You can work for most of the time at 1080p, then shift to 8K right before delivery. The way Resolve is designed, it will rescale all your work and then render it at full resolution for delivery. In fact, if you go in to deliver at 8K resolution, and your timeline is still set to 1080p, it'll give you a warning.

We recommend either 1080p or 720p as a timeline resolution. Standard, functional, and if you are working on a 2500-pixel laptop screen, still plenty of resolution for editing with.

Once you have selected your timeline resolution, you can bring your footage from your media pool into your timeline and start working.

Creating Proxies in DaVinci Resolve 

Now that we've set up the project in Resolve, let's create the proxy files. There are a few reasons to create proxy files besides an easier edit.

You can make proxy files to be imported into another editor like Premiere, Final Cut, or Media Composer. Or you can make proxy files to be viewed as dailies by a client or director. If you're planning to edit directly within Resolve, I suggest using the Optimized Media tool. If going to another editing platform, you can skip down to the dailies section below.

Optimized Media Tool

The Optimized Media tool is a workflow designed for a single editor. If you have multiple editors, you can still use the tool, but you'll want to make duplicates of the proxies for each editor and share both your cache file and your .drp files to collaborate remotely. 

With the tool, Resolve automatically generates its own proxy files, placing them in the cache file folder. Then as you edit, you are working with those optimized media files. This is slightly different than something like Premiere, where it creates the proxy media in the same folder as the source media. By working with a single dedicated cache folder, it makes moving the project around or sharing easier with other team members. It's much easier to copy a cache file to an external drive or send it along to someone else for working without having to go through every folder searching for proxy media.

Optimized Media Tool Settings

Before generating the optimized media, you want to check a few settings. Click on the gear in the lower right corner and select Master Settings. Scroll down to the cache file location, and place it somewhere fast. Either an internal SSD or a dedicated external SSD.

Then scroll up and set your proxy settings. We recommend ProRes LT and have had good results with "automatic" for choosing the proxy file resolution. I've tested a few resolutions, and since the files are 12K, we found 1/8 resolution proxy files were roughly equivalent to 720p files and looked fine on a laptop. The "automatic" setting is going to be based on your system and its power, so if you are making your optimized media on a big tower but going to be editing on a laptop, you might want to make the decision yourself to go for a smaller resolution like 1/8. When on a powerful system, Resolve might make 1/2 resolution proxies that work fine on the big tower, but bring your laptop to a crawl.

Select the files you want to generate optimized media for in the media pool, right-click, and select Generate Optimized Media. This will take a while, so leave the system sitting somewhere comfortable and check in occasionally. Once this render is done, you'll have a cache folder full of proxy files ready to edit with.

The Optimized Media workflow is quite nice when working natively in Resolve. When editing working with proxy media, you should find your system easier to handle and get faster feedback, especially when stacking up a lot of tracks or effects.

Pro Tip: When doing your final delivery, you can click on the "use optimized media" button to tell Resolve to render using optimized media. This will lead to a dramatically faster final render, though of course at the lower quality of your optimized media. This is great for editorial approval renders, but shouldn't be used for color approvals or your final master render.

Creating Proxies for Dailies/Import Into Other Editing Software

The term dailies dates back from when we used to make "daily" runs to the film lab to get film developed or Telecined for viewing the next day. Now with digital workflows, you no longer have to do this, but we still think of "dailies" as footage that has been processed to get ready for viewing and edit.

You can follow these steps to make proxies in Resolve to be used as dailies, or to be edited into another editor.

Your first step is bringing the relevant media into the media pool. While you can sync your sound here, we actually don't recommend it. Most sound recordists use multi-track audio for recording, and that metadata won't pass through with your QuickTime proxy file. All modern editing systems offer ways to use the multi-channel .wav files to your best advantage. That way, if you want to switch between the boom, lavaliers, or the production mix, you can do that.

You can then bring all of your footage into the main timeline. This would be a great time to apply a contrast adjustment if you want. I find 1.65 works well on the 12K footage or a LUT. You can even adjust the camera RAW settings on a project or clip basis to "rough in" the footage. As a general rule, you shouldn't spend too much time on this. After all, not all of these shots will make the final edit. However, a quick look now will often put the footage in a good place to evaluate its use in the edit.

On the Deliver page, you want to select Individual shots. You then go to the File tab and click on the radio button for Source name. Select your chosen resolution and codec. Again, we recommend 1280x720 ProRes LT for anything where you are on a lower-powered laptop or sharing media. Otherwise, 1920x1080 is just fine. Then select the destination. Click Add to Render Queue and then Start Render. 

DaVinci Resolve will then render out the proxy files that can be used as dailies or be imported into another editing program. 

Included with the export will be an XML file that allows you to bring the shots back into Resolve for additional editing or color grading. For XML setups, you can choose to reconnect with the original RAW files from the camera to grade and master. 

Reconnecting Media for Color Grading

When it comes time for the final color grade, or to deliver the final export, you're going to want to connect the proxy files to the RAW files.

To do this, first add the RAW files to the media pool before you import the XML. Then you import the XML and make sure you do not select Automatically Import Source Files. Instead, select Ignore File Extensions When Matching. Since you kept the file names the same, Resolve will reconnect the .braw files. 

If your system is too slow, you can generate optimized media for your shots, but I recommend adjusting your RAW settings for clips before generating optimized media. Optimized media will bake in the RAW adjustments somewhat. In addition, you can go to the top of your color timeline and have the system automatically make render proxies in the background for shots that you work on heavily. 

Some effects like noise correction are very processor-intensive, and once you drop noise correction on a shot, playback can slow down. Using the proxy render tool can be helpful to keep working smoothly. If you are not familiar, it's also good to get used to rendering individual nodes as well.

For instance, let's say you did the noise correction on a node, then decided to add a vignette. This would break the proxy and it would need to be re-rendered. But if you render the noise correction node, then add the vignette node after the rendered node, you don't lose your rendering and don't have to wait for it to render again.

Final Deliverable 

Once you have finished your project, it's time to deliver your video. If working in Resolve (which most of you will do for final color, even if you do editorial elsewhere), you'll navigate to the edit tab to create your deliverables. This usually includes a mezzanine file, which is the archival master file you'll use to make other versions, generally a full resolution ProRes4444. 

The highest resolution you can currently render is 8K, and many of you will want to do that, though 4K is likely the highest resolution for most current display technology. Whichever resolution you choose, be sure to double-check that the timeline resolution is equal to or greater than your render resolution. If you have a 1080p timeline, for instance, and a 2160p output render, Resolve will lower the quality of your source fil down to 1080p before up-resing it back to UHD 2160p. 

If you have things set properly (with a 2160p timeline and a 2160p render output), you will be much better off, with the footage coming in at the highest possible quality through the image pipeline.

You can also make your YouTube, Vimeo, and other renders at this time. Most users prefer to do a single test render, then watch it all the way through as a quality control (QC) step, before making multiple other renders. It would be very frustrating to wait 24 hours for eight versions to render and only then to catch a stray errant flash frame in your edit. 

Blackmagic's eGPU

One thing to consider is the Blackmagic eGPUwhich is an external graphics processing unit designed in collaboration with Apple. It's designed to add additional processing power for slower machines, specifically for video and VR workflows. 

If you search on eBay for a used one, there are a lot of great deals. In our tests using a 13" MacBook Pro, which is powerful enough to cut 4K ProRes with ease, we got 4-5x speeds on rendering 12K RAW files into either optimized media or final exports. That's a huge speed boost.

Blackmagic isn't currently selling any new eGPUs, so you'll need to hunt for one. Hopefully, Blackmagic will come out with a new eGPU soon.

Conclusion

It's impressive how well integrated the entire system is between the URSA Mini Pro 12K, Blackmagic RAW, and DaVinci Resolve. Even the eGPU added to the mix will save you time. 

12K workflows should be treated no differently than 4K, 6K, or 8K workflows when it comes to creating proxies. They will be a lifesaver. However, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that a single stream of 12K video in a 1080p timeline could play on the 2020 13" MacBook Pro. That said, once you start stacking up layers for a split-screen or cross dissolve, the machine does struggle. And if you are working with an older or less powerful system, proxy workflow is the way to go. 

While it might be easier to spend $15K on a new Mac Pro, we find that with a little patience and know-how, it's quite possible to handle these files on less powerful machines.      

Your Comment

1 Comment

Davinci has many option to optimize timeline without create proxy file:
- Proxy mode (not create proxy but use scaled version of clip on fly, work with DI codecs and obviously with Braw clips)
- caching clips
- caching node
- caching effects
- scaling timeline
and more... Resolve allow me to edit 12k clip also on my small i5 16gb vega64 computer with clip on mechanical disk. check better the manual of resolve about optimization before to do proxy file, you could be amazed how smart it is ;-D

November 3, 2020 at 2:50PM

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Carlo Macchiavello
Director (with strong tech knowledge)
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Will I have to avoid using any ken burns effects and key framing shots like zoom in and panning in the offline edit as the resolution will be 720p and when I conform to 8K those key frames will be redundant as they have been set in place for a 720P clip?

November 5, 2020 at 4:51AM

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