Reviews

A new resolve

Resolve12Post-production specialist Alistair Rankine tests the beta version of his favourite grading software, DaVinci Resolve 12, and declares that with some tweaking, it may become his favourite editing software too

It has been quite a few years since Blackmagic Design acquired DaVinci Resolve, taking it from a USD 350,000 colour grading workstation to the $995 and free versions that are available now. This year will mark a significant change to the product, as Blackmagic has now decided to completely change the interface as we know it. It’s not a complete makeover but it has changed significantly.

The first change is the name, which is now DaVinci Resolve 12 Studio. I am not sure of the significance of the addition of ‘Studio’. I initially imagined that Blackmagic had incorporated its recently acquired compositing software Digital Fusion inside Resolve to make a full-on grading/compositing studio. My guess is that it’s called Studio to distinguish it from the free version. If so, this is a good way for clients to know whether they are in a session with the full software or the free version.

On booting the software, there doesn’t seem to be too much of a change in the user’s login page, apart from the fact that they have changed the user setup icons from rectangular to circular. Not sure why they did this – looked fine before, purely aesthetics I imagine.

Once inside, the changes to the interface become very apparent. The high-contrast black interface has gone, replaced with a more stylish, modern and professional-looking mix of dark and light greys. Not only is this more pleasing to look at, but it is also easier on the eyes when looking at the screen for long periods of time. I have looked in the preferences to see if it is possible to modify the grey shading, but so far I haven’t found a way to do this. I think what you see is what you get. I personally like it, but some people may want to change it to suit the lighting in their suite.

The overall layout of the product is still the same. It still follows the same four-panel left to right workflow, media, edit, colour, deliver.

However, the initial headache comes when you try to navigate the system. There are so many buttons in different places. The project manager and project settings button are now on the bottom right instead of the bottom left. The way project bins are organised has changed, and many of the buttons are in totally different places.

When I did my first grading job on version 12, I really didn’t like the new interface. I was asking why? The reality of the situation is that I downloaded the software and just got stuck in it. I didn’t take any time to step back and take it all in but when I did, something new unravelled before me.

Blackmagic has taken a fantastic piece of software and made it even better. The first thing I noticed was how much faster and smoother the interface is.

The media panel seems less cluttered than it was before, making it much easier to navigate, with the option of adding smart bins which automatically update as you add and remove footage from Resolve. It is now much easier to organise your project inside Resolve, especially useful for long-format projects where organisation is key.

Moving to the edit panel, we see the master/bins at the top stacked on top of each other, giving a more ergonomic feel to the process of organising clips. Again, some button placement has changed within the timeline. The timeline effect library is now on the top left of the screen, as is the edit index menu. At first, this is a little confusing, but after a while it’s a quick and easy way to turn menus on and off. It’s just a matter of retraining your muscle memory.

The timeline zoom has also moved, and I still haven’t got used to that. It now sits above the timeline. I feel this is an unusual place for it, as most NLEs have this underneath, where it makes sense. I have never really liked the timeline zoom tool. It seems very clunky, and I had real trouble with it being very sticky on a long-format project. That said, it is now possible to toggle zoom in and out of the timeline, which is much smoother.

On entering the colour menu, the first thing I noticed was that the colour curve editor has changed. I feel they have made more of a feature of this menu, as it is the first thing I saw when I entered the colour menu. I imagine this is to appeal to people moving over from other applications such as Photoshop, After Effects and other software with similar controls. The curves menu is now one large window with individually selectable luminance, red, green and blue values.

There are also bezier handles inside the curve menu, making it easier to obtain the exact colour you’re looking for. In truth, I found myself using these menus a great deal more than I did on Resolve 11. Having worked on a lot of different platforms, I really enjoyed the new Curve Editor.

It took a while to find the saturation slider in my primaries, because a two-level menu has been added to the bottom left of the screen with High, ColBoost, Shad and Mix (previously in the colour match panel) placed in tab 2 and Contrast, Pivot and Saturation in tab 1. The menu automatically defaults to tab 2 when the software starts up. Not a big issue, but something to look out for.

Now let’s put my first impression aside and talk about the actual changes in Resolve.

First up, the media management for the software has been given an upgrade. It is now possible to archive and restore projects from Resolve with handles, making it easier to collaborate with other systems. Clip management has also been improved, making it easier to delete, copy and consolidate material.

Huge improvements have been made to the timeline, making editing a more pleasurable experience. Not that it was bad before, I just think it needed some tweaks.

Like the rest of the software, working in the timeline is now much faster and smoother. While on a few occasions it has frozen on me or become quite sticky, especially with the timeline zoom control, I am putting this down to the fact that this is a beta version and hope these issues will be ironed out in the final release.

A vast array of new features has been added to the timeline, including first clip automatic timeline creation, multi-camera editing – not something I use every day in my line of work, but something essential to many editors out there – and real-time audio playback for all playback speeds. This will certainly help Resolve move more into the editing market.

Working with audio in Resolve has always been an issue for me. As well as improved audio playback, it is now possible to pitch correct audio clips that have had speed changes applied. This is ideal when your voiceover is too long for your sequence. Support has been added for VST and AU audio plugins, as has the ability to cut and paste audio plugins, and it is now possible to control audio with JKL dynamic trimming. More importantly, Resolve now has an audio mixer, which is integral to any viable NLE.

The visual editing side of things has also been given an upgrade, with many new video editing features, including Slo Mo using the JKL keys, an expanded multi-selection trimming and the ability to nest a timeline inside another timeline.

A new feature here is the drop-down menu for retiming clips. With so many different video formats available, it is essential to be able to tweak retime options in order to create smoothly flawless retimed clips.

One of my favourite additions to the timeline is the smooth cut transitions function. This allows you to take an interview clip, cut out all the words you don’t need and then seamlessly morph the picture where you have made the cuts. This is perfect for those occasions when you are short on cutaways.

Another feature worth talking about is the multi-gesture trim tool, which automatically changes functionality based on where you are on the clip, without the need to constantly use hotkeys. It works very well and reminds me a lot of the timeline trim in the Nuke Studio.

I did, however, find slipping shots in the timeline a little tricky. It’s easy enough to slip a shot by the exact amount of frames, but when I move my cursor away, the shot moves off into a world of its own. On a few occasions, I have resorted to copying the clip to the layer above, slipping the image to where I want it and then dropping it back down. Not ideal, and not what I think of as editing; it certainly needs looking at before the actual release of Resolve 12.

Now, let’s move over to the colour tab, where everything seems familiar. As I mentioned earlier, the colour curves have been updated and now incorporate bezier handles for smoother manipulation.

A new keyer, 3D qualifier, has been added to complement the original HLS keyer. From what I understand from playing with it, the key is calculated by drawing vectors or lines on the area you want to key. Each line/vector calculates a different shade of the colour you are trying to pull the key from and combines them automatically. You can then use the clean black and clean white to perfect the matte. It works far better on skin tones than the previous qualifier and seems fairly easy to use.

Some work has been done to improve the tracker, which was already fairly impressive – a new 3D tracker has been added, which holds a shape even better than before. It is now easier to re-animate the tracker should it go off, as the animation curve now sits directly in the Tracker tab and now has the ability to animate individual points on a shape.

Changes have been also made to the colour management system RCM, in the master project settings tab inside the project setting window. This allows you to take individual camera clips and associate them with their own colour space in the final timeline, eliminating the need to constantly add LUTs to footage from different cameras.

Lastly, moving to the deliver tab, we can now export our audio on its own, which had been needed for a long time. We also have the ability to export to ProTools as any standard NLE should be able to, and the ability to render remotely.

As far as Blackmagic’s claim that the world’s best colour corrector is now the world’s best editor – only time will tell. Personally, from working on the beta version, I think they still have a little way to go to make it the best – I found it a little buggy and sticky.

I do, however, love the new editing interface and find it much more user-friendly than either FCP or Premiere. It even looks nicer, and it’s more responsive. I can certainly imagine cutting a 45-second TVC on it with no problem at all. I would like to road test it a little more before I start editing anything in long form, just to make sure it can handle the large amount of media this takes. I’m sure there will be no issues, as there is now support for multiple GPUs that allow the user to build dedicated workstations depending on what they use Resolve for.

From what I’ve seen so far, I would definitely like to edit and grade in Resolve without the use of other software. I think it all depends on the job at hand. Resolve is still among my favourite grading software, and from what I have seen so far, I think it may become my favourite editing software too. Like many, I also need access to compositing and design software without moving from platform to platform. I can achieve this in Autodesk Flame, Nuke Studio and Premiere Dynamically Linked to After Effects. I imagine we will eventually see Digital Fusion tucked inside Resolve Studio one day.

I have no doubt that Blackmagic is dedicated to product development and is putting a great deal more effort into making Resolve one of the best products in the market. I wish other companies had the same vision. I also believe how good or bad a product is comes down to the person operating it. It all depends on what market you’re in and what you’re doing with it.

I do, however, wish Blackmagic would stop offering ‘free’ software as a means of selling hardware. I could understand offering training versions of software or non-commercial, but from what I have seen over the past five years, the industry is being saturated with freeware. Quality is suffering, and I think there are huge implications for a sustainable industry if this continues in the future.

That said, I still believe DaVinci Resolve is leading the way with its commitment to the product line, and I don’t see any reason why Resolve won’t keep getting better and better.

Once again, well done Blackmagic!

Alistair Rankine is a Post Production Supervisor and multi-skilled artist at Muddville, Dubai.

Alistair Rankine is a Post Production Supervisor and multi-skilled artist at Muddville, Dubai.