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Tuesday, 07 May 2013 14:23

Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve 9

Written by  David Hurd
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davinci_resolve9_smOver the years, I’ve noticed that one of the main differences between amateur and professional videographers lies in how they handle the color correction process. While the amateur just shoots and cuts, the professional will even out and match shots while also fixing bad lighting and color balance problems. Color correction plug-ins are available for most editing platforms, but they pale in comparison to the power of the DaVinci Resolve 9 — and for a good reason.

Since 1983, most feature films have been color corrected on a DaVinci system, and, a few years ago, those systems cost somewhere between $500K and $800K, which is out of reach for the average shop. Thankfully, Blackmagic Design’s purchase of the company resulted in a severe price adjustment, so you can now enjoy this wonderful tool for just $10K to $50K, depending on your panel and computer system. (The card and software are only about $2K, but you’ll also need a workstation-level computer with a RAID, GPU cards, monitors and a control panel to be most effective.) Blackmagic Design has also made it very easy to own the company’s software by giving away a free version. While fully functional, this free version limits the amount of “nodes” you can use at one time, but it’s still a great way to get started. And if you purchase the company’s digital cinema camera (for about $3K), you’ll get a free copy of Resolve 9’s Pro version (worth $1,000), bringing the cost of the camera down to $2,000. For a camera that shoots 2.5K RAW images, it’s a really great deal.

Resolve 9 has some wonderful improvements over version 8. Most NLEs let you edit together any kind of footage you want on a single timeline, regardless of frame rate. Since you can only output one frame rate as your finished media file or tape output, prior versions of Resolve forced you to have all of your footage from a particular project be of the same frame rate — and this involved tedious, time-consuming conversions. Resolve 9 lets you mix and match whatever frame rates you’ll need in a single project, so you can work much faster. When rendering a mixed frame-rate timeline, you can output in two ways: In Source mode, each clip is rendered at its native frame rate so you can send it to another NLE or finishing application. In Target mode, all of the frames are converted to the frame rate specified by the “calculate timecode at” setting of that project. This lets you output the entire project as a single media file at the target frame rate.

To be fast at color correction, similar clips need to be grouped together so you can correct them all at once. You can accomplish this with Resolve 9’s new feature Lightbox View. While working in the Color page, you can click the Lightbox View button to see every clip in your timeline at once. You can scan through your project looking for a particular scene and make multiple selections to create groups. You can also easily correct the whole group at once. In addition, the Flag command lets you assign different colored flags to various clips. Flagging clips by color can save a lot of time and mental energy if you’re working on a long-form project.

blackmagic-design-davinci-resolve-softwareWith Resolve 9, handling metadata is more streamlined. Organized into groups, more metadata is available from a pop-up menu at the upper right-hand corner of the metadata editor. And in the Clip Attributes window found in the Media Pool, you can select multiple clips and change them all at once. This also applies to data levels, pixel aspect ratio settings, timecode alteration, per-clip reel-name changes, alpha channel mode, and stereoscopic 3D media assignments. The Custom Curves window has also been updated. By clicking a button at the bottom of the Custom Curves window, you’ll get a new, bigger Large Curve mode, which is helpful for making precision adjustments. It’s a huge version of the same curves with all the same controls. After using them for a while, you’ll see that they’re a useful improvement, giving you more refined control over your curve-driven adjustments. Viewing scopes has also gotten more efficient with Resolve 9. The four individual scopes windows in version 8 have now been replaced by a single Scopes window. The Waveform, Parade, Vectorscope and Histogram are still there, but you can change the number of scopes displayed to 1-up, 2-up or the default 4-up, which lets you enlarge individual scopes for better viewing.

Since the performance of Resolve 9 is based on the GPU processing power of your workstation, using NVIDIA Quadro and Tesla cards will really boost your computer’s GPU performance. My Savage IO Databrick NLE workstation uses both cards to deliver outstanding Resolve 9 results. Learning to use Resolve 9 has also become a lot easier. The manual has been updated from 435 pages to 600 pages and includes basic tutorials for new users, as well as a detailed overview of how to get your projects from Avid Media Composer or Symphony to Resolve and back again. If you’ve never used Resolve, there’s a quick tutorial on how to bring a project in, do some grading, and render your project out. For a better learning experience, you can follow along using the sample media that comes on the DaVinci installer disk or downloaded from Blackmagic Design support.

Another new change is Resolve 9’s advanced, follow-along tutorials that are available from third parties. My favorite is the Tao of Color series. It’s not free, but if you want to become a colorist in the shortest amount of time (time is money, after all), this is the way to do it. Resolve 9 shines when color correcting RAW or Log footage, which is slowly replacing film. It easily uses LUTs to quickly see a basic grade of the footage, and has the tools to change one part of the frame without affecting everything else. Tracking has also been improved. The first time you fix a dark shot by adding light to an actor’s face and quickly track them across the screen, you will be a believer.

Resolve 9 rocks. Whether you’re softening backgrounds, adding shadows, or pulling out, muting or changing colors, the advanced toolset of Resolve 9 is hugely powerful — its possibilities are only limited by your creativity.

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