To complement Quentin’s workshop on colour grading, I thought I’d chime in with an article on my recent experiences grading a film with DaVinci Resolve. Whilst colour corrector effects that come with editing software are functionable and will improve the look of your film, to do more advanced and complicated work you need to look at stand-alone grading tools. (That being said, plug-ins from companies like Baselight could be starting to change that, but that’s another topic.)
Previously I’d done my grading work using Apple Color. This was an application included with the old Final Cut Studio; powerful, but had some constantly niggling features with the workflow. It was very difficult to get all the footage from the FCP timeline into Color and back again. Even more difficult when the footage was coming from a source other than FCP.
So I was very happy when Blackmagic Design released a totally free version of it’s high-end grading tool, DaVinci Resolve. Here’s a quick write up of my first full project with the software.
Out of Avid into Resolve
I’d edited the film in Avid Media Composer and there are three options to get the footage out of Avid and into Resolve:
1) Export an AAF (Advanced Authoring Format)
2) Export an EDL (Edit Decision List)
3) Export a Quicktime movie.
Option 3 can be used with the Scene Detection mode in Resolve. What this does is to analyse the Quicktime file for cuts and then chops the file up into separate clips to be graded. Not really ideal, but it can be extremely useful if someone just gives you a Quicktime file of their movie without the original source footage.
Option 2 is the classic way of getting timeline information out of NLEs, but is usually limited to one video track. So if you have multiple tracks in your edit you’d have to export an EDL for each track.
Option 1 is by far the best and the method I used. HOWEVER, frustrating experiences with Color still made me cautious and I followed the usual procedure before exporting the timeline which was to put all clips on one video track, remove titles and remove audio tracks. You would also remove any effects you had applied. Now, I’d applied some resizing and retiming effects to some clips, but completely forgot to remove them. It didn’t prove to be a problem though, as we’ll see.
The next step is to open up Resolve and import the AAF.
Through the dialogue box you can automatically set the project settings (frame rate, frame size etc.) and automatically import the source file clips. So what have I just done here? Basically, I’ve exported something that resembles a text file from Avid, saying what clips I’ve used and what portions of those clips I’ve used (the timecode), what I’ve done to those clips (effects) and where I’ve put them in my timeline. Sort of like a description of the edit in words and numbers. Resolve then reads this file, goes and gets the clips and puts them into its Media Pool. It then picks out the portions of the clips I’ve used and assembles them in the order I’ve edited them into.
Now this allows for a nice feature: doing a very easy online conform. For example, suppose we’re editing some RED footage at 5k resolution and the lowest compression. Not many of us own a computer powerful enough to handle that footage, even at 1/4 resolution. So perhaps we would edit with proxy files. These proxy files would be no good for a cinema release, so we’d have to somehow replace the proxy clips with the real high-res clips when we’re done editing. Resolve would let us do that, simply by unchecking “Automatically import source clips”. We would then put the high res footage into the Media Pool ourselves and Resolve would select those portions of the clips we used.
Now, you can see it didn’t pick up the effects I’d applied to two clips, because they’re Avid effects and Resolve doesn’t support them. We’ll come back to those in a minute. For the time being, we’re free to grade! I’m not going to go into actual grading much in this article, but here’s a quick video showing how I graded a skyline in my film:
Getting out of Resolve
Now to get out of Resolve and into my finishing application (where we re-apply effects, add titles etc. In my case, it was Avid again) I rendered the graded clips and exported another AAF. I opened up this AAF back in Avid and my edit is there, but with the graded clips. And here’s the bit that really impressed me: those effects that Resolve didn’t show were re-applied back in Avid! I didn’t have to do anything. That never happened to me in Color…
There’s still a huge amount to learn with Resolve. I’ll continue to post whenever I find out something cool.