I suspect you know what I’m going to say, but on the premise that it’s how you say it…
I suspect you know what I’m going to say, but on the premise that it’s how you say it…
Ripple Training is hard at work editing my “New Features in Resolve 12” title, which should be coming out really, really soon. To tide folks over until then, they’ve started posting some free new features videos I’ve made on the “DaVinci Resolve in Under 5 Minutes” section of their YouTube channel. Two came out today, and there are more to come covering both editing and grading features in the public beta of DaVinci Resolve 12.
The first of this week’s pair of new videos cover the new Smooth Cut transition in the Edit page, for eliminating “ums,” stutters, and other speech disfluencies, and patching up the hole. This feature’s effectiveness depends heavily on how much motion there is in the frame, so it won’t work for every jump cut you throw at it, and it works best when there’s a minimum of subject and camera movement. This video shows what it does.
The second video summarizes how to use the new 3D Qualifier, which is a brand new keyer in Resolve 12 that is often faster, more accurate, and can in many cases be more pleasant to use then the older HSL qualifier. Bottom line, this keyer should let you work more efficiently for most chroma key isolations.
The day has come. After months of development, the DaVinci Resolve 12 public beta is upon us, with dozens upon dozens of new features to use and explore, encompassing both the evolution of Resolve into a fully satisfying creative editing solution, as well as an extension of Resolve’s already powerful grading tools with fantastic new features and numerous workflow enhancements to make grading and finishing faster and smoother then ever.
(update) If you like video tutorials, Ripple Training has just released my “What’s New in DaVinci Resolve 12” title, in which over the course of five hours I provide an in-depth look at nearly every new feature found in DaVinci Resolve 12. If you hate reading, this is the next best thing to all the chapters I’m about to recommend in the updated user manual.
It’s no secret that I work with the Resolve design team at DaVinci, and also write the User Manual. Given the massive collection of features in this year’s release, the accompanying User Manual update was similarly enormous, and now that the manual has cracked the 1000 page mark (1095 pages in the beta version), with 704 new and updated screenshots at last count, it was clearly time to do a full reorganization of the chapters, in an effort to make it easier to find the information you’re looking for. Consequently, the Resolve 12 User Manual is divided into 44 chapters, with many valuable topics now appearing within their very own chapter for the first time. Check out the table of contents on pages 3-19 and you’ll see what I mean.
So, you ask, where do I start if I’m looking for what’s new?
Chapter 2, “Logging In and The Project Manager” will give you some new insights into how and why multi-user login screen is now optional for new installations, and how upgrading Resolve will work on current installations. There’s also updated information on new things you can do using Dynamic Project Switching (it’s now possible to copy/paste clips and timelines among different projects, and Dynamic Project Switching makes this faster), and it covers the new Archive feature, which is great for putting projects with media into long-term storage, or archiving projects to make it easier to hand them off to other facilities.
Chapter 5, “Improving Performance, Proxies, and the Render Cache,” is required reading. This chapter consolidates everything you can do to make Resolve run faster, which now includes the all-new ability to use “Optimized Media” (an updated spin on the old Pre-Rendered proxies mechanism Resolve had before) to work faster by turning processor-intensive media formats into faster-to-work-with clips using a format and proxy size of your choosing. Once you’ve optimized media, you can switch back and forth between the optimized and original media without needing to reconform or relink—it’s all managed by Resolve. Additionally, optimized media works with the real-time proxy command (which now lets you choose from Half and Quarter proxies), the Smart cache, and all of Resolve’s other features for improving performance, so this is a chapter worth understanding in its entirety if you want to get the most performance out of Resolve 12.
Chapter 6, “Data Levels, Color Management, and ACES” covers the brand new DaVinci Resolve Color Management, so head next to page 154 to learn all about how you can use Resolve Color Management (RCM) to deal with the varied color spaces of multiple media formats and log-encoded media without needing to use LUTs. Whether you’re a colorist, a finishing editor, or a creative editor, this new way of managing color just might speed you up.
Chapter 8, “Adding and Organizing Media,” has the new section on page 179 covering “Creating and Using Smart Bins,” which is Resolve’s way of letting you use multi-criteria searches employing clip metadata to automatically pull together all clips sharing a particular set of metadata. It’s a really sophisticated implementation that allows you to search for all of some criteria but any of other criteria, enabling you to build really flexible searches.
Chapter 9, “Working With Media,” starts out with information on the new Display Name column of the Media Pool, that lets you create more human-readable clip names that will be displayed in the Timeline. Chapter 9 also includes information on Resolve’s new “Auto-Sync Audio Based On Waveform” commands, which do waveform matching to sync dual-source audio with video recordings that have matching camera audio recorded. Additionally, the section on Changing Clip Attributes has been updated with much more information on how you can use the Clip Attributes window to tailor the clips in your project to suit your needs.
One of Resolve’s most powerful new tools is the ability to simply and easily relink media. This feature is explained succinctly on page 201, but it’s explained much more fully in Chapter 22, “Importing Projects and Relinking Media.” In particular, page 490, “How DaVinci Resolve Conforms Clips,” and page 529, “Manually Conforming and Relinking Media,” have been extensively rewritten to explain the difference between “Relinking” and “Conforming” (a new distinction I make to explain how Resolve works with media more clearly), and discusses the numerous methods Resolve 12 employs to manage the relationship between clips in the Media Pool and media files on disk (linking), versus the relationship between clips in a Timeline and clips in the Media Pool (conforming). If you want to understand what’s happening under the hood, this is an important chapter for you to read.
Of course, the vastly improved editing environment is one of the big new aspects of this release. Multicam editing, superior audio playback performance, better JKL responsiveness, expanded multi-selection trim capabilities, better dynamic trimming, media management tools, and hugely increased audio capabilities including audio filter support for both clips and tracks, track level and filter keyframing, mixer automation recording, and ProTools export make Resolve 12 into a great NLE with the tightest grading integration in the industry.
The chapters that encompass Resolve’s editing capabilities range from Chapter 13, “Using the Edit Page, through Chapter 21, Media Management. That’s nine chapters of editing information, but here are the highlights.
Chapter 15, “Working in the Timeline,” covers Resolve’s new re-syncing contextual menu commands for automatically dealing with audio and video items that have gone out of sync.
Chapter 16, “Multicam Editing, Take Selectors, Compound Clips, and Nested Timelines” cover all of Resolve’s multi-clip editing capabilities, headlining with version 12’s new Multicam editing tools, which are comprehensive and incredible. This chapter also covers how you can nest one timeline inside of another, which is yet one more new feature available in version 12.
Chapter 17, “Trimming,” has expanded and rewritten this part of the manual to cover all of the newest trimming capabilities that Resolve offers, specifically the ability to make multiple selections on the same track to simultaneously ripple, roll, slip, and now even slide multiple clips or edits at once. This includes making selections to do asymmetric trims on the same track, which opens up some really useful new shortcuts when you’re hammering a sequence into shape. This chapter also covers the new Dynamic Trimming mode accessed using the “W” keyboard shortcut, which lets you use all of the JKL transport commands to trim whatever clips you have selected, in real time, with audio playback and the ability to choose which edit point you’re monitoring when you’ve selected multiple objects.
Chapter 18, “Transitions,” covers the new transition curve you can use to customize transition timing, as well as the all new “Smooth Cut” transition that you can use to make small jump cuts, that result from removing unwanted verbalisms and pauses in interviews, disappear.
Chapter 19, “Edit Page Effects,” shows you how to use Resolve’s new motion path keyframing with easing controls right in the Edit Page, on page 432.
Chapter 20, “Working With Audio,” has several new sections, including one at the beginning of the chapter covering Resolve’s new support for AAC, MP3, and AIF audio formats at sample rates up to 192 kHz. A revised section covers how assigning audio channels in the Media Pool affects your ability to edit multi-channel audio, and is required reading. Then, three new sections at the end cover how you can now record clip and track level automation in real time using the mixer, how to expose and keyframe using the new Track level overlay, how you can apply AudioUnit (on OS X) or VST (on OS X or Windows) audio filters to clips right in Resolve, and how you can export to ProTools when you decide it’s time to hand off your audio postproduction to a professional.
Chapter 21, “Media Management,” covers the new Media Management commands in version 12, which let you move, copy, or transcode the media associated with clips in the Media Pool, or within specific timelines, with the ability to automatically relink your project’s timelines to the newly managed media you’ve put in another location.
If you’re a colorist, or an editor who does a lot of color, Resolve 12 has much more for you to love. Chapter 24, “Using the Color Page,” covers the new Smart Filter capabilities, that let you create your very own multi-criteria thumbnail timeline filters for filtering and sorting the clips you’re grading using any combination of metadata available from the Metadata Editor. Chapter 25, “Color Page Basics,” describes the new “Shot Match” command that lets you automatically grade multiple selected clips to match one another, as a prelude to grading a scene. Chapter 26, “Curves,” is a dedicated chapter that contains all new information on using Resolve’s new unified Custom Curve UI, that you’re going to love.
Moving on, Chapter 27, “Secondary Grading Controls,” has been expanded to include the new 3D Keyer mode of the Qualifier palette, which is a brand-new high-quality keyer focused on letting you work faster, and giving you more specific results right off the bat. In conjunction with the new Matte Finesse controls “Clean Black” and “Clean White,” (page 696) which let you remove speckles and holes from the background and foreground of a Key matte really easily, Resolve 12 makes it even easier to create great secondary corrections. Later in the chapter, page 722 covers the new Perspective 3D option of the tracker, which makes the tracking of windows to follow features in a scene even more powerful and accurate. Lastly, page 734 covers the new automatic keyframing for rotoscoping capabilities built into Resolve’s tracker palette. Once you try keyframing windows this new way, you’ll never want to use the Keyframe Editor to do this again.
Chapter 28, ” The Gallery and Grade Management,” has sections on version 12’s new ability to let you ripple adjustments made to one node to multiple selected clips (or to all clips in a group), as well as appending a new node to multiple selected clips. This is a great new capability for situations where you don’t want to have to make a group just to ripple a change to a selection of clips, and is the kind of feature that will enable you to grade faster then before.
Chapter 30, “Working in the Node Editor,” covers several new updates to node editing that you’ll want to read about. First, the Parallel, Layer, and Key Mixer nodes have been updated with a new look, making your node tree easier to read. Second, the Key Mixer node (page 886) has been made much easier to work with as all node input controls are now simultaneously exposed in the Key Palette. Third, you can now select multiple nodes and turn them into a single Compound node, which contains multiple nodes of adjustment while only exposing a single node in the Node Editor. You can open compound nodes to edit the contents, and even grade compound nodes to “trim” the contents, all of which is covered on page 865. Last, but not least, there’s a new Node Editor contextual command, “Cleanup Node Graph,” which lets you auto-organize messy node graphs with ease.
Furthermore, if you’re a pro colorist and you’ve always wished you knew what Resolve’s order of operations was under the hood, page 869 has a thorough explanation of which operations happen prior to the node editor, which operations happen within each node, and which operations take place after the node operator.
Chapter 35, “Rendering Media,” has been updated to reflect the new ProTools Export easy setup, as well as the new reorganization of the Render Settings list to make it faster then ever for you to customize your renders to output what you need. Additionally, while not new, the section in Chapter 38, “Exporting Timelines to Other Applications,” has an expanded section on Exporting to ALE for anyone within a Media Composer workflow.
Obviously, there’s much, much more to this release, but these are the highlights that should get you started.
(update) Even now, I’m recording (update) I’ve finished recording (update) As I’d mentioned at the top of this article, Ripple Training has released my “New Features in Resolve 12” video tutorials, which runs through all of these features and more with a fine-tooth comb, showing you how all the new toys work. I’m hoping it comes out within a couple of weeks. Also, check out Ripple Training’s YouTube channel for my ongoing “Resolve In A Rush” free Resolve tip series, which will soon include new tips for DaVinci Resolve 12.
(Updated 7/13/15) Another festival list update; as “The Place Where You Live” is up to nineteen festival acceptances, with six awards presented, and one additional award nomination. The last few festivals finally required a poster, resulting in the image now gracing this post. After all, what good are film festival laurels and awards if you can’t show them off somewhere?
There are now three upcoming screenings, so if you’re in Saint Paul, Wisconsin, or Italy, you can see our film on the big screen:
This now constitutes all acceptances from all festivals that I’ve entered. Barring any last-minute invitations, I finished entering festivals months ago, so there are no more deadlines on my list. However, the last three acceptances have caused me to push out the public release of “The Place Where You Live” to September. Everyone’s been incredibly patient during my film festival adventures, and I apologize for this last push out, but I really hadn’t anticipated the last-minute festival response we got. Still, September is set in stone, and this gives me ample time to prepare its rollout.
As I mentioned previously, my last tour on the festival circuit with my indie feature “Four Weeks, Four Hours” garnered six acceptances, so this is what progress looks like, and I couldn’t be happier.
I gave a DaVinci Resolve 12 demo in June to the Mopictive User Group in New York, and they posted a video of the event for all to see. I give a look at how well integrated the new features of Resolve 12 are, letting you move quickly and easily from creative editing to grading to fine trimming to more grading to audio mixing to even more grading, going back and forth with a single click of the mouse. There are some really fantastic new features to show, including multicam editing, advanced color management, automatic shot matching, expanded trimming and dynamic trimming, automation recording and audio filter support, improved tracking, a new keyer, and way, way more.
As of this year, DaVinci Resolve 12 is truly an integrated editing and grading application in which you can begin an edit, grade it, and finish your program all within a single application. And of course I’ll have new Ripple Training titles available later this summer to help you learn how to use it all.
I start at 43 minutes in.
I’ve been continuing to post five minute tips videos about DaVinci Resolve via the Ripple Training YouTube channel; folks have really been liking them, so I’m inclined to continue doing them, and I thought it worth giving everyone a reminder that they’re there. Here are most two most recent videos that have gotten the most eyeballs. Enjoy!
There’s a Tumblr making the rounds called “Shit People Say to Women Directors.” It’s worth reading to see what women in our industry are having to put up with. It’s ridiculous, in this day and age, that anyone can make these sorts of comments with a straight face. I’ve spent my entire career, from film school through my various jobs in post, working with a variety of talented directors who happen to be women, and the notion that gender imposes any kind of limitation on the job is ludicrous.
Put more bluntly, there is no shortcoming I’ve seen ascribed to women directors that I’ve not also seen exhibited by male directors. I know from personal experience, as a director of one one feature and several shorts, that directing is a grueling gig. At the end of the day, it’s preparation, experience, creativity, and character that separate good directors from terrible ones.
I studied theater arts with an emphasis in film production at U.C. Santa Cruz, and of the professors I considered very influential, two were women. Deborah Fort was a visiting film production professor, whose critical eye and ability to articulate the importance of taking responsibility for the images in your frame stick with me on every project I direct. Marcia Taylor was a formidable directing and acting professor with vast experience, whose practical advice on stagecraft, and direct critiques of my various directing exercises drove me to work harder and prepare more rigorously; when she told the class that “every production you undertake as a director will require everything you’ve ever learned,” she wasn’t kidding, and I find this to be true even 25 years later.
If my memory serves me correctly, our film program’s small classes were somewhere around 75% male and 25% female, and I fell into to working alongside many of the women in my class on their projects; the nature of the program was that everyone did a little of everything, so I worked as a student on several woman-directed projects, and they worked with me on mine. Not once did I ever feel that the women were somehow less talented, in-charge, or in any other way less capable. We were all in it together, and good work (and tedious work) was exhibited equally by everyone.
Moving to San Francisco where I started my postproduction career, I encountered many women directors at the Film Arts Foundation and Bay Area Video Coalition, both organizations of which were dedicated to enabling work outside of the mainstream. As an editor, then later as a broadcast designer, I worked for many women clients, directors and producers, on many varied productions, and looking back I find no generalizations worth making that relate to gender.
Moving later to Los Angeles and Manhattan, where I completed the metamorphosis of the post-production part of my career into a colorist, I worked with many more women directors. And transgender directors. And of course male directors. The good ones were good because of preparation, experience, and creativity. Gender, in my experience, played no role in who was great to work with, and whose work I thought was solid.
And not that I need any more examples, but I’m married to a woman who’s an extremely talented director, with whom I’ve worked in both production and post on two shorts. With twin backgrounds in acting and art direction (she’s been the production designer on all of my recent films, as I’ve been the editor and colorist on hers), she comes at the craft from a different skill-set then I do, and I often find myself envious at the comfortable way she’s able to work with her actors.
If you think that men make better directors then women, you’re wrong. And if you’re lucky enough to get a job on a film, as tough as this industry is, and you can find yourself able to insult or demean the woman who’s directing because of her gender, then you should be fired. It’s the 21st century, and well past time to leave this kind of baggage behind us.
If that sounds like a good time to you, then you’re in luck. As a bit of an experiment, I’ve done a brand new title for Ripple Training called “DaVinci Resolve: Color Grading a Scene” (catchy title, I know). Since Ripple had the misfortune of releasing it just as llamas and dresses were taking over the internet for a day, I figured I’d take the opportunity to describe it in more detail.
As long as I’ve been doing videos for Ripple Training, folks have been asking me for years to show more hands-on techniques and real-world workflows. So, when Steve sent me a short scene he’d shot that was just begging for aggressive stylization, it seemed like a perfect excuse to do something different. In this three-hour tutorial, I grade a short scene from beginning to end, using whatever techniques came to mind to turn this small 5D project into a stylized horror scene. In the process, I go beyond explaining the tools, showing them used as you would within the context of an entire project, illustrating concretely how Resolve works when grading real-world material.
This project did a great job of showing Resolve’s various tools working together. Also, because it was shot using the 5D, it was a nice challenge to show how far you can push highly-compressed source material, if you’re careful. The nature of the scene was such that I used a wide variety of techniques, from primary Lift/Gamma/Gain corrections, to extensive curve adjustments, different methods for shot comparison, windows, tracking, HSL Qualifiers, keyframing, sharpening and midtone detail adjustments, blanking, pan & scan reframing using input sizing controls, and many more small tools and adjustments, all working together to create the final finished product.
So, if you’d like to kick back, watch me work and hear me talk my way through the grading of an actual project, and maybe pick up some new tricks, then this title is for you. Go check it out, it’s discounted for a limited time only.
If you’re a DaVinci Resolve user who’s about to grade a project shot with any of the Blackmagic Design cameras and recorded using CinemaDNG raw, you should seriously consider upgrading to Resolve 11.2.1 if you haven’t already started your project (if you’ve already started, then don’t upgrade yet, as a matter of principle).
One of the more significant updates is an improvement to CinemaDNG debayering inside of Resolve, which will improve any CinemaDNG raw clip being debayered to Rec. 709 regardless of when it was shot or what Blackmagic Camera it’s from.
If you open the CinemaDNG option of the Camera Raw panel of the Project Settings, you’ll see the following Camera Raw controls. The new features are the “Apply Pre Tone Curve” and “Apply Soft Clip” checkboxes.
The “Apply Pre Tone Curve” checkbox, which is on by default for previously created projects, exists to preserve backward compatibility with the previous method of debayering for projects you’ve already graded (in which your adjustments depend on the original debayered output). However, I’m also told that the Pre Tone Curve setting may look better with CinemaDNG raw files coming from other sources, so if you’re importing .dng media from cameras other then those from Blackmagic Design, you can always try toggling this on to see which type of debayering you prefer.
If you turn this checkbox off, or if you create a brand new project in Resolve 11.2.1 or higher in which this checkbox is off by default, then you’re using a newer, nicer-looking method of debayering for all CinemaDNG media in your project. Here’s a comparison of the old vs. new debayering:
Additionally, there’s also a new “Apply Soft Clip” checkbox (it’s off by default). With this checkbox turned on, you cannot reenable “Apply Pre Tone Curve,” as this is an optional function of the new debayering, that serves to bring high dynamic range parts of the signal (super bright highlights) back into the picture as image detail you can see and adjust, similarly to if you’d used the Highlights control to retrieve this part of the signal. Here’s a comparison of a snowy wide shot using the old debayering, versus the new debayering with Soft Clip turned on.
With the current project I’m working on, shot using the Blackmagic URSA camera, I’ve found the new debayering settings immediately provides an image with denser shadows, more neutral color balance, and richer color; an image that’s easier to grade right off the bat when debayering straight to Rec. 709. Obviously this is just a starting point, but a better starting point reduces the number of steps it takes you to get to the final image you want. This is a welcome improvement that, frankly, makes the raw output of all Blackmagic cameras look even better right from the get go, no matter when the material was shot.
I received a question from Anthony that reflects similar questions I’ve gotten from other folks around the world, paraphrased here:
I was wondering if you could answer a question that I’ve been wrestling with… Is any one software better in terms of QUALITY for color correction? …For instance, if I were to use a curves adjustment and then a three way color corrector theoretically using the exact same settings, would quality degradation be more or less prevalent in after effects, premiere, colorista, resolve, or speedgrade?
Everyone knows that I consult for DaVinci, and that Resolve is the software I use for both my client and personal work. That said, I’ve used many apps, have written about several, and as far as I’ve seen, you can do high quality work with the current version of just about every image-processing postproduction application on the market, be it Resolve, Baselight, Rio, Nucoda, SpeedGrade, Scratch, After Effects, Nuke, Symphony, Smoke, Flame, Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro X, or plugins such as Magic Bullet, Colorista, what have you.
In terms of image quality, one could certainly choose to nitpick the quality and/or feature-richness of a particular operation in one application versus that in another; comparing implementations of curves, or noise reduction features, or qualifiers. But, minutiae aside, I honestly think that when comparing the basic image processing features that comprise the bulk of one’s day to day adjustments, you can get where you need to go in ANY of the above solutions and produce a high-quality image. All modern software that I’ve seen has perfectly good image processing, and each application I mentioned can boast of projects in cinemas, on television, and winning awards in high-profile film festivals; proof that nobody is getting fired because of what they’re using.
That said, not all apps are created equally in terms of the efficiency of working your way through a project as a colorist, and everyone has their own opinion about what software they prefer to use in that regard. I’m not going to take any sides here, because the price/performance/efficiency dial has many positions, and you can do well with any combination of apps and plugins you like providing you have the time and expertise for that solution. Along these lines, I have four metrics you should consider when choosing a grading environment:
In a more concrete example, grading inside of your NLE can ease your workflow in terms of not having to move your edited timeline between apps, and you can reap efficiencies by having your grades live with your edit, thereby avoiding reconforms when last-minute reedits are necessary. On the other hand, dedicated grading applications are made to work quickly, do more to the image, and speed up your grading workday, offering many more dedicated tools for color tweaking then the average NLE. Some grading apps work better when coordinating with specific applications in a regimented workflow, while others are designed to be more flexible in order to accommodate more unpredictable situations.
In making your choice, I’d say that your primary concerns should be efficiency of workflow (in your situation) and flexibility of grading tools. Whatever software you pick, the quality of the result is going to be more up to your ability then the application, pretty much all applications are capable of high-quality processing.
The scene I shot in December, “An Unwanted Job,” is coming along nicely. In an effort to eat my own dog food, I’m doing as much of the postproduction as I can inside of Resolve, from syncing the timecoded dual-source audio and making offline dailies from the original 4K CinemaDNG media, to editing both picture and sound, editing music and doing simple sound design, through adding visual finishing effects and doing the grade. Eventually, I’ll be sending the audio I edit to someone else for sweetening and mixing, probably in ProTools, probably via exporting xml to Final Cut Pro 7, and out to OMF from there, unless I find a more contemporary workflow.
I used the Metadata Editor in the Media page to annotate the Description, Shot, and Scene for each clip, and then I sorted the Media Pool in list view and organized the clips into logical bins for my use. Overall, the new Media Pool columns and bin organization features have made wading through material much, much nicer then in previous versions. For the smoothest overall experience I created a set of transcoded 1080p ProRes LT media with cloned file names and timecode to work with, making it easy for me to reconform to the original 4K once I start with the grading; I have separate bin hierarchies for the camera original and proxy media, and I can switch back and forth using the “Reconform from bin” command (after turning off “Force Conform Enabled” for each clip in the Timeline).
Assembling my timeline went swiftly. As I edited, I definitely found things that could be improved, particularly in the realm of audio, but I was easily able to accomplish what I wanted, and as I got into the details of the edit I’m happy to say that I like the trimming tools in Resolve as much as an end user as I did when demoing them in front of audiences. There are idiosyncrasies in Resolve 11.1.3 such as audio not playing in reverse (you can hear audio playback scrubbing or moving a frame at a time in reverse, just not at speed), or double-clicking to open a clip into the Source Viewer for trimming not working when the Trim tool is selected (you have to choose the selection tool first), but nothing stopped me, and I’ve passed these tidbits along to the Resolve team. One thing I’ll add is that easy access to Roll edits in selection mode make split edits in dialog ridiculously easy to perform.
After cutting a few different versions of the scene, I “soft-locked” my primary edit a few weeks ago. At the moment, I’m going back and forth on the music cues with composer John Rake. I’ve been deliberately having him compose longer pieces of music that I can cut into the timeline in different ways, which has been forcing me to do a bit of music editing in Resolve. Given that audio cutting isn’t necessarily what Resolve is designed to do at the moment, it’s actually been going nearly as well as it ever did back in FCP 7. I often try to avoid locking the edit until the music is finished, as great cues always make me want to push and pull things around. In this case, it’s a great excuse to push Resolve a little out of its comfort zone.
I’ll post a work in progress probably later in February, but for now I’ve started using examples off of my timeline in a couple of free tutorials that are now available on the web.
I’ve done the first in what is to be a series of “Resolve in Under 5 Minutes” videos for Ripple Training (you can subscribe to their YouTube channel), in which I’ll be showing a different technique or tip in every video. This first one covers image stabilization, which is a useful tool whether you’re an editor, colorist, or finishing specialist. For this, I used one of the first shots in the scene, a 20 foot remote-operated jib shot that was being buffeted by wind on a wintery day. Exactly the kind of shot this tool shines at improving.
I also did a webinar for Imagineer Systems and Boris Effects about how to use Mocha and Boris OFX plugins with DaVinci Resolve to do corner pinned match moving, motion-tracked lens flare addition, lens correction and dead pixel/wire removal, and other techniques that you either can’t do or that are otherwise difficult in Resolve by itself.
It’s time for some tough love.
Since I do both production and post, I’m in a position to observe where efficiencies lie all through the filmmaking process. In speaking with different people out in the industry, and comparing my practices with theirs, I’ve decided there’s a public service announcement I can make to the filmmaking community at large regarding how you can save money. A lot of money.
Rehearse your actors in advance of the shoot, dry run your blocking without running the cameras, and record fewer takes.
I know. You’re thinking “but digital is cheap,” “I don’t want the scene to go stale,” “why not run the camera in case some magic happens,” and “I need to get through those takes to find the scene.”
Bullshit. Digital is not cheap. Hard drives are expensive. Backups are expensive. Archiving camera cards takes time, and having a ton of cards because you want to shoot like a drunken sailor costs in either expendables or rentals. Generating dailies and logging all of your crap takes consumes hours and hours of your editor’s time. Dealing with Terabytes of unused data in the finishing process takes time. Time is money. Time is also frustration, which makes post folks not want to give you a discount. Less media is less hassle, and less hassle makes editors more inclined to maybe cut you a break.
Rehearsing in advance, assuming you have capable actors, will not make your scene go stale; centuries of theater give the lie to this way of thinking. What advance rehearsal will do is let you work through the scene in the abstract, without the necessary distractions of the cinematographer’s queries or your schedule running behind or what scarf should the lead wear or any other of the hundred things you need to weigh in on that have nothing to do with the actor’s actual performance.
In exploring the scene with your actors in rehearsal, I guarantee they’ll find nuances in performance that might otherwise be missed, and you’ll have time to try things out and make adjustments you need for consistency with your overall vision. All of this will let you know where there are moments to emphasize and trouble-spots you’ll need to correct in the performance. Ultimately, you’ll be better prepared for what’s to come. Come shooting day, you and the actors will both know what the goal is, and you’ll be less at risk forgetting about a key moment, gesture, or intention because you were distracted by a lens change. And, in the rush of production, there’ll be more then enough energy to hype up both you and the actors to keep things fresh, since you’re likely in the location for the very first time.
Running the camera while you’re rehearsing your blocking is a colossal waste of storage, unless you’re chasing a sunset or some other time critical element. Whether you’re doing jib, crane, dolly, gimbal stabilizer, or steadycam work, or just panning and tilting a camera on sticks, there is no magic while you and your actors are fumbling your way through the on-set blocking with a camera operator who’s seeing the actor move for the first time. Save your editor the heartbreak of watching four unusable takes and just rehearse the blocking without recording. The actor will be more at ease to experiment, and you’ll have more psychological freedom to change your mind and explore different ways of executing the move with your actor, cinematographer, and operator.
Regarding multiple takes, I am firmly of the belief that if you’ve had the opportunity to discuss and rehearse the scene with your actor in advance (even if it’s in advance of the rest of the crew arriving for a day’s shoot), there should be no reason to ever go through more then 4-5 takes, unless there’s something physically specific you’re needing (I once did eleven takes trying to get a coin to fall on the ground in the right place for a closeup, what are you going to do?). There are plenty of stories of directors pushing an actor through 99 takes to wear them down, which is more strategic cruelty and not so much about trying to get a good read, and that’s fine if you’ve got 100 million dollars. Myself, I’d rather work out what I need in advance through appropriate casting and rehearsal, and then get the scene in three takes and move on to have another setup. Back in my film school days, a production professor told us that shooting twelve takes was probably a waste of time, since you’ll probably be unable to tell the difference between six of the takes later on when you start editing, and I’ve generally found this to be accurate.
So now you’re thinking, “okay, smart-ass, so what’s your shooting ratio?” My most recent project, which was one day’s shoot with over twelve camera setups with some additional alts spread among two locations recording to 4K CinemaDNG raw, ended up totaling about 500 GB of media for 50 clips in all for a generously covered 3 minute scene. Going back to my short, “The Place Where You Live,” four shooting days recording to 4K R3D raw resulted in a total of 487 GB of media. Usually when I mention this, people ask me what went wrong, and what I did about the lost media. Then I say that was all the media.
I started out shooting 16MM film, and being a broke-ass filmmaker I had all too many days of having pages to get through on two 100-ft rolls. Those experiences instilled in me an economy that serves me well even today. And so, I try to be careful about casting. I rehearse in advance whenever possible. I block the scenes with the actors without running the cameras. Then at that point I try to get out of any particular camera setup in 3-5 takes, sometimes altering the framing of any takes I want “for safety” just to squeeze in another push-in. Obviously if an unexpected challenge comes up, I’ll do more takes to get what is needed, but I try really hard to be prepared enough in advance to avoid that.
The result is that I never have to debate whether or not I want to shoot uncompressed RAW based on available storage, my DITs are usually bored, logging the footage is a breeze, and as a result the edit goes quickly. Backing up the project media doesn’t break the bank, and moving the project around for finishing is resultantly easy.
So that’s my advice. Save everyone some hassle and take a page from the theater—rehearse in advance. You’ll get better results dramatically, you’ll get more out of your time during the shoot without going over schedule, and you’ll have a project that should be noticeably cheaper to post.
Anyone who knows me knows I’ve got two main opinions about gear. First, don’t buy gear, rent it. Today’s awesome stuff turns into tomorrow’s laughably obsolete curiosities. Second, I could care less about cameras. I’m a director, not a DP, and as long as the DP likes whatever camera we can afford to use, and the resulting image data is gradable, then I’m happy.
So it’s with some reluctance that I admit I’ve started buying camera accessories to have in reserve for the increasing number of small projects I seem to be directing. Starting with my next directorial excursion, a scene rather then a fully realized movie, designed to create some nicer material to use for my next book, video training, and presentation projects, and in the process work with another great local Minneapolis crew to create something very different from my previous two movies for my director’s reel, which by god I’ll actually put together one of these days.
Today was all about prepping the aforementioned camera equipment. DP Michael Handley, AC Brian Suerth (pictured later), and I poured over the three Blackmagic Design cameras we’ll be using, a brand new Ursa for most of the coverage, a Production 4K that we’ll be using with a Ronin gimbal stabilizer to fly around one of the day’s two locations, and a Pocket Cinema Camera for POV shots in tight spaces. I’ve been wondering if I’d find utility in the three different form factors of cameras that Blackmagic now offers, and I now appreciate that it’s really nice to have different sized camera bodies for different tasks, each of which can be prepped simultaneously with different rigs. A far cry from my days of having a single CP 16 film camera to work with.
The Ursa itself is a beefy camera, but resultantly quick to set up thanks to an attached battery mount plate (extra), built-in rails mounts, and a built-in handle; I really, really liked the speed of setup. The editor in me wants as many angles of coverage as I can shoot in a day, and I hate feeling like I’m waiting for a camera to be rebuilt from setup to setup.
Since I usually prefer to have the camera on support rather then handheld, given the type of coverage I tend to go after, the Ursa’s weight (16.5 lbs without lens/etcetera) doesn’t really bother me—we’ll be using a jib, dolly, and slider to move things around when necessary. Of course, that’s easy for the director to say, I don’t have to move the camera from setup to setup, but nobody on the camera crew has had any complaints so far.
Incidentally, the 10″ swing-out screen is pretty awesome. As are the two other touch-screens on either side of the body that switch between UI and monitoring for the assistant. Brian mentioned he still may use his own display for working the focus, but more because it’s the display he’s used to, which makes sense to me.
We toured the menu system, and were pleased to find it pretty straightforward. So, at least so far as setup goes, the Ursa seems to be a no-drama camera. And, pointing the camera at random things at Tasty Lighting’s Acme stage, the EF mount Rokinon cinema lenses I’m using coupled with the Ursa’s Super35 sensor made the kitchen area and random lighting instruments positioned here and there look delightfully dramatic framed in 2.35.
So far so good. I’m looking forward to seeing how it performs on location.
It’s an old saw that if you want to write, you should read as much as you can. Every piece of work you consume adds to your mental inventory of artistic possibility, and it’s as true for image-makers as it is for writers. If you want to create memorable visuals, you owe it to yourself to see what others have done before you.
In my various travels, I always try to squeeze in a trip to a gallery or two; no matter how good a print or digital reproduction is, it will never equal reflected light off an original canvas. The last time I was in Nürnberg, Germany, I squeezed in a trip to the very excellent Germanisches Nationalmuseum, which has what has become one of my favorite paintings, Johann Liss’ 1623 “The Prodigal Son With the Prostitutes.” (Image thanks to TimSpfd at flickr)
It delights me no end that most of the techniques we seek to employ when shooting and grading cinematic images were pioneered and mastered centuries earlier by generation after generation of painters, sculptors, and fabric and glass artists. It’s staggeringly instructive to notice particular techniques made in completely different media that have direct application in your own work.
In the painting above, note the startlingly careful control of multiple planes of highlights. Not only is the overall image brilliantly high-contrast (although the photo diminishes this somewhat, in person the contrast is deep), but the highlights on each plane of subjects fall at progressively diminishing levels relative each figure’s distance from the camera. This control of highlight creates depth by keeping the most brilliant and crisp highlights on the couple nearest the viewer, while the highlights of figures farther away (the servers, couples in the background) are more muted. The one exception is the prodigal son himself, at the center of the room and thus behind the front-most couple; his cuff and sleeve are rendered with brilliant, sparkling highlights equal to those of the foreground characters, thus keeping him at the forefront of the viewer’s attention.
Negative space is utilized naturalistically by leaving the background to fall to shadow, with the exception of a few subtle details to keep the surrounding area from being too flat. Texture is preserved even as the distant wall and floor are kept both dark and desaturated, creating an organic vignette behind and offset from the foreground figures. I’m a huge fan of “intrinsic vignettes,” (for lack of a better term), where a natural pool of shadow or saturation can be used to guide the viewer’s eye, rather then an overlaid oval of black. Any time I can accomplish this by reinforcing and extending a forward-thinking cinematographer’s contrast scheme, I do, because it’s a much more organic way of shaping the visuals.
Similarly, saturation is also used to focus there viewer’s eye. Flesh tone is rendered with the most saturation on the faces and hands of the revelers who are central to the scene. Brilliant splashes of red and gold define the main players of this drama, while background players are rendered with more muted greens, ochres, and grays; even the skin tones of the background players are more muted, doubtless justified by the rendering of smoke lending a haze to the room.
Naturally, you’re only going to get this kind of look through cooperation with the cinematographer and art department (wardrobe and set dressing). This isn’t the kind of look that you as a colorist can simply create without some fundamentals first built into the image (insert joke here about an indie film’s white T-shirt wearing protagonist standing in front of a beige wall).
Still, given a careful shadow ratio with thought given to pools of light and shadow, and given the introduction of selective regions of color into the scene via creative costume and set choices, you can be provided with the opportunity to shape the image creatively using only careful control of contrast and saturation, both in your Primary grade and in targeted Secondary adjustments designed to push specific elements forward or backward in the scene. I also love using Hue and Saturation curves to sculpt saturation in specific ways. While one could easily play some games with selective sharpening or blurring of parts of the image to emulate the painters deliberate ability to over- or under-render the detail of particular individuals, no other tricks should really be needed.
Alas, my web site was hacked while I was away in Florida for the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival screening of “The Place Where You Live.” In fact, my whole family of web sites were hacked, and a week passed wherein I could do nothing. Happily, I’ve fixed the issue and taken steps to secure the help I’ll need to prevent this from happening again.
From the very beginning of this blog, I’ve resisted placing ads for anything other then the fruits of my own activities (my books, training videos, and soon my films), and the perennial Amazon ad for books I have on my shelf. I figure if you’re here, you’re probably interested in what I’m doing and what I’ve created, but you’re not particularly interested in ads for colleges, cars, or whatever other random adverts might pop up. Despite the increased cost of running this site in a world requiring hardening from hacking, I’m determined to continue to offer this site as a free resource. It’s fun, and I can continue to justify my occasional and eclectic posting habits.
If you like the content and feel motivated to support my efforts with filthy lucre, consider picking up a copy of one of my books or training videos (through Ripple Training). You’ll support my extra-curricular activities, and learn something to boot! And if you’ve already done so, then thank you! I very much appreciate it.