At NAB 2010 the biggest Post Production buzz, by far, was the new DaVinci Resolve software package for $995.
Not only that, the software is being opened up to work with third party hardware such as AJA video boards and Tangent Wave control panels. For many facilities, such as mine, designed around Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere, this means many of us already have the hardware in place to run the software. Or we can start running with minor modifications.
For those of you who don’t know what DaVinci is, it has long been the standard for color enhancement for both film and television. The systems consist of proprietary software and hardware with $500,000 (US) and up being a fairly common price tag for one top of the line system. Many facilities in New York, LA, Atlanta and around the world run multiple systems at prices from $400 to $700/hour and up. In other words, you really had to be a dedicated colorist in a major facility to run one of these units and you had to have the clientele to support the hourly rates. DaVinci was not something that “anybody” could get in to. Until now.
Within minutes of the blockbuster announcement, Twitter and internet forums like the CreativeCow.net Apple Color forum lit up with people praising Resolve as the long awaited answer to Apple’s Color. This is the tool that everyone needed to become a true colorist and we can finally move on from Apple Color.
Well, let me first say I am purchasing a copy of DaVinci Resolve because it will plug in very nicely to our upcoming color enhancement suite. But I’m not buying it to replace Apple Color. I’m simply adding it as another tool in the toolbox so we have choices as to which tool we want to use based on the project at hand. It also opens up our facility to freelance colorists who are fluent with Resolve but might not work with Apple Color at all. And of course it opens up our facility to work with pretty much any NLE on the market since it will work with EDLs and XMLs meaning we’re not locked into a Final Cut Studio workflow for color enhancement.
What many people fail to realize in praising Resolve (and boy it DOES deserve a lot of praise as an awesome color tool)
and dismissing Color is that neither one with make you color grade a project better than the other. Knowledge and practice in the art of color enhancement is what will make you a good colorist. The tool is immaterial.
I was reminded of this last night while watching the first pass of our feature documentary, “Foul Water, Fiery Serpent” (foulwaterfieryserpent.com) with colorist Ron Anderson. See I know Apple Color pretty well and I’ve done colorist work on probably 100 projects now, a mix of broadcast, corporate and independent films. Because our post production schedule is so crazy right now and this is our first major feature to come out of our shop, I asked Ron to be the Colorist on this film. He has a sweet Apple Color Suite set up in his facility using a JL Cooper Eclipse panel with the Flanders Scientific 2450W monitor and of course the 18% grey wall with a 6500k light. He’s a 30 year colorist who has been working with daVinci systems his entire career and in his facility and he’s running Apple Color 1.5. Why? Because it’s affordable and extremely powerful.
His work on the film is nothing short of remarkable. The film is entirely shot in Africa with blazing sun, dark skin and a host of lighting / exposure issues caused by both. What I watched last night was the work of someone who has been doing feature films for 30 years and what was spectacular about it was the fact that it all looked completely natural. There was nothing that said “color trick here,” it was just all natural to the eye. Color enhancement is truly an art. I’m learning the craft for sure, but what I saw last night reminded me that color enhancement is less about the tool itself and more about the artist and the proper environment.
The environment, there’s something to think about.
Using the Apple Color forum on CreativeCow.net as an example, I was amused that so many people were so eager to spend $995 right off the bat for the DaVinci name but we have so many people on that very forum who find $2,495 (US) too steep to purchase a proper monitor. Or $1,500 (US) too much to purchase a control panel to drive Apple Color or now Resolve. Ok, so the software is just $995 but you need to purchase a good beefy Mac Pro, two graphics cards (one to drive your computer monitors and one to render Resolve), an AJA or BlackMagic video card to feed the video signal to your monitor and a proper broadcast monitor or film projector to properly monitor your footage. Again, if you’re a Final Cut Studio facility like mine, you might already have much of that in place and Resolve will drop in nicely. If you don’t, you need to allocate funds to properly surround the Resolve software or you’re just wasting the $995. Unless of course you want to train yourself on the software so you can drive someone else’s system or offer yourself as a freelancer to other facilities.
One thing that comes with the DaVinci name is an expectation.
The expectation that you are a serious colorist using professional equipment. Remember that $500k price tag I mentioned earlier? Most Producers who use DaVinci colorists know all about the huge expense of these systems and that’s one reason why they are willing to pay the high hourly rates. Plus the folks who drive them have usually spent years learning the craft. So if you plan to simply plug in Resolve on your laptop and call yourself a DaVinci colorist to take advantage of their reputation, you might have a hard time convincing clients you’re serious.
I’m not trying to be a snob here, just realistic. Paying $995 is just the starting point. If you want to be a professional colorist and charge clients for your time, do them the courtesy of surrounding the tool with the correct equipment and environment. It’ll be good for you and your clients.
So what BlackMagic has done for all of us independent and small shops out there, has given us a a major known tool for a fraction of its original price
. It’s a new tool that gives options that were simply out of the financial reach of many of us. It’s a true game changer in the same way that Final Cut Pro opened up a professional video tool for everyone. It also brings to Avid and Adobe artists a very powerful color correction tool that in my opinion is better than any other CC tool they had available.
In a complete fluke on the NAB show floor, I got a spontaneous one hour chat with Grant Petty. I was walking to see the Resolve demo and he was adjusting some products on the show floor. As he explained it to me, the plan is for Resolve to support a lot of third party hardware, not just be restricted to BMD and DaVinci proprietary equipment. AJA & BMD video cards, Tangent & JL Cooper panels and the like. It does require nVidia graphics cards to render the files and you need to run two graphics cards in your system. One card to drive your computer monitors and one to do the rendering.
Resolve is a different kind of interface than most NLE based color correctors and even Apple Color. They’ve done away with the three color wheels and there’s a real emphasis on curves, which quite honestly I prefer to the wheels. And there’s a really nice node interface that controls pretty much everything you do in Resolve.
The big thing Resolve brings that completely blows away Apple Color is its ability to play video in realtime in full frame rate. This is remarkable to me since Apple’s own Color software can’t do this using the exact same Apple hardware. I’m used to working with 1/2 to 1/4 frame rates it was so nice to see the video playing back in full frame during the demos.
Some people are really excited that Resolve plays back audio while you’re playing the video. I’ve asked several colorists around and they do the same thing I do when grading. Listen to music. I’m partial to country, my buddy Ron is a jazz kind of guy. I’ve never had a client ask to listen to the audio as I’m working on a scene. But I guess this is kind of cool if you require it.
Ok, I’ve gone all over the place with this post, but I’m incredibly excited with the opportunity that BlackMagic is giving us smaller guys by making Resolve to affordable to install and giving us yet another option for color enhancement. They’ve taken what Silicon Color and Apple started with Apple Color and completely raised the bar to a whole new level.
So just remember, this is truly exciting stuff to have a tool so affordable. But please, if you plan to charge clients for your work, put together the right environment whether you’re working in your home or a major facility. The means a proper video monitor or projector at the very least. And if you’ve never read this, please do. The Art and Technique of Digital Color Correction
by Steve Hullfish. (link below) This should be required reading for all folks new to color correction.
Happy Grading everyone!