DaVinci Resolve 12

Since acquiring DaVinci and its color-correction software Resolve in 2009, Blackmagic Design has released several updates to the program. Available for Mac, Windows and Linux, Blackmagic’s latest version of DaVinci Resolve continues to offer new features along with an improved UI design.

There are two versions available: the free DaVinci Resolve and DaVinci Resolve Studio ($1,000, dongle activated). The free version is almost identical to the paid one, with only a few higher-end features deactivated. Meanwhile, Resolve Studio adds support for multiple GPUs, distributed rendering, noise reduction and stereoscopic tools.

Though still primarily a color-correction tool, Blackmagic has loftier goals for Resolve. It wants Resolve to be a complete postproduction package that allows users to edit, conform, add effects, mix audio, color-correct and output—all within a single program. It’s not quite there yet, but with the acquisition of compositing application Fusion, the direction ahead is clear.

DaVinci Resolve 12
On the Deliver page, you render, organize and export your work.

Blackmagic is aware that processor-intensive finishing formats aren’t ideal for creative editing. As a result, there’s a new feature allowing users to seamlessly switch between offline and finishing codecs without the usual “proxies-then-relink” dance. You simply create “optimized media” from your originals. Your sequence is automatically linked to these, but you also have the option to instantly switch to the original media and back again with ease.

For example, you can edit with the optimized media for speed, then switch to the original for color correction. Behind the scenes, Resolve keeps it all straight, with no manual relinking at all. Sophisticated media management is also available. You easily can copy, move or transcode entire projects, timelines or clips to another drive or folder.

It’s a true NLE, with new features like Multicam editing.

Resolve’s primary features are organized into four sections: Media, Edit, Color and Deliver.

On the Media page, you ingest and organize your media. You can add metadata, arrange clips and even create “smart bins” that collate clips according to that metadata. You also can add media to the pool based on an XML, AAF or EDL. Just import the file, and the required media is brought directly into the pool.

Looking at the Edit page, it’s clear that Blackmagic has devoted most of its love to changes here. Sure, Resolve has had editing features for a while, but Blackmagic never formally called it an NLE. Now they do—and rightly so. Former or current users of FCP Classic and Premiere will quickly feel at home, while Avid users will take a little more time to acclimatize.

Among the new features are multicam, support for VST and AU plug-ins, a curve editor for transitions, plus a new “smooth cut” (similar to Avid’s Morph Cut), which tries to make a hidden transition when, for example, a few words of an interview have been omitted for timing. You also now can use keyframes to adjust audio levels on both a clip and track basis.

As a longtime Avid editor, I do have some quibbles. I’m used to sequence-to-sequence editing. You can load a sequence into Resolve’s source window, but there’s no source timeline. Mimicking the default behavior of FCP Classic, sequences edited into other sequences are nested by default. Aargh! Thankfully, you can right-click, select “decompose in place” and the original, unnested clips will appear. I’d like to see future updates allow users to turn this behavior on or off as a preference. There are no timecode overlays.

Next is the Color page, and this is the real heart of Resolve. If you’ve never used a serious color-correction tool, the interface can seem strange and intimidating, at first. You can get your feet wet by using the familiar colorwheels in the lower left of the interface. Beyond that, there are countless tools you can use to affect the whole image (primaries) and parts of the image (secondaries).

The workflow is nodal rather than layer-based. You can select areas of an image for secondary correction through windows or keys. There’s also a new 3D Keyer that simplifies this process significantly, while window tracking also has been improved with the addition of 3D perspective interpolation.

DaVinci Resolve 12
The Color page and its color-correction tools are the heart of Resolve 12. With real-time color grading, you can affect the whole image or parts of it, and pull maximum detail out of highlights, shadows and midtones.

Finally, there’s the Deliver page. Here, you render, organize and export your work. You can export as full sequences or as separate clips. You also can create AAFs or XMLs for round-tripping to Avid, Premiere Pro or FCPX. A brilliant addition is the new export to Pro Tools option. With one click, you can export media, an AAF and a reference movie—all optimized for Pro Tools import.

This is a short review of a very big program, and I’ve just scratched the surface of Resolve’s power. Fortunately, there are many excellent resources to help you master it. YouTube and Vimeo are full of free tutorials. Online forums on Creative Cow and on Blackmagic’s website are always active. For real in-depth learning, try the paid tutorials on Lynda.com or Ripple Training, as they’re well worth the money. The 1,000-page manual written by Alexis Van Hurkman is detailed and clear. Another book by Van Hurkman, Color Correction Handbook, is also available, an encyclopedia of the art and craft of the colorist.

Overall, this is another great new version of Resolve, and kudos to the Blackmagic team for a continual series of well-designed upgrades. Every new feature, every new GUI enhancement is done for good reasons, and done gracefully. Here are a couple of additional general notes.

Resolve uses a lot of contextual menus. When in doubt, right-click or control-click where you’re working and you just may find what you need.

When performing a time-consuming task, Resolve will sometimes show you a nice thermometer to let you know progress is being made. Other times (on Macs), it will just throw the Spinning Beach Ball of Death at you. After 10 or 20 seconds, the user might assume the program has crashed—but it hasn’t. This should be fixed. That Ball should appear only if the program has truly locked up.

One caveat: To view your work on an external broadcast monitor (you are, aren’t you?) with either version, you need a Blackmagic output device.

If you’re serious about color correction, you really need a dedicated control panel. You can operate Resolve with just a keyboard and mouse, or tablet, but you can only adjust one parameter at a time. With a control surface, you can simultaneously adjust luminance and color balance in the lows, mids and highs, which is a tremendous time-saver.

Learn more about DaVinci Resolve 12 at blackmagicdesign.com. Michael Heldman is Editor/Partner at film and television editorial house Spot Welders, spotwelders.com.