Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve 15.1

It’s still 2018, as of this writing, and in some ways, it’s been a banner year for creators of content. In fact, never in the history of film, video, television and media content creation have we had so many tools with so much power at our fingertips. Additionally, low-priced cameras offer more power, features, sophistication and quality than cameras that cost 10 times as much just five years ago. And mobile phones can be utilized to make a feature film with very good quality.

In many ways, 2018 may mark the year that you’re truly only limited by your filmmaking skills and talent.

Postproduction Redefines Itself

In the traditional postproduction model, as recently as just a few years ago, the job of ingesting, cataloging, organizing and editing all of the material you shot was the job of a complete team, ranging from just a few team members to up to hundreds of artists on large features and television shows.

But one trend we’re seeing is that the postproduction process has been condensing, which means that many of the roles I described in the process are now being combined with other roles due to shrinking budgets and the streamlining of the filmmaking process. It’s partly why tools like DaVinci 15 are the new vanguard of editing tools.

However, this tool wasn’t always as expansive. Before Blackmagic Design acquired DaVinci Resolve back in 2009, Resolve was mainly a color-correction tool. Nine years later, Blackmagic has transformed Resolve to be a full-fledged postproduction suite of tools.

Media is the module used for ingesting and organizing your media and sources.
Media is the module used for ingesting and organizing your media and sources.

Of course, this post suite isn’t a new invention. Adobe’s Creative Cloud, Apple’s FCP X and AVID Media Composer have all provided variations on the “all-in-one” solution for editors for quite a few years, with varying degrees of success.

However, after editing a couple of projects with it, I’m convinced Blackmagic Design has truly committed to a strategy that unites the entire postproduction workflow. I’ve been dabbling with and playing with Resolve for a few years. And now that I’ve completed a few projects with Resolve 15, I’m contemplating taking the leap, investing in some serious training and practice to be able to fully utilize all of the tools in the Resolve 15.1 Suite.

An All-In-One, Swiss-Army-Knife Approach to Postproduction

Let’s take a look at each of the modules in the Resolve 15.1 suite:

Media: Resolve offers a simple and straightforward interface for bringing media into the suite. In the Media tab, you drill down to your media, right-mouse click on the clip in the upper-left-hand column, and your media is added to a clip-viewing area at the bottom of the page. Compared to Apple’s FCP X Library media structure, I find Resolve’s method simpler and more straightforward. Smart bins make organizing your media intelligently very quick.

Edit has a clean, modern interface with intuitive controls and tools.
Edit has a clean, modern interface with intuitive controls and tools.

Edit: In Resolve 15.1, Blackmagic dramatically improved performance for large projects, even if you’re working in 4K. Resolve utilizes your CPU and GPU, and it feels responsive and snappy. The $299 version of Resolve Studio even lets you utilize multiple GPUs, allowing you to add external GPUs as your budget and needs dictate. With just my iMac’s Radeon Pro 580 GPU, editing felt very quick, even with DCI 4K clips. 

I found that I liked Resolve 15’s layout and responsiveness better than Premiere CC or FCP X for organizing, scaling and searching clips. I like the “dynamic” trimming that lets you adjust clips while playing them, and 15.1 gives you better control over it. I like how video and audio clips default to a large, open display while keeping an FCP X-like billboard of thumbnails for each clip. The edit module feels cleaner and less cluttered than the competing programs but without hiding too many of the most commonly used tools in separate pull-downs.

Fusion: I’ll be the first to admit that I’m both impressed and intimidated by the addition of Fusion to Resolve. What is Fusion? It’s a 3D workspace with tools for keying, compositing, stabilization, tracking, vector paint, rotoscoping, text animation and even particles.

Fusion adds sophisticated compositing, 3D and motion-graphics capabilities to Resolve.
Fusion adds sophisticated compositing, 3D and motion-graphics capabilities to Resolve.

Fusion works with Apple Metal, OpenCL and CUDA for faster graphics processing. I’m not much of a compositor or motion-graphics designer, but I’m planning on taking some classes to learn Fusion so that I can refine green-screen shots and utilize some of its tracking features.

Blackmagic also offers a more substantial standalone version of Fusion Studio for $300, but Fusion here has plenty of capability for my meager talents. I’m told that Fusion was utilized for such movies as The Martian, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Kingsman: The Secret Service. So it obviously has some sophisticated features and capacity that I will probably never come close to utilizing. However, it’s good to know that it’s there if I get ambitious.

Color: Before Resolve was a full post suite, DaVinci Resolve was a color-correction tool. In the years since, the color function has only grown more powerful. Like Fusion, the Color module is a node-based tool, so you have to retrain your mind how to deal with nodes. But once you understand it, you’ll realize the software provides a lot of power in making node-based adjustments over just layers.

The Color module is extremely capable and powerful if you take the time to learn it. Some of the functions that elevate Color above its competition are that you can also use “power windows,” with a motion tracker, to selectively adjust moving and stationary regions of an image. You can then use Color’s “face refinement” feature that automatically tracks faces and darkens highlights on faces, smoothing out imperfections in complexions, allowing you to lighten or darken select portions of the frame without affecting the rest of the composition.

Color is where it all began. This version continues to be a sophisticated, node-based, color-correction tool.
Color is where it all began. This version continues to be a sophisticated, node-based, color-correction tool.

Resolve 15 Color also uses LUTs to create custom looks or to instantly adjust footage from cameras that shoot log footage—the numbers are growing as most newer cameras now shoot some form of log footage. The 15.1 version makes it easier to browse through those to find just the right look. You can also more quickly grab color settings from previous timelines and projects.

Resolve now also supports Dolby Vision (additional fee to pay the license) and HDR 10+, for those experimenting with HDR shooting and post.

Fairlight: The Fairlight module offers audio normalization, 3D panners, audio and video scrollers and a searchable sound-library database. This latest version of Fairlight features plug-ins likes reverb, hum removal, vocal channel and de-esser. The ADR workflow is sophisticated, allowing you to import a cue list or create one in-program. You’ll also find a new time-head playback feature, which lets you follow what you’re currently working on and ensures that the play head is always at the center of the work area.

There are 25 listed improvements or new features, according to the Resolve 15.1 release notes, including Fairlight’s Automated Dialog Replacement process, which creates a workflow for the replacement of unusable dialog. There are also 13 new built-in audio effects plug-ins, such as Echo and Flanger, Chorus, as well as de-esser and de-hummer cleanup tools. Another useful addition, for both audio mixers and editors, is the ability to import entire audio effects libraries, which can then be searched and rated from within the Edit and Fairlight pages.

Fairlight elevates the audio capabilities of Resolve far above any of its competitors.
Fairlight elevates the audio capabilities of Resolve far above any of its competitors.

Resolve 15.1 Workflow: While I’m not fully up to speed just yet on all of the modules in this version of Resolve, I’ve taken two projects through full post for clients using it. What I like most about the Resolve workflow is the ease of shepherding my edit through the different modules. Even in FCP X, you can create effects in Motion and save them in FCP X as presets, but handling audio, for me, at least, is simpler in an audio program like ProTools.

In Resolve, the Fairlight page reveals quite a sophisticated audio toolset with the ability to accept many industry-standard audio plug-ins in .AU or .VST formats. Blackmagic has done an impressive job integrating this sophisticated audio capability into Resolve.

And while some will debate the merits of having just one person perform all of these post-production functions (versus using a dedicated team), I’m still convinced that Resolve 15.1 has the easiest and simplest end-to-end toolset for putting a project through an entire workflow, particularly if you’re one person handling all these tasks.

All Things To Everyone

If you take a look at the collaborative workflow features available on Resolve, it quickly becomes apparent that Blackmagic has created a product that’s designed to be all things to all users.

You can post a huge feature film with Resolve just as easily as a YouTube video. With the sophistication and feature set of Color, Fairlight and Fusion, your team members have robust tools and feature sets that allow for the highest levels of color correction, sound mixing and compositing.

Deliver lets you quickly and easily compress your outputs for whatever display/file format is needed.
Deliver lets you quickly and easily compress your outputs for whatever display/file format is needed.

What’s most amazing about Resolve 15.1 for me is that the free version is so good. Yes, that’s right, it’s free and can support resolutions up to UHD. For just $299, you can upgrade to Resolve Studio, which adds a lot of additional features, like plus multi-user collaboration features that let editors, colorists, effects artists and sound engineers all work together on the same project at the same time. Plus, it comes with 3D tools, dozens of Resolve FX and more. The free updates will boost the value equation for Resolve well above Creative Cloud and AVID, at least in my mind. And both the Adobe and AVID products require a monthly subscription to access projects. FCP X is priced like Resolve and offers free updates for $299, as well, with an additional charge for Compressor and Motion. But overall, Resolve offers capabilities that FCP X doesn’t.

In both my informal and viewing tests, Resolve renders just as fast, and in some cases faster, than FCP X. Both FCP X and Resolve generally outperform Premiere and AVID in rendering speed, which, if you think about it, is extraordinary. Apple creates the Mac OS, the hardware and FCP X; you’d expect the best rendering times from that combination. But the fact that Blackmagic can match, and at times surpassed, FCP X’s rendering times suggests that the software includes top-notch coding and testing.

In many ways, there’s almost no downside to trying out the software, since you just need to download the free version and try it out.

Overall, I found Resolve 15.1 is fast—whether using the free or $299 version. (The latter version just adds a little better feature set). I also liked the design of the package and that you get free updates for life. Lastly, I found the suite was stable and had a very robust feature set, even with the free version.