The New Can-Do-Everything Update from Blackmagic Design

It’s a truism of this business. Like our long-neglected health club memberships — no matter how fabulous and snazzy the club might be, if it is too inconvenient or far away we are not likely to take advantage of it.

The same applies to our post-production tools. Sure, there may be more powerful and sophisticated editing platforms, but many of us are already using DaVinci Resolve for grading and finishing. Wouldn’t it be extremely convenient to stay with one tool from soup to nuts — from ingestion and editorial through output to a broad range of formats, including digital cinema? With the introduction of Resolve 12 we can do precisely that.

Of course, this is a big order. Resolve may not be, currently at least, the most appropriate or most competent tool for every task. Nevertheless, beyond its well-recognized color-correction and -grading tools, Resolve 12 now offers complete NLE functionality in 2D and 3D, comprehensive media management with extensive metadata support, and audio editing (albeit rather rudimentary) with VST and AU plug-in compatibility.

Resolve 12: The Go-To Application
For the better part of a decade, Resolve has been the preferred color-grading tool for users across a wide spectrum, from corporate and industrial applications to feature films. On Equals (2015), a futuristic love story produced by Ridley Scott, the VFX crew used Resolve extensively to scale, composite, and manipulate the rear-projection image across the back of a 15-meter apartment set on a Singapore soundstage.

With a completely revamped UI, Resolve 12 now includes a capable NLE with an open timeline that supports a remarkably wide range of frame rates, formats, and resolutions, including direct playback of Sony’s XAVC-I, ARRIRAW, and Panasonic LongG, an increasingly popular format, especially in Asia, that is still not supported to any significant degree on the major NLE platforms.

This flexibility comes at a bit of a cost, but not in dollars. The Lite version of Resolve, which features 90% to 95% of the capabilities alluded to in this article, is still free, but BMD recommends a minimum of 16GB of RAM to take full advantage of Resolve’s NLE prowess.

A notable new feature in Resolve 12 is the manner of proxy creation. In prior versions of the software, it was necessary to create a dedicated timeline in order to create working proxies for efficient operation and smooth timeline playback. Now, that process is relegated to the background and all but invisible to the user via the Optimize Media function. 

Playback resolution for proxies can be preconfigured or dynamically controlled via the Choose Automatically command. To facilitate color grading, where a full-resolution image is desirable, Optimize Media may be disabled with a simple click. Even if the user forgets to disable Optimize Media prior to outputting the project, Resolve 12 will automatically revert to the full-resolution files.

Incidentally, some users pulling files from a DVD or Blu-ray disc for re-use may want to use the Optimize Media feature to upres their footage from 8-bit to 10-bit.

Contextual UI

Resolve 12 incorporates a very competent NLE with advanced keying, color-grading and color-matching. Combined with expansive media management tools and basic audio editing, it is a compelling all-purpose tool for users eager to avail themselves of Resolve's latest free version. The new Resolve relies on contextual menus and cursor location to enable commonly used editorial tools. This means that Resolve 12 is particularly mouse-intensive, which may be off-putting for some editors in high-end suites, who may be loath to remove their fingers from the keyboard. Still, Resolve's keyboard layout may be custom-mapped to mimic FCP and Premiere Pro, so there is some solace there.

Resolve 12 is flexible. Its file handling is superb and may in fact be the most accommodating of any NLE on the market. Metadata support is impressive, and should serve as a model for the industry. As many of us know all too well, organization is the key to managing the withering overload of files and media we face each shooting day. Keeping all of it straight is a gargantuan task. Fortunately, even before importing original captured footage into Resolve, Blackmagic cameras offer easy and efficient file naming, eschewing the cryptic string of random characters so rudely imposed on us by some camera makers.

Along these lines, the Media Management capabilities in Resolve 12 are also improved. A simple Copy command moves a project, in its entirety, to an alternative workstation. A one-click Move command transfers a timeline (or timelines) to a backup computer. If a timeline is moving across a server, this latter operation requires Resolve 12 Studio, the paid version.

That brings up another salient point. Resolve is scalable and supports multiple GPUs working in concert to take full advantage of the latest computer hardware, like the Mac Pro tower. Resolve 12 Studio allows for up to 8 GPUs to be linked, allowing power users to offload output and rendering loads to other Resolve stations.

Fig 2 Keyer w Matte

Resolve 12's keyer requires only a single stroke to define a matte in green-screen scenes. With the 3D tracker and color-matching, this helps match foreground and background elements in more complex composites.

In many people’s minds, Resolve is still associated with color grading, and that is understandable. The Color Matching capability in Resolve 12 has been significantly enhanced, and is now much simpler and more efficient. Increasingly, many of us are using multiple cameras that capture various flavors of log. Being able to match color across multiple color spaces is essential, and Resolve 12 facilitates the process by eliminating the need to apply a LUT for viewing. In other words, once the respective color space(s) are set for input, timeline, and delivery, the Resolve 12 workflow no longer requires the application of a LUT for color-matching purposes.

Resolve uses software to apply different color spaces on the fly, which is one reason a fast CPU with abundant RAM is required for the updated version of the application. Note that changes to color space and clips can be applied to entire bins at once, in the same way 1D and 3D LUTs may be applied in a global manner.

Fig 3 DCP Menu Option

Although it's not new in version 12, Resolve outputs a DCP, which is a very useful feature for independent filmmakers looking to screen their work at festivals.

Owing to its superior file handling, Resolve has always been an efficient conforming tool. As an experienced cinematographer and DI operator, I know from experience that conforming snafus on some projects may consume over 40% of time and budget. Resolve’s metadata support can save many thousands of dollars on a typical high-end movie trailer or commercial. I can recall being in the DI room several years ago with a Harry Potter theatrical trailer where we faced 120 variations of the same scene and no one could say with certainty which version the director actually approved! Conforming tools like Resolve 12 can help integrate the required metadata (like good takes!) and streamline the finishing process considerably.

Fig 4 Audio Editor FX

Despite a few nifty features like a Touch function that allows setting key frames on the fly, Resolve 12's audio editor is fairly rudimentary. It does not offer a noise print reduction function, for example, or the ability to record a live narration. Most users will want to output sequences and clips to a more capable audio tool, such as Avid Pro Tools. 

Resolve 12 aims to be the universal tool that can do it all. To a large degree, incredibly, it succeeds. Still, many of us, especially when we're working with audio, will still need easy access to a dedicated third-party editor. Life is too short to endure the hassle of exporting and re-importing clips ad infinitum through a variety of XML tricks and gimmicks.

Resolve 12 facilitates the round-tripping process by offering a one-click Send To function for certain popular third-party programs like Pro Tools via AAF. Other popular editing platforms, like Apple Final Cut Pro X and Avid Media Composer, are also supported via XML export (albeit somewhat less elegantly in the case of Premiere Pro). Constructing a timeline of straight cuts and then exporting that via XML will ensure maximum compatibility across the broadest range of software tools.

Fig 5 LongG Support

Sing the praises! This is a rarity in an NLE. For broadcasters, especially in Asia, Resolve 12's support for processor-intensive long-GOP formats like Panasonic's LongG is a most welcome feature.

As a media professional I am often asked about the best software for a particular job. My simple answer? It’s the one we’re most likely to use — that is, the one right in front of us. Sure, you may have more powerful tools in your Applications folder but if it’s more than two moves or 10 minutes away, like your unused health club membership, you’re unlikely to take advantage of it, regardless of its feature set and awe-inspiring power.

By understanding how we really work — our habits and needs, from soup to nuts — DaVinci Resolve 12 has taken a huge leap forward. It cannot accomplish with absolute confidence and pizzazz every function, like our most powerful dedicated tools, but it’s sure getting close!