48 Hours with Resolve and Fusion

48f-fi

Disclaimer: Blackmagic Design was kind enough to supply me with a full version of Fusion Studio to check out the latest features. It most certainly influenced this article, but I believe you will find it interesting regardless.

While taking part in 48 Hour Film Project I did have an opportunity to use the latest version of both Resolve and Fusion, and I want to share with you this interesting experience of rapid post-production.

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Creating Thumbnails Has Never Been Easier

One of the byproducts of my work on THAT Studio Panel extension for Premiere Pro and After Effects has been an After Effects script that would generate a massive amount of thumbnails for video files. The initial idea to use it to prepare Panel assets did get scrubbed along the way, and we never got to using it in our automated workflow, but I believe it was too valuable to go to waste. Therefore here it is – name any way that you want to generate frames from your After Effects compositions or video files, and Master Thumbnailer will do that for you.

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Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects Plug-in Development Course on fxphd.com

sys204

I’m happy to announce, that this term I’m teaching plug-in development for Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe After Effects on fxphd. I’ll be covering the basics of C/C++ and Adobe After Effects SDK in a bit more detail, as well as GPU acceleration for Premiere. All these will be illustrated with a simple vignette effect that we are going to create during the course with the students. Believe it or not, any similarities to the very first effect that I wrote are coincidental. see more

Resolve 12 Editing Experience

resolve-editing-feature

Full disclosure: I was offered a full version of Resolve Studio from Blackmagic Design in exchange for this review with no other strings attached. While this perk might have influenced my opinion about the company and the product, it’s no secret that I have liked Resolve for a long time, used it on my projects since version 9, and trained people how to work with it. It’s simply a great, affordable grading tool, a worthy replacement of Apple Color. Now it is attempting to take over your edit suite, and this is what I decided to focus on in my assessment.

With the release of version 11, Resolve started to aggressively expand from purely grading tool into non-linear editing. Regardless of the initial hype and of impressive initial toolset, editing in Resolve 11 was clunky, the experience far from seamless, and in the end not really suited to anything but casual editing or correcting bad conforms. There were some brave souls who attempted to try it out on their projects, and even some universities decided to forego installing an NLE in their suites, in favour of Resolve. But I have not seen any projects edited purely from start to finish in Resolve 11. After the initial waves of enthusiasm, Resolve editing faded into background and became little more than a curiosity.

The recent release of Resolve 12 is supposed to change that. There are quite a few significant improvements, especially in the audio area, like the possibility to use VST and AU effects, more priority given to audio over video playback, a brand new audio track mixer, as well as new editing tools – multicam clips and compound or nested timelines plus any trim type that you can possibly imagine. This brings the editing toolset almost to the completeness, at least in the sense of 2015 NLEs.

The new editing toolset

Most of your usual suspects are there, including such useful things as head and tail edit, and a sync lock, which actually works properly and predictably, unlike in certain other applications. In fact, one thing that Resolve should be commended for is the way it handles track collisions on rippling – it’s intuitive, clever and saves a lot of time in the end. Similarly, the way you switch modes from Normal Edit (no operation changes timeline length) to Trim Edit (all operations are now rippling) is clever, possibly not innovative, but very clear and agreeable to my way of operating. Dynamic trimming is also there, available with a single keystroke. The only thing I can complain about is the discoverability. It takes a moment to realise what the modes do and how they work, apart from being just tools; that to open a timeline in the source monitor you have to drag it there; or that to perform Lift you have to use Delete Selected with in and out set. Some tools are simply hidden too well, not present in any menu. Another example: creating subclips is only possible when you right-click on the selected in-out range in the source monitor.

The additions to Resolve 12 trimming and editing make it a viable tool for creative editing.

The additions to Resolve 12 trimming and editing make it a viable tool for creative editing. Some options are pretty well hidden though!

There are also a few nifty features speeding up the editing process that Resolve is still lacking – one of them is the ability to set in and out point of the clip while scrubbing over the thumbnails or the filmstrip in the project media browser. While editing using the source monitor is important, and a lot of people do work that way, it is not always the most efficient, and especially the newer brand of editors might be missing them.

Where it’s still the big iron

How does editing in Resolve 12 feel though? After all, the editors are used to an immediate feedback, seamless, realtime playback experience and working with tons of media. Does Resolve 12 live up to the expectations?

I’d say yes and no.

Resolve needs a powerful machine to work properly. While any other NLE can fly on my MacBook Pro 2012 Retina, Resolve struggles, and sometimes fails, especially with heavily compressed H.264 media. I need my heavy-weight Windows workstation to get the performance which makes me comfortable. Coming from the high-end, big iron background, Resolve has not yet transcended its legacy limitations. It lives purely on a GPU, so if your edit is anything more than straightforward cut and occasional dissolve, or your resolution is high, you are going to encounter performance issues, if your graphics card is not good enough. Simple playback might be fine, but even going backwards of fast forward using JKL is not that responsive, often you will notice a significant lag between key being pressed and the reaction to it.

Also, if you are using effects and third party transitions, these are hardly ever rendered in the real-time. Arguably, this is also the case on other platforms, but in Resolve there is no way to just render part of the timeline, and it takes much more time for the software to recover from dropped frames. Yes, there is a nice background rendering option, very similar to what we can find in FCPX, but there is no granular control over what gets rendered – it’s either something not specific or nothing.

There are workarounds, like using cache, using proxy media, reducing playback resolution. They are not without their own issues, and very often require significant amount of hard drive space. In fact, the whole Chapter 5 in the excellent Resolve 12 User Manual is dedicated towards the topic of performance tuning, and it’s definitely worth reading. However, when compared to other NLEs, and especially on the lower end platforms, the smooth experience is not to be expected, when not sitting on a powerful workstation. Way better than in version 11, but we editors are a picky, spoiled bunch.

Project settings window can be intimidating to the uninitiated. Defaults are sensible, but still it is worthwhile to read the manual that comes with the software or ask someone with more experience.

Project settings window can be intimidating to the uninitiated. Defaults are sensible, but still it is worthwhile to read the manual that comes with the software or ask someone with more experience.

Finally, there’s the question of Resolve project management. It has definitely been simplified from the previous versions where a database server was used. One needs to remember though, that all the projects are still saved in a single location, and to move them to a different place you have to export them. Setting up Resolve for use in networked shared environment is not a task an average editor will be able to perform though, and it might be at times problematic, so before you get yourself in trouble either read the manual, or ask a person who has experience in this matter. Thankfully, you can move projects between computers using the drp files without much hassle. It’s definitely something to be aware of and get used to.

Where it falls short

There are still some legacy limitations like the need for all timelines to be of the same size and frame rate. It might not be a huge deal, but some of the more complex projects involve various deliveries. Hopefully this gets addressed in one of the future updates. Come to think about it, the project settings window contains a lot of options dealing with colour grading workflow, which for an average editor might be hard to understand.

Another limitation is the size of the timeline window, and inability to customise user interface to the extent that we know from Avid or Premiere. With some edits, it is not uncommon to have a 10 or even 12 edit tracks containing various elements – live action, motion graphics, visual effects, subtitles, and so on. For audio you definitely need twice that, or even more. Resolve’s current interface is best suited for flat timelines of 3-5 video tracks at the most – unless you are using a 4k or higher resolution display or dual monitors with full screen timeline option on. Therefore some projects will feel great, while others will make you wish for some more screen real-estate or workspace flexibility.

Editing

Editing is smooth on a powerful machine, but your average laptop might turn out not to be enough to seamlessly run Resolve.

Also, editors live by their keyboard shortcuts, and this is where Resolve has significant room for improvement. For one, keyboard shortcuts are stored per project, and are available via project settings. True, you can save your presets, and set the defaults, but at the same time, it would make much more sense, if they were stored as a user preference. Some of the shortcuts are great – kudos for all nudging and clip selection – but some come as defaults from FCP legacy and make less sense. A few common operations require pressing adjustment keys like shift or alt, sometimes multiple of those. Therefore the very first thing that one needs to do is to redefine them. Unfortunately, the keyboard shortcuts editor is not great and feels clunky and dated. At least a search box a la Adobe Premiere would make it easier to find relevant commands, and of course nothing beats the graphic representation of a keyboard, like in FCP.

Where it just works

Media organisation and metadata management is good – nothing revolutionary, it just works as it should and like an editor is used to. If you had used previous versions of Resolve, you will notice that the project structure is now more similar to the one in a traditional NLE – and for the better. There are bins, timelines can reside in any bin, bins are searchable. Any clip can have traditional metadata attached to it, which you can also look for, sort by and fill in, if necessary. Resolve 12 introduces Smart Bins – basically saved searches that update in real-time. Unfortunately, metadata entered in Resolve is project-specific, and won’t be shared between various projects.

Media management in Resolve just works.

Media management in Resolve just works.

Audio editing is usually smooth, if you discount the timeline size limitation. It’s great to have the ability to use audio effects and plug-ins. Right now Resolve does not ship with any, and I have not found a way to incorporate VST plug-ins shipped with Adobe Premiere. On the other hand, on OS X it recognises your standard Audio Units, which is great. At the time I was writing this review (Resolve version 12.1) there was one bug, which might or might not be a deal-breaker for you: AAC-encoded audio will distort when two such files are interacting with one another – either on separate layers, or via cross fade transition. Hopefully this gets fixed soon, as sometimes we do work on really strange types of footage, and encountering AAC-encoded audio is unfortunately not that uncommon.

Of course, coming from the world of grading, Resolve supports most interchange formats, including OMF and AAF, which you might want to use to pass your sound edit to an actual sound mixing application like Pro Tools or Audition. It also imports and exports XML and FCPX XML edits, so if it comes to worst, you can always execute your escape plan and move to an NLE of choice.

One of the potentially more useful features is the searchable Edit Index (aka Timeline Index in FCPX), being essentially an EDL representation of your timeline. Absent duplicate clip markers, it’s a handy tool for manual checking. You can also use it to browse the markers and flags present in the current timeline, though I am missing the marker list for a clip open in the source monitor, where it would be really, really handy as well.

Where it shines

The timeline interaction is often great – very similar to FCPX, ways ahead of Avid and Premiere. Moving clips around feels snappy, adjusting the edits is also fun. Audio levels are adjusted in real-time – of course, not accounting for effects, but this I would not expect – adding crossfades and editing transition curves with often just a single click and drag of a mouse. The expandable keyframe editor, similar to the one present in After Effects, is terrific. A lot of great thought went into this design. It is both simple, and at the same time efficient and powerful, definitely one of the high points of this software. I miss a bit more control over audio transition envelopes or logarithmic audio fade-ins and fade-outs, but that’s about it. Also, did I already mention that the track sync-lock actually works predictably?

It takes two clicks to get to the keyframe editor, but once you're there, you don't want to go back.

It takes two clicks to get to the keyframe editor, but once you’re there, you don’t want to go back.

Newly added multicam is smooth and nicely done. All the required options, including syncing by audio waveform, are there. Playback is good, switching between the angles does not seem to cause any hiccups. In general, the experience is satisfying.

While a lot of effects, generators and transitions were already present in Resolve 10, most of them of limited use, Resolve 12 adds the “Smooth Cut” transition, an equivalent of Avid’s Fluidmorph, or Adobe’s Morph Cut – a mix between cross-fade and optical flow morphing from form one shot to the next. It does seem to work a bit better than Fluidmorph, and it is not limited to the shots containing visible and discernible faces, like the Morph Cut is. While I’m not often impressed by bells and whistles, this feature alone is sometimes worth the effort of at least moving your edit to Resolve.

Where it excels

Since this piece is dedicated to editing in Resolve, I’m not going to do a detailed overview of grading tools. But there are two things new to Resolve 12 which can help you even at the editing stage. One, there is the Resolve Color Management – among other things it allows you to specify the colour space profile that should be attached to any clip that you bring into the project. It will make sure that the flat footage gets a preliminary correction which brings you into your timeline colour space – for example, making the flat log files more contrasty and saturated, ready for Rec709, DCI P3 or even HDR delivery. Previously this could have been achieved with the use of LUTs, but the downside was that any data that got clipped in the process was lost. Resolve Color Management takes care of it without this drawback.

The second feature that might save an editor a great amount of time is the Shot Matcher. Similarly to its SpeedGrade counterpart, it aims to analyse the source clip, and then attempts to bring the selected clips into line with it colour-wise. For any documentary editor or a person who deals with a lot of footage that is not exposed evenly, it’s a blessing. Of course, at best it can be a starting point for the proper grade, but when you’re editing, the contrast and colour continuity can make for an easier, swifter experience, especially with people not used to ignoring colour differences while watching rough cuts.

Shot Matcher can be a great time-saver when using a lot of  unevenly shot media.

The Shot Matcher can be a great time-saver when using a lot of unevenly shot media.

As a grading application, Resolve brings to the table excellent colour management from start to finish, top class grading toolset that now slowly moves into compositing territory, version management, numerous delivery options, remote and collaborative work, and last but not least – control surface integration. While not essential to an editor who just edits, for one who wants to expand into other areas, especially grading, these are a huge benefit, and could be the main reason to start your new projects directly in Resolve. And if you have been using Resolve to grade already, you can now perform creative editing there as well, or move your rough cuts from your NLE, finesse, grade and finish in a single application.

Verdict

What’s my opinion of Resolve 12 for an editor then? Still not there as a pure NLE tool. Not sure if it ever is going catch up to dedicated applications, considering its underlying architecture and limitations. But if you intend to profit from Resolve grading toolset, want to avoid the pain of conforming, don’t want to spend money on a tool you would rarely use, or have a project which does not require you to juggle tons of media, and have a decent piece of hardware to run it on, by all means give it a go. I know a few people using Resolve 12 as a supporting NLE already, and they are praising it.

Resolve has been developing extremely fast, considering that it is only the third version to have editing capabilities. The promises from Resolve 11 have been finally realised in 12. If this trend continues, I believe the new version will have smooth editing experience, and even more interesting features that will help solidify its position in the online/finishing world (including more Fusion integration). This would go a long way towards making it almost a one-stop shop for post-production, from dailies to delivery. And when Tangent Ripple comes out next year, you will most likely see it alongside Resolve in many editing suites around the globe.


 

If you are interested in learning how to use Resolve, Alexis van Hurkman has recently released another of his tutorials, this time dedicated to editing in Resolve 12. You can get it on Ripple Training website. 

Rumours That Leave Some Terrified…

Adobe-nuke

When the news first came out that The Foundry is going to be available for sale in 2015, and my friend told me that there were rumours that Adobe might be interested in acquiring it, at first I dismissed it as rather unlikely. However, this week, first an Adobe employee tweeted The Foundry’s reel, and soon after an article in Telegraph confirmed this possibility, which makes things almost official.

Some of the early tweeter world reactions were not very enthusiastic, to say the least:

twitter

If you are familiar with the profiles of these two companies, the initial wariness is understandable. Adobe delivers tools for everyone, while The Foundry has been traditionally associated with high-end workflows for larger visual effects studios. Perhaps the dismay of some The Foundry users comes from the fact, that The Foundry does not really need anything from Adobe to supplement their great products in the niche that they positioned themselves at. Were it not for the venture capital (The Carlyle Group in this case) that simply wants to profit from their investment, there would hardly be any interest for The Foundry in mingling with Adobe. From Adobe’s perspective though, acquiring The Foundry is a perfect opportunity to fill in the areas, which have always been their weak points – true 3D (Modo, Mari, Katana) and high-end compositing (Nuke).

Personally I would not mind having an additional set of icons added to my Creative Cloud license. Depending on how this (potential) marriage is handled, it can be a beginning of something great, or a potential disaster to some. I am cautiously optimistic.

Both companies have their own mature line-up of products that are mostly self-sufficient. The real challenge is immediately obvious: integrating these is not going to be a piece of cake. For example, Adobe’s internal scripting platform revolves around JavaScript, while The Foundry’s is centered around Python. These are not compatible in any way, shape or form. Adobe has their own UI framework called Drover, while The Foundry is using a Linux-gone-multiplatform standard of QT. This is also very unlikely to change, and perhaps shouldn’t. To cater for the needs of large studios, The Foundry delivers not only for Windows and OS X, but also – and perhaps most importantly – for Linux. This is an area where Adobe has arguably limited experience – they released one version of Photoshop for Unix once, which was subsequently discontinued because of a total lack of interest. Will Adobe then have to develop at least the Creative Cloud Desktop application for Linux to handle licensing? This might be interesting.

The questions appear almost instantaneously: what will happen to the alliance between Adobe and Maxon, when they acquire their own 3D software package (Modo)? If Nuke becomes the main compositing tool for Adobe, how it will impact the development of After Effects as a platform, and what will happen with quite a few compositing plug-ins? This is the most obvious place where these technologies can clash, and some third-party developers might be left out in the cold. How much of the development power will be focused on integration, and creation of Dynamic-Link engines in all applications that talk to each other, as opposed to implementing new, cutting-edge features or fixing bugs? Without a doubt, it would be great to see a link to Nuke composition in Premiere Pro – and this might in fact be not so difficult to achieve, since Nuke can already run in the render mode in the background. However, how will it impact the development of “Flame Killer” Nuke Studio itself? Hard-core Nuke users will most definitely see the necessity to use Premiere as a hub as a step back, especially when it comes to conforming – an area, which is known to be an Achilles heel for Premiere (see my previous notes about it) – and the vfx workflow. And if we are to take hint from what happened with the acquisition of SpeedGrade, when most development resources were moved towards creating Dynamic Link with Premiere, and the actual development on SpeedGrade itself almost stalled, this might be worrying.

Certainly there are some valid concern about responsiveness of Adobe towards the usual clients of The Foundry, as the market audience for the products will inevitably shift. At the same time Adobe does crave to work on the higher end, and it’s much easier for high-profile people like David Fincher to ask for the features, and receive them, as opposed to common folks like you and me. So the studios will still have the leverage on Adobe. However, a challenge will come in the fact, that The Foundry tools (with the exception of Modo) are not as accessible and intuitive, as Adobe’s, and very often require extensive personal training to use properly. Again, Iridas acquisition being an example, Adobe will try to make small changes in the UI, where necessary, but in general the efforts will be spent elsewhere. Personally I don’t ever envision myself using a Katana which is most definitely a specialised relighting tool for high-end 3D workflows, mostly working with assets coming from the software owned by Autodesk. If I were to name a single product that is most likely to be dropped after the acquisition, it would be Katana. It would take quite a pressure from the studios using it to keep it in development. Adobe would have no skin in this game – in fact, possibly quite the opposite. One way or another, I highly doubt Katana will make it to the hands of Adobe’s typical end-user. It might become a separate purchase, like Adobe Anywhere is now.

On a good side, this acquisition will indeed make Adobe’s video pipeline next to complete. We used to snicker at the slides and demos suggesting or even insisting, that it’s possible to do everything within the Creative Cloud. We knew that making even a simple 3D projection in After Effects was an effort often destined to fail. A lot of great work has been made in After Effects despite its shortcomings, but the workarounds are often time-consuming – with Nuke at our disposal this would no longer be the case. It indeed has the potential to make Adobe a one-stop shop in post-production. And even more good news? The drop in price is inevitable, especially with the recent acquisition of Eyeon by Blackmagic Design.

If I am to make predictions, I’d say that initially some The Foundry products (After Effects plug-ins, Modo, Nuke, Mari and Mischief, if it doesn’t get integrated into Photoshop/Illustrator) will immediately become part of the Creative Cloud offer. Adobe will be showcasing Modo and Nuke to sell more CC licenses. A lot of users who just shelled out thousands of dollars for their Nuke licenses will be unhappy, but Adobe will most likely give some grace period for them – maybe in the form of free Creative Cloud licenses to current The Foundry users without active CC subscription or something similar. However, to avoid legal issues with Linux users, where Adobe is not able, and will most likely never be able to deliver their full line of Creative Cloud products, a separate offering will be made for this platform – perhaps on custom order, similarly to CC for Enterprise customers. Linux versions will keep up feature-wise at the beginning with their counterparts, but depending on the number of licenses sold this way, they might stall or be discontinued. Katana is most likely the first to go. The whole Nuke line will be integrated into a single product – hopefully Nuke Studio, but possibly to what is now known as NukeX. The latter would be unfortunate, as there is quite a lot of potential in Nuke Studio, but I’m not sure Adobe folks will understand it at the moment, as they seem to be only now learning about high-end vfx workflow. Hopefully outcry from the clients will be enough. Hiero, however will also most likely be dropped, as it essentially is redundant to conform part of Nuke Studio.

I hope some of the original The Foundry branding will be retained, but I am a bit afraid that we will quite fast see either square icons with Nuke symbol, or even letters Nu, Mo, Ma, Mc. Hopefully someone can point Adobe Media Encoder icon as a precedent, and at least the Nuke symbol remains intact. Adobe letter salad becomes a bit tedious to keep up with.

Again, if we are to take hint from Iridas acquisition, The Foundry development team will remain mostly the way it is – unless people decide that they don’t want to have anything to do with Adobe as a company, which does happen from time to time – but it will be integrated into Adobe culture. Adobe seems to be pretty good in this kind of thing, so the falloff should be minimal. Development-wise, most certainly the attempts at making exchange between various application easier will get priority right after making sure Creative Cloud licensing works. An importer of Modo files into After Effects, perhaps a bridge between After Effects and Nuke, sharing cameras, tracking data, scene geometry, and some layers; or attempts at Dynamic Link between Nuke and Premiere – these are my initial guesses. Perhaps even the XML exchange between Premiere and Hiero/Nuke Studio will finally be fixed, and at some point The Foundry applications will be able to read and/or write Premiere Pro project files. Adobe’s XMP model of metadata will most likely be employed throughout the Collective.

On a good side, it will allow The Foundry to focus – I had the impression that for some time this company began to behave like Adobe in times of CS5-CS6 – trying to expand the market, pumping out new flashy features instead of focusing on stability and bug fixing, and diluting Nuke line, or in general trying out to lure people to buy their products or updates. Creative Cloud subscription model, regardless of how it was perceived when introduced about two years ago, helps in this regard quite dramatically, as there is less pressure on the developers to cater to the needs of marketing department (vide introduction of Text node in Nuke) and maintaining various versions of the software. This should translate into more time and manpower being directed towards the “core” development – the good stuff.

I think this is promising – if it ever happens. There already has been a precedent of a lower-end company acquiring high-end tools and making them available for public without necessarily watering down their value. We’ve all seen it. Most of us loved it. The company’s name is Blackmagic Design, and the tools were daVinci Resolve and Eyeon Fusion. Here’s to hoping that Adobe handles this acquisition in a similarly efficient and successful manner, bringing the high-end 3D and compositing tools to the hands of many. That is, if this buyout ever happens. Because you know what? Why wouldn’t Blackmagic simply outbid them just for the sheer thrill of disrupting the market?

Layer Stripper – It’s Not What You Think It Is

CI Layer Stripper

As I’m getting ready for this year’s NAB, I think it’s great time to release a new nifty tool for After Effects – CI Layer Stripper. This script deftly removes all unused layers from your project – the ones that are not visible, and not referenced by other layers as parents, track mattes, or even simple expressions. This will allow you to trim and collect these items in your project which are actually being used.

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Finally a Viable After Effects Archive Solution

Trim N Collect

While developing Conform Studio I stumbled upon an application of the CS Extract script which I considered interesting, but did not have enough time to code and test properly. It was only a matter of time when other people attempted to use the Studio in this manner, therefore I even included a note in the manual about it. see more

Premiere Pro Clip Markers – Solved!

clip-markers-feature

I’ve written a lot about Premiere Pro and metadata. Surprisingly, almost as an after thought, the solution was shipped in the October 2014 release of Creative Cloud applications. It is hiding in the preference panel under the “Media” tab, and is called “Write clip markers to XMP”. I believe this is one of the most important features that was added to Premiere, because it addresses the issue of backup, archive and project sharing and also helps with on-line/off-line workflows.

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