DaVinci Resolve 12 First Look: Resolve Color Management

DaVinci Resolve 12 First Look: Resolve Color Management

August 8, 2015

Check out this Insight to learn more about the essential of the new Resolve Color Management (RCM) features of DaVinci Resolve 12

Scene Referred Color Management Finds A Home In Resolve 12

Color management, color pipelines, or whatever catchphrase you want to use are a hot topic in the world of postproduction, color, and finishing in general.

In this DaVinci Resolve 12 First Look Insight, I want to explore what I think is one of the top features in version 12 – Resolve Color Management (RCM)

Before jumping into the movie, I first want to take a look at the differences between Display Referred (what you’re probably using now) and Scene Referred Color Management, discuss how RCM and ACES are similar in their approaches to the same problem, compare RCM to LUT workflows, and finally how I’ve been using RCM in my own projects.

There is a lot to cover so let’s jump right in.

Display vs. Scene Referred Color Management

One of the first things you need to understand about color management with Resolve 12, or color management in general for that matter, is the difference between scene and display referred color management.

Let’s start first with Display Referred Color Management. 

Up until, and including Resolve 12, Display Referred Color Management has been the law of the land and how many (if not most) colorists work day-to-day.

Essentially, Display Referred Color Management (DRC) means that color accuracy is totally dependent on the calibration of your monitor and YOU, the colorist, to judge if the colors (information) being shown on the display are correct.

Display Referred Color Management is how Resolve (and most color grading applications) have always worked.

In other words, in a Display Referred system, an application like Resolve has no idea of what footage ‘should’ look like.  It processes that footage, and you, with your grading & the calibration of the monitor determine what the shot ‘should’ look like.

So what does Scene Referred Color (SRC) Management mean?

Unlike Display Referred Color Management, the application you’re using to grade (Resolve 12) is actively involved in the color management of footage, timelines and output.

Essentially, you can define the color profile of media in your project, define the working color space of a timeline, and also define the output color space.

In Resolve 12 all this under the hood processing is known as DaVinci YRGB Color Managed or Resolve Color Management (RCM) for short.

You can switch a project from the default DaVinci YRGB color science to YRGB Color Managed.  Or if you’d like you can also switch into two other color management schemes ACES 1.0 & ACES 1.0 LOG (more on those in a moment).

Just keep in mind, you’re under no obligation to use RCM.

If you like the way that Resolve has always worked, continue to use it that way, but as I’ll show in the video and explain more below, there are some compelling reasons to work with RCM.

What About ACES?

One of the first questions I asked when RCM was announced with Resolve 12 was “What’s the difference between RCM and ACES (Academy Color Encoding System)?”

While I know some of the technical differences – IDTs, for example, are provided by camera manufacturers while RCM Input processing is provided by BlackMagic – the end goals are really the same.

Scene Referred instead of Display Referred Color Management.

If those in your pipeline are in an ACES workflow, then by all means, use ACES color science.

If you’re an editor or colorist just looking for a little more control over color management, but have no overwhelming reason to go to ACES, then in my opinion, RCM provides a slightly easier and more predictable path.

Don’t get me wrong – ACES (and ACES Log) is a great system. However, since I’m mainly a broadcast colorist when I mention ACES and IDTs, ODTs, etc., I get a lot of blank stares from others in my pipeline!

With that said, I’m not sure I’m 100% sold on RCM either, but from an implementation point of view, and predictability of the math transforms RCM seems more predictable and giving me better results than ACES.

Different From A LUT?

Above I said that RCM is using mathematical transforms to process footage and that Scene Referred Color Management essentially is an active approach for defining the color in a shot, timeline, or output.

Doesn’t a LUT do those things?


A Look-Up Table is also a way of transforming clips, an entire sequence or an output.

But LUTs, because they’re simply a table of hard-coded plot points, tend to do things like clip image detail, or be somewhat destructive in the way they transform a shot.

You’ve no doubt seen this and it’s the reason why Patrick, Dan and I for years have preached that a LUT is not a ‘magic bullet’ solution.

You’ll often have to do pre-LUT adjustments and post-LUT adjustments to work around the ridged nature of a LUT.

RCM (and ACES too for that matter) use quite sophisticated math that always allows images to be transformed with the most latitude and preservation of information possible allowing you the colorist to avoid much of the 2 (or more) steps it takes to properly process footage in a LUT workflow.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that you can’t use LUTs, or that you can’t use LUTs in a color-managed workflow – of course, you can!

However, in a color-managed workflow, in my opinion, LUTs are much more useful for dialing in a creative look vs. technical transforms.

Input, Timeline & Output Color Spaces

To enable Resolve Color Management (RCM) all you need to do is open up your project preferences (cog icon in the lower right-hand corner of the UI).

On the Master Project Settings Tab and with the Color Science pull down, you can choose between standard DaVinci YRGB processing, ACES & ACES LOG 1.0 processing and the brand new YRGB Color Managed Option.

I want to make one thing really clear – there is no right or wrong with your choice – what you choose is all about workflow and to a certain degree your preference about how you like Resolve’s various grading controls to work and ‘feel’ with the different color science options.

After choosing YRGB Color Managed, you can jump over to the Color Management Tab.

In this new Pane (previously called Look Up Tables) there is a new section at the top for Color Management settings.

When using RCM you can choose color processing for Input (media in your media pool), the Timeline, and for your Output.

All three of these options default to REC 709 Gamma 2.4, but a quick click in one of the pull-downs reveals a plethora of options.

It’s important to note that Input choice is especially important.  While you can manually assign an Input Colorspace in the media pool or on the color page this option governs the default behavior of new media added to a project – which if you don’t realize that’s happening can be a bit confusing.

Additionally, Output Color space will change how your viewer & renders look.

Practical Color Management

So RCM sounds good but in practical use what purpose does it really serve?

As this is a ‘First Look’ Insight I reserve the right to continue to develop my thoughts on RCM, but I think have some good uses of it now:

  • Log Conversion – normalization of LOG footage is something we all do – either with a LUT or manually.  Well, with RCM you can avoid both of those things, potentially streamlining your workflow.  By assigning say Arri Log C as the input color space for a bunch of Log Alexa footage, your footage is normalized automatically and without having to use a LUT.
  • Work In A ‘Comfortable’ Space – Many folks will stop right with Input conversion and continue to work in REC 709 2.4 Gamma (timeline default), but you’re free at any time to switch your timeline color space to whatever you prefer. Why do that? For me, the reason is mainly the feel, and the way that many of the grading controls ‘feel’ different in different color spaces. For example moving the color balance controls around with a timeline set to REC 709/sRGB the results are vastly different than setting the timeline to DCI XYZ (try it, it’s fun!).
  • Output Visualization – After getting a combination of Input/Timeline Colorspace set the way you’d like the next thing is Output color space. The option not only governs your output to an external monitor but also the viewer and final renders. So let’s say you’ve converted LOG C media on input using the Log C input option, you’re working at REC 709 for timeline processing & output because the project is going to TV, but then you find out it also needs to go to the theater.  Well you could do trim pass on the project by switching over to DCI P3 for your output color management, creating a new version of each shot and then finessing the project for P3 as needed.

Sure you could do this type of thing with LUTs, but I think many will find this workflow easier.

What’s really cool about scene-referred color management is that it helps you better understand (visually) what projects will look like.

For example, maybe you only grade corporate projects destined for the web (sRGB).  Even though REC 709 is almost the same as sRGB why risk it? Change all of your color management settings to sRGB and now you have an end to end sRGB web color pipeline!

Next Steps?

Over the coming weeks, I’m going to continue to use Resolve YRGB Color Managed projects. I’ve been in love with the ‘concept’ of ACES for quite some time, but for a few reasons, I’ve never really made the jump to a full ACES workflow.

Resolve Color Management seems streamlined and easy to implement without having to deal with the hassle (and limitations) of Look Up Tables. I’m hoping that RCM gives me even more control over my grading pipeline.

Have you been using RCM?  How has it been working?  Please use the comments below to let me and other members know!  


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  • Great first look! Looking forward to more. Gonna try this w my next project instead of normalizing manually.

    Is there any reason you’d want (or can) grade prior to the transform?

  • I couldn’t get the color science to work on cinema DNG files from my BMP4K camera.

  • Marc Wielage

    Great piece, Robbie. Look forward to trying out the new managed-color settings on a future project. It looks to me like daVinci YRGB Color Managed system is essentially kind of a version of ACES that’s maybe more practical in the real world.

  • RobbieCarman

    agreed – as Juan said in the interview above – BMD seems to have taken the good practical part of ACES and put it into this implementation. I’m excited to see how it develops.

  • RobbieCarman

    will try at the office today with some BMD4k footage I have. I know at least early on with RMC there were some formats that weren’t working or working properly – its possible this is still a hold over. To be clear what portion of the colorspace management do you mean? Input, Timeline or Output?

  • RobbieCarman

    how do you mean? The input transform happens when the media is put in the media pool

  • Josh Petok

    Thanks for an awesome breakdown of color management, Robbie. I’m interested in your thoughts on how the log tools respond when you work in a log timeline. There’s been some gripes with how it worked in the past, and I’m curious about how well they work for you.

  • also curious what occurs, as I typically work w BMCC footage a lot (although that cam uses a slightly different profile)

  • Ill rephrase, as I think Im missing one aspect. Would there be any reason to have access to adjust the image prior to the transform (ala similar to the PreLUT node in the typical 3 node LUT structure) or is that counter intuitive to its purpose?

    Im thinking of situations where I might normally have highlights I need to bring back and how this workflow might change how I do that. Example, in a car with windows where its exposed well inside the vehicle but the Windows are almost peaking, but still have some detail. Normally, I would pull a High Luma key and bring back some of the highlights, sometimes prior to applying a LUT (if going that route). How would you suggest I handle similar situations with color management, or does it not change?

    I guess Im so used to having absolute control over contrast and sat, that it feels weird giving some control to gain efficiency, even if its a clear benefit.

  • I set the input to BM 4k film and timeline to rec709 and see no difference in the clip. The color space dropdowns in the raw tab are grayed out. I can toggle the input from alexa log c to black magic and see no difference. When i did the same test on a prores clip it worked as expected.

  • juansalvo

    Because the transform is computational the highlight information should persist. IOW you should be able to bring down the gain and get back the highlight (or use the “highlight” function) and assuming that you haven’t clipped the float data somewhere, that 1+ info should come back.

    Compute don’t clip!
    (Unless it’s meant to, or you bork it)

  • Okay, the data is still there but I just need to bring it back to where I want it. Strange concept after working with LUTs and clipping. I’m starting to realize a lot of my habits were formed to prevent clipping, and I can rethink some techniques now. This was just an example I happen to be dealing w currently (car and overexposed windows but some detail is still there). Thanks Juan!

  • RAMI

    Hi Robbie
    As I new to color grading one thing is confuse me that If I have a project and the client want it to be deliver for 3 output TV, Web and cinema, my question is do I have to grad the project 3 times and every time in different color space?

  • No Red in the Input colorspace?

  • Toby Tomkins

    Worth mentioning that the difference between theatrical and broadcast isn’t just the colourspace, but also the brightness and environment, so if you’re delivering a theatrical master after grading in a broadcast environment in Rec.709, you really need to at least do a pass with projection at 14ftl in a dark theatre. The same also applies going the other way, often referred to as a trim pass for rec.709.

    There is also the argument around grading for an emmisive display vs a reflected image, but besides a black-point shift I’m not sure with brightness and environment matched if there is much difference in my humble experience.

    I’ve had great success grading live action theatrical work on a 3m screen with a calibrated (via large profile with CR-100 and large 3D LUT) Rec709 projector at 14ftl (48cdm) with a 2.6 gamma in a dark room, and then finishing in a DI suite for two days using a rec709 to P3 conversion, tweaking the transform as necessary to get a perceptual match. This way the only transform is the colourspace, so its my preferred workflow,

    Next Monday and Tuesday this will be put to the test again on Dirty Looks’ new Christie 4K projector in their amazing new DI suite with a behemoth 6m screen! If I get time I might try the RCM to see how the translation works from some broadcast graded material I am familiar with (ie I’m used to seeing it in a broadcast suite at 35ftl Rec.709) and I’ll feed back to you guys!

    If hiring a DCI projection suite is out of your productions budget, speak to private theatres and theatrical screening rooms, some will let you set up your grading equipment and connect directly to their projectors (providing you have the right hardware! IE decklink)

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