DaVinci Resolve 14 Studio: Collaboration Comes of Age

DaVinci Resolve 14: The Mythical Collaborative Workflow Has Arrived

May 1, 2017

Like flying cars, the 'Studio' concept of post-production was promised for generations. At NAB 2017 we have the first actual implementation in Resolve 14.


The flying car – and its elusiveness – is the greatest disappointment of all my childhood dreams. It’s a staple of cartoons and science fiction since well before any of us was born. The two images above are from my wife’s step-grandfather, Hugo Gernsback, in one of his longest-lived publications Forecast. This small-format magazine was privately published and distributed to friends and family every Christmas. Filled with the father of science fiction’s most fanciful predictions, throughout several decades of Forecast magazine the concept of the flying car is the most recurring.

DaVinci Resolve 14 Studio: Is its Collaborative Workflow the arrival of the flying car?

It was mentioned in a conversation at NAB (and I apologize to whomever said it to me, but if I remember you I’ll give you credit here) that the promise of ‘Studio Software’ is the equivalent of the promise of the flying car: Dreamed about but never delivered. Instead, we’ve gotten monstrosities like the Kitty Hawk…

The Kitty Hawk: A perverse notion of the Flying Car
If you call this a flying car (and some do) then you’ve completely missed the dream.

If you click through and watch the video then you’ll admit this flying hovercraft is awesome – but it’s not taking you on a family outing from North Carolina to the Grand Canyon. It’s called a flying car to grab headlines not because it’s the realization of the flying car dream.

Post production software is remarkably similar to the flying car when it comes to the dream of an integrated ‘Studio’ suite of tools. These Studio tools promise the seamless integration of multiple crafts moving project files around with no hassle and no compromise. But that dream has also been elusive. It’s a concept tried and abandoned several times by all the major players in our industry.

But with Resolve 14 – and its Collaborative workflow – has post production’s flying car suddenly been realized? Not as the hobbled together and bolted on appendages we’ve become used to but as an actual, seamless workflow?

In this Insight we’re going to cover:

  1. What is the ‘Studio Concept’ and why is it such a compelling promise?
  2. The ‘Studio Concept’ over time and how it’s been executed over the past 20 years (and failed).
  3. How DaVinci Resolve has been on this track for several years and why Resolve 14 Studio is the first fully formed realization of the ‘Studio Concept’

Of course, not everyone is thrilled with the notion of the ‘Studio Concept’. We’ll also explore objections to the Studio workflow and possible mistakes that Blackmagic needs to sidestep before we can say that their ‘Studio Concept’ is fully realized.

Finally, we will glance at who benefits from this new workflow and which artists may find themselves threatened by it.

What is the ‘Studio Concept’?

When you think of a motion picture studio, you think of a self-contained behemoth. The studio does everything – from contracting the above-the-line talent to paying production and post production costs to the final distribution and marketing. They attain economies of scale by controlling every aspect of the motion picture production process.

In theory – this allows a Studio to develop its own workflows and efficiencies. Every specialty and sub-specialty involved in the creation of a Studio motion picture is marching to the same step, and the Studio is the drummer.

When software developers talk about building a Studio suite of software, they’re talking about multiple specialties sharing projects and timelines, seamlessly.

The ‘Studio Concept’ promises the integration of several specialties

And each of the specialty software under the Studio Concept integrates with one another. In a perfect world:

  • Your on-set dailies and metadata are brought together and stay together through final delivery
  • The timeline your editor creates is perfectly translated to your VFX, audio and color teams
  • The results from VFX, audio and color get delivered back to editorial for final delivery, seamlessly
  • Changes and versions are easily tracked and delivered, forward and backward through the production pipeline

The Studio pipeline promises maximum efficiency and minimal downtime. But as we all know, moving a project (even as simple as a short commercial) between all these specialties can be harassed by downtime and complex workflow issues.

How has the Studio Concept failed over the past 20 years?

All the A’s have taken a swing at building a Studio suite in the past 20 years.

Avid tried with multiple acquisitions – especially around the time they introduced the Symphony. Different graphics and audio software have tried to extend the functionality of Media Composer. ProTools integration is probably the most successful of Avid’s integrations – but it’s not integrated in the loosest sense of  the word. Media has to be copied. New files need to get created. And the final mix doesn’t get seamlessly integrated back into the timeline – but is rendered and replaced, usually by someone other than the audio mixer.

Apple famously spent several years building out Final Cut Studio. It was a suite of editing, motion graphics, color, text animation and audio tools that all used Final Cut Pro as their point of integration. The concept was simple: The project files of Motion or LiveType can be used as source footage in Final Cut Pro. Some of the tools from those other apps could even be manipulated in Final Cut Pro. But as Apple discovered, maintaining all those code bases wasn’t easy. Eventually, they all fell away and were killed… except for Motion.

Adobe created the Creative Cloud platform as their version of the flying car. Adobe owns the most popular still photography software and the most popular motion graphics software, Photoshop and After Effects. But how to integrate them? In the end, they settled on Dynamic Linking with Premiere Pro as the hub. Premiere can either read those project files directly (Photoshop .psd) or dynamic link to After Effects – sending parts of the Premiere Pro timeline out to After Effects. As the After Effects file gets revised, it flows through to Premiere Pro in real-time. But all it takes is a quick Google search to figure out that dynamic linking isn’t without its own complexities and problems (that link shows 10 pages of Google results with people trying to solve dynamic link problems in the past 12 months). And Adobe’s biggest failure has to be the short life (and quick death) of SpeedGrade project linking. From the outside, it looks like Adobe lost the will to move that product forward.

But overall, what’s the problem that all these attempts at the ‘Studio Concept’ have failed to overcome? Let’s mis-quote a US president:

“It’s the Timeline, Stupid!”

The problem with the classic approach of ‘Studio’ integration comes down to one thing: The Timeline.

The timeline – and its representation as a data file – is extremely difficult to share between software apps. For instance, variable speed ramps. As the editor ramps playback from one frame rate to another but does so in a non-linear fashion how likely is it that two different pieces of software will give the same identical result? Experience has proven: Zero to none.

Different software represent the timeline differently. They make different assumptions about the variables in a timeline and entire feature sets that exist in one app are completely missing from other apps. It’s the timeline sharing that trips everyone up. A classic example is Final Cut Pro and Apple Color.

Apple Color and Final Cut Pro never really integrated with each other.

When Apple acquired Final Touch and re-branded it as Apple Color the first thing they did was ‘integrate’ the two apps. And they did this with a simple XML workflow. Apple built a little script that exported the Final Cut timeline into an XML, launched Color and imported the XML. This script was launched inside Final Cut as a ‘Send to Color’ command.

But as any Apple Color colorist will tell you, the operation was far from seamless. If you didn’t follow a series of rules in preparing your timeline, then the FCP XML would break and many hours of un-billable downtime would follow. And this is just one example.

Over and over again, this is the story of failed or inconsistent Studio implementations. Hundreds of man- and women- hours are wasted as the pros using these ‘integrated’ apps have to make up for the poor executions of these workflows. And it all comes down to the complexity of sharing timelines between apps unable to fully represent the timelines created by their Studio brethren.

But when Blackmagic started turning DaVinci Resolve into a capable non-linear editor, built alongside and within the color tools of the existing DaVinci Resolve color grading software – we began to get a sense of the possibilities.

How DaVinci Resolve Studio is different from other ‘Studio’ integrations

Integrating two completely different tools into a single app is really really hard. It requires will, it requires manpower and it requires a long-term commitment. In my mind, DaVinci Resolve is the perfect example of how this is done.

When the first serious editing tools in Resolve 9 first appeared, they were directly integrated into Resolve – there was no ‘Send To’ command. At the time, most of us felt these were necessary improvements on what had been a single track video player. With XML support and multi-track video and audio, Resolve could start to perform the simple editing tasks that get asked of a colorist.

Was it an editing platform? No.

But DaVinci Resolve was doing something no one else had done – they took two completely different toolsets built for two completely different specialties (editors and colorists) and unified them into a single piece of software with a single timeline.

A single shared timeline is DaVinci Resolve’s most powerful feature!

By Resolve 12.5, the maturing Resolve editing interface and its fully matured Color interface simply re-wrapped the same timeline into completely different (and equally complex) User Interfaces optimized to the specific task at hand.

Moving between the Edit and Color pages, even the timeline itself is completely changed in how it looks and the metadata it communicates.

The DaVinci Resolve 14 Edit Page Timeline
The Edit page timeline is optimized for navigating bins plus the movement and modification of video and audio clips.

For the editor, the placing of video and audio elements is paramount. Working the timeline is the central focus of a video editor. And the manipulating of those elements in the timeline is key to the job of an editor. Equally important is the organizing of assets, sifting those assets, marking and tagging those assets.

For the colorist, priorities are completely different. The timeline is already in place. Most important to them is quick and easy access to the tools specific to their craft. Deep integration to external hardware tools, image analysis tools, the quick saving and re-using of corrections (or small bits of corrections).

On Resolve’s Color page the timeline is represented in a completely different manner
The Color Page timeline in DaVinci Resolve 14
The tasks for a colorist are different than an editor, so the Interface completely modifies – including how the timeline is presented to the colorist. But the underlying timeline metadata is precisely the same between the Edit, Color and Fairlight pages.

The multi-track timeline is minimized to the point of its most essential detail, track priority and shot length. But a new, second timeline representation is added – the thumbnail timeline. In the thumbnail timeline, the colorist has no idea how long a shot is. But it’s a quick and easy way to spin down a timeline and hunt for a specific shot 300 clips earlier.

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Comments

27 thoughts on “DaVinci Resolve 14: The Mythical Collaborative Workflow Has Arrived”

  1. Can you do collaboration with disk dbs?

    Right now DaVinci requires super user setup a postgres db. Unfortunately the cloud sql providers like aws and google do not allow this. It would be nice if they made DaVinci compatible with the cloud sql providers so they can manage the db backups, speed, size and replication of the DBs.

      1. Yep thats what i understood. Also makes absolute sense as databases are build for multi user access with all the locking etc. Disk based multi users is walking on landmines. Regarding the live save, it just updates the database so if you have a DB backup policy that involves full DB backups you have all changes at that point. If you want more incremental you need to setup PostreSQL with archive/change logging to capture incremental changes and backup these as well. Have your IT/db guy set this up as is tricky. I set this up (remember i am the It nurd) and have a realtime synced standby database ready to go if one box dies on me. All automated scripted etc etc. Not ever a single microsecond goes missing. Can do time based recoveries (also on a extra box to not touch the mainb box). This is the stuff like you mentioed what is needed if you want to take colaboration serious. The DB is your everything. If you ave no IT guy, keep it simple but minimum full DB backups + project exports regularly.
        Also i strongly recommend to test once in a while (besides a full DB restore test) these exported projects on a dummy database to see if you can still import these. Have seen some wierd things there. Its rare but if you do not test you are not covered. Cross version i see lots of issues. Now with importing 12.5 projects in a 14b database for example. In color all seems ok (so far) , but sound just explodes for the same stuff which , when building from scratch, works fine in 14. Mainly related (but not exclusive) to multi track/multi channel audio stuff.

        1. p.s Replication to cloud based DB should also work technicaly, but is more sensitive to network hickups , security concerns (you need an even smarter IT guy) and latency. But could be a solution for asynchronous replication based non-inhouse disaster recovery setups. Have set that up for several other database technologies but never used it for postgresql myself in combination with resolve. Sofar i have good experiences with DB access from wifi connected laptops etc for quick grading tweaks and noticed a low network requirement , but never done it with a feature sized project.
          The most important thing is how did BM implement transaction locking and rollbacks when during a save the network does a hickup etc. Thats the moment when stuff can go corrupt. I am not sure that is entirely 100% bullet proof at least on 12.5. Maybe they improved on 14, future will tell.

  2. I’ve been using the previous iteration of shared projects. It’s been great to have one of my assistants finishing the conform while I crack on with the Grade then they move onto the Online elements and I just do one review at the end of the day with the client. It’s great but has had a few little snags that 14 looks like it’s solved. Can’t wait for it to get out of beta so we can roll it out.

  3. I was impressed when BMD showed the collaborative feature a few years ago at NAB. I didn’t expect our editors to start editing in Resolve, but I appreciated that BMD was thinking about facilities and real world workflow problems. Adobe could be ruling the world right now if they had a decent project sharing solution like bin-locking in place when FCP X dropped, or soon after. Most places I know went back to Avid – for the collaboration features.

    This v14 looks like it might actually be useable – I can’t wait to suggest to my editors and sound mixer that they drop Avid & ProTools and start using my color grading program for their jobs! 😉 Of course, that won’t happen – at least not quickly… But my company does a fair number of pro-bono projects each year where we like to push our workflows into beta-test mode – this seems like it could be a great opportunity for that.

    1. I laughed out loud at the prospect of asking editorial and sound to use your grading software! Adoption of Fairlight will take a while but BMD has been remarkably patient. If the Collaborative Workflow proves to be stable and can accelerate turnaround times then the future looks bright for moving Resolve from being regarding as a Color tool to being a Studio / Collaborative tool.

      Personally, I’ve always enjoyed Resolve as being the stand-alone grading tool it always was. But I’m am 100% ready to ditch XML and single file workflows.

  4. I think a big danger that hasn’t been mentioned is that now your work will be accessible to a lot more hands than it should. The audio guys can now with a click of the mouse have access to your color project as the colorist can access theirs. in a project per reel basis that can easily happen, as I’ve seen with just the editorial team. A solution for that would be to password lock the color and fairlight tabs.

    I work in a collaborative environment where editing is done in Avid, finishing in Resolve and we have a full audio department with folley, audio editing and final mixing using ProTools, all in the same building using the same SAN, and we never felt the need to all work under one app, as a matter of fact, we welcome the separation.

    1. Great point!

      I like the idea of protecting tabs with passwords to ensure different departments and crafts don’t mistakenly overwrite the work of the other departments. It’s a good way of dealing with your concerns while leveraging the power of the single timeline workflow.

      Also – solo operators may not want to hand back their finished grades to their clients if they’re sharing a Resolve project and then have those people adjust their color corrections. Again, password protection is a way of dealing with that.

      1. That’s a good idea. I wouldn’t mind if some clients have read-only access to the colopage. But I’m a little hassitant about producers exporting luts and powergrades from grades.
        (I’ve been asked to hand over powergrades of every shot before.)

        I’m planning on doing a test run soon.
        There’s a project where a client and I have to deliver about 40 short videos. After color has been approved for the 1min version, 3 other versions will be cut per video.
        Last time back and forward cost us days if not weeks.
        Now to only convince him to give editing in Resolve a try. 😉

    2. Great idea. I suggest forward this idea to BM. A page lock implementation would not be that hard for them. If you already have bin and timeline locking, its the next step

  5. It would be good if resolve had the option to create a project as a single file similar to PPro. We have projects where an editor isn’t working on the server and takes the project on a portable HD. I know you could create a new disk DB on that drive but…

  6. Will the machine, from which you are rendering the final master, need to have all the color, editing and audio plugins installed? That might complicate things a little.

    1. In theory, yes.

      Or… you just use the Render Cache to cache out all the files and tell the final render machine to render using cache files. Typically, on the audio side you’re probably going to get a mixdown so you won’t need access to the audio plug-ins.

  7. First of all, thank you Patrick for all the available content that you
    share freely. It is really a gift. I hope this hasn’t been asked
    elsewhere but will you continue your discussion with Eric Bowen in
    regards to building coloring PC’s in the near future? (I wasn’t sure where else to ask). Thank you.

  8. Great article – I’ve been on a quest for the best ‘studio’ software for many years. Resolve isn’t the first to put the two different tool sets of editing and grading together though. Quantel Pablo (now SAM Rio) did this nearly ten years ago. I’m very used to jumping between a fully featured edit timeline and a fully featured grading application and I was doing the ‘one way trip’ (as opposed to round trip) of online, grade, delivery on the Pablo. It’s a shame that the Pablo tools are falling behind a bit so I hope they start catching up.
    We’re now at the point where Resolve really is getting this right – both editing and grading are very good and if they can persuade more people to start the ‘offline’ edit in Resolve, making the idea of a ‘trip’ anywhere redundant, then that’s a huge time saver! And these new collaboration tools look incredibly good.
    I used to use Avid|DS too and that had a fantastic toolset, particularly for node based composting. I’m really looking forward to what Blackmagic do next with Fusion – looking forward to flying that car!

  9. Hey Patrick, thanks for a great share. If you make this article Free to view, I (we) can pass it onto our Editor and Sound peeps. Planting the seed now will be helpful for the possible future implimentation. A tweet or linkedin button on Free pages is mutually benificial.

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