DaVinci Resolve, Preconform or Conform?
A Case Study with Music Videos
Since I joined Smoke and Mirrors I’ve had a huge increase in the number of music videos I’ve worked on. I love music videos… I mean I LOVE them! They are great fun for pushing looks, refining new techniques and tend to be a little more open to being more stylised in nature than a commercial and short film projects where you are restricted by narrative or product lead decisions.
My only issue with music videos is workflow, tight deadlines and budgets are normally extremely tiny. I love grading but at the end of the day we all dream of making a business out of our passion and have bills to pay so for me when I see potential jobs coming in we have to prioritise the jobs with higher budgets. In an effort to grade as many jobs as possible myself and my producer Andy team up and decide which of our three different routes we could take on the job. I’d like to share with you our thought process behind these and hopefully help you make decisions that will make your colorist life as easy and efficient as possible.
In DaVinci Resolve PreConform or Conform or Walk Away.
It comes down to 3 possible choices when looking at a potential new grade. I always want to grade as many jobs as possible but we can’t afford to have music video jobs that eat up all our time or projects where tight deadlines may be missed due to difficult conforms. This is due to the cold hard fact that as a business we could make more money from one hours commercial work than for a whole music video. It may seem harsh but with some smart thinking and planning ahead I can still grade lots of music videos while keeping the people in charge of the accounts happy. Lets have a look at the 3 plans.
Plan A – Conform
Getting the original camera rushes is always the main objective as it will help us get the best possible results, then we can grab a xml, aaf or edl and rebuild the timeline in our grading system. This may seem simple but I find 99% of music videos are not just straight cuts and dissolves. You will find tons of curveballs that can turn your day into conform hell.
The first thing I ask for when I get asked to grade a music video for anyone from a famous artist to a new up and coming director is an offline. This is to asses the cut for anything that could throw a curveball our way. The main things I look out for in the early phase of a job are :
Speedchanges and Speedramps – Resolve isn’t great at dealing with complex speed ramps Split Screens – How long will they take to rebuild, Can I match them frame for frame? Titles – Will they be supplied with Alpha, When can I get them, Do they need a clock and copyright? VFX (complete and incomplete) – Do they need me to add in new shots as they arrive, have they used flares or texture packs. Plugins – Have they used twixtor or shakey camera etc… These things may be ok to deal with if your cutting and grading your own project but in the world of commercial grading in a busy place like Soho in London I’m sad to say that there simply isn’t time. A job will come in to be graded and the airdate can be as close as 9am the next day. So once a job hits me and my trusty Resolve the clients will be expecting it to leave my room beautifully graded and also featuring all the stylistic things from their offline like blanking, re-framing, speed ramps and effects that the offline. So when I take on a job I’m committing to delivering a finished project and on time so its important that I know my limitations and the limitations of my kit.
This leads us onto Plan B.
Plan B – Preconform
The pre conform workflow is extremely simple and in a busy environment serves the purpose of one thing. Make the conform someone else’s problem! When the going gets tough and I see things that I know I can’t conform or will have a hard time dealing with on our tight deadlines I suggest to the client that if they could supply me with a high quality export of their edit we can deliver our grade on time. Once they have exported the single clip of their edit I ask them to export an EDL or XML also and then I can use that to slice up the timeline based on the record timecode in Resolve. I’d recommend using ProRes 422 HQ or DNxHD 185x for this.
I know this workflow may hurt some of you right in the heart and you may think I’m crazy for not using the r3d files etc.. but this is an alternative to saying no I can’t grade your music video. Yes I’m possibly loosing a tiny bit of dynamic range on the job but luckily where I live and work Alexa is dominating the market which if the editor reconforms from the camera rushes and exports a ProRes 4444 to me I am confident that I can grade just as well as if I was grading the camera rushes.
When using this workflow I can focus entirely on the gradeing process without stressing over conforming issues and surprises. Again ideally I’d always choose Plan A when possible but I think this is a great option to have in mind for jobs that you’d love to grade. This leads us onto Plan C
Plan C – Walk Away
This is an important plan of action that you need to consider. I know it is difficult but I learned this the hard way myself a couple of months ago. I was demoing at IBC for Blackmagic Design and I was flying out Friday morning at 7am. I took a job on that was intended to be graded Wednesday but due to edit approval issues the grade session slipped and slipped later until the director called to see if I could grade on Friday and unfortunately my reply was to say unless you’re happy staying up all night grading I have to bow out of grading your job as I am flying to Amsterdam tomorrow and won’t be back for a week. This left him with no colorist for his job that had to be delivered by Friday afternoon. He chose finding another colorist and he hasn’t graded with me since. If you have a gut feeling that you won’t be able to hit a deadline on a job trust it and say “I’d love to grade your job but we’re under a heavy workload at the moment so I’d be worried about hitting your deadline on time” clients will understand and its always better to be safe than risk loosing a client.