An Introduction To Versioning Efficiently Using Compound Timelines

May 18, 2022

Use compound timelines in DaVinci Resolve for speed and efficiency when managing separate versions of timelines and multiple creative teams.


Publishers note: Team Mixing Light is thrilled to welcome our newest contributor Zeb Chadfield to the team! He’s a London-based finishing artist and owner of the 25+ person post house, The Finish Line. Zeb’s technical and creative expertise is deep, and we’re excited to share his first (of many) tutorials here on Mixing Light. Be sure to welcome Zeb in the comments below. You can read Zeb’s bio and get the link for his website on his Author page.

Part 1: Treating timelines as media files

Have you ever created multiple versions of a single timeline to create multiple exports, each slightly different? If so, have you ever had the problem of making a change in the original timeline but missed making that change in one of the alternate versions of those timelines?

If you work in this business long enough and do enough of that kind of work, this will happen to you unless you have a strategy designed specifically for this workflow.

How to prevent mistakes (or gain efficiencies) with multiple versions of a timeline

In developing our workflows for multiple versions of any film or series at The Finish Line, we wanted to make sure clients could make changes until the final moment deliverables were created. Plus, we didn’t want it to have massive repercussions for the team doing the work – and, more importantly – prevent the chance of a change not making it into a final version of the film/show.

If you are in a part of this industry where you are making multiple versions of timelines for different sets of deliverables – or wanting to find ways to make your assets more consistent and automatically flow changes through your versions, then this Insight is for you.

About this Insight

In this Insight, we start with the fundamentals of compound clips and how those clips are merely timelines that are also media files. We then step through more advanced versioning workflows, treating our finished timelines as sources for our versioning timelines.

You also learn about making your job easier when dealing with multiple versions of timelines. Including, when applying fixes or changes to the main timeline, even during the QC and delivery process. My goal is to make your life much simpler and your delivery much faster.

The ideas in this Insight are also excellent if you want to leverage different creative teams using Resolve’s cloud databases and collaboration feature. This ‘compound timeline’ idea assures my team that work doesn’t get ‘undone’ by mistake and that all revisions flow through to the final exports.

Key learning goals

  • Understanding compound clips and how compounding a timeline works the same way – as if the timeline is an editable media file.
  • Using compounded timelines to protect the original work but still have access to it for changes and fixes – if needed.
  • Ideas for taking completed a timeline, chopping it up in many ways to make various versions, and then QC and fixing the primary asset before pushing on to delivery.

Questions or Comments?

I move quickly through these ideas. If I’ve stumped you, if you have questions, or if you want to share additional ideas about this technique, then use the comments below!

Coming up in Part 2, we’ll apply these techniques for Dolby Vision workflows.

– Zeb


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  • Marty Webb

    All useful stuff Zeb!


    If you use tabbed timelines you can map “open in timeline” and “close current timeline” to shortcuts for quick navigation in and out of compounds. Pretty much like Avid’s step in and step out commands.


    On long timelines it wont take you to the current timecode which can be annoying. So I made this script. If you map this instead of “open in timeline” then it will open the compound and take you to your current timeline timecode. This speeds things up if you’re working with long compounded timelines.

    • That’s epic! Thanks Marty.

  • Thanks Zeb, this is an oft-overlooked feature — I remember I tried similar tricks on a student film in Premiere (the very start of “Premiere Pro” days) and the stability was horrible. This pretty much continued in (legacy) FCP.

    Two questions:

    1. How is the stability in Resolve these days? I used compound clips for a doc series on Resolve ~14, and there were all sorts of render glitches with phantom caching and other shenanigans. I had a lot of QC comebacks on compound clip source changes that were made but not reflected in the final output timelines (things like text on a source timeline remaining unchanged when used as a compound clip + different subs). I love the idea of an elegant set of ‘nested’ compound clips (almost like functions in programming), but it better be rock-solid and not silly when it comes to things like caching…

    2. How do you handle maintaining old versions of both the parent nested timeline and its children? Let’s say I want to make changes to a grade in one of your examples, but I want to keep the old graded timeline and all its associated delivery output timelines live in the project. I don’t want to have to duplicate the parent and the children timelines and then replace-in-place with my grade v2 parent, cos the chance of human error is very high. One brute-force option is to copy/archive the whole Resolve project and then just do the changes on the parent v1 and rename to v2 — is there anything better?

    @Marty — thank you, this is amazing! Catching up to Avid’s reverse match frame … as a stringouts-based editor this is something I still live by.

    • Hi Stephen, sounds like we have had a similar history on this functionality. With early Premiere and then with classic FCP this was something that always made a lot of sense to me but was never stable enough to trust. For some reason I never gave up on it and with the BMD team on Resolve I’ve had lots of bug reporting over the years to get things where we wanted them to be. I can say having done dozens of full length documentary series and films using this functionally mostly just over the last 3-4 years we haven’t hit any issue and never experience anything that resembles a struggle for resolve to work this way. With really really effects heavy projects we will often put a flat render in the master timeline so that we aren’t rendering through the compounds but it’s always very solid and much more easy to stay on top of the reversioning and changes as we go, just cut a hole in the flat clip anywhere you need to change something.

      Regarding old versions we don’t really encounter a need for this. We sign off the master before making the new versions, if we haven’t yet got there with that we do export projects at specific stages so would be able to go back to an older version if we needed to. Depending on how it’s all laid up you can also force conform to a different timeline or media file. I don’t cover that in this but we have had external facilities cut their reversions from a master file and we force conform the original timeline to replace the master file so that when we are finishing we can tweakier change something if needed. We are effectively working with timelines and media files interchangeably for whatever suits our needs best and can say that our experience has been that it has no negative impact on performance for our systems but everyone should 100% do their own pipeline testing and build their confidence around this.

      • Patrick Inhofer

        @zeb – Regarding caching inside nests: Is your best practice to NOT enable ‘use render cached images’ in the Delivery page? I know for a short time I liked enabling that option if my computer was underpowered for the job. But I stopped doing that for precisely the reason of old cache files persistently outliving their relevance, inducing mistakes in the final render.

        Does your team ever enable that option? Or do you actively avoid it?

        • We actually often use the use render cached images but it depends on what we are doing and the needs. Just need to make sure it’s all setup with the right codec and doesn’t hurt to clear all caches before a final review so it’s all cached properly. There is also the bypass reencode when possible which is very handy if you have a flat render in the timeline and it’s not got changes, when you recut it you’ll find it just repacks the data if going into a new file that is the same format which is a huge time saver. Keep in mind that wont work in RCM or ACES though as it’s going to see the ODT as a change to pixels so reencode would be needed even when it isn’t. That is a good argument for custom colour managed node tree now that I think of it so you can take advantage of that function.

  • Lots of useful tips here, thank you … I just came across this thread

    I hadn’t realised the differences and limitations of Compound clips (as mentioned in the forum post) vs dropping one timeline into another timeline. Do Compound clips still have these limitations, they don’t cache, you can’t alter the start timecode, you can’t use reconform options (I’ll test when I get the chance)? Are most of your work flows actually based on putting a previously created timeline inside another timeline, rather that an actual created Compound clip? I wasn’t aware of the distinction until now!

    • Hi Jamie! Yeah there are a few variables and we’ll always where possible use timelines that we use do compound timelines. I had run into various snags on standard compound clips but use them for different things. Compounding a few clips in a timeline to do something on the combined clips is fine for compounding but most things now you would do that with an adjustment later. It’s just the use of trackers really that might force you to use a compound clip like that now. The compounded timelines for the most part are the same but it’s just often easier to build things outside of the primary timeline to drop in, even for speed effects where you are trying to get some very specific timings can be better done in a separate timeline then cutting it into the primary timeline as a compound to grade on top of. You could render in place for that too, if it’s using Speed Warp so very compute heavy. It’s all about doing a few extra steps early in the process to speed up or simplify things down the line.

  • Zeb, nice tutorials (both of them). One issue though: as I was trying to get this to work I noticed that the ‘Project Settings/General Options/Use timelines bin’ needs to be unchecked. I had been using resolve with it checked for some time thinking it gave some advantage. To uncheck it (or check it) there must be no timelines in the project. This project as others have lots of timelines. The timelines can’t be used as “media” with this box checked… unless if you know of a way please let me know.

    The work around for this:
    Export each timeline
    Delete all the timelines
    uncheck the box (Use timelines bin)
    Import each timeline
    if needed, re-conform each timeline

    Patrick had an article:
    in which he states: “Timelines are NOT media. Timelines are Metadata and should always be isolated from media and deciding to co-mingle timelines and media should be an optional behavior.”
    Such statement could lead one to miss the valuable point you are making that timelines can be used as if they were media.

    I find it amazing the benefits that can be derived from your insight, especially with HDR. I guess a concern I have now, considering that this only works with the box un-checked, is if this behavior is intentional by BMD or just happens to be there? Is this something that will be serviced with the software or might it inadvertently be lost or changed? And if planned, why is it not better documented as to the ramifications of checking that box or not? Or can’t the change be made easier with batch export and import of timelines? …or some better design of the timeline bin? I have a project with over fifty timelines to shuffle… but the benefits of doing so will likely save me time in the long run.

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