OK, let’s face it. Post-production gear isn’t really as exciting as the toys involved in production. While all the stuff that we use during the post process is equally as important as the stuff used to acquire the image it just doesn’t have the same kind of sexiness. But there’s quite a lot of folks in post that are very excited about the release of DaVinci Resolve for Mac. In its own way, Resolve is kind of like our Arri Alexa.
Film/video production really does have all the fun gear. The different types of cameras all have their own unique shapes and looks while the gear that’s plugged in, bolted on or attached by an means necessary requires its own dedicated department on the set. Couple that with all the support (tripods, cranes, dollys, steadicams) that serves to basically just hold the camera and the gear geek can find tons of different options to touch, hold and assemble on a film set. In post production, we pretty much have computers. Lots and lots of computers. Sure there’s monitors, a keyboard, mouse or trackball, and tons of hard drives but for the most part that’s about it. Not terribly flashy and it may make post seem downright boring for the new student trying to decide which filmmaking discipline to dedicate their career to. If you happen to see a color grading control surface attached to a computer then that’s about the coolest thing we’ve got! (we’ll forget about the importance of editing in ultimately crafting the final story in this post as we’re talking about gear) Hold an open house for new students at a film school and you’ll probably see way more people crowding the cinematography area than the editing suites.
With that idea in mind: The newly released DaVinci Resolve for Mac is sort of like our Arri Alexa. By our, I mean those of us who work almost exclusively in post production. We have a tool coming to market from one of the giants / legends of the post industry that was previously out of reach of the large majority of post professionals. Resolve is a tool that, while well known in the industry, has probably been seen and used by relatively few. The DaVinci name has always been synonymous with high cost so it’s a name that many never dreamed they would have the opportunity to use, much less actually own. Kind of like an Arri.
With the exception of their lighting kits, the Arri name isn’t a name that camera owners have traditionally thought about being own-able. If you wanted to shoot with an Arri you rented it! If you wanted to color grade on a DaVinci you had to rent that suite as well. I know, Arri was mainly a film camera company and there were/are plenty of camera owners out there with the venerable Arri 16 SRs 16mm cameras but you get the overall idea: You didn’t just go out and buy an Arri camera like you might an XDCAM from Sony or a P2 based product from Panasonic. And most of those Arri SR owners bought their 16mm film cameras used as they were quite expensive new. (Yes there’s the whole film vs video argument here so I see my logic breaking down a bit the more I flesh out this idea but bear with me …. ) The same was true with a DaVinci system : their cost and complexity was such that you didn’t just run out and buy a DaVinci all on your own if you needed to color grade.
But with the changing market of film/video production that’s not the case today. Arri has brought the Alexa to market to compete in the digital cinema world right alongside the RED ONE. The Arri is a more expensive camera overall than the RED ONE but they are targeted at similar markets and there are many RED ONE users who could see themselves renting, and maybe even owning, an Arri Alexa. Blackmagic/DaVinci is bringing Resolve for Mac to market to compete in the color grading world right alongside Apple Color. Resolve for Mac is a more expensive system overall than Apple Color but they are targeted at similar markets and there are many Color users who could see themselves owning their own copy of Resolve for Mac.
It’s partially this pedigree that the DaVinci name brings downmarket with the affordable Mac version but also a reputation for quality products that do their job very well. The same could be said for Arri. The Arri name has been a staple of the camera world since the early 1900s. While your film school might have had a slew of used Arri SR cameras to check out for film shoots there were always those high end Arris that the local rental house had that were just out of reach. While editing your student film on Final Cut Pro you always had the built in 3-way color corrector right in front of you but there was always the local post-house with a DaVinci 2K that was just out of reach. Sometimes student rates would put those high end tools within reach and the film student could get some experience with high-end gear as well as see a working professional using them. You often came away from that experience in awe of the equipment’s power and a great deal of respect for the artist at the controls. At least I know that I did.
If you want to take this whole idea one step further then you could draw the analogy of Apple Color being like the RED ONE. Color is very capable grading software that can do a great job in the right hands despite its quirks and idiosyncrasies. Early in its life it had some bugs and glitches that have been mostly ironed out over time. Sounds a bit like the RED ONE. And drawing even further you could almost compare Magic Bullet Colorista to the Canon 5D. Colorista (and especially Colorista II) puts a very affordable, quite capable and easy to use color grading tool into the hands of a lot of people. The interface is simple and it sits right in your NLE so it’s faster and easier to use than its big brothers but it does take skill and practice to use it well … kind of like a Canon (or any) DSLR.
Getting back to our original theme here: post production does actually get a fair share of cool new products. NLEs get updated with useful features, new hardware comes along to render faster, video cards allow more i/o options and new vfx applications can create things we never thought possible. But those in post production know we often work in anonymity, toiling away in a darkened room, the only light being the glow of the computer monitor. Our camera department compatriots are out in the sun working with fun, fancy gear from companies all over the world. It’s not often we see an application like DaVinci Resolve for Mac come along, at such an affordable price point, that generates such enthusiasm among those of us working in post. Like the Arri Alexa it looks to put a very powerful tool into more artist’s hands. While it is cool gear that will be fun to play with, most importantly, it will help us to tell stories better. And that’s ultimately what we want out of any tool, production or post.