Thursday, 17 November, 2011

Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve - the real deal

Blackmagic announced yesterday the immediate availability of Resolve Lite 8.1.1, the free version of DaVinci Resolve colour correction software for the Mac. The free Resolve Lite has been around for many months now, with limitations. One being that you could use only 2 nodes, meaning effects or layers, and that you could work on at the most, an HD timeline.

The new Resolve Lite 8.1.1 breaks the node limitation, but the HD limitation remains. Still, you get a full-blown colour correction tool that used to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars just a few years ago, for free. Just download and use. To give your movie a professional 'look', to be a colour correction extension to FCP and Avid systems. Seriously professional tools, now easily accessible by anyone.

In forums and web sites, dismay is being expressed by 'pros' who lament the fall in value of the work of colour correction, and Blackmagic's 'ruining the market' for this hallowed area of post-production. Whichever way this thing goes from here forwards, here is my take on the real deal in this move by Blackmagic.

Film and video post houses of 5 years and older, have their fill of Autodesk Lustre, Quantel iQ, Baselight, Nucoda, and other systems. For film based colour correction, they employ DaVinci and Pogle systems tied to telecine machines. The total number of such entities in India would not be over 100. And the world over, maybe 500 or so.

Resolve may or may not sell to these few.

Smaller post houses have lower end systems from Filmlight, Quantel, Autodesk, and Scratch. These would be in the thousands the world over, and maybe a few hundreds on India. And then there are the Avid-FCP-Smoke shops.

Resolve may or may not sell to these too.

So, combined, the 'high to mid end' market numbers in the thousands maybe 2-3 thousand, maybe more, definitely not more than 10,000. The world over. Okay, 20,000 tops.

Now, coming to the hordes of documentary, small TV commercial, TV serial, and budget film-makers, these number in the millions. FCP itself has sold over 2 million seats worldwide and in India maybe over a hundred thousand. Avid, Premier Pro, Vegas and other NLEs are a smaller number but I could guess them to be a million together.

So there is this 3 million strong 'indie post' market for Resolve Lite. Many of these Resolve Lite users will go in for some Blackmagic hardware as a video out for their Resolve. Either a HD Extreme 3D, or an Intensity card, or a Thunderbolt equipped Ultrastudio. So Blackmagic opens up another avenue for hardware sales. Even if only one-fifth of this market dabbles in Resolve, its a great number. And it can only increase, unlike the multi-crore 'pro' post houses.

Unlike software which can be easily 'shared', hardware is strictly one per system. And it helps that Blackmagic hardware is now compatible with Avid as well as Premiere Pro. And, of course it supports FCP 7 which may have been discontinued by Apple, but it still works for most movie-making situations.

The move to make the Resolve software free, and now, add almost all features in the free version, is therefore, basically a business move by Blackmagic. It may dismay the few thousands (even tens of thousands) of 'pro' users, but it could mean a windfall in business for Blackmagic. By making the software that runs on their hardware, rather than depending on other companies' software (like FCP, Avid and Premiere Pro) alone, Blackmagic have done nearly what Apple have been doing for nearly a decade now.

But what happens to the actual job of colour correction, imparting a 'look' to a movie. And what about the human who does this all. Will the software being free or economical (the full featured unto 4k version also costs only about $1000 or Rs 60,000) devalue this once prized occupation?

I think quite the contrary. Look at other trades. 

Editing, which could only be done on large Steenbeck systems and even Avid systems costing almost half a crore rupees (over $ 50,000), can now be done on laptops costing under a lakh rupees. FCP changed that. But editors still make as much (or as less) as they did in the mid nineties when costly Avids ruled.

Sound designing which can be done on even less endowed PCs and Macs have not led to sound engineers being paid less. or their craft in any way devalued. In fact, my sound friends who travelled in buses and trains own some fancy cars now.

So, if anything, this so called 'commoditzation' of technology, does create the impression that anyone can own the means of making movies. Only in the short term. Initially everyone and his dog go out and buy or download these 'cheap' software, and try their hands at using it. Once they see how hard it is to be creative and operate something, they develop a greater value for the man behind the machine. 

I am firmly convinced about this and I've seen it happen over and over again.

So, in the coming months brace yourself for some abysmally colour corrected movies by amateurs who've just downloaded Resolve and are trying to make their shots look good. But after that, there will be colorists who will own their own Resolves and movie-makers will queue up to work with a specific colorist. Then they will not bother with what software he or she uses, they will go by what they see on a screen.

For colorists this is a boon. For once, they can own their own grading system for a sum that's less then many of their daily or weekly earnings. And now, they can finally be paid for their skill and not for the cost of the equipment. The 'take home' package for independent colourists just got bigger. Wait and see.

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