Prep for Color in DaVinci Resolve

When you’ve picture locked—and I really mean 100% picture LOCKED (for reasons that’ll become apparent shortly)—you can prepare your sequence for Color grading. While this may seem like an onerous process, it’s much better to be paranoid about what you send into Resolve than to spend hours and hours—as I’ve often found myself doing—troubleshooting why a particular clip relinks totally wrong, or the timeline comes back a garbled mess. It’s worth mentioning that in general, I’ve had better luck getting FCP X projects to read properly than other NLEs.

Note that you can adjust sound all you want, or add layers like titles after the fact—just not the timing of picture edits. If you have effects shots that you’re planning to hand off to an AfterEffects artist, for example, it’s best to put those shots through color first and send out pre-graded material—especially if you’re using a LUT on footage shot in log gamma.

The basic color workflow is this: Send your prepped timeline via an XML file and camera-original media to Resolve from your editing software (NLE), work on it in Resolve as a Resolve Project until all changes are done. You render the changes in Resolve, which generates new media files for each clip, then send the timeline back into your NLE from Resolve. Your NLE makes a new sequence, called “Your Sequence Name (Resolve)” with all the video clips linked to the new media files generated by Resolve, not to the original media files. Once returned to your NLE, your clip will no longer have heads and tails (extra media before/after the in/out points—unless you specify a number of extra frame handles when you render in Resolve) because Resolve only renders the part of the clip you used, so you will not be able to make picture adjustments.

You can send a new updated timeline to Resolve from your NLE if you absolutely must make picture edits mid-process, and you can also make changes to the edit in Resolve, but this is VERY UNADVISABLE. Reconnecting grades from one edit to the other is a pain, and may force you to redo complicated tracking and other adjustments. Making changes to the edit within Resolve will throw the Resolve edit out of sync with the edit in your NLE, and if you’re working on sound in another app, you’ve just broken the sync. You can, however, make further color changes in color and update the FCP timeline after it’s already been sent back into FCP.

Note that nested sequences (FCP 7/Premiere) and compound clips (FCP X) (aka a sequence inside a sequence) are not advisable.

Here’s what you need to do to prep your project:

Start by duplicating your current version timeline and call the new version <your project name> For Resolve. You’ll need the original version as a reference for putting back filters, resizing, etc…

Verify that your sequence settings are 1920 x 1080, 2048 x 1152 (2K) or 3840 x 2160 (UHD 4K) with square pixels. They should not be 640 x 480, 720 x 480, 1280 x 720, 1448 x 1080, etc….

Remove any color grading or other filters applied in your NLE, and any generators/synthetic clips such as text or a generated countdown leader. Place a marker on the timeline where you remove a clip/filter to remind yourself to reapply it when it comes back from Resolve. Let your colorist know if you plan to apply a filter which changes the image and should be taken into account during the grading process.

Collapse your timeline into as few tracks as possible. Remove any clips which aren’t actually visible on screen—for example, if you edited b-roll on track 2 above A-roll, overwrite the B-roll onto track 1. If you have composited images, for example a clip on track 2 that has 50% opacity and a clip on track 1 shows through, you can keep this in place. Using multiple tracks in the Resolve timeline can be awkward, because it isn’t obvious in the interface which clips are where in the layer order and can result in a lot of extra work and render time on clips that aren’t actually in the final edit. It also makes it difficult to match one edit to the next.

If you have any clips that need retiming (speed up/slow down/played backwards), or scaled/cropped, you need to export those clips with the changes applied “baked in”), then re-import them and replace them on the timeline. Resolve often doesn’t properly handle sped up/slowed down clips, so you have to follow this procedure to apply the speed change/scaling/etc… to the file on the hard drive (or rather, make a new file with the change applied). This also applies to still clips—especially very high-res files. Alternatively, if you want higher quality optical flow processing on your retimed clips, you can process them through Resolve. However, you’ll need to do them as standalone clips which you’ll later edit into the timeline, not as part of the timeline you send. To bake in these changes in Premiere:

  • Double click the clip, then with the Viewer window still selected, go to File > Export > Media.
  • Pick Format: QuickTime and Preset: Custom. In the Video tab, pick ProRes 422 HQ, and click Match Source. Make a new folder in your project folder called “speed changes.” Export the movie here.
  • The easiest way to replace the clip in the timeline is to open a Finder window with Premiere still in the background, navigate to the newly exported clip, then just drag it to the timeline to overwrite the existing clip. Or, import the clip to a bin called Speed Changes in Premiere and replace it in the timeline.

Any timelapse or stop motion animation made out of individual still files in sequence in the timeline should be exported out as a new video file. Copy the range of stills, create a new sequence using the same settings as your project sequence. Paste the stills, then export using the settings from the above step. Import the resulting file back into your NLE and replace the stills with the new movie.

The same goes for archival or other clips that use a different timebase than your project—for example, 29.97 footage in a 23.98 project, or vice versa. Convert these clips using the above process to the correct framerate.

You can choose to stabilize clips in Resolve if you want more control over what part of the frame to track. Otherwise, be advised that stabilized clips will appear in their original form in Resolve, but can be re-stabilized once sent back into your NLE. If you want to see the stabilized footage in Resolve, for example to see where the new frame edges are, bake in as above.

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